Best Full-Size Cruiser 50-54 Feet

Three French boats of similar size and price points came together to form the Best Full-Size Cruiser 50 to 54 Feet class, but the Dufour stole the show.

December 12, 2017
Dufour 520
Jon Whittle

Winner: Dufour 520

Three French boats of similar size and price points came together to form the Best Full-Size Cruiser 50 to 54 Feet class. The Beneteau Oceanis 51.1, Dufour 520 and Jeanneau 51 were built from three of the world’s most established and well-known high-volume production boatyards.

The Beneteau 51.1 was a fresh, new design, not a scaled-up add-on to a previous line of yachts. Its hull form includes a hard chine, something that Tim Murphy immediately noticed. “Beneteau was one of the first companies to add chines, they were in the first wave,” he said. “The chines were always aft of the beam, and you’d hear three things about why they were putting them there. Some would say it’s for styling, some for performance, some for interior volume. It does give you a structural bump in the hull form.

“This boat, according to a company representative, was inspired by Rambler, an 88-foot maxi racing boat that has a very, very fine entry forward and then the chine right up near the bow, so it gets some flare and volume straightaway. This Beneteau is also carrying the chine forward, which gives you low wetted surface below the waterline and then large interior volume outside of that. So this is a new thing we’re seeing.”


“I thought the boat sailed very nicely,” said Bill Bolin. “The code zero sail was fabulous, it really lit the boat up. It had a big bimini, but it wasn’t a problem getting out of the cockpit from the steering stations, which were in the aft corners.”

Jeanneau 51
The Jeanneau 51 is part of the company’s Yacht series. It employs parts from some of the larger boats in the line. Jon Whittle

“On the motoring side of things, this boat has plenty of power,” said Ed Sherman when discussing the Jeanneau 51. “At 2,800 rpm, we were getting 8.5 knots, and the sound levels were very low.”

“One of the things I hadn’t seen on a boat this size was the aluminum stringer system down below,” said Bolin. “During sea trials, we had light air, maybe 6 to 8 knots of breeze, and the boat was making 4.8 to 5 knots. And when the wind picked up a little, we actually registered 6.6 knots. It tacked through about 95 degrees, so from a performance standpoint the boat was pretty good.”


“The Jeanneau 51 is the smallest boat in Jeanneau’s Yacht series, which also includes a 54, 58 and 64,” said Murphy. “They call the transformer transom, which folds down to make a swimming and boarding platform, the ‘terrace.’ So they’re able to use the same part for the 51’s terrace as they do for the 54. It’s the same for the cockpit table. So that’s one of the reasons they’re able to bring in the smaller boat at a competitive price point.”

At $420,000 for the base boat, the least expensive yacht in this grouping was the Dufour 520. “In terms of motoring capability, it’s quite good,” said Sherman. “We got 9.2 knots at high speed, which was excellent.”

Beneteau 51.1
With a hard chine that is carried all the way forward, promoting some flare and volume straightaway, the long-legged Beneteau 51.1 was inspired by a maxi racing yacht called Rambler. Jon Whittle

“The Dufour offered the most pleasurable sailing experience in this class,” said Murphy. “It starts with the helm, which answered beautifully and I didn’t feel like I was fighting it. It was a very smooth feeling. We did not sail it in a lot of breeze, maybe 7 to 8 knots, but we were making close to 6 knots. I wrote down, ‘The helm feels good,’ and underlined it.”


The creature comforts were also outstanding on the Dufour. “There’s a lot of flexibility in the cockpit,” added Murphy. “When sailing, you use it in the traditional way. But once you’re at anchor you have sun pads that come out and a transom that folds down to reveal a sink, grill and fridge. So it becomes kind of a party platform with the outdoor galley.

“Down below, you have the [real] galley forward, so all of the social space is gathered right at the base of the companionway stairs when you come down. The navigation station slides forward, so you can use it as an aft-facing nav station or a forward-facing table for socializing. There were all these things that adapt to the different ways people use their boats, and that boat was also the best to go sailing on. The helm felt the best, there was a traveler on the main so you could shape your mainsail leech, and it had a good suit of sails, so it also gave you the most options there.”

“It has a lot of unique features, and they delivered them well,” said Bolin. “I feel the Dufour 520 was the winner of the Best Full-Size Cruiser 50 to 54 Feet class.” And so did his fellow panelists.


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