"I'll pick you up at the fuel wharf," said Dufour's Jason Antill, on his mobile phone. That could be tricky, we thought, given the gathering numbers of twilight racing boats at the dock, so we made sure we were there before he arrived, on his own, on what is not an inconsiderable lump of yacht.
We needn't have worried, because the Dufour 525 pulled up beside a gap just slightly longer than its 15.3m overall length and stepped neatly sideways to the dock under the combined effort of rudder, prop and bowthruster.
Kez and I jumped aboard and the thruster did its bit to haul the bow away positively. Jason knows what he's doing, of course, but the Dufour 525's relative ease of handling under power exemplified what we were about to discover under sail.
We motored across the bay and picked up Jason's brother, Joel, from a tender. This exercise was also made easy by another of the Dufour 525's secret weapons: a powered transom door that folds down to become a teak-faced swim platform. Behind this large opening and under a huge cockpit sole hatch is a garage that's large enough to hold a tender and a host of playthings.
Already, we were starting to become impressed with this handsome craft.
The construction techniques used on the 525 are similar to the Performance models, except the deck is not injection-moulded because of its size. The hull and deck mouldings are of sandwich construction, using closed-cell PVC foam, while the gelcoat is NPG to prevent osmosis.
The sandwich structure improves stiffness without weight penalty and improves sound and thermal insulation. Sections of the hull and particularly the deck, where hardware is attached, are monolithic FRP to increase local strength and avoid any chance of water penetrating the core. There is a minimum of structural wood inserts beneath deck fittings.
Twaron fibre, similar to Kevlar, reinforces an inner, grid-shaped moulding that helps spread the keel and rigging forces through the hull. The grid strengthens the hull and has grooves to house the bulkheads and cabin furniture.
The standard deck finish is diamond-point, non-slip moulding, but the test boat was fitted with an optional teak deck and cockpit floor.
The deck-hull joint is mechanical/adhesive and covered by a sheer strake with a raised toe board section for grip when the boat is heeled.
The standard bulb keel is epoxy-coated cast iron with a draft of two metres, but the test boat was fitted with the optional 2.35m-draft iron/lead keel.
Like the hull and deck, the elliptical rudder is closed-cell foam filled and attached to a solid stainless steel stock, mounted in self-aligning bearings. The rudder quadrant is coupled to twin 1100mm diameter stainless steel wheels by chain and crank linkages. There's an emergency tiller and post under a deck plate.
The 9/10 fractional rig has an aluminium mast fitted with twin swept-back spreaders, and the cap shroud and lower rod rigging attaches to common chain plates. The backstay is fitted with a block and bridle, and the test boat had an optional hydraulic backstay-tensioning cylinder.
Overseas, 525s have various types of mainsail furling, but Antill Marine has come up with a simple, yet easy to use, self-stowing system. The test boat was fitted with a North Spectra fully battened main, with carbon slides and a matching, furling Spectra headsail with modest 105 per cent overlap.
The anchor is a 25kg Delta mounted on a twin bowroller and an electric windlass spins 30m of chain and 60m of rope into a deep anchor locker.
On the test boat, the easily handled headsail was supplemented by an asymmetric spinnaker that stowed conveniently in a forward sail locker that's accessed via a huge Lewmar T70 deck hatch.
The cockpit can seat eight comfortably around a drop-side teak table and there's a choice of backstay-tethered sun awning or a full-width bimini.
Mid-boom sheeting and a coach roof traveller make sailing with awnings in place a, err, breeze. A large spray dodger folds flush with the coach house roof, under a snap-off cover.
The standard winch package is twin Harken 2H60STA sheet winches and twin 48 halyard winches, but the test boat was fitted with twin 53 aft-mounted winches for helm-position mainsail control. The main halyard and the primary winches on the test boat were electric.
A nice touch is a rope locker at the leading edge of the cockpit that stows halyard tails without clutter. The steering compass is recessed into the cockpit table, instruments are located at each steering station and an optional chartplotter was mounted centrally on the test boat.
The 525 hull and deck doesn't shout "cruiser", in fact it features high freeboard, slight sheer, telescopic bowsprit, near-upright stem and a low-profile coach house that give the yacht more racing than cruising features. The wide cockpit, powerful, well-positioned winches, hidden lines and twin wheel arrangement wouldn't look out of place on any modern race yacht.
So the exterior impression says "race", but then you go below...
The companionway's clear door drops down in a pair of slides, which means it's always in place and easy to adjust as a storm board, but it could do with further recessing to get rid of the lip above the companionway. Leather-covered handrails, non-slip steps and cabin sole, make going below a safe operation - and welcome you to a new world.
Patrick Roséo's interior is more like a plush apartment than a boat cabin. The hatches and ports are fitted with translucent blinds and seem deliberately square to make the ambience home-like.
The test boat was kitted out with an owner's layout - one of eight choices - incorporating two aft cabins with shared head and a large for'ard cabin with vast island bed and en suite. Unlike most V-cabins the Dufour 525's doesn't have a pinched feel, because the for'ard bulkhead butts up to the large sail locker not to the chain locker.
The aft cabins have full headroom and opening ports beneath the cockpit seats. Generous storage spaces elsewhere in the cockpit mean there's no need for headroom-robbing cockpit seat lockers.
