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Swan 56

2008 November 10

Nautor raises performance bar in a luxury yacht

Nautor's new Swan 56, available as either a cruiser/racer or regatta model, is a powerful and elegant statement from one of the world's premier sailboat builders. Designed by German Frers, the Swan 56 demonstrates Nautor's renewed commitment to performance, while maintaining the essentials of structural integrity, seakindliness, comfort and safety that have earned the company an enduring reputation among demanding sailors the world over.

For many years Nautor ruled the production boat market for high-end, performance-oriented cruiser/racers. Quietly, a new breed of fast, light and comfortably appointed yachts began to challenge Nautor's hold on the market. While nobody questioned the quality of the engineering and workmanship that went into every Swan, the new boats were more progressive and, in some cases, a lot faster. Swan countered this challenge with a return to its roots by developing the highly successful Performance Range, featuring a 60-footer, a 48-footer and now, the 56. Nautor, with its factory just 300 miles below the Arctic Circle on the West Coast of Finland, was determined to redefine the parameters of the true cruiser/racer by combining fresh thinking from Frers with the latest in construction techniques and materials. After sailing the 56 on a perfect Chesapeake Bay day last fall, I found that Nautor has indeed raised the bar.

The Swan 56 was easy to spot on the bay; a striking white hull, the telltale wedge deck and a lofty rig. I took a moment to study the lines from the perspective of the photo boat. Nautor's Swan designs have evolved from the softer lines of Sparkman & Stephens, beyond the aggressive angles of Ron Holland, to the finely blended work of Frers. Although the new 56 does not sport much sheer and the overall profile is typically low and sleek, the boat maintains a stately bearing in the water.

Speed by waterline
Swans have always been capable upwind boats and the 56 will be no exception. Her bow features the requisite small-entry angle for speed by waterline but she also has enough of a rake to assure a clean entry. There is sufficient forefoot area to reduce pounding in a chop. The wide stern has just a trace of counter to keep the trailing edge out of the water. However, the 56's forte, like most performance boats today, will be quick planing and blazing off-the-wind speed. Both versions of the 56 are based on the same hull shape, which carries the beam well aft, although the keel sections are different. The standard, loaded draft of the cruiser/racer is 9 feet, while the regatta's loaded draft is a shade more than 11 feet, which should keep even the most laid-back sailors on their toes. The interior, deck and sail plans also reflect the differences between the two.

We eased alongside and I scrambled aboard Neva. Skipper Claudio McGuire quickly trimmed the Kevlar No. 3 and we accelerated on a close reach. Neva, hull No. 4 of 17 built, has an intriguing mix of features, combining the deep keel of the regatta version with a masthead carbon spar and the luxurious interior appointments of the cruiser/racer. "Most owners customize their boats," explains Stephen Barker, President of Nautor's Swan New York. "Adding the deep keel, or carbon spar is like turbo-charging the cruiser/racer model." Barker told me that none of the first 18 boats were built as racers.

A sum of its parts
As a delivery skipper I have long appreciated the construction of Nautor's Swans. I have sailed several models over the years, ranging from the peaceful delivery of a recently built Frers-designed 40, to a rollicking transatlantic aboard a 25-year-old S&S 65-footer. The hull of the 56 is a single uncored skin, using Kevlar hybrid fibers in the laminate. The deck is cored with Divinycell foam, and fiberglass-over-foam longitudinal stringers stiffen the hull. The cast lead keel is alloyed with antimony (for hardening), with beefy stainless keel bolts cast into it. The maststep is a composite form that won't rust or corrode like a conventional metal step. The rudder is glassed-over foam and the tubular stock is made up of E-glass composites. Although I understand the advantages of a composite rudder stock (a smaller stock diameter allows for a thinner rudder blade and more lift from a smaller area), I don't particularly like them. If the rudder bearings become misaligned, or if the rudder blade is grounded, carbon and composites won't have enough elasticity or abrasion resistance to perform as well as other materials.

Swan's superb deck layouts have often been copied but rarely duplicated. The nearly flush teak deck with a wedge look and two cockpits are a Swan trademark. The aft steering cockpit features a scooped-out Destroyer wheel, a curved helmsman's seat and nicely angled foot supports. The engine controls and weatherproof auxiliary electrical panel are easily reached from the helm. Visibility is excellent although the helmsperson is isolated from most sail control points. There are dedicated lockers for liferaft stowage and the teak overlays provide secure footing. The mainsheet traveler spans the bridgedeck between cockpits. The genoa tracks might better be called travelers, with the load-bearing adjustable cars placed well inboard for tight sheeting angles. The headsail sheets and guys can be led to the forward cockpit where a centerline coffee-grinder style winch is located; an attractive alternative to electric winches. The main companionway is accessed from the forward cockpit, which, depending upon where the halyard leads terminate, is more of a staging area than anything else. The standard toerail is anodized aluminum, although a teak version is both more popular and requires more maintenance. On the subject of teak, most 56 owners can't resist teak decks because a Swan just doesn't look right without them. However, new decking systems effectively eliminate the vast majority of through-deck fasteners, which greatly reduces problems and maintenance.

