Elaine Bunting reports from the ice-bound coast of Finland, where Nautor’s Swan build their famous range of luxurious Swan yachts, including the latest Swan 115
It is still very snowy in February, temperatures are well below zero, and beside an expanse of frozen sea, the yard where the Swan yachts are built looks as if it lies a long way from the water. On first impression it seems a strange place to build yachts, but the town has been a centre of shipbuilding for over 500 years, and for the last 49 of them Nautor’s Swan has been producing one of the world’s most distinctive, admired and expensive yacht brands.
In 2015, Nautor’s range is one of the broadest of any yacht builder. It stretches from the Swan 53 to the newest model, the Swan 115, the first one of which will be launched this spring. The new design crosses the threshold into super-yacht territory and involves a new realm of complexity. Already this €15 million model is an unexpected success as two more are in build and another on order.
However, Nautor’s Swan needs and cherishes its range and is, it is hinted, looking at the possibility of a smaller Swan. German Frers, who has drawn all the Swan designs since 1988, has made no secret of the fact that his wishlist includes a modern version of the venerable Swan 36.
Swan’s success has always rested on fast, good-to-sail yachts of high quality built with modern techniques. The story began in 1966 with a Sparkman & Stephens-designed 36-footer commissioned by local boatbuilder Pekka Koskenkylä. The first yacht, Tarantella, was one of the earliest glassfibre yachts. In a moment of inspiration Koskenkylä picked on the name Swan for its association with strength and elegance, and because the word was equally well understood in Scandinavian languages, German and English.
Swans truly fledged in 1973, when Nautor launched the 65 ketch, a yacht so large for the time that you could argue it counted as a superyacht. The Swan 65 was modern and fast. She could be sailed anywhere – and did so famously. The Swan 65 Sayula II was bought by Mexican businessman Ramón Carlin to take part in the first Whitbread Round the World Race, and he won. In those early days crews played Russian Roulette among the icebergs in the deep Southern Ocean and legs were weeks long. But it was not as uncomfortable then as now; Sayula was fully fitted out with proper berths, a saloon, galley and even had a full-time cook.
One of the reasons for the continuous appeal of Swans is that the method of build has evolved exclusively in-house. Nautor’s Swan is unusual in undertaking almost all elements of a build itself, including laminating the hulls and even making the veneers for the joiner work, giving it control over quality.