Stand at the bow of the Dufour 525 looking aft as the boat loads up hard on the wind, and you'll appreciate what the clean-lines movement in yacht design has been about. On deck, this Dufour is elegantly simple in ways that are a joy not merely to look at but also to use.
The 525 is the flagship of the cruising series that Dufour calls its Grand' Large line, with seven models starting at 32 feet. It's also the winner of the Full-Size Cruisers category in Cruising World's 2009 Boat of the Year contest.
"The open, flat deck was just a pleasure to walk around on," said BOTY judge Ed Sherman after sailing the 525 last October off Annapolis. "I could take this boat out and sail it alone, just like a giant dinghy, and really have a good time with it."
Sherman wasn't exaggerating. We sailed 21 boats in this year's BOTY contest, and I'd be hard-pressed to name one that was easier than this 52-footer to sail shorthanded-never mind that it also happened to be the second-largest boat in the fleet.
In the five years since Cantiere del Pardo acquired Dufour, we've seen a steady shift in the direction of the company's designs. Taking a page perhaps from the Grand Soleil line of performance cruisers and grand-prix competitors that the Italian company also builds, Dufour's recent cruising boats feature details we'd normally associate with raceboats. The 525 displays some of the best of them in the service of shorthanded sailing: a retractable bowsprit from which to fly an asymmetric spinnaker (the tack can be adjusted from the cockpit); a double-ended mainsheet system of the kind that was pioneered for Admiral's Cup racing and that brings sail control all the way back to the helmsman; and a sleek profile that just begs you to sheet in and steer up. The clean deck also offers at least three places to stow a dinghy while under way.
"The long-waterline, wide-wedged design of this boat intrigued me from a performance standpoint," said BOTY judge Ralph Naranjo, describing his first impressions. But, as he said, the 525 isn't a raceboat. The boat's displacement-to-length ratio of 174 puts it squarely in the middle of the pack, where seakindliness begins to trump light-air performance: The 525 is 80 points heavier than a Santa Cruz 37 and 80 points lighter than an Island Packet 460. Closehauled in 8 or 9 knots of breeze, we sailed the 525 at 6.5 knots. Under power at 7.5 knots, it was among the quietest quarter of the fleet, thanks in part to its slower-turning Volvo diesel.
The Dufour 525 is a cruising boat, but one that's truly meant to be sailed-and deck monkeys need not apply. Taking the boat through several tacks alone, I could sit at either of the twin wheels and easily reach the mainsheet winch behind me or the genoa winch just forward. Certainly, the optional electric primaries will help trim the boat's 740-square-foot genoa in a bit of breeze.
The cockpit is spacious, yet nicely suited to the human form. Wide coamings offer a comfortable perch in the breeze. Settees port and starboard are long enough to nap on while also offering protection under the dodger; a bona fide sundeck aft of the helm took our accolades for best-in-show. "That sunbathing aft deck: fantastic!" said BOTY judge Stacy Collins, who also thought it would be an ideal spot at which to clean the day's catch. One deck detail we didn't like was that the ports in the cabin side open outward; an errant sheet could damage them.
The companionway features an innovative captive dropboard that can be raised to various heights and opened and latched from on deck or below without a key-a real plus.
Dufour offers eight different interior arrangements for the 525: three or four cabins; an L-shaped or inline galley; and either a sail locker or crew's quarters accessed by a deck hatch forward. The model we sailed featured three cabins, an inline galley, and the crew's quarters. In that version, the owner's stateroom forward of the mast features an island queen and a reasonably spacious head with separate shower. "The master berth was great. It was big and easy to get into," said Collins. "It had good reading-light placement, and the master head was really nice, too." She particularly liked such details as a bin next to the sink where you could put either jewelry and watches or toothpaste and toiletries.
The overall styling of the interior is pleasing, with touches of dark wenge set off by white upholstery. On the downside, the cabin sole flexed underfoot in the galley, and the back support behind the settee cushions felt thin and flexible for a boat this size. Minimal fiddles and usable sea berths led one judge to deem the main saloon "more of an entertainer than that of a long-term cruising boat." Many of the systems are installed according to European Union standards but not to those of the American Boat & Yacht Council. In particular, Sherman noted the side-opening door to the smallish LPG locker.
Measured in dollars per displacement, the sailaway price of close to USD $600,000 places the Dufour 525 in the less expensive half of the new-boat fleet. Whereas some price-sensitive builders give their best attention to how a boat will function as a waterfront home, Dufour has clearly focused on creating a boat that's a real pleasure to sail. The Elvström/Sobstad sails delivered as original equipment were among the best we saw in the whole fleet; the design of the deck and cockpit kept all the running gear both out of the way and low on friction; the feel at the helm was enough to send four BOTY judges off the water at the end of a long day smiling.
"This was a great boat to sail," said Sherman, "and overall, I liked it a lot."
I did, too.
LOA 50' 3" (15.32 m.)
LWL 45' 1" (13.74 m.)
Beam 16' 1" (4.90 m.)
Draft (shoal/deep) 6' 6"/7' 9" (1.98/2.36 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 1,066 sq. ft. (99.01 sq. m.)
Ballast (shoal/deep) 10,670/9,900 lb. (4,840/4,491 kg.)
Displacement 35,640 lb. (16,163 kg.)
Ballast/D (shoal/deep) .30/.28
Water 198 gal. (750 l.)
Fuel 132 gal. (500 l.)
Mast Height 68' 0" (20.73 m.)
Engine 75-hp. Volvo
Designer Umberto Felci and Patrick Roseo
Sailaway Price USD $595,000
Dufour USA Inc.