Dufour 385

by Carlos Lareau

Blue Water Sailing
April 2006


close window

The Dufour 385 after 3000 Miles

When "compromise" is a good thing, reports the owner of the 385 Sagittarian

The term "compromise"-with its implication of trade off or concession-frequently sends a negative message when used in a boat review. But compromise is actually the central concept behind the Dufour 385, the inaugural model of this French builder's Grand'large cruising range. Having logged more than 3,000 miles on one of the first units launched, I can attest that Dufour's balancing act between "speed and need" has produced a fast, safe and remarkably roomy offshore cruiser that delivers good value in the crowded around-40- feet market.

The 385 is designer Umberto Felci's third project for the "new" Dufour that emerged in 2002 after the yard's association with Italy's Cantiere Del Pardo. The two previous models from Felci's board (the 40 and 34) are definitely cruiser/racers, but the 385 is aimed squarely at cruising sailors seeking good looks, lively performance and comfortable accommodations- at a reasonable price.

A dispassionate inspection reveals few design or construction breakthroughs vis-Ã -vis its competitors. Its shallow-raked bow is just a bit more vertical; its waterline length and maximum beam just a tad longer and wider; its three-cabin configuration just fractionally roomier. Equally, the Twaron-reinforced GRP hull, the injection-molded PVC sandwich deck, the 15/16ths backsweptspreader rig and twin-wheel cockpit are today fairly common in mass production European boats. What really sets the 385 apart is the way these features have been combined in a package under 40 feet.

The 385's main differentiator is the cockpit. Dufour is the first to introduce a yacht under 40 feet with twin wheels that create a clear passage from the companionway to the water's edge thanks to an effective fold-down transom. This is truly a boon when at anchor and provides seating for six adults around the teak-leaved folding cockpit table. All this open space, however, would become a liability on passage if it were not for the tubular stainless steel frame that supports the table. It provides a sturdy handrail and foot brace in rough conditions and divides the cockpit into two secure halves.

Abaft the wheel pedestals, the dedicated helming stations allow good visibility on either tack and seating is comfortable with the self-tailing Harken 42.2 primary winches within arm's reach. With the help of our Raymarine 6000 Plus autopilot (an excellent piece of equipment, I would add), singlehanding is simple, although trimming the mainsheet requires moving to the companionway.

The cockpit lockers are not deep due to the under sole aft cabins, but they are wide and deceptively roomy. A deep lazarette on the starboard quarter, an ingenious transom locker for the life raft and a two-canister LPG locker to port complete the deck stowage.

Transit forward along the 19- inch-wide side decks is safe thanks to teak coachroof handrails, an aluminum toe rail and 24-inch stanchions with double guard wires. The foredeck is appropriate for the bowman's work at sea and doubles as a solarium for the idle classes when moored. A 700-watt horizontal windlass-somewhat underpowered-is housed flush with the deck in a recess adjacent to a large chain locker. The windlass is angled in a way that mostly avoids kinks on the 180 feet of 10-millimeter chain and similar length of nylon rode that we have attached to the standard 36-pound Delta primary anchor.


Design and cost compromises on the 385 are most apparent in the rig. The 46-foot deck-stepped aluminum mast is slightly raked aft and supported by continuous cable shrouds, double swept-back spreaders and double backstays that keep the transom and bathing platform unobstructed. While simple and convenient for leisure, the arrangement preempts any meaningful fine-tuning of the rig. The standard wardrobe consists of a semi-battened main with a hint of roach and 120-percent furling genoa. The main is easily managed with a rigid boom vang, a somewhat narrow coachroof mainsheet traveler and lazy jacks. Headsail sheets lead to Amiot tracks and cars laid well inboard along the side decks. Main and genoa are of the "no frills" variety from Elvström Sobstad. After 3,000 miles wear is starting to show on the original suit, but both sails still have a similar amount of use left in them.

The remaining lines are led aft to Spinlock rope clutches and a Harken 32.2 self-tailing winch on the starboard side of the coachroof. As an option-which we specified-a similar winchand- clutch combination to port manages control lines for a spinnaker and a storm jib, both available from the yard.

Despite the relative shortcomings of the rig, the Dufour 385 provides a swift ride on most points of sail. The builder's numbers- corrected to allow for 2,600 extra pounds worth of fuel, water, gear and provisions- produce a SA/D of 18.6. Along with the other basic indicators (D/L is 204; B/D is 24 percent), the ratios suggest that the 385 is better suited for coastal cruising than for serious offshore work. However, the boat lives up quite well to her E.U. Category A (oceangoing) certification. She is a capable passagemaker that shows above average directional stability in relation to other similar light displacement cruisers. This is due to the 5.8-foot cast-iron fin keel with bulb and a deep semi-elliptical spade rudder. The twin wheels from Lewmar detract somewhat from the directness of a single wheel system, but the ability to steer from the weather rail on both tacks offsets the minor loss in "feel."

In a 10-knot breeze Sagittarian will hover around five knots, close-hauled at 40 degrees. Speed increases to the mid sixes by bearing off an additional 10 to 15 degrees. In the 12- to 18-knot thermal breezes prevalent in our Catalan coast sailing grounds, she quickly builds up apparent wind and attains 7.5-plus-knot speeds on beam and broad reaches, provided that the sea remains slight to moderate. When the chop builds up, however, the 385's flattish entry sections and light displacement make her prone to a fair amount of slamming upwind. This is merely a nuisance during weekend outings but more of an issue on longer passages.

