David Harding takes the Dufour Drakkar 24 for a test sail to find out what this new open daysailer is really all about.
During the summer in Poole I see dozens of sizeable offshore yachts heading out of the harbour and making the long and challenging passage to Studland Bay. Here they will drop anchor so the crew can have lunch and possibly row ashore for an ice cream before heading home again a few hours later.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing this and, besides, some of these boats do indeed go a good deal further than Studland – perhaps Swanage on occasions. Some even stay overnight.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that much of what many people do in their eight-berth 40-footers could be done just as enjoyably and far more economically in a 25-footer or, if they preferred, in a 40-footer with a large cockpit and a cabin with a few bunks. It’s not only a question of size, but also of the division of space.
In the Med and other parts of Europe it’s not automatically assumed that everyone wants maximum accommodation and a cockpit that’s just about big enough to accommodate the crew if they all sit still and keep their elbows in. There are stylish daysailers like the Saffiers from Holland and the Tofinous from France, in which the emphasis is very much on fun sailing and outside living, perhaps with somewhere to lie down under cover or brew a cuppa. In the UK, Rustler build the 24 and the stunningly elegant 33.
When it comes to trailable boats, however, it’s hard to find many over 20ft (6m) or so without a cabin except for sportsboats like the Melges 24 and Cork 1720. So if you want an open, trailable 20-something footer that’s not a flat-out racing machine, you might have a search on your hands.
Fun and engaging
Dufour is hoping that your search will lead you to its new Drakkar 24. Essentially she’s a big dinghy with a ballasted centreplate, aimed at clubs and sailing schools as well as people who want a boat that’s roomy, light, forgiving, undemanding to sail and easy to trail, launch and recover. At the same time she was designed to be sufficiently engaging to be fun to race.
Weighing a mere 1,900lb (870kg), the Drakkar has a swinging centreplate rather than a vertically-lifting daggerboard, and a cockpit with room for eight. She has no mainsheet traveller (though one is shown in the early photographs) and a conventional mainsail with a high boom and a conservative amount of roach that allows the use of a backstay.
Combined with the rig of modest size, the moderately proportioned hull and the single rudder, it sends out a clear message: she should be reasonably fast but definitely not furious. I will come to the systems and details, but first: how does she sail? If a boat like this doesn’t behave as she’s designed to, the rest is academic.
After several weeks of waiting for a suitable day, we finally found one and assembled at the Hamble River office of the Dufour distributor, Universal Yachting. The combined experience of the team on board covered everything from top-level regattas and championships to family cruising, and encompassed boats of almost every conceivable description. It was good to hear what others had to say as well, though naturally we all have our pet likes and dislikes.
What everyone was happy with was the boat’s performance in broad terms. Umberto Felci, who has been Dufour’s designer of choice for some years now, has undoubtedly done a good job. The boat was responsive, nicely balanced, comfortably stiff and quick enough to satisfy most people with realistic expectations, clocking high 4s to low 5s upwind in a Solent chop kicked up by a southwesterly 14-17 knots. As you might expect, she had a pretty wide groove on the wind to make life easy for the helm, but still let you know when you hit the sweet spot.
Like some sportsboats, the Drakkar is designed for sitting in: low stanchions and a single guardwire preclude hiking and also make the cockpit more secure for the young, older or nervous. Accordingly, there are no toestraps or opportunities for athleticism. The further outboard you can get your weight, the more powerful a boat will be, but that’s not the point here.
She had plenty of righting moment in any event with four of us on the high side. On port tack the chop presented more of a challenge and forced us to sail a little deeper than on starboard, so we kept the rig powered up and she punched through the seas with no complaints and without throwing a lot of spray in our faces.
With no traveller, you would need to make more use of the kicker in a breeze (and, of course, the backstay, which many sportsboats don’t have). As it comes, the kicker’s purchase is minimal and I would want to increase it substantially. That’s easy enough to do.
Otherwise the systems seemed to work as they should. The 2:1 sheets for the close-sheeting jib are taken to blocks on long tracks along the inboard edges of the seats. Main and jib halyards pass through clutches on the mast. From there they can be led aft for tensioning by a Lewmar 15 winch forward of the mainsheet that also helps raise the centreplate. Weighing 660lb (300kg) and giving the boat a healthy but unextreme draught when down of just under 5ft (1.5m), the centreplate accounts for over a third of the boat’s weight. When it’s raised, she could float on a wet lawn.
Thankfully the plate doesn’t bang around in the case. Not everything about it works quite so well, however: there’s a lot of glugging and splashing when the boat’s under way and water streams in continuously through the various apertures in the case. The raised cockpit sole makes sure it drains straight out through the open transom, but it does mean you won’t remain dryshod unless you’re wearing boots.
A fully-retracting centreplate makes far more sense than a daggerboard on a boat of this nature when it comes to beaching, launching from a trailer and sailing in shallow water. Full marks here. On the other hand, since a long centreplate slot is an inevitable consequence, I don’t understand why Dufour hasn’t fitted a slot gasket to reduce the volume of water being dragged along inside the case. Dinghies fit them for good reason. A gasket should make the boat both drier and faster (and quieter too). If you’re sailing a dinghy, or a sportsboat with a daggerboard, wet-footed sailing is to be expected. I would suggest that with this boat it might not be appreciated and is largely avoidable.
If you want to do things properly when not in danger of hitting the bottom, you insert the large screw that would stop the plate crashing back into the case in the event of a knock-down.
