Dufour has just changed the game with how much boat you can expect to get in a 40-footer – but is that a good thing? Toby Hodges tests the Dufour 41
The number of bedrooms is usually the first line of enquiry for people looking to buy a house. It helps to categorise and price a property. So it stands to reason it can be no different for many when buying a yacht.
Yet surely we know what to expect from a 40ft production monohull these days. It’ll either have a two- or three-cabin layout with one or two heads, depending on how social you feel, right? Not any longer, not with the arrival of this Dufour.
Ever since the Beneteau Group shook things up when it brought out its new generation of Sun Odyssey and Oceanis hulls back in 2017, which use the full bow shapes employed by offshore racing designs to create extra volume, we have seen internal volume continue to swell. Bavaria and other mainstream yards have followed suit, using the trickery of naval architecture to minimise wetted surface while maximising space below decks.
None has managed to do so enough, however, to alter layouts and cabin numbers significantly for this mainstay 40ft size… until now. The new Dufour 41 is the only boat in this class to offer four cabins, including two forward cabins with proper double beds. It’s also offered as a three-cabin boat with up to three heads, so you can start to imagine just how much volume it has in its forward ends.
It’s always interesting how yards choose to promote their yachts. ‘Pushes the limits for ever more space’ are the first words of the brochure. After all, space is the prime reason why the multihull market and Dufour’s sister company Fountaine Pajot has burgeoned in recent years. It’s clear from the outset that this is a yacht that’s all about volume, deck space and natural light below.
The big question is: how has Dufour achieved this? Umberto Felci, who has drawn Dufour hulls over the last two decades, has cleverly combined this voluminous hull with an aggressive, modern, angular look. Full length hull chines are used plus contours to help incorporate those extensive black-panelled hull port surrounds. Aesthetically, it’s very much in keeping with Dufour’s latest launches, but it’s a wider boat. In fact, this Dufour is certainly one of the beamiest in its class, along with the Bavaria C42, at 4.3m – particularly in the forward sections.
This is the first Dufour styled by Luca Ardizio. According to sales director Nicholas Beranger, he made a big difference by finding space, despite Felci chasing the millimetres back for less wetted surface. “If I’m being honest, the sailing is a big surprise for us,” added Beranger, an experienced offshore racer – which, were you to read between the lines, might suggest they were expecting all this volume to pay a penalty on the water.
Physics of economy
He explained how they equipped Felci’s powerful hull with a comparatively taller mast. So by Dufour’s calculations the power ratio of the 41 is the highest yet in its modern range (a calculation which factors in sail area, length, wetted surface and displacement).
All of which raises a basic but fundamental question: in this race for space, why don’t manufacturers make their yachts as voluminous as possible and simply add mast height and sail area to keep the boat moving well?
“Because when you increase the mast, you increase the cost,” explained Beranger. This includes rig costs, more lead in the keel, and more fibre, wood and resin in the boat etc, which is not something volume production yards would want to do.
Chasing the breeze
An unseasonably hot and muggy June day greeted us in Palma, so stuffy ashore it made us long for a sea breeze afloat. Yet hazy cloud stifled the normally reliable convection until late in the day, so every bit of apparent wind we could generate was welcomed. There was plenty of beating in the lighter stuff to keep the breeze in our faces before it began to build to ideal Force 4 conditions by early evening.
We were sailing the Ocean version, by far the most popular of Dufour’s three main deck configurations. Where the Easy has only two winches, this has an additional two on the coachroof. The third Performance option also has four winches and does away with the table in favour of a 50cm longer boom and a centrepoint main (although no traveller).
The test boat carries upgraded sails including a 108% genoa. As per Dufour’s recent new test models such as the 37 and 470, these are Elvstrøm’s EKKO recycled laminates which, for around a €10,000 upgrade, is a good investment for better shaped full batten sails.
Elvstrøm has done a good job of maximising the roach too, which it could do thanks to the backstays leading right on to the quarters. A flat deck furler for the genoa helps allow for a full-footed headsail.
Sailing close-hauled with these enhanced sails in calm water we clocked 5.5 in 9 knots true wind, 6 in 6.5 knots and 6.3 in 10 knots at 50°, tacking through 90°. However, it felt a little lifeless in the lighter breeze and tricky to find its groove which, for a single rudder design, surprised me.
I found it liked to be sailed a little freer, which is typical of a modern, high volume beamy boat to help induce heel, reduce drag and keep speed up. For example, it averaged 6.5-7 in 11 knots at around 55-60º to the true wind but pinch below 50° and you lose over half a knot.
In the zone
The big yellow gennaker helped liven things up, increasing our heel angle and, thankfully, the apparent wind across the deck. We clocked 7 in 10 knots and a steady 8 in 11.5-12 knots, reaching at 95-100° to the wind.
Certainly there is an appreciable difference in feel once the breeze breaks into double figures. The Dufour heels a little but then remains at a comfortable angle. And when the sea breeze finally filled in to 14-17 knots and the boat powered up, it had a marked effect. The 41 felt that bit more sporty, deep reaching at 8-8.5 knots. It still wasn’t a sparkling performance, but it helped reveal how the full bow sections above the waterline, which buy that interior space, also help provide high form stability.
The 41 proved well mannered enough, while being easy to sail and control. Even when I tried to press it in 15+ knots, the rudder grip remained firm. Felci has positioned the blade relatively far forward which, combined with the form stability, helps ensure grip is maintained.
