Dehler 39

by Quentin Warren

Blue Water Sailing
August 2002


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Modern design thinking and slick German engineering fuse in this sweet-sailing 40-footer from Dehler

Recently Blue Water Sailing had the enviable opportunity to spend time aboard a new German-built Dehler 39 amid ideal late-spring New England conditions. Sunny skies, T-shirt temps, flat water and a solid 20-plus knots of steady breeze prevailed for a day of intensive boat testing and comprehensive inspection. In a nutshell, what we discovered was an agile Judel/Vrolijk 40-footer with sophisticated performance parameters and stable, surefooted manners. Given enough breeze and time to put the vessel suitably through its paces, we came away with sound observations and a clear picture of what superior boat design and German engineering in its classic unfussy form are capable of producing. This is one very impressive sailboat.

While relatively new to the scene in this country, the Deh-ler operation has been up and running in Germany since 1963, which includes undergoing a corporate reorganization of sorts about seven years ago. The company has built itself around a philosophy that hinges on that great Euro word sportif—namely, comfort and recreation in its most competitive, sporting guise. The marketing nomenclature from Dehler, in its American variant, translates into the slogan “comfortable winner,” a soft phrase that probably doesn’t do justice to the quality and potential of the Dehler line. The 39 is quite superlative, in fact, from the way it is built to the way it is outfitted to the way it performs on the water.

The notion that you can create a production boat that appeals as much to a cruising couple with discovery and adventure on their agenda as to a racing zealot with an inconsolable urge to tweak and see results is central to the Dehler mindset. Both objectives are treated with equal resolve, and neither appears compromised for the sake of the other. The 39 is a pretty boat, clean and comfortable below, with a great galley, terrific accommodations and a wonderful easy motion in a breeze. The 39 is also an effortless nine-knot boat, with a powerful mainsail sheeted at the end of the boom to a traveler at the helm, a bendy 9/10, three-spreader rig, and a versatile bow outfitted with conventional symmetrical spinnaker gear as well as a proprietary deck-launched carbon-fiber strut for asymmetrical VMG work.

Modern and innovative from bow to stern, the design by Judel/Vrolijk emphasizes stability, stiffness and speed, with a nod to contemporary notions of hullform and a deep respect for what makes a boat feel good underway. The bow is virtually plumb and the stern enjoys a modest overhang abaft the rudder; the result is maximum LWL, which attaches the boat squarely to its waterplane and optimizes hull speed. Notably, hull sections show a good amount of deadrise from the entry at the stem right on aft through station seven or eight—certainly evidence of an effort to avoid flat sections forward with their tendency to induce uncomfortable, potentially destructive pounding. Narrow sections at the bow develop max beam about 2/3 of the way aft, and most of this beam is retained right on through to the stern. This enhances form stability overall and control downwind. We sailed a standard 39 with Dehler’s 6’5” high-aspect trailing-bulb fin keel and deep elliptical balanced spade rudder, and we found balance and response to be faultless; offered for those of you upriver is a 5’6” shoal-draft option, and for those of you with French blood a deep 7’9” fin.

A run through the numbers bears out the thinking behind this boat, namely that she aspires to be fast, easily driven, well powered and steady on her feet. Ballast/Displacement tips in at 40 percent—rock solid—and it accounts for the ability of the 39 to utilize a sizable mainsail in conjunction with a 9/10 foretriangle and to remain upright in a wide wind range. To be sure, we carried a full main and 100-percent jib throughout our testing in wind ranging from 15 to 25 knots, and never saw the leeward rail buried nor anything more than spray across the bow. Displacement/Length at 128 is bantam, and Sail Area/Displacement at 22.1 is substantial though not overwhelming. These parameters are spry by any conventional cruising-boat yardstick, but entirely reasonable in terms of modern design and the capabilities of vessels rendered according to modern construction techniques.

Those construction techniques are distinctive at Dehler—in many ways quite different from what we may be used to in the States. Hull lay-up is by hand using isophthalic polyester resin, mat, roving, balsa core, and multi-directional FRP fabric. Kevlar is applied to the bow for added stiffness and strength in that critical area. Fiberglass athwartship floor beams are laminated into the hull. They stiffen and provide structure to the boat overall, reinforce high-load situations such as the mast step and keel bearing, and provide virtual monocoque ring-frame service at the chain-plate stations, where stainless tie rods secure to massive stainless box girders belowdeck, in turn bolted to solid fiberglass knees carried by this formidable structure. A molded pan accepts the interior, including major bulkheads and architectural elements, all of which are assembled, secured and bonded before the hull ever leaves the female mold.

