Dehler has successfully used its racing pedigree to create a refined performance cruiser, reports Kevin Green.

Dehler is not a name synonymous with sailing in Australia but this could very well change as the revitalised company introduces its newly designed range. The first of the newly Simonis and Voogd-penned three-boat assault on world markets is the Dehler 44 which has just arrived in Australia. The performance cruiser comes in three variations, an SQ and Regatta, in addition to the standard boat. This will be followed by a new 34 and the semi-custom 60, slated for the year end. The SQ version combines a performance package with a high standard of finish and the Regatta is a lighter, all-out racer with carbon spars. Both these models also come with epoxy hulls, as opposed to the basic vinylester model.

Nowadays, the company is once again becoming a major force in European yacht building with an annual production run of 170 from its Sauerland factory in the rolling green hills of central Germany.

Historically, the company became known for its Van de Stadt designs, after buying the yard from Ricus van de Stadt in 1973, who continued with the firm until his death in 1999. But fast racing boats were a trademark of Dehler during its 40 years and it made a big name for itself with the DB IOR-orientated range in the 1980s. However, as the IOR scene waned, so did the company's fortunes throughout the 90s. But things changed when businessman and Dehler fan Wilan van den Berg bought the company in 2004 and built on a successful strategy that saw the Dehler 47 winning European Yacht of the Year 2003/2004, American Yacht of the year 2005 and the 2007 Yacht of the Year award for the new Dehler 44. There were five boats in this 12-14m category: Grand Soleil 40, Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 42 DS, Maxi 1300 and Najad 440 AC. So, with that level of competition, getting the gong was no mean feat.

First Impressons
But looking at the review boat as it bobbed alongside the dock, I could see why it stood out – it's undoubtedly a refined looking boat with sleek lines and a racy-looking, narrow hull and tall topsides.

Very much in the mould of modern IRC racers (it has an IRC rating of 1.157), the review boat was the base model with extras that includes teak decks and mouldings on the low-profile cabin top. Also moulded on is the deck-to-hull fitting to maximise rigidity. Strength has also been prioritised underwater with the keel recessed 300mm up into the hull to support the lead bulb. Draft options are 2.25m for the 44, 2.55m for the SQ and 2.5m for the Regatta, but the 44 review boat (hull no.22) had the deepest keel fitted to maximise performance.

On board
Dehler's racing reputation for innovation has continued with the new range and it's apparent as you step on board into the wide-open transom. Distributor Stephen Ellis gave me the choice of leaving some hardware on the dock by easily unclipping the deck boxes that double as the pushpit. This left the twin wheels and slick looking binnacles exposed, which gives easy access to the pull-out stern ladder that nestles inside the transom. Interesting design ideas abounded in the cockpit – the sunken table that pops up, the locker in the sole for a liferaft and the functional folding washboards. Importantly, also instant access to the rudder post for emergency steering is good, with the tiller in another roomy cockpit sole locker.

Most of the other aspects of the cockpit are what you'd expect on a performance- orientated boat – the Harken traveller just in front of the binnacles and two Harken HB48.2 mainsheet winches complemented by a couple of HB60.2s genoa winches. On the cabin top, one of the halyard winches was an electric model, a handy accessory for quick hoists, especially in cruising mode when short-handed. The uncluttered overall look of the deck was helped by hiding most of the running rigging in gutters with all lines leading back to the cockpit, Another nice touch is a recess for a dodger on the cabin top.

Moving forward, the sensible hand-holds sit strongly bolted near the teak cladding on the cabin top – a good non-slip surface for the cruiser when sail handling at sea. The Selden rig is conventional with three spreaders and shrouds going through the deck, (rather than strapped to the gunwales) and a twin backstay tensions things, thanks to hydraulic Holmatro gear. Rod rigging was used on the review boat that distributor MDBS plans to campaign in local regattas. The basic sail plan uses a poled out spinnaker (150m²) with both fractional and mast-head halyards. But a fixed prod can be fitted for an asymmetric as well. North Sails were heavily involved in the sail plan and the company's dacron versions come as standard. Single line slab reefing is deployed on the main.

But convention was again deviated from up front with an interesting Furlex 2000 system that had the mechanism above the deck but the drum below to give a slimmed-down appearance. For racing, a twin-foil groove is fitted on the furler. Behind it, the huge anchor locker housed an interesting lift-out arm for the plough anchor deployment that worked well – you didn't need to have the muscles of an America's Cup grinder to pull it out. A Lewmar windlass and remote control finished things off well. A slight concern was the lack of rubber or other seal on the flush hatch to prevent heavy seas from filling up the big locker. Another quality touch is the neat fold-down cleats along the gunwales.

