DuFour Heritage 26 Review

Issue: December 2000

The best car I ever owned, a Peugeot 403 from the 1950s, did a number of things very well, including growing rust faster than any example known to science. But it had other attributes – the gear change, for example. First gear was opposite reverse and second was opposite third because the designers reckoned you used first and reverse when parking, and in traffic the gears you needed most were second and third. And they were right; the gear change made perfect sense. The fact that every other car designer in the world arranged things differently meant nothing to Jacques and Philippe in the Peugeot design department. That only meant the rest of the world was out of step with the French, an attitude that has served the nation well over the centuries.

An extension of this thinking can be seen in their boat design. The French see no reason why convention should be followed if original thinking can produce a better result. The fact that the French are now the world’s biggest yacht builders suggests that their approach has some merit. The world-wide growth of the charter business intersects with the French attitude. Charterers are not interested in nautical convention; they are interested in logical craft that are easy to operate and provide the maximum amount of fun in the short periods of time allowed for holidays.

In the list of credits for the Heritage 26, built by Dufour, is a Monsieur Olivier Poncin, who is given the credit for “Conception”. The designer tag goes to someone else.

Olivier must have thought long and hard about what most people need from a small cruiser and he came to the conclusion that a family of, say, mum, dad and the two kids, like to motor to a destination, drop the anchor, mess around all weekend, then head for home. They don’t need to go too fast, as they would just get to their destination in a great rush and use a lot of fuel. So Olivier picked up a pencil and doodled a warped-plane hull, which can run happily at almost any speed, which he fitted out with logical, simple accommodation. He put in a single diesel engine. He even specified an optional bow thruster (we’ll come to that later).

The accommodation is, indeed, simple. In the bow is a vee berth, with a curtain for privacy. Down the starboard side, if you were walking from bow to stern, you would encounter the bathroom, helm station, and the dinette which converts to a double berth. Down the port side is a galley with two-burner gas stove (opposite the bathroom, which has headroom of about 1.75m) then you step up the saloon level and the storage cupboards that run full length.

This boat has a lot of clever detail design. The sunroof and windows are locked in position by a twist of the wrist on an operating bar. The side windows push out to open, then slide and lock against the cabin walls, so people are free to move along the side decks. The cockpit has no fixed furniture. The folding plastic chairs and table stow in the locker beneath the cockpit floor; when you need them you pull them out, otherwise the cockpit stays clear of clutter. The boat is obviously European in appearance – there is actually a French term for it, which translates as “unusual but attractive”.

The hull has plenty of freeboard forward, and the warped-plane bottom configuration seems to produce very little wake or wash. On the centre line aft the hull is flattened, creating a sort of tunnel for the prop and rudder. Both are carried in an elaborate skeg arrangement for maximum protection.

The Heritage 26 we tried had a 105hp Volvo Penta diesel that pushed the boat to a top speed of 17 knots, and a happy cruising speed of 13 knots at 3000rpm. The diesel is petrol-quiet, a significant achievement considering the engine is beneath the saloon floor.

The hull is fitted with trim tabs as standard, and they have an important role to play. The idea is to move away from rest with the tabs at neutral trim. As speed builds the nose rises, and on a warped plane hull it will stay risen, obscuring to some degree the view forward, so you use the tabs to bring the nose back down. It is not compulsory to use the tabs – unlike a deep-vee, trimming this boat does not necessarily increase speed. As with all tabs, the trick is to remember to return them to neutral before you leave the boat, or growth build-up on the struts will lock them solid.

Because the deadrise at the transom has a relatively low angle, the Heritage 26 corners flat, a characteristic hard to get used to after a lifetime of deep vees, which bank into a turn. The flat cornering is first a surprise, then a revelation – because the hull does not bank into the turn, visibility is always panoramic and is, thus, very safe. This hull’s behaviour must be reassuring to the uninitiated. This is, after all, a boat for families or for charter.

Another advantage of variable deadrise is lateral stability at rest, and the fact that there is no transition between sub-planing and planing speeds. This is important with modest horsepower as this boat can run happily at whatever engine speed you dial up.

If you want to cruise at 9.75 knots you can; the hull will not demand to be pushed onto the plane, or to drop off it.

Bow thrusters are usually found on 26-metre craft, not 26-footers. But Pacific Yachting’s Glenn Tripney used the optional thruster on this boat to get us out of an impossibly tight marina spot. He edged the boat one boat length forward from its berth. There we ran out of space so Glenn turned the hull through 90 degrees to starboard, using the little joystick on the helm station, and drove away.

Story by Barry Tranter