Nautor's Swan's Three Nests: Cruising, Racing, Custom Builds
From its earliest days, when Nautor founder Pekka Koskenkyla turned an old brick hide-processing plant into a boat shed in 1966 and laid up hull number one, a Sparkman & Stephens-designed 36-foot sloop, the company has had a reputation for building high-quality production boats capable of carrying owners safely and elegantly across oceans or competitively around racecourses. In the late 1960s, a winning season in the Solent by the Swan 36 Cessie Tete II helped the word to spread, and soon customers were asking for bigger sailboats, such as the Swan 37 and 43.
The Swan 55 was soon to follow, but it was Nautor's 65—the largest production boat built for a decade—that brought real fame to the Finnish yard: Sayula II, a standard, off-the-line boat that wasn't that unlike many in the spectator fleet, won the first Whitbread Round-the-World Race in 1973-1974. With a freezer on board, among the boat's other appointments, the crew sailed the globe in relative comfort, surviving a knockdown and enjoying fresh meat and vegetables along the way.
Four years later, competitors showed up for the Whitbread with sleds designed to go gunning for the Swans, but even so, Swan 65s took second-, fourth-, and fifth-place honors on corrected time. Meanwhile smaller siblings were finding wins of their own in less demanding venues. But while the S&S-era Swans fit the bill as bulletproof cruisers capable of a good turn of speed, the sailboat-racing world was changing as competitors began favoring lighter, less conservative designs that would push fleet measurement limits. Rather than just getting home safely, the new breed of racers went in search of raw speed, often found with the help of professional crews who could push boat and gear to the limit—and occasionally past it.
By the late 1970s, Ron Holland had designed five new Swans in the 37- to 45-foot range. Then Germán Frers arrived to open a new chapter for Swan in the 1980s, becoming the company's exclusive designer, a relationship that continues today. Many of the newer Swans have been well in excess of 100 feet since 1997, when the Finnish building facilities became part of the Nautor Group, headed by Italian fashion magnate Leonardo Ferragamo.
With Ferragamo at the helm, the company also increased its focus on winning regattas, and many Swans coming off Frers' drafting tables took on a decidedly racy bent. The company launched two new 60-footers for the 2001 Volvo Ocean Race (one designed by Frers, the other by Bruce Farr, who was brought on for the project) and set up a one-design technical division. This group soon produced the Frers-designed Swan 45, a go-fast machine that was named Sailing World's Boat of the Year in 2003; today, 50 boats constitute the design's racing fleet. Last July, meanwhile, Swan and the New York Yacht Club
The Swan 46 comes with a choice of underbodies, a shoal-draft daggerboard or a fixed keel (right) that draws just over 7 feet.
agreed to launch a new international one-design racing class of 42-foot boats that can perform well under IRC rules and be cruised offshore. At present, there are 26 hulls under contract for the U.S. East Coast, and talks are under way to launch a second fleet at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. Also last summer, Nautor filed another notch in its barrel in the hunt for high-profile trophies when So Far, a Swan 48, won the racer/cruiser division of the Transpac.
While victories around the buoys have kept the Swan name visible in the sailing press, pushing the racing envelope took a bit of a toll on the notion of the owner/skipper cruising to the next racing venue, changing sails, then stepping up on the podium to take home a trophy. Instead, some owners were discovering they needed a professional hand on the wheel to drive the beast and a paid crew to handle sails. Carol Vernon, a Newport-based delivery captain and boat designer who's logged her fair share of miles on a range of Swans, said several of the boats she's been on wouldn't be her choice for a shorthanded cruiser. The on-deck layout, with a small and steep companionway aft, can make it all but impossible to get below in a seaway without going forward to the main companionway amidships. Sailed by a full racing crew, there are extra hands to take the helm if someone needs to go below. But for a cruising couple or short-handed crew, having to climb to the highest point in the boat, the amidships companionway, to get to the nav station below is a concern for her, along with the sailhandling and boathandling issues that come with a performance-driven design.
Building Boats, Crafting a Following
By launching its new cruising line, which includes 46- , 53- , and 66-foot models, Swan is taking a step back and refocusing its efforts to hit what's traditionally been a company sweet spot: owner/skippers who enjoy luxury, safety, and performance. The move also comes at a time when other boatbuilders are shifting into powerboat production to attract sailors who want to hang up the canvas but stay on the water. With simple sail plans that include nonoverlapping headsails and big, roomy hulls, Nautor is showing its clients an alternative to the stinkpot.
The company has proven adept over the years at spending
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