There are a lot of performance cruisers available these days. Many of them are very good boats. They all sail pretty well, afford a ton of space below, and have clean and modern lines. I believe that the Dehler 38 is one of the good ones. The hull is a Judel/Vrolijk design, with daily input by son of the founder, Karl Dehler. Dehler has a reputation for building fast and high quality cruiser-racers (Dehler Yachts is now part of the Hanse Group).
Here’s the thing, though: I did not sail the Dehler 38. I sailed the Dehler 38C. And I loved the Dehler 38C, and believe it offers a unique sailing experience among the crowded performance cruiser category.
The “C” in the model’s name stands for “Competition,” but don’t let that scare you off, cruisers! The hull is the same as the any of the Dehler 38 models, offering a large and elegant interior. The 38C has a little bit more sailing horsepower than the base model, and it shined on Puget Sound when we sailed it a few weeks ago, courtesy of JK3 Yachts and the new owners of the boat, Tom and Shelley Raschko. The carbon rig is 18” inches taller than the base model’s aluminum mast. Both underwater foils are of a more high-performance shape on the Competition model, and the keel is eight inches deeper. I’ve long advocated that boats with a performance pedigree make for ideal craft when cruising the Pacific Northwest, and after sailing it, I found that the 38C has the extra oomph to sail beautifully in our summertime light air.
When we left Shilshole, we didn’t have more than four or five knots of northerly breeze. Nonetheless, we set the main, unrolled the stock 100% jib, and got to talking. In no time, the boat had ghosted us halfway to Edmonds.
The main has a full and attractive shape with ample roach. To my eye, when we trimmed it correctly, it was reminiscent of the shape of the Farr 30 main. Considering the Farr 30 is a Grand Prix racer and points nearly straight upwind, that’s high praise.
The jib, in those conditions, was simply the wrong sail. The light wind and small jib also exposed what, in my mind, is perhaps the only questionable design choice: the jib lead tracks are set pretty far outboard, making the sheeting angle too wide to match that pretty mainsail. An in-hauler on the jib sheets would have brought us closer, and the boat does come with rigging for just that. A genoa would been even better, or the code zero, which I’ll get to in a moment. In much more breeze or on a not-quite-so close-hauled course, I don’t think I would have even noticed the sheeting angle. While we were goofing around with jib lead position and trying to rig the in-haulers, the helm was so balanced that the boat basically sailed itself and I was again astounded by the distance we had covered. Regardless of sheeting angle, the Dehler 38C made quick work of those miles and is downright slippery in light conditions.
The breeze built to a good seven knots by the time we got near the Edmonds/Kingston ferry line. With that extra pressure, the boat was pushing speeds near six knots to weather. We rigged up the furling code zero. On the 38C as it comes from the factory, the code zero tacks onto a stainless steel ring on the anchor roller. This worked fine for downwind sailing and reaching, but I was hesitant to crank on the halyard tension enough to get a more rigid luff necessary for upwind sailing with that tack point. I’d say the boat is an excellent candidate for an aftermarket sprit of some kind (potentially with a bob stay) if a person had a desire to get all the versatility and performance out of that code zero. Dehler offers a sprit as an option the 38C as well. However, for normal cruising purposes, the anchor roller tack point would suit perfectly for this sail or a cruising spinnaker.
The boat felt marvelous with the bigger sail. Reaching with the code zero, the 38C found a lovely heeling angle (I’d guess 12°) and seemed to stay there. The boat speed climbed to within a knot of true wind speed, approaching seven knots. We took turns driving from one of the two very sexy, black GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) helms. I’d describe the sailing experience with that sail plan and those conditions as powered-up but easily controlled. The deep, high aspect rudder felt responsive and forgiving. Its elliptical shape will deliver better and better handling as the breeze and seas build and the speeds increase.
Tom and Shelley will be sailing this boat mostly double-handed, and the boat will treat them well with that crew arrangement. The loads in the sails are not intimidating. Docking, motoring, and sailing, the boat will be easily handled by a couple or a family. Tom and Shelley may put a couple of steps on the mast so Shelley can more easily reach the head of the mainsail to attach a halyard, but that’s the only thing that gave the boat much of a “big boat” feel. Well, maybe that and the electric winch on the starboard cabin-top.
While easily handled short-handed, the space on the boat, both on deck and below, would match any impressive performance cruiser. Its efficiently laid out cockpit will accommodate a race crew. The cockpit table folds down to be narrow and acts as a useful handhold underway. The table, admittedly, would be a unique feature on most race boats. The aft end of the cockpit table also doubles as the platform for the navigation display.
There is a traveler bar set into the cockpit sole just ahead of the dual helm stations. The traveler is an absolute must from a sail-trim perspective for a performance boat. I found it unobtrusive with the seating arrangement, and it should deliver effective sail trim while leaving most of the cockpit seating unaffected. The cockpit could seat eight while sailing. When you’re at anchor, the traveler and main sheet can be stowed in front of one of the helm stations, leaving a spacious and direct walkway from the companionway to the fold-down swim step.
Stepping down the companionway of the Dehler 38C, you may suddenly forget you were just zipping around on a performance-focused sailboat, because the interior has a pure modern cruiser feel. The starboard galley and navigation table to port aren’t enormous, but that leaves generous seating around the main salon. I know there are different packages available for the interior, and Tom and Shelley nailed it. From the traditional teak and holly flooring, to the cream-colored leatherette upholstery, it was classy, light, and functional. Theirs is the three cabin model – they will have their kids and eventually their grandkids joining them for sailing adventures. There is only one head, but Tom and Shelley showed their bluewater savvy when they defended the design choice of a single head, saying “This way, you only have to fix one head, and it’s fewer holes in the boat.”
Tom pointed out a few other things about the interior, two positive and one negative, that I’m not sure I would have noticed on a typical test sail. First, he noted that the boat lacks a really good place to hang wet foul weather gear. The shower will suffice, but they’ll have to hang their own hooks. On the positive side, Tom happily showed me that the side-windows are outward opening allowing for ventilation even in the rain, and noted plentiful hand holds and rails throughout the cabin.
Tom and Shelley were aboard for our test sail, and I owe them a debt of gratitude for several reasons, not least of which is that they delayed their departure for their first trip to the San Juans to accommodate my interest in sailing their boat. Aside from their generosity, I found it compelling to sail with new owners – an opportunity to understand why they chose this boat among the myriad options that exist.
Tom and Shelley are informed buyers, they cruised for three years from Seattle to the Western Pacific on their modified CT-38, and have both been involved in a variety of deliveries. That said, they sold their last boat thirty years ago, so it has been a while since they last chose a boat.
Tom wanted a boat that “really sailed.” He’s the kind of guy who, in the three years they cruised, never stopped tweaking sails for speed (many cruisers lose that obsession as time goes by on a voyage). Their stout bluewater boat provided them safe passage and was fast for a cruising design of that era, but with the Dehler 38C, Tom has a boat that can do that and will respond well to his sail tweaks. Tom also said, “I want to go fast, principally, because it is safer. And, if we never go offshore again, I’ll still be fascinated by the boat.”
So, I’m ready to say it, this is a true dual purpose yacht, and there aren’t a lot of those anymore. The Dehler 38C boat could be a dedicated racer or a dedicated cruiser, and I believe it would excel in either pursuit, or both.