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.