An award-winning offshore blaster, the Dehler 30 is many things to many sailors. But can a short-handed one-design racer-cruiser really tick so many boxes?
Talk to those who have switched to short-handed offshore racing and you’ll be hard pressed to find many who want to go back to a weather rail stacked with crew. It’s not that they’ve suddenly realised that they don’t like sharing the experience with others, or that the boat just feels cluttered below, but that it is just more satisfying sailing two-up. Plus, it’s often a lot cheaper. It’s these two factors above all that surely explain the increase in popularity in this kind of sailing.
Yet, unlike the moment when we realised that planing sportsboats were a lot more fun than the tubby lead mines of the day that rolled downwind like metronomes, or the sudden realisation that gybing an asymmetric spinnaker was no harder than tacking a jib, the growth in short-handed offshore sailing has been more gradual. And it is also building from another corner of the sport as the momentum for the new Olympic offshore class in 2024 gathers pace.
As the plans for Paris 2024 are now starting to take shape, where mixed gender entries will be a requirement, there is also a feeling that there will be opportunities for a wider range of age, experience and crew weights. This has triggered a fair bit of interest among a broader group of sailors than normal. It has also drawn the attention of some of the world’s top builders as they look into producing boats that might tap into this new scene.
Of course some, like Beneteau, have been in this space for a while with their Figaro range of offshore racers. Jeanneau has also been successful most recently with its SunFast 3200 and 3600 models, with the new Sun Fast 3300 starting to make an impression as well. Other builders like JPK, J/Boats and Pogo have also been successful in developing interesting boats in this area. And now one of the latest to step into the ring is Dehler.
Well known for its innovative approach to design along with a racing heritage that stretches back to the 1980s when boats like the DB1 put it on the map, the German production builder has launched a 30ft offshore pocket rocket that appears to be aimed straight at the short-handed world. It is a boat that ignores handicap rules like IRC and focuses instead on creating a strict, high performance, offshore one-design.
But let’s get one thing out into the open from the start: this is a boat with an identity crisis. Look at the pictures and study the detailed deck layout and spec and it is easy to see that this is a well thought out, comprehensively equipped racer. Yet study the interior layout and overall style and the message is that while it’s a modern, quick 30-footer, it’s also designed to be a sprightly family cruiser. So can it really be both?
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When viewed from the outside, the Judel/Vrolijk-designed Dehler looks every bit the racer. The reverse profile bow and the heavily chamfered topsides/gunwale that extend forward from her chainplates give the look of a smaller version of a number of well known racing machines – the Fast 40+ Ran, countless Class 40s, or even the previous Hugo Boss IMOCA 60 spring to mind.
When viewed from dead ahead the rounded, full-sectioned bow and a hard turn of the bilge from slab sided topsides to flat underwater sections are further indications of the modern offshore style. And then there’s the fixed bowsprit off which the Code 0 and A2 and A5 kites are flown. It is removable for cruising, but when it’s in place (as it was for us), it shouts racing.
So too does the carbon mast, the square-topped mainsail and the twin backstays, with tails led forward through rope clutches to the primary winches mounted conveniently for the helmsman and crew. The coarse and fine tune mainsheet systems, along with a mainsheet traveller that runs almost the complete width of the ample beam are also dead giveaways that this boat is set up to race.
The number of control lines led aft onto the coachroof top or into the cockpit make intentions clear too. And it is impossible not to notice the adjustable stainless steel bar foot braces and a well-thought-out side deck without imagining yourself locked in position for a long stint at the helm during a lively downhill sleigh ride. It even has outrigger struts to open the sheeting angle on the Code 0, just like the Volvo 65s.
It’s clear that a huge amount of thought has gone into the design. In plan, the delta shape sees the maximum beam carried all the way aft to the stern from midships providing the means to generate a high righting moment. The full sections forward where the volume is low down are indications that the distribution of buoyancy is in keeping with modern thinking and contributes to the righting moment using the hull form without creating unnecessary drag through excessive wetted surface area.
It’s likely to be a well-balanced boat when heeled, and the 200kg water ballast tanks on either side add a further boost to righting moment and hence performance. Pump these up using either the gravity or electric feed systems and you have the equivalent of 2-3 people on the rail – people that you don’t have to feed or hot-bunk with.
As it happens, the sporty looks are also in line with the modern cruising style. Beamy sections aft frequently lead to twin rudders, whether you’re racing or cruising. The Dehler 30 is no different, although the linking mechanism between both rudder stocks and the single centreline-mounted tiller is fitted above decks making it very easy to get to. Liferaft stowage is under a lifting section of the aft deck and accessible from the water, whichever way up the boat is: yet another illustration as to how detailed the thinking has been.
