Lucky Bird is a 1972 Swan 48 that has been given a spectacular new lease of life by Younique Yachts in the Netherlands

Can you improve on perfection? The Sparkman & Stephens-designed Swan 48 is widely considered to be one of the most iconic bluewater sailing designs of all time. To take a classic example of this 1970s yacht and turn it into a weekend sailor fit for a 21st century family was brave, possibly even a little heretic.

Lucky Bird‘s radical refurbishment wasn’t always on the cards. When the Swan 48 arrived at Younique the original plan was to fully restore the interior carpentry, but to keep it fundamentally original. As more and more of her traditional fittings were stripped out, however, the beauty of S&S’s original lines became visible inside the hull, as well as outside.

Inspired by what they found, owner Eric Bijlsma – who also owns the Hoek-designed superyacht Firefly and the Younique team decided to change their refit plans. Instead of recreating something original they moved towards restoring her with a much lighter, more modern touch.

“I have always been in love with the designs of Sparkman & Stephens, and I know that Olin Stephens’s favourite design was the Swan 48. I’m very keen on the lines and the heritage of the brand, but I was missing a bit of the modern feel,” recalls Bijlsma, who wanted a simpler yacht to sail with his family.

Creating sightlines along the hull edges and cabin sole, rather than concealing them under heavy fitted joinery, was integral to the design. “Once you can see where the hull meets the floor, which gives a lot of space, you see how the beautiful lines work from the interior,” explains Egbert Wattel, co-founder of Younique Yachts.

“Actually that was the starting point, and from then on we came up with new ideas to show the construction of the hull.”

The main tool they chose was miles of thin strip sycamore planking, which creates an optical effect of illustrating the original hull lines through the shadows between the planks. The new woodwork takes its inspiration from the original Swan 48 interior, which had some areas of strip planking visible above bunks in the forepeak and saloon, but has now been used throughout in a much lighter finish. The fixings were also changed, from visible screws to aluminium bolts with each bolt head hand-sanded and polished for the desired finish.

“If you look closely you can see around the hatches and the corners of the bulkheads, we wanted to keep that and rather than do anything to smooth it away, keep it honest,” explains Wattel.

Some areas of the yacht’s construction have been modified, and the interior reflects that. Lucky Bird’s new rig has single stays, which has required new structure to be built underneath the chainplates for additional stiffness.

“The new rig has one chainplate, so all the stress is focused on one area now,” says Wattel. “So we designed a new strut under the deck, a large knee that we shaped in plywood first and integrated it into the bunks, and then the whole structure was covered with glassfibre and carbon fibre.”

In keeping with the overall ethos of showing rather than concealing the functional elements of the yacht, the contrasting carbon was instead integrated into the saloon berths. “All the things you need, it’s OK to see them, because if they are done properly each thing is a work of art,” explains Wattel.

A modern entrance

Other major structural changes were made around the companionway, where the pit area, coachroof and hatch have been entirely rebuilt.

“The entrance was not originally central in the boat,” explains Wattel. “It was 70mm to the starboard side, and that was designed to get access to the aft cabin properly.

“But because we wanted to have all the lines symmetrical we changed the whole entrance, cut out the original one and replaced it, making it wider and symmetrical again.”

Over the companionway there is now a large custom glass structure, with a flush glass hatch sliding over the top of a fixed glass pane for maximum light down below.

A new curved structure forward of the cockpit also houses channels for submerged lines, leading to newly recessed electric Andersen winches.

“The whole goal for me with this area was that it had to look like it was original. A Swan owner would know straight away that it is new but other sailors would think it is original. So the lines flow with the original lines – actually I think it is even better now,” comments Wattel.

The goal of creating a flush, minimalist deck on a 1970s design raised some challenges, the most forward hatch proving particularly technically difficult due to the curvature of the foredeck area. To achieve a flush finish Younique Yachts had to custom design everything from the glazing to the hinges.

The original anchor installation was removed, and replaced with a concealed anchor locker in the starboard bow. The characteristic Swan toerail was also pared down.

“The original Swan has quite a lot of aluminium toerail. We discussed for a while if we could refurbish it or remake it. In the end we said we’d remove it, so we had to cut out the whole thing,” recalls Wattel.

“Then we had to grind out part of the laminate, apply new extra-strong laminate because some of the strength would be lost by getting rid of the toerail there, and then the whole deck was filled flush again.”

The steering pedestal appears original but is in fact also all-new, sitting slightly higher to accommodate hydraulic controls for the backstay and vang as well as a joystick for the bow thruster, with a new custom wheel and modern compass.

A new higher aspect carbon fibre rig with slightly aft-swept spreaders carries an updated sailplan, a furling genoa, small jib, and an asymmetric which is set from a fixed tack point on the bow.

Accommodation

Down below there is an aft owner’s cabin, while pipecots in the foredeck give additional accommodation for weekending. The saloon berths are on two different levels, giving a seating area that can also be adapted to provide children’s berths for Bijlsma’s young family.

The galley is one of the most dramatic redesigns of the entire boat. A custom designed white Corian galley includes a sink, concealed waste bin, and electric hob. Stowage is limited by cruising yacht standards with no over counter cabinets, but instead crockery, utensils and cutlery is stored in custom-cut recesses, and there are specially designed cupboards for glassware. The industrial-style door abaft of the galley is a large fridge, set into the bulkhead with an American-inspired door design.

The modern refurbishment is not to everyone’s taste, “Some people say you wrecked the whole boat, it’s not a Swan anymore. But we don’t do that. We wanted to make it a better Swan, it still has to be a Swan, but we tried to improve it,” explains Wattel.

Bijlsma adds: “I always had in my mind that if Olin Stephens were still alive and he had the advantage of today’s possibilities then how would he have done it? I really tried to rebuild this wonderful boat according to the way I think he would have done it.”

Specification

Designer Sparkman & Stephens

Build Nautor’s Swan, 1972

LOA 14.60m 47ft 11in

LWL 11.36m 37ft 3in

Beam 4.15m 13ft 7in

Draught 2.4m 7ft 10in

Displacement 16,300kg 36,000lb

Upwind sail area 114sq m 1,227sq ft

Spinnaker sail area 231,5sq m 2,492sq ft