Below decks, the three-cabin layout again comes with interesting variations. The review boat had the conventional U-shaped galley on the port side with saloon seating on both sides and the navigation table behind it to starboard. The traditionalist in me preferred this to the longitudinal starboard galley alternative, as this reduced the saloon seating.

Galley facilities looked well thought-out with adequate work surfaces, good joinery and plenty of fridge capacity. Cooking is by a three-burner stove and oven, with twin sinks and beautifully curved drawers below. The glass splashback is not a favoured fitting for me but it?s something that could easily be unbolted.

Finish options include the lighter Avantgarde in teak with wenge flooring or a darker mahogany with a teak sole, dubbed Elegance. Throughout, the attention to detail is very apparent and this is undoubtedly a major differentiator from the some of the mass production competition. Fixtures like the brushed-steel door handles matching the style of the deck-cleats looked stylish. But the electronics are a stand-out feature. Touch screen BoatMaster controls are used on a LCD display (with manual backup, I believe) and a pop-up Raymarine 435 chartplotter hides in front of the small chart locker. I'd junk this pop-up, personally, in favour of full size chart storage but for the occasional user who relies on electronic charts, it could be fine. Elsewhere Raymarine ST60+ package comes with the boat as standard.
The use of LED lights throughout – for navigation and interior- is another quality feature. They use less power, come in myriad colours and have fittings that are sleek. Natural light throughout is also good as you move forward to the owner's cabin and ensuite in the bow. Along with the two cabins in the stern, the layout is conventional but with a high standard of finish and adequate space. The wood-panelled sides finish off the area and plenty of storage should keep most owners happy. The ensuite features an electric head and shower unit, with the same high quality curved joinery and composite work surfaces as the galley. For the cruising sailor, especially, this kind of detail pushes the boat well up in its class.

On the harbour
Another plus is engine access to the four-cylinder Volvo Penta, with a large part of the 40hp saildrive unit exposed after the hatch is lifted on its gas shocks. The review boat was fitted with a twin-blade folding propeller, which powered us easily away from the dock and out into the gathering breeze on the harbour. I was looking forward to trying out this slippery looking hull and my anticipation was well founded, especially in the manoeuvrability, with the long keel and plumb bow helping 44 to quickly spin round. In fact, I oversteered through many of the tacks and gybes.

It was an ideal kite day, but the brand new boat didn't have one in her wardrobe, sadly, so I contended with going for straight-line speed, hard on the wind – the best I managed was 7.1kts in 10kts of true wind. Considering the pretty lavish fit-out weight (10300kg) and cruising sails, the boat has the potential to really go, especially if a set of carbons was fitted to complement the rod rigging. The twin steering wheels felt light to the touch and as the heel increased I flipped up the footplates and enjoyed a comfortable ride on the helm with the hull feeling stiff and responsive on the light windshifts.

The overall impression is that Dehler is now up there with its more famous competitors like X-yachts and Grand Soleil, but its excellent attention to detail will definitely appeal to the more discerning owners who can afford the price tag of $610k.

Dehler 44 Specifications (including variations for SQ and R models)

LOA – 13.70 m
LWL – 11.95 m, 11.95m(SQ), 11.99m(R)
Beam – 3.86 m,
Draft – 2.20 m, 2.55m(SQ), 2.50m(R)
Displacement – 8400 kg, 9700kg (SQ), 8670kg(R)
Ballast – 3700 kg, 3500kg(SQ), 3500kg(R)
Mastheight – 20.85 m
Main Sail Area – 60 m2
Jib Area – 44 m2
Genoa Area – 61 m2
Spinnaker Area – 172 m2
P – 17.40 m
E – 6.15 m
I – 17.21 m
J – 5.03 m
Engine – Volvo
Designer – Simonis&Voogd

Distributor: Contact Stephen Ellis. Tel/Fax: (61 2) 8356-9157
MDBS, PO Box 340, Avalon Beach, NSW 2107.

Dehler 44 – review boat specifications

Sailaway price: $680,000
Avante Garde teak interior
Teak decks
Vacuum flush toilets
Carbon pole and spinnaker equipment
Cockpit shower
Cockpit speakers
Cockpit boom light
CD/Radio player
Rod rigging
Port lights in hull

Race Yachts
Selden Asymetric Rib Technology
Race Yachts