Dufour 455: Livin' Large on the Open Seas
Quiet comfort is the rule aboard the Dufour 455, a new and innovative performance cruiser
At one time, the Dufour name was among the most widely known in cruising, carried to harbors throughout the world by the revolutionary Arpège 28. Always third fiddle to Beneteau and Jeanneau among French sailboat builders, the company long struggled to maintain a distinctive identity, but since being acquired in 2003 by Cantiere del Pardo, which already controlled Grand Soleil, the upmarket Italian builder of racer/cruisers, Dufour has regained focus. Invoking the heritage of Michel Dufour, a pioneer not just in his designs but in how he built them, the new Dufour Yachts presents itself as an innovator that employs advanced methods to build boats of cutting-edge design.
One of the first moves the revamped company made was to reorganize its production into two distinct but parallel lines of boats: the Dufour Performance series and the cruising series, the latter tagged "Grand' Large," which translates roughly to "open seas."
Its three-digit number characterizes the Dufour 455 as a Grand' Large model (Performance models bear only two digits), and physical features further distinguish the two lines. To accommodate cruising gear, the Grand' Large hulls are a little deeper and somewhat fuller forward and aft than the Performance hulls. As befits cruising boats, their sail plans are less lofty, though plainly adequate, and their keels a little shallower. Both lines share an attractive look, lean and linear with nearly plumb bows and low cabin trunks. Designer Umberto Felci has used economy of styling to great effect.
On a gloomy afternoon with a gusty, damp, northerly wind off Annapolis, Maryland, conditions in which several boats earlier had needed reefing to bring them to heel, the Dufour 455 stood up just fine under full working sail of main and 130-percent genoa, proving itself energetic and yet well balanced. For a boat with in-mast furling (an option), it seemed surprisingly agile, no doubt partly because the vertical-battened Elvström Sobstad mainsail was responsive to tweaks on the outhaul and traveler. Speaking of which, if the traveler were longer, it would enable the midboom mainsheet to do much of the work of the vang while loading up the boom much less.
The jib winches can be operated from the helm, but all the mainsail controls lead to either side of the companionway, well out of reach for a busy helmsman. In the conditions of the test sail, the boat was content to steer itself with the steering-wheel brake on, but in more trying circumstances, a solitary watchstander would want to have an autopilot while trimming the mainsail. To its credit, Dufour installs appropriately beefy Harken winches-44.2 STs on the cabin top and 53.2 STs as primaries.
Modern beamy boats have wonderfully big cockpits. On the 455, it's bounded by deep coamings, sturdy pulpits on the quarters, and a chunky, not-too-wide folding aft seat/transom step, all of which, together with the large, solid table, give it a feeling of security. Moreover, the dual-wheel arrangement permits easy and safe access from the helm to the cabin-top winches when a quick adjustment is needed.
The clean-looking, deck-stepped Sparcraft 15/16ths rig has double spreaders swept well back and continuous rigging. On each side, cap, intermediate, and lower shrouds connect to a single chainplate close to the cabin trunk, leaving the side decks clear and permitting a tight sheeting angle for the headsail. A tierod carries the load into the hull to a longitudinal girder behind the saloon furniture. Low step increments from cockpit seat to coaming to side deck to coachroof also contribute to easy navigation of the deck. The only hazards are the multiple lines leading from mast to cockpit, which could roll underfoot, but with the in-mast furling, there's little need to walk on that area of the cabin top.
The boat tested, a 2005 Arpège Limited Edition, had laid teak on the side decks and in the cockpit, suggesting that some sailors, for the sake of good looks and the unmatched feel of teak on bare feet, are still willing to undertake a little maintenance. That the decking is glued down, with no bungs to pop, should ensure that upkeep is minimal. That it's optional will appeal to others.
On the foredeck, the anchoring system is cruiser oriented, with twin rollers projected well forward by a stainless-steel support. The Quick windlass is partially recessed in the deck, port of centerline and aft of the chain-bin lid, which is designed so the chain can be hauled in or paid out with the cover closed or open. A pair of robust mooring cleats on the edge of the deck look well able to handle snubbers and mooring lines, which can be stowed along with other bulky deck gear in a roomy sail locker under a large access hatch.
Under power, the boat performed admirably, and it responded to the helm even when reversing in a crosswind. The relatively low-revving Volvo engine and the saildrive, together with effective insulation, created comfortably low sound levels.
Dufour offers two arrangements belowdecks in the 455, one with three staterooms and one with four. They differ only forward of the main bulkhead. The test boat had the three-cabin layout, hence a single master cabin forward with a private head and stall shower. That cabin's generous island berth is flanked at its foot by small settees and outboard by lockers and shelves; the rather sumptuous space is brightly lit and airily ventilated by a pair of escape-size hatches in the overhead.
The aft cabins are, in comparison, modest but still adequate. The berths are wide and have surprising space above them, given that they're under the cockpit. A "technical space" separating the cabins along the boat's centerline houses mechanical necessities and the batteries, with room to add to the standard 200 amp-hour house bank. The engine occupies the forward end of this space, tucked behind the companionway steps, which raise up on gas struts to provide access.
