Dufour believes the design of performance yachts and mainstream cruisers has converged so much that its Dufour 470 can replace its two previous ranges. Rupert Holmes puts the new yacht to the test
Yacht design has made enormous strides in the past decade: the best of today’s new boats are safer, easier to handle, faster and a lot more spacious than older models and the Dufour 470, for the most part, proves these developments.
After David Raison won the 2011 Mini Transat in a scow-bowed Mini 650 of his own design there was excitement as to what this step-change in design thinking could mean for cruising yachts of the future.
Much of that discussion was focussed on the additional volume that would be available for forecabins. However, arguably the most important benefits of the new shapes being incorporated in cruising yacht design are improvements to handling characteristics, including a reduction in heel that improves comfort at sea.
The extra form stability that helped Raison to his Mini Transat victory is therefore also hugely beneficial to cruisers. While we haven’t moved to scow-bow production cruising yachts, in the past few years forward sections have become far more voluminous than ever before and overall beam continues to increase.
The first time you sail a recent, very high stability design is often a revelation and the Dufour 470 certainly doesn’t disappoint in this respect. An increase in wind strength that’ll see older yachts scrambling to reef often requires nothing more than a minor depower using the traveller, or by twisting off the top of the mainsail.
Our test took place from La Rochelle on a glorious mid February day with a warm southerly breeze.
I tried to press the boat hard, including carrying the Code 0 in 18 knots of true breeze with the apparent wind well forward of the beam, yet it proved extremely stiff, with a reassuringly solid feel. It was simply impossible to lean the boat over onto its ear.
A boat that heels less, demands fewer sail handling manoeuvres, and doesn’t induce panic in gusts automatically ticks many of the requirements of a great cruising yacht. Given that more sail can be carried comfortably such a boat can also put in faster passage times.
Much of this is down to the ability to maintain pace in lulls, without having to worry about carrying too much sail in gusts, which can have a big impact on average speeds. In these respects the Dufour 470 also shares qualities with some of the best of today’s racing designs that can be pushed exceptionally hard without reaching the edge of control.
Dufour 470: A variety package
A key difference between this design and a raceboat, of course, is in the deck hardware. However, Dufour has gone a stage further than its competitors in offering three different packages for different types of buyer.
These three options in one hull shape replace the two previous ranges, the Grand Large and Performance lines which Dufour has offered for the previous two decades.
The pared down ‘Easy’ specification is primarily aimed at the charter market, with all sail handling, including the German mainsheet system, carried out at a pair of winches located outboard just ahead of the two helm stations. This leaves the forward part of the cockpit entirely free for those who don’t want to participate in the action.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Performance package, which includes a cockpit mounted traveller, slightly taller rig and upgraded deck hardware.
Dufour expects most private owners to opt for the third ‘Ocean’ alternative. This has halyards, reefing lines and the controls for the coachroof-mounted mainsheet traveller handled at the companionway, with the rest taken to a pair of winches aft near the helm stations.
This is how our test boat was equipped, with the added benefit of optional electric power to the four sheet winches and one coachroof winch.
It’s an arrangement that works reasonably well, but is not perfect. Trimming the mainsail, for instance, may require adjustments to the sheet to be made aft and at the traveller at the companionway.
In addition, the outboard position of the sheet winches makes them more difficult to use than if they were mounted on a pedestal inboard. This is especially the case on the lee side when the boat is heeled.
Decent bins for the tails of the sheets handled aft are built into the steps (which also make it easy to move from cockpit to side deck). However, our test boat had no provision for stowing rope tails near the companionway and the otherwise neat double door arrangement in place of washboards reduces options for locating rope bags.
Unlike most designs with very wide sterns and chined hulls, the Dufour 470 only has a single rudder.
I’ve been a big fan of twin-rudder boats since first sailing one almost 25 years ago – the impressive control they provide when you’re caught with too much sail up is a massive benefit. I therefore worried that I’d find the Dufour 470 compromised in this respect, but happily my concerns were unwarranted.
The Dufour 470 rudder is positioned well forward, where it operates clear of the disturbed water near the transom and lifts only minimally out of the water as the angle of heel increases.
This of course is not a new concept – Farr did it with the Farr 45 back in the mid 1990s, and Fast 40s and TP52s adopt the same philosophy – but it’s by no means universally implemented on single rudder cruising yachts in an effective manner.
In addition, the Dufour 470’s extra beam and volume in the forward sections of the hull creates a more balanced immersed shape when the boat is heeled than earlier broad transom designs.
This has a number of benefits: it reduces the tendency for weather helm to build rapidly when heeled and there’s less tendency for the bow to dip and the stern to rise as the boat heels, so more of the rudder stays in the water. And, of course, the high stability that means heel angles are reduced, which also helps a single rudder to maintain grip.
The helm never felt heavy, nor was there any indication that the rudder was anywhere near close to losing grip. Even when fully powered up at hull speed on a reach, and pushing big bow and stern waves, the boat could be made to bear away without easing sheets.
Geared to light airs
However, there’s one inescapable aspect that means this yacht will never be a true performance design – the hefty displacement.
Granted, Dufour has done much to keep this weight down, including vacuum infusion construction that saves 600kg, but it’s still almost two tonnes heavier than the Sun Odyssey 490 and 2.5 tonnes more than the Oceanis 46.1.
