I firmly believe that when it comes to describing boats, the term “performance cruiser” is a lot like “classic.” Both are vague, overused terms that can easily venture to the linguistically lazy world of cliché. So, when I saw the “P” on the materials outlining the newest launch from Dufour in France, I was on high alert. Actually I’m exaggerating….a little. The truth is: There’s a really good reason that many production boat builders strive to strike the perfect balance between sailing performance and cruising comfort. A boat that looks sexy, sails fast (and easily), and is comfortable both on deck and below is in fact, exactly what many of us want. So, I took the new Dufour 36P out for a test drive on Narragansett Bay off Portsmouth, Rhode Island, to see how yacht designer Umberto Felci and the Dufour Design Team deliver sailing performance and cruising comfort in a 36 foot package—even though they call it a “dual purpose boat”.
My first impression of the 36P as it was tugging on it’s dock lines in the marina was that they’ve done it again—designed and built a damn good-looking boat. I say again because Dufour as been teaming up with Felci to produce quick, sexy, Euro-styled performance cruisers for the last decade, and the 36P represents the evolution of the range. It has the low coach roof, plumb bow, and open transom that you’d come to expect on a performance cruiser, but it also has a hard chine hull section and topsides that flare out a bit aft, and a narrow foil T-shaped bulb keel that has become popular on production performance boats recently.
Dufour has been part of the German-based Bavaria Group since 2010, but the boats are still built in La Rochelle, France, (as they have since the company was founded 1964), they’re still built to exacting standards, and Dufour still only builds sailboats (no powerboats). The 36 hull is laid up with a PVC foam core and logititudinal stringers above the waterline and solid fiberglass below the waterline. The interior is built up on a structural grid that’s both glued and laminated in place. The deck is injection molded and the inward facing flange of the hull-to-deck-joint is bonded and covered with a teak toe rail. The standard 7-foot, 3-inch draft keel is cast iron and bolts on to a reinforced plate in the hull. There’s nothing revolutionary about the construction process but I was impressed with the level of fit and finish.
As with a host of other performance cruisers out there, the cockpit is laid out to be a bit more racy than a more conventional cruising boat. The dual helms provide fingertip control and excellent visibility—of both the jib tell tales and any boats to leeward—but there are no real helm seats that a more dyed-in-the-wool cruiser might want. Personally, I like all the elbow room the helmsman gets in a cockpit like this, and nestled along the lifelines, and seated on the wide aft coming is more than a comfortable a great place to sit and drive. And thanks to the winches that mounted are close to the helms, it’s possible to trim and drive from the helmstations too.
The wide open transom is another feature that I like, but that some more conservative cruisers might not. The romantic in me likes the connection with the ocean I feel when I’m sailing offshore and watching the waves slide by through a wide open transom, and I also like how easy it is to access the cockpit through the dual helms. But, offshore, stern security on the 36P is comprised of lifeline wire instead of stainless steel railings. The stern even has an elegantly simple drop-down swim platform that makes swimming, (and access to the life raft) a snap. And since this is a “dual purpose boat”, you’ll find a hot and cold freshwater shower and an enormous deck locker back there too. Nice.
Moving forward of the large double helms, the cockpit is more functional than fashionable. There’s ample stowage in lockers under the cockpit seats, and those lockers can be removed to provide even more elbow room in the cockpit for racing. There’s room for about 4-6 crew to sit in the cockpit when the seats are in place, and room for 2 (or so) with the seat lockers removed.
Other noteworthy features contribute to the boat’s clean lines. All lines lead back to the cockpit through an under deck race, and flush deck hatches, a flat jib furler, a removable anchor roller, keep the decks clutter free.
It can be a tough to provide both spacious and luxurious accommodations on a 36-footer, but the 36P delivers by focusing on high quality woodwork and clever space utilization. The saloon features modern lines, a white coachroof, and woodwork built of richly varnished Moabi veneers. It also boasts copious stowage, a fold down settee table that seats six, and plenty of natural light through fixed and opening ports and hatches. The 6-foot, 7-inch long seats on either side of the saloon form some of the best sea berths I’ve seen no matter what tack you are on.
The L-shaped galley at the base of the companionway stairs to port has requisite the two-burner stove and double sink, but I found the counter space to be a bit smaller in portion to some of the other spaces in the boat. As a result, there was decent rather than cavernous stowage but still, the galley was perfectly equipped for a cruising for a week or even more. Meanwhile, the proportions of forward-facing nav station were spot-on. There’s more than enough room for electronics and paper charts and even a comfy seat with a seat back.
Another clever design element I found was the double door opening into the forward cabin. I love the fact that by simply widening the doorway made both the saloon and the forward cabin feel bigger and more open. Brilliant. I also like that it’s possible to separate the forward berth for racing crews that may be too cool to spoon in the forward bunk. It comes with a clever varnished plywood partition that cuts the berth in half. Otherwise, berth in the forward cabin has all the pointyness of a V-berth cabin and decent ventilation through an opening hatch over the berth. I’d make this the master cabin as the aft cabin has large square bunk, and similar but lesser ventilation. It is, however closer to the head.
We had great beach weather for our test sail on the upper reaches of Narragansett Bay—sunny and muggy with temps in the 90’s—but sadly, the breeze hovered in the single digits. So, obviously, I wasn’t able to get a feel of how the boat would handle a blow, but I was quite impressed with it’s light air performance. We sliced upwind effortlessly in the puffy zephyrs and boat speed stayed in a deceptively fast the 4-5 knot range. Sailing this boat was fun. The helm was smooth. It cut a clean wake. It was sensitive enough to reward subtle sail trim adjustments and balanced enough to keep tracking even if I took my hands on the wheel or was distracted by the chatter among my fellow boat testers. I also appreciated that all the sheets and traveler were easily reachable from the helm, visibility over the low coachroof was excellent, and that the seats on the coaming were actually quite comfortable.
The downwind portion of my test was animated by the optional asymmetrical spinnaker that we flew off the retractable carbon sprit. And once we heated up the angle and got the A-sail drawing, the hull skimmed over the water just as effortlessly as we had sliced to windward. There’s no doubt that this quick, responsive boat would be a fun to race. But what I really liked was unlike some cruising boats where you need to turn the engine on to keep moving if the wind dips below 12 knots (which, lets face it, happens a lot), the 36P still had plenty of get-up-an-go in the light stuff. The boat performed perfectly under power—turned on a dime with not too much engine noise—but the cool thing with a boat that sails this good, you’ll need to run the engine a lot less.
Displacement 14,109 lbs
Sail Area 818 sq ft
Dufour North America
Price Base boat $209,000