Following the theme set by the boat's linear profile, the saloon of the Dufour 455 is a classic example of how straight lines and right angles can create a living and working space that's functional, comfortable, and pleasing to the eye. Along the port side, the head abuts an in-line galley. To starboard is an inviting dining lounge and a rectangular chart table of practical size. The outboard settee is curved just enough to soften up the overall visual impact and yet still be useful as a sea berth (though it's not rigged for a lee cloth). The centerline settee, curved to match, has a hefty grabrail incorporated into its back and serves as a support for the cook.
When the boat's at rest, the 455's galley is entirely practical. It has a long worktop for which the hinge-down doors of the outboard lockers provide useful temporary backup. Top-opening refrigeration with hinged and strut-supported lids meets the expectations of traditional cruising sailors, and a substantial safety bar protects the range. Under way, the cook might feel more secure wearing a strap, especially on a heavy-weather port tack, because the back support doesn't run the length of the counter.
The accommodations are fitted out in Moabi mahogany, with the cleanly styled components precision manufactured and finished with a gloss varnish. None of the wood surfaces are painted, so the interior could be dark if it weren't so well lit, during daylight hours by numerous hatches, deadlights, and ports and at night by carefully placed lighting.
In keeping with its founder's practices, Dufour uses thoroughly modern construction techniques. To protect the hull against osmosis, the NPG gelcoat is backed up by NPG resin in the skincoat, the internal grid structure supporting the keel is reinforced with Twaron (an aramid fiber similar to Kevlar), and resin infusion permits the balsa-cored decks to be constructed lightly and reliably.
On the whole, Dufour has succeeded in producing a creditable cruising boat with attractive details at a price that makes it a good value (as distinct from "value priced"). Some quirks-the miniature bilge sump being one-are likely the price of production efficiency. Other touches-such as the foam strips under cabin-sole lift-outs, which keep them from rattling; the sealed edges of the floorboards; and the massive, stainless-steel bonding strap connecting the keelbolts to the grounding system-are signs of a builder willing to invest in small details that count big in the long term.
As a starting point for a variety of adventures, the Dufour 455 has a lot of potential. Fresh off the boat-show dock, with a few groceries aboard, it was ready to explore some inviting Chesapeake Bay anchorages. If local IRC or PHRF racing is the attraction, the 455 has the pedigree to make a good showing. It has the volume to carry cruising gear, its tankage of 66 gallons of fuel and 140 gallons of water is sufficient for modest passagemaking, and fitted out for offshore work, it's a candidate for the Caribbean 1500 or the Baja Ha-Ha. A liveaboard couple could even convert one of the aft staterooms into a handy storage compartment with standing headroom for a workbench.
To assist its worldwide network of dealerships in providing ongoing service to customers, Dufour works closely with suppliers, which it calls "strategic partners," that also have global reach. Among these companies are Harken, Raymarine, Volvo, and Elvström Sobstad. This arrangement will also provide continuing support to sailors inclined to pursue the nomadic heritage of the Arpège into the far corners of the world.
Dufour Yachts Responds
The Dufour 455 was designed as a more family-oriented alternative to our Dufour Performance 44. By incrementally increasing volume in the middle and aft sections of the hull and slightly widening the cabin trunk while still retaining ample side decks, we've increased overall volume in such critical areas as the main saloon, the galley, and, especially, the cockpit.
A spacious, deck-accessed sail locker just aft of the anchor locker gives the Dufour 455 a much roomier master cabin. This stateroom-located 5 feet farther aft than on the 44-also has a much better motion at sea and is now isolated from the chain locker while at anchor. We've found this use of space to be easily the equal of an aft cabin on a center-cockpit layout without the compromises normally associated with that type of vessel.
True to Dufour Yachts 42-year heritage and the Italian design flair of Umberto Felci, the 455's hull is built for striking looks, speed, and stability. The cockpit, with dual helms and a fixed stainless-steel-and-teak folding table, has been designed for all-weather entertaining, especially when set up with the dodger and bimini options.
Dufour Yachts' new cruising range, now available from 32 to 52 feet, fits perfectly for most of us ex-racer types who are ready to enjoy time aboard with family and friends and are unwilling to compromise on either speed or comfort.
Harold Del Rosario
Dufour Yachts USA
Dufour 455 Specs
LOA: 45' 2" (13.76 m.)
LOH: 44' 2" (13.45 m.)
LWL: 39' 1" (11.91 m.)
Beam: 14' 1" (4.30 m.)
Draft: 6' 7" (2.00 m.)
Sail Area (100%): 849 sq. ft. (78.90 sq. m.)
Ballast (iron): 6,614 lb. (3,000 kg.)
Displacement: 24,251 lb. (10,426 kg.)
Water: 140 gal. (530 l.)
Fuel: 66 gal. (250 l.)
Mast Height: 58' 4" (17.90 m.)
Engine: 55-hp. Volvo diesel with saildrive
Designer: Umberto Felci
Price: $306,250 (POE U.S. East Coast w/ basic electronics and sails)
(410) 268-6417, www.dufouryachts.com