Likewise the deck. The part is fabricated in its own mold, with balsa core included for stiffness and insulation, and aluminum backing plates glassed in where fittings and hardware installations are anticipated. Once all the major bulkheads are in place, the deck in its mold is suspended above the hull for joining.

The hull-to-deck joint is simple if unorthodox: Basically, the vertical edge of the deck is butt-joined where it rests on the topsides, without overlapping or thru-bolting. The detail is bonded from the inside along its entire length with four layers of mat and woven roving followed by a 10mm strip of balsa core, all of which is glassed over heavily with additional layers of mat. On the outside, the butt joint is filled with resin before being covered by a rubbing strake that is sealed to the hull and mechanically fastened. Dehler has been using this method for years without a problem. Dynamically, once the main bulkheads are bonded into their dedicated slots in the prefabricated floor pan below and deck headliner above, followed by the execution of the hull-to-deck joint, the boat achieves virtual monocoque structural integrity. It certainly feels that way when you’re aboard in a breeze.

Given the modular nature of the hull’s pan system, Dehler offers you a certain amount of latitude in terms of layout and amenity below. You can opt for two heads, for example, one adjacent to the forward cabin and the other aft, or increase locker capacity and go for a single head aft. You can maximize sleeping accommodations in the stern beneath the cockpit, or restrict this area to a modest berth in the port hip which allows the starboard side to be turned into what Dehler likes to call a “garage,” basically a great spot for stowing cruising gear, tools, spare line and what have you.

The 39 we spent time aboard includes the single head aft and the walk-in garage feature in the stern. A nicely proportioned L-shaped galley with a three-burner stove outboard and a pair of sinks inboard closer to centerline resides at the base of the companionway to port. Behind this is a snug berth in the port hip. A proper nav station is built in on the starboard side, with adequate surface area for the installation of instruments and electronics. Aft is the head as described, leading into the garage utility space in the starboard hip. The saloon features a U-shaped wraparound settee to port and conventional straight settee to starboard. All the way forward is a roomy V-berth with the locker option in lieu of the second head.

Finish work is rendered in high gloss cherry although other treatments are available. The look is clean and simple—in keeping with that polished German industrial approach—including thoughtful details such as recessed halogen lighting on dimmers throughout. Floorboards on the cabin sole are fitted fairly tightly to avoid creaking and assembled according to an interlocking system wherein a few key sections are screwed in place, allowing most of them to secure jigsaw-puzzle style. This allows you to pull the floor up—theoretically—by unfastening those key sections and removing the panels in order. It is clean as a whistle as long as you don’t have to get into the bilge in a hurry; a simple fix and a worthy recommendation might be to replace those countersunk screws with some quick-release hardware capable of being deployed without a tool.

The engine—in our case the optional 38-horsepower Yanmar 3JH3 diesel—resides conventionally beneath the companionway and powers a very tidy saildrive unit just aft. Basic access involves the remove-the-companionway-steps drill, with further access through removable modular panels in the after cabins. A pair of 4D house batteries and a separate start battery are dogged down with hefty aluminum straps and live beneath the garage floor near the engine, with room allocated for an additional 4D and a separate battery charger. Freshwater and fuel tankage is beneath the settees in the saloon and under the V-berth forward. Plumbing and electrical conduits are meticulous-ly organized and clearly labeled, and all systems are well supported by an impressive owner’s manual. There is noteworthy emphasis on safety and on the clarity of user instructions. In a word, the Dehler 39 is clearly thought-out, intelligently engineered, and simply organized.

