The result of a design competition won by Juan K, the ClubSwan 50 is outrageously good to sail, says Toby Hodges. All pics by Rick Tomlinson.
Nautor’s Swan well and truly removed the shackles for this contemporary beast. It has unleashed a design so fresh she deserves an MTV documentary about her.
The only thing that looks Swan-like is the coveline with its familiar blue arrow head.
Nautor’s Swan has often been ahead of the curve – the Finnish/Italian company has been building lightweight carbon flyers for over a decade now – and for its 50th anniversary it wanted to produce a spectacular yacht. I think I can say it has achieved that rather handsomely.
Marketing director Vanni Galgani said the company didn’t really care how many sold so long as the 50 had wow factor. It has, but Italian romanticism is not the point. This is the result of a diligently researched, multi-faceted programme from its first concept.
She’s a fabulously fancy weekender, perhaps, but moreover will be a fast and fun owner-driver one-design class, with an ambitious and exciting Nations Cup programme (see the panel at the end) – and one that could only potentially succeed under a name well practised in organising international regattas.
So, why is she so cool? Just look at the design features. She’s aggressive and flared, with muscular, powerful lines that possess a raw sex appeal. Juan Kouyoumdjian seems to have pushed all contemporary features to the extreme: the pronounced, curved reverse sheer and stem together with the menacing bowsprit forward that creates a swordfish look; the forward sprayrail and hard chine aft; the prominent flare to the quarters and the angular companionway.
The mast is positioned well aft, deck-stepped and raked back like a multihull. This creates a massive J area for flying powerful A-sails, combined with a potent square-top mainsail. It’s monohull meets multihull, raceboat meets luxury performance. If there were a Top Trumps game for monohull design this would be the card to hold.
More design details
- The bowsprit (just 10kg), which protrudes as menacingly as a jouster’s lance, can be painted white
- Reverse sheer helps soften the lines of a wide transom yacht. Because Juan K designed the boat
to heel, “if you don’t bring the sheer down it looks very high and can look bow down”
- Despite the scrupulous attention to weight, teak decks are standard – she’s still a Swan after all
- There is a huge cockpit locker below the aft deck. As with all Swans, this has a watertight bulkhead forward, so if a rudder is lost, there is no danger of sinking
This is the first Swan not designed by German Frers in four decades. Nautor held a design competition with a brief for a contemporary, fast, competitive one-design that could sail offshore and be converted to a sports cruiser sailed with limited crew. A small ask, then! More importantly, it said: ‘In one word, this yacht has to be cool.’
In Juan K it found a designer with similar Argentinian flare to Frers, but with a more innovative, cutting-edge racing focus. He is known for his very shallow, wide-stern designs and his repeated VO70 successes – ABN Amro, Ericsson 4, Groupama 4 – and more recently the silver bullet Rambler 88.
“I looked a lot at what Frers had done with Swan to try to keep the Swan DNA,” Juan K explains. “For me it was essential to keep it as a racing boat that could cruise, not the other way around. Weight was essential.”
The 50 is seriously light at 8.5 tonnes. A good indication of her slippery profile was immediately apparent as we planed away from Nautor’s marina in Pietarsaari – under engine. The whole structure is built in carbon epoxy Sprint laminate. Even her keel fin is carbon – only top racing yachts such as VO65s have that. The modern interior is a lesson in disguise: all-carbon dressed in wafer-thin leather and teak veneer.
Glance through the specs (off-the-scale for a production yacht) and you can imagine Juan K giggling like a mad professor as he came up with the design. The outrageous sail area:displacement of 36.5 is by far the highest ratio I’ve seen for a series-built yacht. The 50 also has a feather-light displacement:length ratio of just 86 – and over 40 per cent of that displacement is in the keel’s torpedo bulb. She can set nearly 3,000sq ft of asymmetric sail.
It’s like lifting the bonnet of a muscle car to find someone has packed in far more cylinders than seemed possible.
The catch to all this lightweight bling? She costs nearly a million euros. That’s twice the price of our favourite pin-up from last year, the Solaris 50 (another trendsetter drawn by an Argentinian, Soto Acebal). To merit that sort of asking price, the ClubSwan 50 would have to excel in build and finish quality and be as seriously exciting on the water as first impressions suggest.
The deal with heel
So, what’s she like to sail? Although our test was only the third time the black 3Di sails had been hoisted on this very first 50, it did not take long to answer: utterly addictive.
