Dufour 45e Performance: An Award-Winning Package
With fine handling under sail and accommodations that stood out from the fleet, this rakish 45-footer earned CW's 2011 prize for Best Cruiser, 40 to 49 feet.
In 1964, a French engineer with a fondness for sailing named Michel Dufour opened a shipyard in the historic seaport of La Rochelle, and in the nearly five decades since then, Dufour and his successors have built and launched literally thousands of boats renowned for their sweet, even exquisite, sailing characteristics.
I haven’t reviewed them all, of course, but I’ve sailed quite a few. So I’ll put it simply, and without exaggeration: The new Dufour 45e Performance has to be one of the finest, purest, best-sailing boats of them all (see the complete photo gallery here).
Happily, some pretty good sailors—the judging panel for Cruising World’s 2011 Boat of the Year contest—concur with that estimation. For when the votes were tallied in the category of Best Cruiser, 40 to 49 Feet, the clear winner was this very versatile, almost-46-foot performance machine. And in the aftermath, the judges made it very apparent that the boat’s excellent speed and handling when the sails were hoisted played a significant role in how they cast their votes.
“Walking up to it on the dock, it didn’t seem like anything special,” said Ed Sherman. “But it was a whole different beast when we were out on the water. It’s a great sailboat.”
“The helm was dreamy,” added Tim Murphy, “maybe the best helm we’ve had, bar none.”
“If Dad’s going to override Mom on any boat we tested this year,” said Beth Leonard, “it’s going to be this one.”
Actually, there are plenty of features on the 45e that will bide for Mom’s attentions, too, and we’ll get to those soon. But for the moment, let’s focus on what makes this slippery, maneuverable, midsize cruiser/racer such a joy to sail. (Note: This really is the rare dual-purpose boat that will excel at each endeavor. To paraphrase one judge, “You could race this boat to Bermuda with your buddies, then take the kids cruising up to Maine for three weeks, and it would be perfect for both.”)
The triple-spreader rig, with a fully battened main, comes in two versions, an Intracoastal Waterway-friendly 63-foot mast (which can be coupled with a 6-foot-4-inch keel), or the taller, 68-foot spar (paired with a 7-foot-6-inch appendage). Our test boat was the latter model, and even though it was its first day of U.S. trials, on Chesapeake Bay, and it was saddled with a slightly smaller headsail than the conditions warranted, the 45e sailed like a witch. In 10 to 12 knots of ideal breeze, it trucked to weather at a solid 7.5 to 8 knots, and when the wind faltered a bit into the single digits, it still averaged out at just less than 7 knots. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a kite on board, though one can safely assume that the boat would be an absolute flyer sailing downwind with a spinnaker.