Monday, February 18, 2013

Dehler 41 Review

About a year ago, when we were still searching for a new boat, I came across a beautiful 2005 Dehler 41 on Yachtworld. It had all the right gear and was well priced, but it had a teak deck and a couple of other features that made it unsuitable for us. But that is not to say that it was not a good boat. Quite the contrary, it was a fine cruiser/racer and we came close to making a bid on it in spite of all that teak.

Fast forward to February 2013...I've been eagerly anticipating the unveiling of Dehler's new 38 here in the States but not surprisingly, it's running a bit late. So while we're waiting for the new boat I thought it would be fun to take a look at the latest version of Dehler's 41 footer. The Dehler marque is not as well known on this side of the Atlantic as other German names such as Hanse and Bavaria, but the company has a long and admirable history of producing high quality boats for both cruising and racing. Unfortunately, Dehler, like many other sailboat manufacturers in the last decade, had a close encounter with oblivion, but was rescued by the Hanse Group. This German boatbuilding conglomerate owns the Moody line of yachts as well.

Back in the 1980's and '90's Dehler worked closely with the E. G. Van De Stadt design firm and produced such IOR classics as the DB1 and the Sprinta Sport, which some 35 years on is still going strong as a one design class in Europe.
DB1 Circa 1980.  A well balanced IOR design

For the Dehler 41, the builder turned to the firm of Judel/Vrolijk. Americas Cup aficionados may recall that Rolf Vrolijk was the chief designer for the winning 2003 Alinghi team. Friedrich "Fietje" Judel, the other half of the design team recently retired from active involvement in the office, but the J/V firm continues to produce extremely fast and good looking designs. Okay, enough history, let's take a look at the new 41.

Sleek lines and no chines
The D41 fits into that very competitive market segment that includes the Jeanneau 409, the Beneteau First 40, Elan 400 and others. With a Displacement/Length ratio of 152 and a Sail Area/Displacement ratio of 22.85 we can call this boat a medium-light and moderately high powered cruiser/racer. But the numbers don't exactly tell the whole story. Let's take a look at the drawings and photos of the boat to get a fuller understanding of the performance potential of the D41. Notice the plumb bow and longish stern overhang in the drawing above, then take a look at the proportions of the stern in the photo below.

Dehler 41. Notice the very powerful stern sections. 

Those powerful aft sections add about three feet of waterline length and change the D/L ratio to a much more competitive 125. Then notice the mainsheet traveler on the cockpit sole and the removable transom door. Add the deep keel with nearly eight feet of draft and suddenly the Dehler 41 looks like a dangerous competitor on the race course.

D41 Deckplan. Clean lines, spacious cockpit, conventional ergonomics.

Looking more closely at the deck, notice that the chainplates are located nearly at the sheer. This dictates non-overlapping headsails for upwind work. Again, this is something we find mostly on race boats but it also makes good sense on cruising yachts. The aft winches on the cockpit coaming are dedicated to the mainsheet. This boat is equipped with what is referred to as the German or Admirals Cup mainsheet system. It leads from the traveler up through the boom, then down to the deck from the gooseneck fitting and back aft under the deck to the winches. De riguer on grand prix racing yachts for years, this system is becoming increasingly popular among the racer/cruisers as well. In the plan view the cockpit coamings look rather hard-edged but in reality they are artfully shaped and look like a reasonably comfortable place to sit if you're steering or trimming a sheet on race day.

This is a nice racing cockpit, but what about cruising? The wide open transom, which is lightweight and functional, isn't necessarily the best thing for cruising, so Dehler compensated by incorporating a "tailgate". I'm not a fan of this arrangement because for cruisers there are ever so many reasons to step out on the transom while at anchor, in a marina or under way, and raising, lowering and generally fiddling with that thing is inconvenient at best. In my opinion a better solution would have been to extend the transom a bit and forego the tailgate. I also question the angle of the cockpit seats. They are angled aft about nine degrees. This is totally acceptable for racing because the crew will be on the rail most of the time and the trimmers will be perched on those comfortable coamings instead of on the seats. But let's say you're cruising and the crew consists of yourself and another person. When you are on watch you're likely to be sitting on those cockpit seats twisting your neck to see forward as your vessel plunges through the night toward your destination. In such conditions I think seats that are parallel to the centerline of the boat would be more comfortable. This is a small point in the overall scheme of things, but it's these details that separate a great cruising boat from a good one. On the other hand, notice that the halyard winches are on the cabin top and there is plenty of room between the helm, the mainsheet winches and the jib sheet winches. The D41 will be a more efficient boat to sail than those that have the halyards and control lines led aft, either inside or on top of the coamings to someplace near the helm.

Going below, Dehler offers a wide range of variations in the accommodations. On their web site I scrolled down until I found the one that works best for me. I recommend that you visit and do the same thing. There is enough variety there to please almost everyone. Anyway, I chose the version pictured below. It offers two cabins, a relatively large galley and a single spacious head.

The Dehler 41 offers excellent accommodations for the cruising couple.

Beginning in the forward cabin, the V-berth is of modest but adequate dimensions, leaving plenty of space for a comfortable seat and a large locker. Aft of the main bulkhead we find a conventional main salon, with a "U"-shaped dinette to starboard and large settee to port that incorporates a nav table. Aft of the navigator's seat is the head, which incorporates a spacious shower. This will be much appreciated by those who cruise aboard this boat. The galley is of reasonable proportions and aft of it is a spacious quarter cabin. The boat is blessed with lots of storage capacity aft of the head and in the very large lazarette area. To me, the clean, simple styling of the Dehler 41 is evocative of a modern, or perhaps post-modern version of  the Bauhaus school of design. Straight lines, pure functionality and simplicity of form all work together in the styling of this boat.

I think Gropius or Mies van der Rohe would approve of the D41's styling.

This stylistic approach may not work for everyone, and I have criticized the Hanse 415 for being a bit too squarish for my taste, but I have to respect the quality of design in these accommodations. The same can be said of the deck design, with its softly curving coamings in contrast with the harder edges of the rest of the cockpit, and the sleek yet functional proportions of the cabin trunk.They all strike a nice aesthetic and functional balance that appeals to me.

Simple elegance combined with impressive performance potential in the D41
When I began to study the Dehler 41 I was prepared to find it unappealing, as I did the Hanse 415, but I think the designers and builder got it right on this boat. It is clearly a fast and powerful vessel, no question about that. But more than that, they found the right balance of form, function and performance. As I studied the photos and drawings of this boat, I got the sense that the D41 isn't a wolf in sheep's clothing, it's more of a wolf in wolf's clothing. I like this boat!

1 comment:

  1. This is what you called simple but beautiful. Well organized boat space.