This will be of little concern for most owners. Surfing down waves is fun, but when cruising a boat this size there’s rarely an imperative to push for double-digit speeds.
On the other hand, good light airs performance is important, as more time spent sailing and less time motoring improves the experience for all on board.
Promoting light air performance over surfing in strong winds is clearly an integral part of the concept and Umberto Felci has drawn enough rocker into the hull shape to lift the wide back end out of the water, thereby reducing wetted surface area.
Equally, the broad sections forward flare out around 30cm above the static waterline, thus minimising wetted surface area until the boat starts to heel. Then the extra form stability kicks in and ramps up quickly as heel angles increase.
The helm stations are positioned well outboard, which works well whether standing or sat securely either on the side deck or aft of the wheels. However, I’d have liked to see the option for engine and thruster controls, as well as MFDs, replicated on both sides of the boat.
A neat touch is the optional two-section bimini, which allows the helmsman to see the rig and provides unobstructed headroom when using the easy step provided just ahead of the wheels for accessing the side deck.
Upwind in 12-14 knots of true wind our test boat was not as easy to settle into the groove as a thoroughbred performance design. Nevertheless we made good speed at around 7 knots and 50-55° to the true wind. Any tighter than this reduced feel and saw a tangible drop in speed.
With a bit more breeze allowing for flatter sail trim we’d have been able to point higher.
In lighter airs the optional taller rig would be beneficial for sailing to windward, although the performance bonus would quickly become marginal once borne away far enough to use the Code 0.
Below 20 knots of true wind this is clearly a boat that will make its best downwind VMG sailing at angles, rather than on a dead run. I found a quartering sea tends to move the aft end around more than might be expected, although a leftover Atlantic swell didn’t help and in any case it didn’t take long to get the measure of the boat and keep an efficient, comfortable straight course.
Both helm seats lift up to give access to the big fold-down bathing platform, which also gives access to the liferaft stowage. Our Dufour 470 was fitted with Dufour’s trademark outdoor galley and barbecue, which is used with the bathing platform folded down. It’s an obvious option for anyone who expects to spend evenings at anchor.
The lazarette gives access to the quadrant and pilot ram. On our test boat it also housed the optional genset and aircon unit. This constricts practical stowage in the cockpit, although the foredeck has the usual deep sail locker.
An optional small sunbed above the lazarette access therefore supplements the shallow starboard cockpit locker, although it gets in the way when moving from one helm station to the other.
The forward part of the cockpit provides plenty of space for relaxation, even allowing for the lines handled at the companionway, and four people can comfortably sit around one leaf of the table, allowing a clear passage on the other side.
Praising the extra space and natural light in the accommodation of a new design of yacht risks being clichéd, yet every generation continues to improve in this respect.
Our test boat has what Dufour expects to be the most popular arrangement for private owners – a three-cabin layout with two heads and a full width galley at the front of the saloon. This gives a wonderfully bright and open arrangement that will clearly impress potential buyers at boat shows, which has long been an important factor in this part of the market.
It also offers very impressive forward galley space, including extensive worktops, twin deep sinks and a capacious two-drawer Isotherm fridge. Options fitted to our test boat included a pull-out coffee maker and microwave, though it wasn’t equipped with the small format dishwasher, or freezer.
Four cabin and three-head boats have the saloon to port and a smaller L-shape galley to starboard.
A big and bright owner’s cabin has a bed of a size that would put many hotels to shame, plus enough stowage to swallow many bags of clothes and provision to keep smaller items to hand. The separate toilet and shower compartments are well appointed and of a good size.
Both quarter cabins have decent ventilation, plus a large hull window and a glazed panel in the aft face of the coachroof. In the three-cabin boat the starboard one is slightly larger, but shrinks in the four-cabin version to allow space for a Pullman-style cabin with bunk beds ahead of it.
An increasing number of owners need to be able to work from on board their boats, so Dufour is working on an option for a flexible solution that would replace the short settee and stowage on the port side of the saloon with an arrangement that incorporates many of the features provided by business class aircraft seats.
Dufour has also worked to improve the build quality of Dufour 470, particularly with regard to the stiffness of the structure, which has a knock-on benefit in minimising creaks from furniture when the boat flexes as it passes over waves.
To increase structural stiffness there’s a composite girder running around the inner edge of the side decks and the midships bulkhead aft of the galley is firmly bonded to the hull.
Our test boat was the first to leave the factory and was fitted with almost everything on the options list and therefore had a much higher specification than most owners would choose, hence the high ‘as tested’ price. A typical on the water price for a private owner is likely to be around €325,000 ex VAT.
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For many the choice of boat in this part of the market is based primarily on interior accommodation and the Dufour 470 excels in this respect. It should clearly be on the shortlist for anyone who needs this much space. Against that, it’s not the most rewarding boat of this size to sail and the cockpit layout could make sail handling easier. It therefore may not satisfy all the criteria for those seeking a thoroughbred performance yacht. Nevertheless, the vice-free handling and high stability that makes for comfortable, relaxed and safe cruising are important points in the boat’s favour. And once you start looking at comparison boats the Dufour 470 appears tremendously good value for money – providing you can resist ticking too many boxes on the options list.