Market differentiators in the burgeoning cruising catamaran market can be difficult to find, yet this is what industry leader Beneteau-Lagoon has achieved with its Excess models, which deliver a livelier and more responsive range.
- The water-ballast – quick to use and very effective
- The remarkable array of ‘standard’ items that come with the boat
- An adrenalin junkie’s delight.
- Super-responsive and quick
Looking a little like a miniature Volvo boat, the black-hulled Dehler 30od (one design) delivers the best of cutting-edge monohull design in a sleek, go-fast package.
So much of yacht design over the years has involved compromises, it’s almost become the defining feature of the artform. Boats are designed to maximise their chances within the strictures of certain design rules conventions, or of owners’ conflicting desires. This usually results in a cascading effect – one compromise piling on top of another.
An example: genoas need to overlap the side stays, so a narrower shroud base is called for, which makes it harder to hold up the mast, which leads to the intricate arrangements of multiple-spreader rigs. Which, in turn create their own challenges. And so it goes. Keelboats need an auxiliary engine. Which means a dragging propeller. Which is why folding props were invented. Which are inefficient. And so it goes.
The Dehler designers have tried to side-step this. For example, the boat employs a patented ‘Stealth Drive’ system, whereby a grunty three-blade propeller and its shaft are retracted into a hull recess and sealed by flanges. The best of both worlds: good manoeuvring and motoring and performance (6.5 knots boat speed with the 10hp Nanni hardly straining), and a smooth, clean underbody under sail.
Marc Michel, joint owner of the boat, sees where I’m looking and ventures, “Life’s too short for slow boats.” Too right.
This Dehler isn’t interested in compromises. If she boat could talk (and she does – more on that later), she would say: “I’m here for speed and safety – and the best fun in short-handed sailing. Care to step aboard?”
No further invitation necessary., The clear-thinking, no-compromise approach of the Judel-Vrolijk design team is immediately apparent. There are the twin rudders, linked by a no-nonsense tiller arm system you know will work smoothly.
A cockpit that looks comfortable (and so it proves), with working space geared for efficiency. All controls within reach of the helm – a must for two-handed sailing. An adjustable foot brace for the helmsperson. Plenty of purchase where you need it, say on the mainsheet fine adjustment or backstays. “It’s the most comfortable cockpit I’ve worked in for a long time,” says Marc.
Wide, effective spreaders, just a single set, and a clean carbon-fibre mast. An easily-driven hull. It’s this level of detail that defines the sailing ethos of Niksen’s joint owners – Marc Michel and Logan Fraser.
Both are seriously experienced sailors. Before corporate adventures Marc was a professional sailor. Sydney-Hobart races and many more – mostly big boat stuff. Logan has been up there at the top end of the world match-racing circuit, with many ocean races under his belt. He’s a graduate of the RNZYS Youth Training programme.
At times they’ve been sailing rivals. But last year, a mutual respect gained from that rivalry turned them into partners in seeking out the perfect boat, and especially for the two-handed race series. Both have grown weary of the HR logistics associated with raising, managing and enthusing larger crews on larger boats.
The Dehler 30od, incidentally, is a possible contender for the new Olympic yachting class, a mixed-gender, two-handed keelboat. The instant onboard joke between Marc and Logan was: who will be wearing the trousers onboard?
Covid year made finding their perfect boat difficult, so they resorted to an online search. A short list of seven designs – the other six shall remain nameless – emerged. But the Dehler 30od had the edge – and in almost all categories. As Marc says, “she hit the sweet spot in many ways. It’s the first time I’ve bought a boat sight-unseen. But there’s no post-purchase remorse here.”
For a start, she’s around 1,000kg lighter than most of the opposition. And, let’s face it, says Marc, “lightness means speed. And with this boat we have the bonus of water ballast.” That’s an extra 200kg on the windward rail when you need it.
To answer the anticipated question, the water is drained by gravity from the windward tank to the leeward in less than 30 seconds just before a tack. This is controlled by a simple pull-string system, easily accessible just inside the main companionway. To dump the water is also gravity-assisted. An electric pump fills the windward tank.
Another feature they noticed was the Dehler’s mast – a metre further aft than those on the comparative yachts. This offers a wider option of foresails to balance the rig. So, in front-to-back order: the Dehler allows for a huge A2 asymmetrical masthead kite for running; a second smaller A5 asymmetrical for reaching, and a Code Zero on a furler.
Then there’s a reefable 105% blade jib (we used this – I was impressed with its soft forestay hanks, and neat, zip up system for the surplus sail cloth); an inner staysail with a furler (ditto, used for the first time by Marc and Logan – beating into a wind approaching 20 knots true), and the square-top mainsail with two deep reefs (not needed on our outing).
