Has Nautor’s radical new one-design ClubSwan 36 been worth the wait, asks Matthew Sheahan?
It’s easy to be seduced by modern high performance, especially downwind. As the wake flattens out astern and the foils start to sing, the helm takes on a more direct and responsive feel. The speed climbs, the boat’s motion stiffens and the sail trim comes on as the crew respond to the apparent wind speed and direction that has now worked its way forwards.
As the bow waves slide further aft the speed continues to build and by now it’s an intoxicating ride. Who on earth wouldn’t like this? And so long as you hold your nerve and keep your foot to the floor, even the gybes are fun nowadays when compared to the stress of a metronome motion during the end-for-end pole gybes of old.
But while double figure speeds downhill have transformed our sport, they have also frequently come at a price. The quest for high speeds and cool looks hasn’t always worked out.
Getting the boat back uphill can often be a disproportionate struggle aboard a boat that lacks righting moment and requires crew to fold themselves over guardrails as forgiving as cheese wire as they reach for and stare at their toes. No one likes hiking, surely?
High performance boats are pretty wet too. And while you’d expect that on deck, it’s not great to see the inside of your downhill master blaster ankle deep in water at the bottom of the sleigh ride to the leeward mark. It’s not quick either. Flooding the boat has become all too common aboard high performance racers.
The proliferation of holes that open directly into the accommodation might make for a sleek looking boat, but it also produces a hull and deck that is as watertight as a colander. This has always been unacceptable in my book. I say all of this because it would be easy to assume that the strikingly modern, wickedly fast looking and eagerly awaited ClubSwan 36 would fall straight into this category.
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It is, after all, a futuristic, aggressively styled machine and when you look at the team that created it, perhaps it’s not that surprising. From the moment that the company’s vice president Enrico Chieffi announced that the new model would be designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian it was clear that Nautor’s Swan’s new pocket rocket was likely to be radical.
But not even Juan K can take all the credit. This new one-design has been the product of an impressive line up of racing talent with structural guru Giovanni Belgrano brought on board as principal engineer, along with aerodynamic expert Hervé Devaux developing the rig. A rig that, even in the preliminary sailplan promotional sketches, looks like it has been scaled up from a 49er is radical for a keelboat.
In fact, the overall style of this skinny, heavily raked and hugely pre-bent mast drew a great deal from the Olympic Star’s rig, a boat that both Chieffi and Kouyoumdjian have a great deal of experience in. They knew how key mast control is in managing the power in a Star’s mainsail and wanted to incorporate some of the same details in the ClubSwan 36.
Below the waterline it’s even more extreme, with a skinny, high aspect ratio keel fin and a giant single C-foil, a novel and ingenious way of delivering a new set of cogs to an already impressive sailing gearbox.
But for all this, one of the key features that stood out for me is the deck layout and the manner in which a boat that will kick up spray like a vapour trail will also stay dry below decks. This is a boat that combines advanced thinking with practical detailing. More on that later.
Moving the game on
Over the last few seasons Nautor’s Swan has been on a roll following its bold call to move away from trying to combine modern high performance with cruising comfort. Instead, the range has been polarised into racing and cruising with contemporary designs that tackle their own markets without making compromises to another.
On the racing side this could be seen with the ClubSwan 50, a modern 50ft one design that is an unapologetic racer for the owner/driver scene and that was first launched in 2016.
Compare this with the company’s approach 17 years ago with the ClubSwan 45 that had slick racing lines, but a fitted interior and the lack of compromise today is clear to see. The same can be seen aboard the ClubSwan 42, first launched in 2006. Both boats proved popular, but it was time to move the game on.
The ClubSwan 36 takes the no-nonsense approach of the 50 even further. For starters, the 36 continues the strict owner/driver principles of the ClubSwan fleet. With mixed crews of amateur and pro sailors in mind, the rules dictate a maximum of three professional crew.
Designed as a high-performance one design, its hull and deck lines are in keeping with some of the more radical styles out there among boats like the Fast 40+ Rán VII and more recently Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss.
It has minimal rocker and a flat run aft along with an aggressive chine in the after sections in order to help boost form stability and develop more power upwind and down. A chamfered gunwale on the foredeck helps to save weight and reduce the centre of gravity while at the same time reducing windage.
The shallow, open cockpit is the one area that appears much as you’d expect of a boat of this type, with an offset companionway hatch and pit area similar to a modern TP52 and a thoughtfully arranged control line layout elsewhere.
On the face of it, the rig looks pretty simple with just one set of aft swept spreaders and rod rigging that is terminated on a full width chainplate base. Yet, here the simplicity is at odds with a sophisticated carbon mast.
The concept was to create a fractionally rigged mast that could be easily and safely handled while being able to alter its bend sufficiently to allow greater control of the ample sail plan. Here, a set of PBO running backstays and deflectors provide the main controls.
Interestingly, and in order to help the range of rake and pre-bend that is available, the mast is deck stepped, a feature that also helps to keep the boat dry below decks. When it comes to the sail plan itself, the choice of sailmaker has been left open but with strict limits on the design and number of sails.
But the real focus for this new design centres on its appendages. And while the 2.75m (9ft) deep, super skinny 1,163kg (2,563lb) CNC-milled steel fin and lead bulb keel provides and impressive 47% ballast ratio, it is the innovative C-section foil that draws the most attention.
A foiling swan?