A lot of slop
Something else I would like to see improved is the rudder assembly. The blade lifts vertically through an open stock and has two plastic screws intended to stop it wobbling around, one acting laterally at the bottom of the stock and one fore-and-aft at the top. The trouble is that they don’t really do their job: there was still a good deal of slop. Wedging a piece of cloth (all we had readily to hand) between the blade and the top of the stock made little difference. To me, the whole rudder and tiller assembly felt slightly spongey and didn’t give the precise feel I would like. Since everyone else thought it was fine, such thoughts are clearly subjective. That said, I understand that Dufour has since made some design modifications on this front.
Tacking, gybing and manoeuvring was straightforward. There’s plenty of space for the helmsman between the shortish tiller and the 5:1 mainsheet, and a decent gap between the sheet and the kicker too.
Once you bear away to set the asymmetric spinnaker (on the options list, along with a symmetrical alternative) you pull out the pole that retracts into a recess in the foredeck, and hoist the kite from its turtle. Our test boat had a hank-on jib that had to be dropped and tidied up to keep it out of the water. While that’s common practice on sportsboats, the Facnor FlatDeck furling system due to be fitted later (together with a laminate jib) would make life easier.
Under spinnaker there was just enough wind to get the boat on to a semi-plane at times. We weren’t watching the GPS but must have been doing an easy 10 knots and perhaps peaking at a little more. Control downwind was fine as long as we didn’t try to sail too shy – which, of course, we did once or twice just to explore the limits. When you find them, the rudder loads up rapidly before much of the blade comes out of the water as the boat heels over and rounds up.
While Dufour is rejigging the rudder assembly, it might consider making the blade a little deeper and giving it some more balance.
Dropping the spinnaker down the hatch forward of the mast is simple enough. There’s plenty of room in the bow compartment for other things as well, though of course you wouldn’t want much weight so far forward and anything in there is liable to get wet when a kite is stuffed down on top.
Another hatch in the stern leads into a sizeable space under the cockpit. This is where you find the bilge pump, which was needed on this boat because much of the water that sloshed through the centreplate case came straight in here over the top of the bulkhead supporting the aft end of the case.
Above-deck stowage is beneath the cockpit seats, which are formed by sub-mouldings. Access to the stowage space, running the entire length of the seats, is via lids all of 5ft (1.5m) long. An outboard motor such as the Torqeedo on the test boat will easily fit in. Circular inspection hatches on the inboard side of the seat mouldings just abaft the mast open into the same space. Given the length of the seats, you might otherwise have to disturb several people to get at your sandwiches. It would perhaps make more sense to create some separate smaller compartments further forward, reached via hinged hatches, so you don’t end up hunting for those sandwiches as they slide along the locker’s 12ft length. You could do this on one side and leave the other as it is for stowing anything longer.
Further inspection hatches on the outboard side of the seat mouldings open into the main hull. It’s very modular construction, making use of plenty of sealant between the various mouldings.
The outboard motor, incidentally, fits on a transom bracket to port. As befits a French boat designed to appeal to sailing schools, there’s also a socket on the starboard side for a sculling oar.
In terms of construction and equipment, everything appears to have been put together reasonably solidly. Mouldings are neat and the stainless steel work looks good (at least it did when new). Investigating inside the bow compartment and beneath the cockpit reveals a reassuring number of stringers, bulkheads and stiffening members. Fittings appear to be up to the job (the under-powered kicker notwithstanding), spars are from Z Spars and the sails come from the Elvstrom loft.
The outboard bracket and the teak on the cockpit seats are included in the ‘Croisière Pack’ or available separately. A ‘Voyage Pack’ includes a trailer, deck cover and rudder cover, while the ‘Pack Course’ gives you laminate sails and the asymmetric spinnaker but still no mainsheet traveller. Our test boat had all three packs, taking the price before delivery to just under £36,000 (based on the exchange rate at the time of writing, though Universal Yachting sell in euros).
Early photographs show a traveller, which would help control of the mainsail. A bridle might work as a simpler and much less expensive alternative as long as the kicker is up to the job.
Dufour’s priority appears to be on keeping the layout clear and simple for sailing schools – it has already formed an alliance with the French Sailing Association – but a bridle would allow the boat to fulfil dual roles and satisfy those who would value the extra efficiency.
The Drakkar seems well suited for what she’s designed to do: she’s roomy, stable, simple and forgiving. She’s also sufficiently sprightly to be fun to sail, thinking nothing of slipping along at 8 knots on a two-sail reach. You’ll have fun leaving 35ft cruising yachts in your wake.
For all her positive attributes, in my view there’s still plenty of unrealised potential. Improvements to the rudder assembly and centreplate case would undoubtedly make her faster, drier, more rewarding and more responsive to sail. Preventing so much (or preferably any) water getting inside the hull would be a good idea too.
Our test model was an early example and no doubt Dufour will be addressing these points. The Drakkar is not designed to be as sporty or precise as the Seascape 24, for example (see PBO August 2017). Since the Seascape has a cabin, she’s perhaps not directly comparable. The Seascape is also appreciably more expensive and it’s easy to see why, though comparisons between the two boats are interesting given
If you want an open daysailer of this size that’s competitively priced and neither a sportsboat nor a
modern classic, there are few alternatives available in the UK. The Drakkar is different and she certainly shows promise.