Topside, the combination of high-brow gear, sophisticated sail-handling and sail-trimming systems, uncluttered decks and overall savvy execution underscores the notion that this is a sailor’s sailboat. Standing rigging for the 9/10 fractional spar is discontinuous Dy-form, with three sets of spreaders swept back to obviate the need for runners. The mainsail projects a vast 480 square feet of sail area—substantial, especially when you compare it to, say, a J/42 (417) or a Sabre 425 (379). It is sheeted at the end of the boom to a Fredericksen continuous mainsheet system on a Harken traveler just forward of the steering pedestal. As noted earlier, a conventional mast-mounted spinnaker track shares the foredeck with a carbon sprit designed for modern asymmetrical kites. The jib is sheeted through adjustable cars. Everything on the 39 is tweakable, from the rig by way of its mechanical backstay to the loose-footed main at all three corners to the headsails and downwind canvas.

Deck details worth noting include a spacious cockpit courtesy of the boat’s beamy stern, and a sizeable bridgedeck at the companionway that accepts pocketed Lexan washboards with ingenious convenience—slide ‘em up and lock the boat, slide ‘em down and open it up, no fussing with stowage or fit. Cockpit coamings are angled to spare the small of your back. The helm features a huge destroyer wheel that allows you to sail the boat comfortably from either rail. Steering is by way of super-smooth Whitlock linkage to a deep, finely balanced elliptical foil. The helmsman’s seat opens and folds down to create a good-size stern platform for swimming and boarding. Finally, the standard non-skid surface applied by Dehler is the material TBS, which pretty much does for sailors what Hartrue did for tennis players years ago: It provides superior grip wet or dry, and it even features a remotely spongy quality that renders it about as comfortable underfoot—and especially on your knees—as any nonskid in the industry.

There is a lot to like about the Deh-ler 39. Driving and sailing her are at the top of the list. Close-hauled over flat water with true wind in the high teens and puffs well into the 20s, we remained comfortable with a full main and 100-percent jib, hitting solid sevens in boatspeed at 30 degrees of apparent wind, 45 degrees true. Tacking angles were well within 90 degrees. Steering in these conditions is a fingertip exercise, with just enough helm to give you a groove to work with. Considering the predominance of the main, keeping a hand on the traveler is key, and vang-sheeting with the car dumped to leeward lets you ride out momentary bullets. In truth, the boat is so nicely balanced and so well set up that when a puff does hit, she’s apt to stand up to it and translate the velocity change less into added heeling and more into acceleration and forward drive. Needless to say, cracked off in these conditions the boat settles into the high eights and nines; a crew with a kite up should have no problem trumping even that.

It is worth noting as well that nothing creaks or groans aboard the 39 and this has to be a testament to the input of the yard in Germany. Simply put, the boat is solid and reassuring. You can play with it rather than work against
it or feel the need to pander it, and this is as much a pleasure for you at the helm as it is insurance for the ST 6000 beneath your feet just waiting for you to quit having fun and relinquish the wheel.

We would enjoy taking the Dehler 39 just about anywhere. In view of its performance parameters, it is not a high-volume boat with unlimited payload potential and accommodations for your entire extended family, but as modern 40-footers go, it certainly is cognizant of the needs of cruisers, and by no means is it a radical alternative to the traditional notion of cruising in something heavy and slow. It just happens to be a bit more svelte and a lot more fun. Other models in the current Dehler range available in this country include the 34, the 36, the 41DS (deck saloon), and the 41CR (cruising). A 47-footer reportedly is in the works.

LOA 38’9” (11.8 m.)
LWL 35’1” (10.7 m.)
Beam 12’6” (3.8 m.)
Draft (std. bulb) 6’5” (1.96 m.)
Draft (opt. shoal) 5’6” (1.68 m.)
Draft (opt. deep fin) 7’9” (2.36 m.)
Ballast 6,174 lbs. (2,801 kgs.)
Displ. 15,400 lbs. (6,985 kgs.)
SA (100%) 856 sq. ft. (79.5 sq. m.)
Mast above water 61’3” (18.7 m.)
Ballast/Displ. 40%
Displ./Length 128
SA/Displ. 22.1
Fuel 29 gal. (110 ltr.)
Water 65 gal. (246 ltr.)
Auxiliary 3-cyl. Yanmar 3GM30 27-hp. diesel
Designer Judel/Vrolijk Design
Base Price US$193,659

Dehler America, Inc.
335 Lincoln Street
Hingham, MA 02043
Ph: 781-749-8600
Fax: 781-740-4149

Dehler Segelyachten GmbH
Im Langel 22
D-59 872 Meschede-Freienohl
Ph: +49 2903-4400
Fax: +49 2903-440282

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