The sails are all by Evolution and as good as you’d expect. At first the staysail appeared very full (good for reaching), but with a few tweaks by Logan using the boat’s almost-infinitely-adjustable jib fairleads, we found its fine upwind shape. This sail wardrobe allows the Dehler – just like its Imoca and Volvo boats inspirations – to make tracks on a very effective three-sail reach.
With Marc, Logan and Dehler’s NZ agent Cameron Burch from Windcraft aboard, we popped the big red kite as we approached Bean Rock. A wee tickle with the boathook to free the Velcro stopping built into the luff of this asymmetrical spinnaker, and we’re off! Without water ballast (Marc reckons he’ll always forgo this downwind), we were planing at 15 knots. Lovely stuff!
The rudders started singing at around 10 knots. “We’ll tune them just right to sing the national anthem!” quips Logan. Marc is steering effortlessly with a satisfied grin on his face.
Hard on the wind in 14 knots of true wind, with water ballast, the Dehler tracked comfortably at over 8 knots. Experimenting with the helm under Marc’s diplomatic direction, I found that driving rather than feathering the boat was the best option. Like a much bigger boat, she settles on her flared topsides, doesn’t heel any further, and simply goes faster. “She really is a little big boat,” says Marc.
But there is one dinghy-like feel to the Dehler 30od: if the breeze dies abruptly the water ballast causes the boat to ‘level’ quickly, even heel slightly to windward – just like a dinghy does when the crew has been stacking out and is caught unawares. But this attitude sets the boat up well to make the most of the power delivered by the next gust.
Steering is a delight: one finger on the tiller stuff. With the two angled rudders, the boat always has one high-aspect foil in the water. Her fine manners were revealed when, heading back up the harbour, we cracked-off a bit and, under full main and staysail our top speed upwind for the day was recorded under autopilot! A little over 9 knots! The autopilot arm is concealed below deck, and the onboard B&G system also offers wireless control.
Although the Dehler 30od’s primarily a race boat, her interior’s very accommodating. One of Marc’s short-handed criteria, he says, was “a boat that looks after its crew.” The cabin’s surprisingly roomy for a 30-footer, mainly because there are no major bulkheads. Their usual hull-stiffening function is instead managed by a network of ‘carbon boxes’. The resulting open space is equally suitable for crew gatherings around the sturdy, fold-up saloon table, or sail-bag storage. And there’s standing headroom.
Curved saloon benches are moulded plywood – oak (very classy). The forepeak – usually taken up by a triangular, narrowing bunk – has a hinged, quick-draining platform for sail stowage. The boat’s anchor and rode are stowed underneath this, with no easy access to the bow above. (This is perhaps the only compromise I find on the entire boat. Also, there’s no bow roller for the anchor rode).
At the forward end of the forepeak is a diagonal securing cable from the deck down to the bow stem – a brace for the loose-luffed, inner staysail. At the aft end of the saloon are the galley to starboard and to port a head behind a bi-fold door. The two water ballast tanks, located outside of the galley and heads, have window ports in them, so you can quickly sight the level.
The one-burner cooker is un-gimballed. Next to the galley is a secure, moulded stowage for a chilli bin. The tiniest of quibbles: I can’t get my hands around the grab rails at the galley and in the heads – only my finger-tips.
Aft are two generous quarter-berths (more than long enough for me), with padding going up the hull sides. As Marc says, “she would be fine for weekend cruising too.”
The deck-stepped mast means no chance of leakage into the cabin; and a hinged lower companionway flap seals the cockpit to deck height should it be swamped by a following wave. Says Marc: “I like a boat that keeps the ocean on the outside.”
Niksen? This, says Marc is the name for a Dutch philosophy that ‘decrees doing nothing really, but with a fine focus and intent”. He reckons his and Logan’s new sailing imperative might follow this thinking. But I respectfully beg to disagree: for with Niksen, their sailing will be focussed and full of achievement. A boat like this demands nothing else. With their combined experience and nous, they’ll certainly be winning up large in the future.
As we dock the boat I’m reflecting on Logan’s words. “We’ve dreamed about a boat like this. And when Marc said ‘Let’s make it happen’, I was all in.”
Both would naturally like to see a class of Dehler 30ods developing here. But for the moment, they’re all set on a serious assault on the short-handed sailing circuit – perhaps even in Australia. Says Marc: “This is a boat that could take us across the Tasman. Safely. And fast.
This is a boat every bit as impressive on the water as the images suggest. She is a wonder to sail. I leave the dock deeply envious of Marc and Logan.
And that says it all./>