We had relatively light winds; largely between 5 and 10 knots. But this is a vessel that needs little encouragement to create her own wind, especially once some heel is induced. Her optimum heel angles are high (20-25º upwind and 15-22º reaching) to gain maximum waterline length and righting moment for minimum wetted surface.
Seeing a hull in build from below makes it easier to appreciate how the 50 is designed to sail at a high degree of heel. She has very sharp bow sections, together with a long yet minimal wetted surface that extends to the chined quarters when heeled.
For the first half an hour or so I sailed her like that upwind as if in a trance. In just 5 knots of true wind, we were making 7-7.5 knots, sliding along with barely a wake. I was astonished. Five knots true! An owner would scarcely ever need to fire up the engine!
Enjoyment escalates with the addition of the vast kite. We were quickly matching the 7- to 10-knot true wind speeds, the base of the white, red and blue kite kissing the water as we pointed up to around 60° apparent.
At this angle the bottom leading edge of the windward rudder is exposed, baring the sawtooth profile that Juan K compares to the tubercles of a whale. The rudders are a development of those designed for Rambler 88: “As the boat is always sailed heeled, the tip of the windward rudder is touching the water, so you have to design the rudders to be sailed like this – in and out of the water.” The tubercle effect also helps prevent stalling, giving an extra 2-3° angle of attack.
Though the 50 uses raceboat design, technology and build processes, she remains a manageable yacht to sail. She showed no signs of twitchy behaviour. I could feel plenty of grip on the working blade even when we heated her up. These blades are deep enough to offer owner-drivers assured grip, but a combination of their outboard placement and high aspect shape means they still feel supremely light on the wheel.
Heading back upwind when the breeze increased to 10-13 knots, the 50 really started to come to life. We clocked 8.5 knots at 31-35° to the apparent wind. She really loves to heel and our test was a mere glimpse of the animal she promises to be in a breeze. A smoking offwind ride in heavy airs with the crew hiking out of the quarters would, I’m quite sure, provide as good a high as anything legal.
The ClubSwan 50 is designed to be (relatively) easily managed too. Taming that powerful sailplan would be the obvious concern for most owners considering any short-handed daysails or cruises. Below 10 knots of breeze the running backstays can remain at the mast base. Above that, two reefs are employed to allow the boom to pass the backstays.
The backstays are locked off and the jib sheets led to aft winches. The generous J area means a staysail can be set as well as or instead of the furling genoa. Tank allocation for water and fuel is enough for short cruises and the engine size is generous – we planed along at 9.5 knots at 2,500rpm.
Many of the design features may look like glitzy, go-faster additions, but there’s sound reasoning behind them. The flare to the quarters extends the maximum beam right aft, for example. Twin rudders allow the boat to be pushed when reaching, so the flares create a hiking platform where crew weight is best concentrated to help keep the bow up.
The twin rudders which allow you to load up the boat also mean the mast can be brought back in respect of the keel, Juan K explains. This in turn allows the use of powerful reaching headsails. A mast stepped relatively far aft means its foot would pierce the centre of the accommodation were it keel-stepped. So, a deck-stepped mast, supported by a formidable carbon bridge below, offers the most efficient mast position. “And for offshore purposes it is a lot safer – watertightness is assured,” Juan K adds.
With a mast sited abaft midships, the boom stretches right aft, allowing the mainsail to sheet to a sunken traveller
that utilises the majority of the 50’s beam aft.
The angled companionway hatch and the control line set-up on the coachroof above is also influenced by high-end racing yachts. The V-shaped inhauler purchases on the coachroof look slick and work particularly well. The jib sheets are led via transverse jib tracks, with the blocks suspended from the shroud bases to allow three-way control.
However, it should be noted that the test boat we sailed was still very much in prototype phase. Certain parts had yet to be installed or fixed properly, such as the foot braces for the helmsman and mainsail trimmer, because Nautor wanted to perfect angles and placements.
Luxury sport style
My first impressions of the interior were similar to that of the exterior – it is so refreshing, so different, so contemporary. You expect a rocketship like this to have an interior as bare as a space capsule. Instead Nautor has managed to dust it with a fair sprinkling of Swan luxury.
The angular look, set off by the straight caulking lines on deck, is continued below using teak soleboards with holly stripes, while athwartships lines break up the bulkheads and panels. Michel Bonan, the trusted architect of Swan chairman Leonardo Ferragamo, designed the interior and he has used leather, teak and clear-coat carbon as the dominant materials to style a space that suits both racing and short cruises.
