One minute this Swan is coddling her owners in eiderdown, 59 minutes later she’s beating the fleet to the buoy. That’s the gist of why the Swan 601 is one of the most popular introductions in recent memory. Dominick Porco, whose Swan 45 Alliance won 2004’s Newport-Bermuda Race, describes Nautor’s latest as a “45 on steroids.” The New Yorker wants one to defend the Lighthouse Trophy in what will be the 100th anniversary of the Bermuda classic in 2006.
He’s not alone. The first five of these all-carbon one-design yachts were snapped up from the plan stage before a single one had been popped from their molds at Nautor’s new high-science composite building facility in Finland. Now the race is on to build up significant numbers on the East Coast, the Mediterranean and in northern Europe to produce a world-class fleet to provide Grand-Prix racing one week, and family-friendly cruising the next.
The concept takes us back to the 1970s when Nautor- built boats won around the buoys and around the world races, and in between, provided cruising accommodations of considerable comfort. The 601 has three double cabins including an owner’s stateroom, a fairly decadent saloon and galley, and two head compartments. There is also the option of push-button electric winches and an autopilot, to make her easy to handle with a crew of just two or three when cruising.
When race day comes, her crew can strip out much of this interior inside of an hour, including the hull linings; disable the pilot and winch drives; and have her ready to compete at the highest level. Design lines aside, the secret lies in the 601’s prepreg carbon hull and deck which, according to designer German Frers, offers a 30 percent weight-saving over comparable fiberglass hulls-even with a teak-laid deck, which comes as standard!
The 601 is a boat that is built almost exclusively in this “black gold,” from her carbon-fiber mast, boom and chain plates down to wheels, winch pedestals and grab handles. There is a clear connection between her and the Frers-designed Volvo 60 Amer Sports One which New Zealander Grant Dalton campaigned in the last Volvo Round the World Race. Indeed, there was a point during the design process when the 601 was seriously considered as a second one-design class for the 2005 Race, now that the premier class size has moved up from 60 to 75 feet overall.
In fact, the 601 is built to a higher spec than the Volvo racers (as well as the Swan 45, which has only a carbon deck), incorporating much more carbon in her structure to make the overall package not only stronger and lighter, but in many areas, considerably simpler. One example is the rig. This is a simple twin swept-spreader affair, which is strong enough not to require running backstays yet much lighter than an alloy alternative.
The blueprint follows that of the Swan 45, which has proved something of a trendsetter on both sides of the Atlantic, being raced competitively within its own one-design class and on handicap. At the New York Yacht Club’s 150th regatta last year, the nine-boat fleet provided extremely close racing one weekend at Newport before five set out on the 630-mile Newport-Bermuda Race, where Alliance won the premier cruiser/racer division outright.
The deck layout on this innovative design is a real winner with crews, if only because of the lack of toerails that cut into the back of their legs when hiking out. Racing with 19 crew on board during the Swan World Cup off Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, in the summer, she proved easy to tack thanks in part to her nonoverlapping headsail, and partly due to her running halyards and control lines led through channels within the coachroof, which kept them from getting under foot.
The teak deck, whether it be wet or dry, is always nice to walk on, but the same cannot be said for the smooth, polished carbon coachroof, which the foredeck crew described as something of an ice rink. The problem was easy to overcome however, by simply applying lengths of black nonslip tape across the deck.
The three deck hatches are all flush-mounted, but one has to question whether these will provide sufficient ventilation when sailing in the Tropics. And what effect will the sun have on that black carbon deck? There is always the option to paint it white.
There are some nicely thought-out touches. Solid-machined bull’s-eyes ensure fair leads for control lines without the need for heavy turning blocks or sheet feeders, and barber haulers controlling the genoa-sheet lead angle emerge from recesses in the coachroof and are controlled by lines fed through under the deck. Mooring cleats, which have a habit of snagging sheets when sailing, are simply locked in place or removed with the turn of a thumbscrew.
The 601 is certainly fast, but how does she perform on the racetrack? Unlike her predecessor, the Swan 60, which took five firsts at Cork and Cowes Weeks when straight out of the box, this new Swan is taking time to prove herself. On handicap, she has to perform like a 70-footer, which she certainly did at times during the World Cup in Sardinia though not with the consistency required to take the trophy. The problem-or perhaps answer would be a better phrase-lies with the core rule enshrined within the class: that the owner must drive the boat. This Swan is fitted with high-aspect performance foils, which have a very narrow “performance groove.” A seasoned professional like Paul Cayard who is racing or practicing almost every day can sense their response almost intuitively, but not perhaps an owner who spends his days pitting his skills more productively in the world of commerce.
Peter Ogden, the owner of Spirit of Jethou, is typical of the type of owner Nautor hopes the 601 will attract. Highly successful and with a strong personable character, his sailing enjoyment comes from taking charge of the wheel and mixing friends and family with the pool of hotshot crew. His previous yacht was a masthead-rigged Swan 60, which he raced with some success, but compared with the 601 that was a standard Ford Mustang.
This new Swan is a purist’s boat, much closer to a Ferrari, requiring precision and skill in every area to get the most out of her. Ogden will understand this analogy better than most for his financial world involves motorsport. He knows that with his own skill set, he could never compete on the racetrack with the likes of John Andretti or Michael Schumacher any better than he could outshine Russell Coutts or Paul Cayard on the racecourse. But pitted against fellow financiers and businessmen who can afford the $2 million price tag for a 601, he has an even chance of success. And there is nothing within the rules to stop him from inviting the Couttses and Cayards of this world from coming aboard to provide a little coaching on the side.
Ogden and his crew embarked on an ambitious program that saw Spirit of Jethau compete in this winter’s Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) so that the family could go cruising on her over Christmas prior to entering Antigua Race Week. Next winter he wants to tackle the Sydney- Hobart Race, before returning to the U.S. for the Newport-Bermuda classic and returning to the UK in time for the Fastnet event. And in between? He wants to make the most of the 601’s cruising potential!
Contacts: Jennifer Stewart Inc., (401) 846-8404, Fax (401) 846-7349; Stephen C. Barker Inc., (203) 425-9700, Fax (203) 425-9776; and Eastport Yacht Center, (443) 482-9400, Fax (443) 482-9633.