Nimble and responsive
Like modern cars that have become bloated with every iteration, today’s boats generally feel bigger than they did a few decades back. Strangely, the Dehler 30 feels smaller. I’m sure half tonners felt bigger than this? The reality is that when compared to other popular brands in this scene such as the Beneteaus, Jeanneaus and JPK’s it is indeed shorter. But the Dehler also feels small in a good way – a boat that feels right for two from the off. It’s a size in which pretty much everything is close to hand without having to let go of the helm.
Short-handed offshore sailors prefer not to depend entirely on their autopilots. Instead, most take the pragmatic view that at some point it will break down and hand steering will become essential. They also believe that at times humans can still sail better than a machine. But aboard the Dehler 30 there is another issue and that is that once you’ve taken the helm, you’re unlikely want to give it back.
Light, nimble and responsive, you barely notice that it has twin rudders such is the balance between them. In keeping with modern thinking it’s designed to heel fairly early to a point at which the windward rudder offers minimal drag, which in turn helps to get that single blade feel on the helm.
Manoeuvrability is good under sail, but also under power thanks largely to the fixed three-bladed prop which provides plenty of prop walk… which in turn makes up for the lack of prop wash over the rudders. Overall this is a boat that has been designed to be sailed hands on. Whether you’re steering from the side deck or organising the pit, everything is close to hand, making tacks and gybes as straightforward as they can be.
Our trials started off in a light breeze and in this the Dehler ghosted along nicely before conditions picked up to a modest 10 knots. That was sufficient at least to establish that this is a well-balanced, slippery boat. The modern sailplan gives the first indication of why it performs so well. A high aspect ratio non-overlapping, hanked-on jib that is just 5.5m2 smaller than the 34.5m2 square-topped mainsail is the first indication of an ample and sophisticated sailplan.
Aside from the provision for a Code 0 and downwind asymmetric kites, the staysail mounted on a detachable inner forestay will be good off the breeze as well as upwind when things have got punchy offshore. The single spreader aft-swept rig is an important part of this with a set of D2s that terminate at the inner forestay mast attachment to give good fore and aft support when you’re hammering upwind under this reduced sail plan.
Less obvious, yet another big contribution to the all round performance, is the 2.20m deep 82kg carbon reinforced fin and 840kg bulb configuration. Aside from generating plenty of righting moment, the deep, parallel-sided fin is efficient when it comes to providing lift, a key reason why it feels like it gets into the groove with ease.
The choice of fin and bulb is interesting as it is unlikely to be treated well under IRC and provides another indication as to how focussed Dehler is on one-design and short-handed sailing. But if it does have a weakness it is the speed with which a snake pit of ropes can build up in the cockpit. And while careful control line management is the answer, the clutter stems largely from an overly sophisticated deck layout and snug cockpit.
Having got used to what this boat is all about on deck and underway, the big surprise comes when you head below decks where, instead of a Spartan racing interior, the layout is far more modern cruiser. This is where the identity crisis lies.
Had you simply headed below without looking at the layout on deck you’d likely not be surprised. The trademark Dehler offwhite/grey and red trim also has wood laminate saloon bench seating and a table on the centreline and looks just like you’d expect of a contemporary Dehler.
And with a modest galley to starboard that’ll take a portable fridge, an open plan forepeak, enclosable heads to port and a couple of ‘almost double’ berths aft, it looks like a snug modern production cruiser.
The giveaway is the lack of floorboards, which help to achieve a decent 1.82m headroom in an otherwise low freeboard boat. That and the internal water ballast tanks.
But for me the oddest of detail was the fabric hull liner. While it looks smart on a new boat, it reminded me of boats from another era that didn’t stand the test of time well, and made me question whether a boat of this type really needs it. On that point, Dehler says the creature comforts account for less than 100kg in total and suggest this is a good use of weight when it comes to broadening the use and the appeal of the boat.
But when the boat will be raced primarily by people who like having the sidedeck to themselves for hours on end as they chase down their rivals offshore, I’m not sure that comfort below decks is at the front of their minds.
This boat grew on me quickly because it was so comfortable and rewarding to sail. It just feels like it fits. It’s is easy to handle short-handed and so taps into this growing scene while also appealing to what sportier types may want when they’re family cruising. But sprightly cruising does come at a price. At a base cost of €108,000 excluding VAT and around €160,000 with a full spec and VAT paid it might seem pretty expensive for a 30ft production built, fast family cruiser. Yet come to it from a racing mindset and this is a boat that wants for nothing. With such a comprehensive and high quality specification along with the promise of good one-design racing, it’s an appealing prospect. So can this be both racer and cruiser? The answer is yes, so long as you regard it in this order.