In terms of ergonomics, it’s all about maximised deck and cockpit space. This makes it tight in the quarters, especially with the optional guardrail cushions – which are comfortable when helming to leeward, but constrictive to windward. Steering and trimming is still easy and comfortable enough to achieve short-handed, although when helming you can’t quite straddle the wheel, so it is a bit of a stretch to reach a winch or clutch over the corner of the pedestal.
The large, long benches contain lockers each side, but there is no allowance for tail stowage designed in, either aft or at the coachroof winches, so it can get messy on the aft cockpit and companionway sole.
Were prizes awarded for tanning space on deck, Dufour would clear up, as it was early on to the trend of expansive, flat decks including using the coachroof and foredeck for sun lounging. In the cockpit, this entails a lack of protection as the low cockpit benches rely on backrest cushions for seated comfort, with no real support.
Dufour’s trademark outdoor galley was fitted to the test boat, a grill and sink option you access from standing on the swim platform. This can help extend cockpit space and transform life at anchor. Stowage is moderate in cockpit bench lockers and a lazarette, but consider that the latter also contains plumbing, seacocks and pipes and is split by the liferaft locker.
Up forward, the bulkhead for the forward cabin is so far forward there is no room for a sail locker on the standard layout. Even the chain locker has to be accessed through a hatch in that forward cabin bulkhead. If the four-cabin format is chosen, this bulkhead moves aft, which creates room for a chain and sail locker.
The design team has devised a layout where the space and volume of this yacht is felt throughout. The test boat has the 3+3 format, while the four-cabin option still offers two 145cm berths forward. When you include the saloon berths, this allows 10 to sleep aboard. Although not my idea of desirable on a 40-footer, this option will have its bums-on-seats appeal for the charter market.
The Italian styling is a big plus; the grey, white and black trim gives a smart, contemporary feel. Dufour says this model offers 60% more glazing than yachts of comparable length, which is believable when you note the size of the hull ports.
However, there is no chart table. “We’re working on a solution to have a workstation,” said Beranger, although he envisages having a communal space to work at rather than the conventional setup of an owner’s chart table doubling as a private desk.
Dufour has instead opted for maximum saloon and social space to enjoy that central beam, plus of course the potential for two aft heads. The fore-and-aft galley with an inboard countertop section works well and allows for a large fridge which can be accessed from the front or above. Raised lockers help bolster stowage space and there’s a large bin below the small twin sinks.
The saloon table can seat six and there’s good stowage beneath the seats and in raised lockers – but remember that with no navstation any passage planning or work will need to be done on this (non-fiddled) table.
There are handrails on the deckheads by the aft heads but another running parallel to the galley would be useful for walking forward at heel. At least 6ft 3in headroom is maintained right up to the forward berth, where the forward facing coachroof windows bring in more light (but sited too high for all but the tallest to see out of).
The attractive forward headboard is naturally lit from the large hatch above and allows you to recline and stare out of the large hull windows. It’s certainly inviting at rest, though a berth with headboard that far forward is one to avoid in a seaway. Deep, raised lockers on each side help supplement the good wardrobe and below-berth stowage, and this cabin boasts a proper en-suite with separate shower stall.
While the standard layout has identical aft double cabins, with a heads to starboard and a shower to port, Dufour’s extra options here could prove very useful.
For example, the test boat had toilets and showers on both sides, or a large wet hanging area can be chosen if going for a shower stall only.
The generous aft cabins have tall headroom and good natural light and ventilation. Again, you have to remind yourself this is only a 40-footer. Tanks below the berths limit stowage a little, but there’s good mechanical space between the cabins, while panels can be removed aft to access the lazarette and steering gear.
Look behind the scenes and you’ll find plenty of bare plywood, with unsealed end grain. That said, Dufour is continually improving its build techniques elsewhere. Technical elements are all kept central in the bilges now, for example, with piping runs neatly channelled under the sole – plumbing in one channel, electrics in another. The result is much easier maintenance.
Elsewhere deckheads are fixed with Fastmount fittings rather than Velcro, which are stronger and easier to access. And the companionway uses an aluminium frame for the wooden steps for a lighter effect. There’s good access to the engine bay under the steps and from both cabins, but it the engine itself was relatively loud under power at cruising revs, and really needs insulation on the main access panel.
The main topic of our last issue was the rise of more sustainable boatbuilding practices and it’s really encouraging to see the Fountaine Pajot and Dufour group leading by example in this respect. Following FP’s extensive development of electric and hydrogen power, Dufour has turned its focus to the development of materials and the employment of a recyclable resin formed of recycled material. It is using this to build a prototype 41 and fast track sail it before disassembling it to build another yacht, so proving its circular concept.
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The 41 is all about the volume and space it offers, the extra berths it can provide and the views and natural light it encourages into the boat. But volume comes at a price: weight. The Dufour is over two tonnes heavier than the Sun Odyssey 410. It’s more comparable to Bavaria’s C42 in volume and weight, yet with less sail area:displacement and less engagement on the helm. It still covered ground consistently well, but it’s not the most rewarding Dufour or modern production cruiser I’ve sailed, particularly in single figure wind speeds (the typical Med conditions that its deck layout suggests its aimed at). However, in a very competitive market area, the decision compared to other mainstream production yachts will, I wager, not come down to the sailing experience. The cockpit, deck, social and interior space, and crucially the option for that fourth cabin or third heads, could prove to be the deal clincher. It’s akin to house buying, where having a spare room for guests or a room each for the children could be invaluable. If you were to put it to a family vote, the lure of that extra cabin/space could swing things in favour of the Dufour.