Boats & Gear

SWAN 48: Definitely Worth Salvaging

Swan 48 Avocation

MY LAST POST about that abandoned Swan 48 floating around south of Bermuda has created some buzz it seems and numerous people are now making noises about retrieving it. To help inform and inspire would-be salvagers, I thought I should share some of what I know about these boats. I've sailed them back and forth between New England and Caribbean several times and have also raced a bit on them—around the cans and in one Bermuda Race.

You know, of course, that Nautor Swan of Finland, founded originally by Pekka Koskenkyla, has an excellent reputation. They've been building high-end production fiberglass sailboats for over 40 years, most of them what I'd call cruiser-racers. Most older Swans have sleek, modern hull forms, according to the era in which they were built, but they are also a bit heavy, as they are very solidly constructed with teak decks and lots of heavy solid-teak interior joinery.

The traditional Swan zeitgeist ended in 1998 when Nautor was acquired by the Italian fashion magnate Leonardo Ferragamo. Since then new Swans have been either luxury performance cruisers 70 feet and longer or smaller (45 feet or less) flat-out racing yachts. The German Frers-designed Swan 48, which was first introduced in 1995 and was discontinued in 2004 after a production run of 57 hulls, is one of the last of the old breed.

Unlike most (but not all) of the pre-Ferragamo Swans, the 48 was available either as a "regatta" racer or as a straight "cruiser-racer." The regatta version features a deeper high-aspect keel (9'6" as opposed to 7'11") and a taller 7/8 rig (1,241 sq. ft.) and is almost 6,000 pounds lighter, thanks mostly to a simplified interior that is still, by modern race-boat standards, a bit heavy on the teak. The cruiser-racer was offered with two optional sail plans--a mildly fractional (15/16) rig (1,168 sq. ft.) and a straight masthead rig (1,142 sq. ft.). It also features a fold-down transom with built-in steps. Both boats have the same basic construction. The hull is solid laminate composed mostly of unidirectional hybrid glass/aramid fibers set in polyester resin. The deck is also a glass/aramid laminate set in polyester over a Divinycell foam core with high-density core inserted under deck fittings. The teak deak overlay is glued and vacuum-bagged in place with no penetrating fasteners.

As with many pre-Ferragamo Swans, the 48's deck layout is somewhat idiosyncratic. The cockpit is split with two separate companionways and two separate working areas. The midship cockpit, little more than a shallow footwell, has all halyards, reefing lines, spinnaker–pole controls, etc.--a total of 11 lines--led through organizers and clutches to a single pair of winches on either side of the main companionway, making this a busy area. All sheets (as well as a pair of running backstays) are led to the aft cockpit. The mainsheet is double-ended and can be controlled either from the aft companionway or from the helm, which is a handy feature. Ultimately, however, because the controls are so spread out, this is not an easy boat for one or even two people to sail. Things work best when there are at least three people on deck.

Swan 48 aft stateroom

The aft stateroom on the whole is very functional. The companionway ladder can be removed when you want more space and some privacy

The most salient feature of the interior layout--aside from the superb joinery work--is the aft stateroom. The centerline aft double berth is one of the best I've seen, for it is fully enclosed by furniture on both sides and can be easily divided into two comfortable sea berths. The aft companionway stairs, which land just forward of the double berth, consist of a light ladder with stainless steel rails and small teak treads. This can easily be removed and stowed away, thus isolating the stateroom from the deck when privacy is wanted. In rough weather, however, as I learned during fall deliveries aboard different Swan 48s, the aft ladder becomes the primary route to the deck, as the main companionway must be kept shut to keep out spray and boarding waves. In such conditions the aft ladder can be hard to negotiate, especially when the boat is well heeled. And, of course, any pretense of privacy for aft-cabin occupants must be abandoned.

Swan 48 saloon fwd

The saloon looking forward. The chairs at the dinette table can be pinned in place when sailing

Swan 48 saloon aft

 The saloon looking aft. The nav station is to starboard, the galley to port in the corridor running to the aft stateroom

Further forward there are two optional layouts--one featuring a single forward stateroom with a V-berth, the other featuring smaller twin staterooms, each with two single bunk berths. The latter arrangement is perfect for families with large clumps of kids or for people who like to cruise with lots of friends. Given the deck layout, either sort of crew would be an asset on a boat like this.

Swan 48 fwd stateroom

Twin bunk berths in one of twin forward staterooms. You can sleep four comfortably up here

The electrical system has parallel 12- and 24-volt systems in the European style, each fed by its own alternator. The 12-volt bank is dedicated solely to engine cranking and small converters are used to step down the 24-volt current for other devices requiring a 12-volt feed. Several of these converters are located outboard down low under the nav seat. Thanks to the boat's shallow bilges, they can be quickly drowned if the boat takes on water while heeled, as I discovered on one of my deliveries. The converters can be easily moved, however, and in most other respects the systems installations are impeccable.

The best thing about any Swan 48 is sailing it. The high-aspect balanced spade rudder is extremely responsive, but not at all twitchy, and the boat balances well given its rakish underwater foils. Though not terribly light, the hull is fast, with a long waterline, a narrow waterline beam, and minimal wetted surface area. Light-air performance is quite respectable, so you need not turn on the engine every time the wind speed drops below 10 knots. In moderate to strong winds the boat is just plain exciting to sail. The first 200-mile days I ever sailed were on a Swan 48 (we had three in a row between Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands), during which we maintained a steady 9 knots of boat speed with long spikes to 13 and 14 knots when surfing.

The other best thing about owning any Swan is that they hold their value extremely well. They are not cheap to buy, but used Swans in very good condition can often be sold for nearly as much as they cost new.

Swan 48 drawing

Specifications (Cruiser-racer version)

LOA 48'8"

LWL 41'0"

Beam 14'2"

Draft 7"11"

Ballast 12,125 lbs.

Displacement 30,900 lbs.

Sail area (100% foretriangle)

-Masthead rig 1,142 sq.ft.

-Fractional rig 1,168 sq.ft.

Fuel 79 gal.

Water 114 gal.

D/L ratio 200

SA/D ratio

-Masthead rig 18.52

-Fractional rig 18.94

Comfort ratio 32

Capsize screening 1.80

Nominal hull speed 10.2 knots

Typical asking prices $400K -$600K

NOTE: If you're not up for the salvage job and want to buy a Swan 48 instead, I recommend you check out my old friend Avocation (see photo up top). She's for sale right now, at a very nice asking price (lowest on Yachtworld as I write this), and is very well sorted. Well maintained with lots of upgrades. Purchase price includes delivery to anywhere on the East Coast, the Caribbean, or Western Europe.

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