In simple terms the ClubSwan 36 has, in effect, a set of curved daggerboards that can be deployed to a variety of depths in order to create both side force and a component of vertical force. The big difference is that instead of being independently operated, the system is one large circular sectioned foil that slides through a watertight case inside the boat. This ingenious solution allows simple control of the board rather than two sets of up and down controls.
Broadly speaking, the foil provides two areas of benefit. Upwind Nautor’s Swan claim that the foil is efficient enough to create negative leeway under certain conditions. Downwind the foil contributes more to the righting moment with up to 1.2 tonnes of lift at 14 knots of boat speed and therefore delivers additional power as well as helping to promote planing.
The conditions for our test sail were lighter than we would have liked but with 8-9 knots true we were still able to sit at 11-12 knots at 120° true with the asymmetric kite set. As you would expect, in such light breeze heating it up even further did little to improve the speed but what it did demonstrate if pushed to the limits is how the foil prevents the Swan from broaching.
Instead, at 110° true and as the little gusts came through it simply heeled further and refused to apply any weather helm. An academic exercise perhaps, but one that helped to illustrate how different a boat this is to sail
Sailing at more normal angles in a light yet puffy breeze, it was clear that this is a boat that has plenty in common with a multihull in that it thrives on apparent wind. At just 3,140kg with an upwind sail area of 93.5m2 and downwind area of 193m2, its sail area/displacement ratios of 44 and 91 respectively put facts to the hands-on feel.
Such a potent performance ratio will require a different style of sailing for some of the owner-drivers who come to the 36 from displacement keelboats. Sailing on apparent wind angle and speed is more of a dinghy trick. Yet the C-foil introduces an additional element that will take even the pros a while to learn.
Talking to them about what they have established so far suggests that heel angle will be an interesting new dimension in deciding how much of the C-foil is used to provide vertical lift to leeward.
Unlike Beneteau’s Figaro 3 with its midship mounted foils, there is no adjustment for the angle of attack of the foil, which means that boat speed will need to be fed into the mix when considering the amount of lift that is best, which in turn will determine how much foil to deploy. The bottom line is that there is a new style of sailing to be learned for all.
What is known is that the ClubSwan 36 starts to plane downwind at 140-145° true from 13 knots wind speed. As the breeze increases to 18 knots+ it likes to be sailed in a higher mode as the foils start to work more efficiently, just as you’d expect in a performance dinghy. At this point the polar data shows boat speeds in excess of 20 knots.
Setting the numbers to one side, it is a very comfortable and secure boat to helm. Decently proportioned side decks, a good foot rail and the highly effective and forgiving SeaDek anti-slip made the test boat a secure platform to move about on through manoeuvres.
The control line layout is well thought out making the boat easy to handle for a crew of six. So for anyone used to a modern race boat there will be few surprises here. Among my favourite features are the removable sections of the deck that in place create a clear rope-free deck, making it far more secure underfoot while also giving a clean appearance.
And not a single hole through the hull or deck, making it a boat that is as likely to float to its lines just as well at the bottom of the course as it might at the top.
When lifted, the removable panels reveal the entire deck control line layout and provide easy access to all the turning blocks and fairleads. Even the carbon fibre retractable bowsprit sits in its own recess beneath a long slender deck fairing. While Velcro attachments might not be the norm for holding a deck down, the special version of this popular fastener material seems very capable.
For a design that aims to push at the boundaries, the ClubSwan 36 is nevertheless a modest boat when it comes to her construction. The hull is an E-glass/infused epoxy laminate with carbon reinforcements. The structural components are also infused and cured separately before being vacuum-bonded into the hull.
As you might expect of an all-out race boat, unless you are a Mini Transat sailor, the accommodation is as Spartan as you can get and pretty cramped for a 36-footer. There is, however, sufficient room to fit a pair of pilot berths either side for offshore racing or deliveries.
Other than that the engine options are for either a Nanni 10.3kW diesel or an electric Torqeedo Cruise powered by a lithium battery from BMW, which boasts a 70% higher energy density and 50% longer life cycle than a typical marine lithium battery. In race mode, the drive shaft and three-bladed fixed prop retract into the hull. When sailing but not racing, the spinning propeller recharges the battery.
The electric option also offers advantages for those looking to trail the boat on the road as there is no fuel and oil to drain before heeling the boat to 60° to get it within the European towing limit. So, while there has been plenty of thought put into the management of this race boat afloat, there has also been time spent on how best to handle it ashore as well.
Although our trial sail didn’t deliver the type of downwind sleigh ride that its looks suggest it’s capable of, I have little doubt this will be an exhilarating and rewarding boat to sail. Getting it onto the scene hasn’t been easy. After several delays, at times the birth of the ClubSwan 36 has been a tricky one. This in itself has triggered plenty of dockside gossip about whether the project was too ambitious. But to see and sail it for real reveals an innovative boat where time has clearly been taken to work out the detail. In some ways fitting C-foils is a gamble, the pay-off of which is not yet really known. Only time on the racecourse will tell if it has worked. Sticking with a modest step forward, an evolution of grand prix racer, would have been both easier and possibly a safer bet. But that was not what this project set out to do and in that respect Nautor’s Swan has made an impressive statement of intent in seeking to move the racing game on. At €385,000 excluding sails, electronics and tax, this is an expensive boat, but given the company’s reputation for delivering models that remain on the scene for many years there’s a good chance the ClubSwan 36 will be able to convince owners it’s a good bet that will go on to hold its value. In short, I liked the ClubSwan 36. The more time I spent aboard the more I appreciated the detail. It’s a boat that’s been on my ‘must test’ list for some time, but has now moved across to ‘must race’.