The boat is a bit lazy in light airs from abaft the beam. That is when the asymmetric kite earns its keep on points up to 155 degrees apparent. Beyond that angle, well, a conventional symmetric spinnaker features prominently on my "next to buy" list.

We have learned that Sagittarian is at her best when the wind freshens to anywhere between 18 and 23 knots true. In these conditions taking in the first reef early is not only the safer tactic but the faster one as well. On a recent 100-mile passage between Barcelona and Mallorca with my two young adult sons we maintained a 7.1-knot average on a beam reach under single-reefed main and full genoa in no more than 20 knots true. During the return trip a week later, in an easterly that freshened to 24 knots, we achieved an eightknot average for several hours on a broad reach with one mainsail reef and one third of the genoa furled in.

The removable inner forestay and heavy-duty jib have proven to be wise choices. We have set the latter only once in a 35-plus-knot blow, and its effect was immediate. While we maintained a tightly furled scrap of genoa the strain on the rig and rudder was starting to be worrisome. Once set, the jib worked like a charm in conjunction with the deep second mainsail reef and allowed a bumpy but controlled reach to the haven of a commercial harbor.

The 385's standard engine is a 29-horsepower Volvo-Penta MD 2030. As an option, either a MD 2040 or a Yanmar 3JH4E-both water-cooled 39-horsepower diesels-can be installed by the yard. We chose the larger Volvo with saildrive (a conventional shaft is also available) and a standard fixed two-blade prop. In a smooth sea Sagittarian will sustain sevenplus knots at 2,500 rpms, well below the engine's 3,600 maximum nominal revs. Combined with good soundproofing, motoring over long periods is comfortable, fast and economical as the 40-gallon fuel tank will provide autonomy of some 400 miles at the mentioned turns. In reverse, the saildrive produces surprisingly little prop-walk to port (a shortcoming for closequarters maneuvering) but works well on the rudder once a modicum of stern-way builds-up.


The 385's cruising DNA is most apparent belowdecks. The yard offers three different configurations: two or three staterooms and one or two heads. As we often cruise with a revolving collection of friends and relatives we chose the three-cabin, two-head layout. Felci's design has made intelligent use of every available inch of volume, which results in a minimum six feet, two inches of headroom in cabins and heads. Both heads are comparable to those in any similar 40-footer. Each cabin is well ventilated, has a hanging locker and side shelves supplemented by additional lockers under the bunks.

Joinery work is of a good standard as far as mass production boats go. The woodwork is in Moabi mahogany-lined marine ply, with solid trimmings and doorframes. Cabin ceilings are kept simple with an off-white vinyl lining, and floorboards are scratch resistant and, so far, don't creak.

The longitudinal galley to port is equipped with a 32-gallon 12- volt fridge, a two-burner Eno gimbaled LPG cooker with oven and crash bar and twin stainless sinks. Hot and cold pressurized water is standard throughout, and a seawater foot pump is located by the galley sinks. Total water capacity is a generous 110 gallons in two separate PVC tanks.

There are fiddles on all work surfaces and just-about-adequate stowage for medium-range cruising. While functional at anchor or in port, the galley configuration is not the safest in a seaway. Some degree of bracing is afforded by the centerline seat facing the starboard-offset dinette table, but a galley strap is a wise precaution. The "C" shape of the dinette seat accommodates six adults although some contortions are required to reach the inboard section.

The dedicated navigation station is located to starboard. It has enough flat surfaces to install abundant electronics, but purists still have a proper 32-by-24-inch chart table and concave seat. The 12-volt DC system is managed with a VDO 12-switch panel and AC outlets are provided in all cabins. Dufour's experience shows in the placement of the three batteries totaling 400 amp/hours and electric bilge pump. All are easily accessed through side panels from the starboard aft cabin, an arrangement that keeps battery weight low and near the centerline but away from the bilges. Access to other plumbing and electrical units is equally practical, as it is to the engine's service points.

One of the boat's stronger points for warm-climate cruising is the grand total of 13 opening hatches and portlights which, combined with the good insulation properties of the injected deck, ensure the 385 is well ventilated and livable.

Well into our second year of ownership, Sagittarian has lived up to our expectations for comfort and exceeded them in terms of performance. She has made possible passage times of as little as 15 hours between the mainland and the Balearics, which result in a greater willingness of my family and friends to crew offshore and farther afield. She also passes the three-week liveaboard test with four adults on board-and an additional pair of guests on weekends-and does so with a degree of comfort that doesn't require daily pit stops in marinas to replenish freshwater and ice.

It is true that we have specified most of the optional extras (teak decks, larger engine, etc.), which, along with a high-end electronics package and other amenities, put her price at just under the US$200,000 mark. But we also believe we would be hard pressed to find a better overall deal in the 385's market niche today from builders on either side of the Atlantic.

Would I sail her across the pond? If forced to do so, yes, but with significant modifications in rig, DC-power generation and stowage. But being ocean capable does not necessarily mean this is the boat I would chose to sail over the horizon when I retire. Sagittarian does for us now exactly what she was intended to do: provide a reliable and comfortable cruiser to reach any corner of the Mediterranean when time is available- and double as a weekender when it is not. I am quite sure she would work equally well between the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean.

back to top