Michel Dufour in La Rochelle.
Dufour Yachts was born when Michel Dufour was working at a factory that manufactured parts for locomotives near La Rochelle, France in 1964. At the time, he was in charge of the workshop that fabricated parts out of a new and revolutionary material—fiberglass. The factory was building parts that were used on the front of trains as well as for door and window frames. But since Dufour was also a passionate and successful racing sailor, it didn’t take long for him to realize that fiberglass could be the ideal building material for boats
The boat that started it all.
And since La Rochelle has a long and storied sailing and boat building tradition, when he told his boss at the plant about his ideas for building a fiberglass sailboat (and his boss saw that he was distracted by sketching boats instead of more mundane endeavors) his boss’s response was skillfully enthusiastic, encouraging, and oh-so-French: “Go draw your famous sailboat!”
Shortly after, Dufour arrived at the plant with his co-worker, Francis Deschamps, and a clay model of the deckhouse of what would go on to be the company’s first boat—the Sylph. And he was pretty unscientific when it came to designing the hull shape. He simply relied on his sailing experience, draftsmanship, and his knowledge of hydrodynamic laws—and then he just went for it.
He sold his car, his boat, and borrowed the equivalent of several thousand dollars to start building his first boat in a workshop on the outskirts of La Rochelle. Then in the fall of 1964, after eight months of work, the first Sylph was launched and bought by a countryman from the north of France, Dominique Trentesaux, who believed enough in the boat, and in the company, to extend a lifeline to “Team Industrial Laminate” what Dufour first called his fledgling boatbuilding company.
The sturdy, 21-foot Sylph went on to be a huge success. Over 400 models were sold from 1964 to 1974 and launched the company that was soon to be known as Dufour Yachts.
The Golden Age of Boatbuilding
The legendary L’Arpege.
But the diminutive Sylph was only the beginning. The company really took off with the launch of the 29-foot-long L’Arpege in 1967. And it’s widely agreed that Dufour’s L’Arpege is a legitimate classic. Over 1,500 models were built during the golden-era of fiberglass production boat building until 1977.
The 40-footer (big-for-its-time) Sortilege turned heads in the mid-1970’s.
And Dufour was never one to rest on his laurels. Not too many builders were designing and building 40-foot fiberglass performance cruisers in the early ‘70s. But Dufour was always willing to push the envelope as he did with the highly successful launch of the 40-foot Sortilege in 1971.
By 1973 Dufour had grown 1400% and was the leading exporter of French fiberglass sailboats. At this time, the company employed over 400 employees and was shipping boats to over 40 countries.
Was the Lacoste 42 the first “preppie performance cruiser?”
Meanwhile, the company had its hands in everything during the 1980s. Dufour partnered with renowned designer German Frers to build a line of sporty cruising boats and even partnered with the iconic French clothing line Lacoste on a 42-footer that was debuted to great fanfare at the 1985 Paris Boat Show.
Bigger is Better
The Prestige 56.
As the 1990s arrived, Dufour Yachts began to really push the limits of production boat building with the launch of bigger and bigger “Prestige” models. Each was bigger, faster, and more luxurious than the model that came before. First was the Dufour 56. Then the Dufour 65. And then a “No Limits” 110-footer was launched.
And while the company made big news with its bigger and bigger models, the designs that Dufour was always know for—sporty, fast, stylish, 30-to-40-footers—continued to be improved as well.
The Atoll 43 was decades ahead of its time.
During this time Dufour also acquired one-time rival Gib’Sea and started work on even more revolutionary designs like the groundbreaking Atoll 43.
The partnership with Umberto Felci has been a huge success.
Things really changed when Dufour began its long and fruitful partnership with famed Italian naval architect Umberto Felci in 2005. Nearly every the new “Grand Large” model that was launched during this time won some sort of award including Boat of the Year awards in both Europe and the United States.
And the company continues to build on the success of its Felci-designed models today
The award-winning 45e (pictured above) represents the pinacle of the Dufour Performance range.
The hugely successful 560 Grand Large is only one of several new models that show that Dufour continues to break new ground in the world of modern sailboat design and construction.
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