Virtually everything is made from foam-cored carbon, yet without impacting on the luxurious Italian look. “The weight saving is what you don’t see,” Vanni Galgani remarks. Lift a floorboard or peer behind a locker and you find bare carbon. Even the headliners and faux TNG side panels are moulded from carbon. Nautor shapes the carbon panels and furniture in Finland before it sends them to leather upholstery experts Poltrona Frau in Italy.
My main concern below would be the durability of the white and cream panels and leatherwork. It is also difficult to judge a boat that was certainly not finished. Some sideliners and headliners had yet to be fixed; some already showed signs of wear and tear.
The saloon table extends too far into the centre, hindering an otherwise clean walk-through, but Swan says it will be moved further outboard. With a yard like Nautor you do have a degree of faith that these things will be corrected and adjusted. Indeed, a list of refinements was planned for hulls two and three before the three raced in September.
The switch from leisure to racing modes has been well considered. The twin sofa beds in the saloon have backrests that clip up to form race berths. The tan leather hanging wardrobes all come out, as does the forward berth, to create sail stowage/packing space.
Owners can choose a two- or three-cabin layout, the former with a galley aft instead of the third cabin as per our test boat. This minimalist white box – it’s the size of a large aft heads – is practical enough for weekending. It has a two-burner stove, small sink and fridge and good locker space. In the three-cabin model, the galley steals the separate shower area forward of the saloon.
A dominant feature is the massive sandwich carbon bridge forward of the saloon to absorb loads of the deck-stepped mast. It is wide enough to allow unhindered access forward. A carbon panel that hinges down from the main bulkhead, together with a switch panel above, acts as the navstation adjoining the saloon berth. Dividing the heads and shower cabins amidships each side is a clever solution – both have a sink, so this effectively creates two washrooms.
Here’s that Swan luxury! Teak veneer is used on the soles, running boards and hatch surrounds, giving a warm effect, plus plenty of leather is used around the berth and in the collapsible fabric wardrobes. The headliner stripes really highlight the foredeck camber – the latter a design feature that helps retain 5ft 10in headroom.
Most people want to mark their 50th in some style, but Nautor’s Swan has gone the extra step and then some with this celebratory ClubSwan 50. It could not have produced a monohull so radically different from its very first Sparkman & Stephens design back in 1966, the 36.
It seems ironic that it is Swan, a name known for its timeless, graceful lines, that has produced the most aggressive design angles and innovative build solutions of the modern era.
Granted, they won’t appeal to all, but design can become stagnant and sometimes this segment of the industry needs a shake-up. The ClubSwan 50 is not just a breath of fresh air but a lungful. It is the pin-up of 2016, a brazen, aggressive beast of a sports/luxury racer-cruiser.
Factor in the one-design and Nations Cup racing element and she’s a like a 50ft Wally Cento – a raceboat with an enticing regatta programme, but one that allows premium comfort and lashings of prestige.
Nautor needs to finish the boat to a higher level than that on the first boat I tested to justify its price-tag. But I have no doubt that it will. Either way, I’m fairly certain that it won’t prevent sales. If ever there was a yacht to hook a buyer at first glance, the ClubSwan 50 is it.
Take the helm and it’s near impossible not to become infatuated.
The Nations Cup
ClubSwan 50 owners will have access to a new and existing chain of prestige races and events. A world ranking will ensure the best boat per flag/country competes in the Nations Cup, the first edition of which is scheduled in Palma next October.
Nautor’s Swan says it can build 15 boats by then – 12 had already been sold at the time of writing. German Olympic champion Jochen Schuemann is the class president and in 2018 one-design events will be established for the class.
ClubSwan 50 specifications
LOA: 16.74m (54ft 11in)
LWL: 14.00m (45ft 11in)
Beam (Max): 4.20m (13ft 9in)
Draught: 3.50m (11ft 6in)
Disp (lightship): 8,500kg (18,739lb)
Ballast: 3,450kg (7,606lb)
Sail area (100% foretriangle): 149.6sq m (1,610sq ft)
Engine: 75hp (56kW)
Water: 350lt (77gal)
Fuel: 300lt (66gal)
Sail area:disp: 86
Price (ex VAT): €935,000 (£806,310)
Design: Juan Kouyoumdjian