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Swan 46

Swan's new 46 suits the cruising life.

October 4, 2007
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Since the takeover of Nautor Swan seven years ago by Italian fashion designer Leonardo Ferragamo, the emphasis has been very much on racing, with the introduction of the Swan 45 One-Design class, the all-carbon Swan 601 and the Swan 70. Two new offerings, however, have swung the pendulum back toward cruising yachts: the Swan 53 and now the 46. These fill the true bluewater short-handed sailing shoes of earlier models that carried the same names.

The previous Swan 46 was one of Nautor’s most enduring successes, becoming a classic with so many sailors aspiring to own one that their values now increase with age. It was also one of the favorites of designer GŽrman Frers, who described her as “beautifully responsive to sail, small enough for two or three competent crew to handle, yet big enough to accommodate a family of six in complete comfort.” Quite a design brief.

And a hard act to follow. The design was superseded back in 1997 by the Swan 48, which was designed to rate well under IMS and came with three rig and keel options aimed at re-establishing the Swan brand firmly in the performance cruiser/racer market. The slow demise of IMS as a rating rule did not help the 48’s cause and she did not come close to achieving the acceptance of her predecessor.

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Fortunately, the 48’s replacement returns the design ethos back toward the core values of the original. Like the old 46, this new Swan is closer to 47 feet and is a delight to sail; with the benefit of a simple non-overlap rig and push-button controls, she can be handled easily by a crew of two. The difference that three decades of design evolution have made are witnessed by the much greater volume within the hull, the clean and simple deck arrangement and the modern swept-back spreader rig, which, negating the need for running backs and inner forestays, makes tacking a joy. She is available in two versions: a traditional fin keel and rudder configuration, or with a shallow lead shoe, daggerboard and twin rudders, which reduce minimum draft from 7 feet, 6 inches to 4 feet, 4 inches and make those shallow creeks and estuaries on the East Coast and Caribbean all the more explorable.

Our test yacht is owned by John Dean, who runs a large construction business in the U.K. and likes to go bluewater cruising to shake the dust out of his shoes. Previously, he and his wife had a Swan 44 in which he competed in the two-man ’round Britain and Ireland race and in the two-handed transatlantic. His opinion, therefore, carries some weight: “The Swan 46 is an excellent boat for short-handed cruising, yet fun to race in events like the ‘Round the Island race. This year we finished sixth in class behind two Mumm 30s and three IMX 38s-both stripped-out racing one-designs with an apology for an interior. We were the first true cruiser to finish in our class, which wasn’t bad -and we had a lot of fun!”

What Dean likes most about the design are the space, comfort and the simple single-line reefing system, which Nautor first perfected on his Swan 44. “She has a large mainsail that needs constant adjustment, but that’s the price you pay for having a non-overlapping jib,” he says.

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The new 46 is designed for two couples to cruise in complete comfort, but with the ability to accommodate up to eight on those occasions when family or friends arrive en masse. She is fitted out with two double-berth cabins fore and aft, each with full en suite toilet facilities; these are separated by a large communal saloon and galley. Owners have the option of a second double stern-cabin on the starboard side and a more traditional nav station, replacing the informal arrangement opposite the dinette, which doubles as a second seating area.

Only when stepping down through the companionway can you really appreciate the extraordinary volume within this hull design. The style and dŽcor is pure Swan and will have traditionalists rubbing their hands in admiration of the Finnish craftsmanship. Visible woodwork is all satin-finished teak with the exception of the oak-veneered flooring’s protective nonslip clear plastic covering.

The master cabin forward is well lit and has two hanging lockers, plenty of cupboard and draw space, and a desk that can double as a vanity area. The en suite facilities include a head, shower and wash basin; being situated within the inner forepeak allows full standing headroom.

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The spacious main saloon seats eight around the L-shaped dinette to port and two more can share the nav station desk opposite. The low-draft daggerboard version has a large centerboard box running the full height of the cabin, which others have unkindly dubbed the “wailing wall.” It certainly restricts the line of sight of those sitting alongside.

All sailing instrumentation and electronic charts are displayed on a large flat screen recessed into the cabin side, which can be pulled out and swiveled when detailed navigation work is required. The benefit is that everyone on board can share in the navigation and system monitoring experience. The screen also doubles as a TV/DVD for general entertainment when viewed from the dinette opposite. A more traditional nav station, for those who prefer it, can be placed against the main bulkhead forward and the area behind can be fitted with bench seating.

John Dean is of two minds about the informal layout in his yacht. “The big screen is all very well, but I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I like to have paper charts around me. We have a place to store the charts, but the table is not really big enough to spread them out on.”

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The open L-shaped galley, also on the starboard side, has a refrigerator, freezer, a gimbaled three-burner stove and oven, and certainly enough cupboard and drawers to cater to a full house of eight. To port is the principal guest cabin fitted with a V-berth arrangement and hanging locker. The head facility here, which has a drying locker for oilskins, is accessed via the main saloon and doubles as the day head.

The teak-laid decks are bonded down under vacuum in one piece to negate the need for fastenings into the deck, and are a delight to walk on. The side decks are clear of fittings and tracks, with the genoa rails positioned tight up against the coachroof to provide a narrow sheeting angle, while the chain plates are on the gunwale to give plenty of space to walk between.

The bow locker for the anchor and chain is deep enough to store not only spinnakers and spare genoas, but also any recalcitrant crewman in need of restraint. The anchor chain (but hopefully not the crewman) runs over a removable bow roller assembly, which is screwed down over the bows whenever the anchor is deployed.

We had the opportunity to sail the Swan 46 in a spanking 25-knot breeze. She was responsive and fast on a broad reach, topping 11 knots at times. Going upwind, we took in a reef using Nautor’s single-reef line system and took in a few rolls on the genoa using the push-button winch controls. She remained remarkably light on the helm. She was also stable without any slamming; best of all, we didn’t get a speck of spray in the cockpit despite the short sharp chop. Under power, this Swan is just as easy to control and is particularly responsive when going astern-although we understand that this is not the same with the twin-ruddered shallow-draft model, which suffers from the lack of prop-wash across the foils when going backward. Indeed, the standard fin keel version has such refined handling characteristics, I would need to think long and hard about buying the shallow draft version, even if I were to cruise extensively in restricted waters-unless, of course, I had a need for a wailing wall to pray against when becalmed!

Contact: Jennifer Stewart Inc., (401) 846-8404; Stephen C. Barker Inc., (203) 425-9700; Eastport Yacht Center, (443) 482-9400.

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