While Frers' specs call for an aluminum, triple-spreader mast, many owners of the cruiser/racer model opt for carbon fiber. The cruiser/racer rig features both an inner forestay and a babystay, which clutters up the foredeck and makes close tacking a bit of a chore. The regatta version has a fractional rig with a single forestay. The mast is supported with husky, discontinuous rod rigging (which eliminates the need to bend the rod at the spreaders), running backstays and a Navtec backstay tensioner. Both the backstay and Navtec vang are hydraulic and are controlled from a cockpit panel. All running rigging is Spectra.

Elegance below
Some may find navigating the steep companionway tricky, which is a result of the flush deck arrangement, but once you negotiate the ladder, there is little to dislike about the 56's interior. From the light Burmese teak veneers, to the elegant curved teak moldings, to the well-thought-out layout, the interior is stunning, in the classic, understated Scandinavian way. There are two standard interior plans for the cruiser/racer version and, naturally, Nautor offers complete owner customization. Plan one features a single owner's cabin aft, while plan two divides the aft end into two private double cabins.

Both plans begin with pipe berths and sail bins, or a skipper's cabin in the forepeak, followed by an athwartships head and a separate shower. A Pullman cabin, with a comfortable seat opposite and ample storage in overhead lockers is just aft. The saloon has an L-shaped settee and beautiful teak chairs draped around a large table on starboard side. A settee with bookshelves above and lockers below is to port. Neva had a complete entertainment center instead of the bookshelves. The nav station is to starboard, tucked beside the companionway. I like a bit of privacy at the nav desk, especially if it doubles as a dockside office. Radios and repeaters are mounted on the outboard panel while the radar and the chartplotter screens can be mounted directly in front of the navigator, making them easier to see and use.

The galley is to port, which is the aft walk-through on the twin aft cabin model. The counter tops are Corian and there are good-sized teak fiddle rails that will keep food and dishes from falling off when they are being used in rough weather. A four-burner stove with an overhead oven is standard, along with a front- and top-loading refrigerator. The sinks are below the cockpit, opposite the stove. They seemed a bit on the small side. The double aft-cabin plan features over and under berths in the port cabin and a double berth with a second head to starboard. This cabin can be also accessed from the aft cockpit. The owner's cabin plan places the double berth to starboard with a large, comfortable settee opposite. Ventilation throughout the boat is excellent, with numerous Goiot deck hatches and opening portlights. The basic layout of the regatta plan eliminates the forward Pullman cabin and offers four over-and-under sea berths.

The electrical system is 24 volts, which is more efficient than the 12-volt system found on most American boats. However, finding 24-volt electronics, pumps and other accessories is challenging. And unless otherwise specified, the standard shore-power system is 220 volt, although most boats can have 110-volt systems added. The 56 carries 224 gallons of fresh water in four tanks and 105 gallons of fuel in two or three tanks. The manifold systems for both are easily accessed and well-designed.

The standard power plant is a Yanmar 4JH2-UTBE diesel, which is both turbo-charged and intercooled and rated at 96 horsepower. This is plenty of power for the 56's easily driven hull, which displaces 47,400 pounds with all the tanks topped. A triple-bladed Max-Prop feathering propeller is standard; this will be a great help when maneuvering in reverse. Engine access is good from all sides with removable panels and the stuffing box is easy to check under the sole in the aft cabin. The engine compartment is so well-insulated that it was hard to hear the smooth running Yanmar even when below.

On the water
While the conditions were near ideal, with 12 to 15 knots of wind, our sail wardrobe was not: The only headsail aboard was No. 3. Skipper Claudio McGuire apologized and explained that the other sails were at the sail loft for a bit of tweaking. Still the performance of the 56 was impressive. I took the helm on a close reach, and the speed eased over 7, and then over 8 knots. The steering, which is a chain-and-cable system, was light and the helm well-balanced. The boat accelerated effortlessly in any kind of a puff and maintained momentum through the light spots.

Bringing the boat up, we managed 6.8 knots without stalling at 30 to 35 degrees apparent. There was a modest bay chop, and I was impressed by the lack of any noticeable pounding up forward. There is no disputing that today's long waterlines are fast, sometimes dramatically so, yet often there is a trade-off in upwind motion. It seems Frers has found that elusive balance between speed and motion when sailing on the wind. We were anxious to crack off on a reach and put a wave under the quarter. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough of a sea running and we didn't have enough sail to get the boat on top of the water. Still, we clipped along at 7 and 8 knots consistently.

The Swan 56 lives up to its promise. It was intelligently conceived and beautifully finished. I have a suspicion that in a few years' time, we will be calling the 56 the latest Nautor Swan classic.