The 525 is designed to hold up to 12 people, and the dinette and portside settee can seat that number in comfort. Overnight accommodation could stretch to nine but dedicated bed space is provided for six in this version. A five-cabin, four-head layout is available for charter work, with the sail locker transformed into a skipper's cabin.
COOK UP A STORM
The test boat was fitted with an L-shaped galley with a practical island double sink, 100lt top opening and 130lt front opening fridges, and generous fiddles around the work surfaces. A 75lt freezer is optional.
The navigation station has a full-size chart table and plenty of storage space. The electrical console displays circuit breakers, amp/volt meters, and fuel and water gauges.
Access to the optional shaft-drive 110hp Volvo diesel (75hp saildrive standard) is via a lift-up companionway stair, plus side access panels in the aft cabins. The standard four-battery bank is underfloor, immediately for'ard of the engine and the test boat had two additional 80amp/h batteries in place. Fuel capacity is 500lt. A 60lt water heater is backed up with 750lt of water tankage.
ON THE WATER
We sailed on the Dufour 525 during its tune-up phase, while the Antill boys were playing around with the sails they had specified. The main went up under electric halyard power and the jib unfurled quickly.
The choice of only slight overlap in the furling headsail was deliberate, to make sail handling easy. The penalty was reduced pointing angles going upwind, using the standard genoa tracks, but the cure is a simple barber hauler that pulls the jib sheet further inboard, improving sheeting angles. It was scheduled to be fitted straight after our test.
However, given that many gentlemen don't sail sharply to windward, we were happy to discover that the 525 romped along at eight knots in a 15-knot breeze, cracked off slightly, with the boom down a tad. With the barber hauler, the Dufour 525 should foot it with any of its peers.
The high-set mid-sheeted boom, with traveller ahead of the companionway and aft-mounted mainsheet winches, made gybing and going about a safe operation with no chance of novices getting smacked by the boom or the mainsheet.
The relationship of the wheels and sheet winches proved to be ideal. It was possible for a single-hander to trim both sails and steer at the same time, with the autopilot and powered sheet winches doing their bit when needed. Even with manual sheet winches the 525 would be an easy boat for two people to sail.
After playing around on the breeze, we bore away and tried out the blue kite. A crew of three proved ample for this operation: one steering, one zooming the bowsprit, then clipping on the halyard, so the trimmer could hoist the spinnaker in its sock out of the for'ard locker.
At this point the deckie clipped on the tack strop and sheets and pulled the sock zipper line. Presto, the world ahead went bright blue and the 525 picked up her skirts and powered away from the chase boat. On flat water, in 15kts of wind the GPS said 10kts. Nice pace, perfect balance.
Gybing was fuss-free. With what seemed like a basketball court of teak to wander around, the for'ard hand walked the clew across the furled headsail, inside the spinnaker tack line, while the sheet hand reeled in on the new gybe.
The optional powered sheet winches took the hard work out of trimming. With practice, a two-person crew could do the job, snuffing the spinnaker in its sock for gybes, if necessary.
The kite came off as easily as it went up, with the carbon fibre snuffer collar - why do they look like dunny seats? - doing its bit very smoothly, before the bagged kite dropped down the sail locker hatch. The jib rolled up like grandma's blind and packing the main in its bag was a revelation.
The weight of the battens and the slippery mast slides let the sail drop quickly and the soft Spectra cloth folded happily. The bag zipper worked from the mast end of the boom, using an endless control line. No one had to climb on the boom to pack the sail away.
With great reluctance, we motored almost silently back to the dock and went ashore. We didn't get the chance to test the 525 in a seaway, but the Dufour pedigree suggests it should handle chop without any difficulty.
As a long-distance or liveaboard boat, the 525 is right at the top of its class. Now, if we flogged the house, the cars, the bike and the boat, and sold the mother-in-law into slavery...
|DUFOUR 525 GRAND LARGE|
|Price as tested: $894,696 w/ options|
|Options fitted: Deep keel, 110hp shaft-drive engine, electronic pack, safety pack, North Spectra sails, asymmetric spinnaker with snuffer, teak decks and cockpit sole, backstay awning, cockpit covers, two swivel settee seats, GPS tracking, autopilot, chartplotter, spinnaker/mainsheet winches, leather-sleeved wheels, powered sheet and halyard winches, adjustable genoa cars, removable inner forestay, hydraulic backstay tensioner, opening aft-cabin ports, retractable bowthruster, two additional batteries and charger, for'ard holding tank, freezer, and more|
|Priced from: $688,900|
|Material: FRP sandwich hull and deck with interior reinforcing grid|
|Length overall: 15.32m|
|Hull length: 14.99m|
|Waterline length: 13.74m|
|Draft: 2.0m (2.35m optional)|
|Berths: Three doubles (seven layouts optional)|
|Headsail: Up to 68.8m²|
|Make/model: Volvo diesel|
|Type: Saildrive (shaft drive optional)|
|Rated HP: 75 (110 optional)|
|Prop: Fixed three-blade (folding optional)|
Antill Marine Sydney Harbour,
Suite 5/138 Cabarita Road,
Cabarita, NSW, 2157
Phone: (02) 8004 2035