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Swan 78: On board Nautor's Swan's brand new fast cruiser

With its new 24 metre, Nautor’s Swan has cleaved into two lines – comfortable cruisers and racing boats. The no-compromise philosophy speaks volumes, says Sam Fortescue

Nautor’s Swan has changed its tune. The Finnish builder of luxury sailing yachts has decided there will be no more racing boats disguised as cruisers emerging from its yard in the far north-west of Finland. From here on in, it will build swift cruisers on one side and Grand Prix-winning racing boats on the other.

“The classic compromise formula isn’t valid anymore,” says Vanni Galgani, product line leader for Swan Yachts. “The yacht market has separated into those fully focused on family cruising and those who go all-out for speed.” To that end, Swan Yachts has become the wrapper for the cruising side, while Club Swan Yachts will experiment with new design concepts and technologies, building boats specifically designed for the world’s most competitive races.

But hold on a moment. Before we get too far down the road with this idea that Swan is building spacious family cruisers (which it is), I have to stress that these are still fast boats. “Of course,” adds Galgani with a smile, “everyone knows that any Swan is a potential race winner, and our cruising yachts will still be capable of competing successfully at the highest level.”

The Swan 78 is the first fruit of this new philosophy – a fast cruiser resulting from several years of study and reflection led by the brand’s owner, Leonardo Ferragamo, who is himself a passionate sailor. The boat is still drawn by the yard’s long-standing designer, the talented Germán Frers, so the design language of the boat is familiar to Swan fanciers. But look more closely and you see that the topsides are taller, the coachroof a little higher, and the aft section of the boat broader and squarer than previous models.

“In terms of volume, it’s amazing,” says Galgani. “It’s comparable with the much longer Swan 90.” But in terms of habitable area, the 78 offers even bigger volumes than her cousin. The owner’s cabin, for example, is more than 10 cubic metres bigger than the Swan 90.

A lot of work goes into the naval architecture to ensure that the hull is slippery and light, while the rig remains powerful thanks to the four-metre bulb keel under the boat. Frers describes the 78 as being well capable of holding her own in events such as the Swan Cup. “The double-fin rudders configuration gives her plenty of control,” he explains. “I am very happy with the way she performs – she seems to be well-balanced, fast, reactive and of course, she’s also very pleasant from an aesthetic point of view.”

So she’s a departure from previous Swans, but not a revolutionary one. This is more a question of evolution. And for out-and-out racers, Swan will keep developing its Club Swan line, currently the 36, 50 and the 125.

Sadly, the day of my sea trial couldn’t offer more than five knots of limp northerly, but in the protected waters of the Bay of Palma, this zephyr was enough to waft the boat up to a shade more than four knots of boat speed. The super-efficient 3Di main and roller jib from North Sails held their shape well, although the wind wasn’t strong enough to trouble the spirit-level flat deck. Sail handling was a breeze, courtesy of four well-positioned Harken 990 hydraulic winches. All the control lines emerge from a conduit beneath the teak decking and feed straight on to the winch drums – a really neat set-up that can be the result only of meticulous deck layout planning. The main sheet is on a captive winch below the deck, so there is no rope to clutter the cockpit.

This boat, Kinina, has a very keen sailing owner who was present for large parts of the delivery trip from Finland to the Mediterranean. Together with the skipper, Luis de Córdova, and the first mate, they faced their first gale off the north-west tip of Brittany, which forced them to weave through the rock-strewn, tide-scoured waters of the Chenal du Four to seek refuge in Brest.

“The owner was out on deck helming from midnight until 6am,” de Córdova tells me in a surprised voice. “I was really impressed by the boat. After that, I expected everything to fall open, doors to be broken – a big mess. But everything was in perfect condition still.” He stops short of saying he enjoyed the gale, but the boat handled well under staysail alone. He shows me the track fitted to the side of the mast to make rigging the sail easy.

For easier handling and more power round the cans or in longer races, Swan offers a performance upgrade. The 78 Haromi took this option, which adds a longer, elegant moulded-in bowsprit, ECsix carbon rigging, halyard locks, a square-top mainsail with running backstays, a mainsheet traveller and additional powered winches on the coachroof.

Both boats offer the same generous acreage of on-deck lounging space to make the most of the port or anchorage your racing or cruising brings you to. There are two long C-shaped seating areas on either side of the cockpit, a broad teak-clad aft deck, and a big bathing platform that lowers hydraulically to reveal the cavernous aft lazarette – perfect for storing the tender out of sight. The uncluttered foredeck can host loungers or cushions.

At 23.9 metres LOA, this boat is right in the middle of Swan’s sweet spot. A few centimetres shy of the 24 metres that would require the boat to be coded, she is the latest in a long line of boats around this size, from the Swan 76 in 1979, through the Swan 77, 80, 82 and 75. Despite her size, she is considered a semi-production model by Swan. “She is not fully customisable,” explains the Northern Europe regional director, Barry Ashmore.

In fact, there is just one key choice to make about the interior: whether to put the owner’s cabin forward or aft. There are compelling reasons for both but in my mind, at least, the aft choice is more seamanlike because it is closer to the cockpit and closer to the boat’s centre of gravity for more comfortable passage-making. So I am surprised to learn that all five of the hulls already sold have been specced with the forward owner’s cabin.

“This forward cabin is fully usable on long passages,” Ashmore says. “You’ll see that the head of the bed is close to the mast.” That puts sleepers closer to the centre of the boat’s motion for a more comfortable rest. In this configuration, the bed is free-standing and a genuine double, not tapering into the bow. There are three lee cloths to stop a couple from squashing each other on the heel, and the cabin offers tremendous stowage.

Perhaps this unanimous choice of forward cabin offers the strongest endorsement of Swan’s new cruiser positioning. While each of the five owners will be experienced sailors, they are all placing the accent on comfort at anchor. The forward cabin also offers good privacy, thanks to the high headboard of the bed.

“The light inside is ample and generous and I’m very satisfied with the results,” says Frers. “[There are] four very good-sized cabins with their own toilets and all the necessary space for stowage and comfort, [as well as] a proper galley for the crew and a crew cabin too, so I think you cannot ask for more on a boat of this size, on an envelope of good looks and good performance.”

Otherwise, the interior configuration is set in stone: a big saloon, two double guest cabins aft and one forward. Kinina cruised for part of the summer with nine guests aboard. With the main cabin aft, there is room for an extra crew cabin forward giving the option of up to four hands.

Swan really doesn’t see this binary choice as an impediment. With input from Germán Frers, senior designer for interiors and styling Heini Gustafsson rigorously studied all the layout possibilities, so what you see on Haromi and Kinina represents the optimum. Owners can rest assured that the serious thinking about configuration has already been done.

The same rigour was also applied to the interior finish. “We made a 1:1 scale mock-up of the interior in order to audit ergonomics and spatial composition,” Gustafsson says. “No matter what high-end 3D software is used to render the reality, the old-school methods reign in my opinion for space evaluation. Walking through a mock-up interior is also a reassuring part of the Swan experience when purchasing the first build in a line of yachts.”

The interior of Kinina is classic Nordic understatement: quarter-cut European oak cabinetry with a hand-rubbed satin finish and neutral-toned upholstery. The floorboards are naturally lined teak – “a first for Swan, but I think this customer request worked out very nicely,” says Gustafsson. “Sofa fabrics and leathers are all performance materials that are durable and easy to clean. They liked the ‘no frills’ approach that the yachts in the current Swan line are known for.”

That said, any number of variations are possible. “You can have leather, fabric, Picasso – whatever you want,” says Ashmore. And though all the owners so far have plumped for the signature Nordic look, the new cruiser positioning is likely to attract new customers with a broader palette. So perhaps Swan’s designers will soon be grappling with humidors and Finnish smoke saunas.

Invisible tech

It may come as a surprise from a boatbuilder that has launched yachts up to 40m, but the company says that the Swan 78 is its most technically demanding and innovative design yet. There are the new lines, which conceal naval architecture designed to give the boat constant stability and lift at any angle of heel. “The hull sections feature a tapered entrance and a powerful aft section,” explains Ashmore. “They are designed to maintain their symmetry at different heeling angles, with the optimal balance between performance and sea kindliness.”

The hull itself has a foam core, making it lighter and stiffer. On either side of this sandwich construction is a mixture of high-performance glass fibre reinforced with unidirectional carbon fibre. The whole is vacuum infused for precise bonding and minimum use of resin. The deck and coachroof are in carbon, cured in Swan’s vast oven.

“The interior is built as a combination of sandwich construction and traditional laminated wood for those recognisable rounded corners,” says Heini Gustafsson. “The most technological advantage is actually hidden in the finished interior components. In order to further increase the quality and precision of the detailing, joinery units are 3D-modelled and parts CNC milled. The boards are milled with small, stopped grooves and tongues for perfect alignment.”

First published in the April edition of Boat International.

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