Flags adorning masts at the Seattle Boat Show waved in the wind as show-goers walked the docks at South Lake Union gawking at shiny new boats. Sailing at a steady clip in a shifty breeze, we tacked the 1984 Swan 46 Swansong up close to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) and then cracked off to reach past the show’s floating docks. A few people took notice of the only boat actually out sailing and one guy stared for a while before giving us a big smile and an exuberant thumbs up. His expression said it all.
Taking a mid-week break from the hustle-and bustle of the show, Ryan Helling and I were fortunate enough to get out for a sail on a day that provided just enough wind to give the boat a decent test.
After quickly hoisting the full-batten main on its Harken track, we rolled out the big genoa and came on the breeze to head towards the south end of the lake. As is typical on Lake Union, the puffs were shifty in both direction and velocity and I weaved us through them to try and keep our speed up. The feel of the helm was extremely smooth and we remarked at how quickly Swansong accelerated in a puffs, which topped out at about 10 knots.
We tacked effortlessly at the lake’s edges and between the two of us, handling the boat was a relaxed affair. With the trimmer sitting in Swansong’s forward cockpit and the helmsman aft, we could do our jobs without being in each other’s way and as we sailed, I couldn’t help but think how different this boat was than many that I’d toured on the show’s docks that morning, with huge cockpits and condo-like interiors being the norm.
Designed by renowned architect German Frers and built in Finland by Nautor Swan, the Swan 46 Mark I with centerboard is regarded as a fast, ocean-capable racer-cruiser, as many of Swansong’s sisterships have impressive blue water and racing resumes and performances under their keels. And it’s not just her performance that earns her accolades, the deck and cockpit layout is unique to Swans of this vintage and the interior blends first-rate build quality with loving care that has obviously kept the boat looking flawless for many years.
Wait, a forward and aft cockpit?
I have to admit, I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the seemingly non-user-friendly styling of Swans from this era due their deck layouts. Having an aft cockpit and a separate forward cockpit just seemed like the design is trying too hard to be both. Of course, that opinion was largely unfounded because I’d been on but never sailed this version before and I was happily proven wrong during my test sail. You can now call me a convert.
While the fact that you have to move on deck to get from one cockpit to the other might appear to be an issue, it’s actually far less of a problem than it seems. The extremely low profile of the cabin top coupled with the wide side decks makes you feel unencumbered while moving forward, aft and athwartships, and I never felt that safety would be an issue. Also, it gives the boat a distinguishable sleek and sporty look.
Steering the boat and handling the sails from the forward and aft cockpits can be done by one person, but it is handled in a snap by two. As alluded to above, one person stationed in the center cockpit can run all the boat’s sheets, halyards and control lines from arm’s length while the other steers. Otherwise, an assortment of blocks and winches placed near both cockpits would allow one sailor to sheet lines to the aft cockpit so you could steer and trim at the same time.
The other big plus in regards to Swansong’s deck is that it is nearly new and the layout of clutches and fittings has been upgraded and modernized. In 2013 the boat spent time in the spa in Anacortes at Emerald Marine who vacuum-bagged on a brand new teak deck. Northwest Rigging then changed the deck layout of clutches, winch configuration and genoa track placement to enhance usability. A new mast collar was also installed as were new lenses in the four big hatches and saloon windows. The look and feel of these user-friendly improvements certainly sets the boat apart from many vessels of similar age.
Protection from the elements in both cockpits is achieved with a full enclosure aft and a small dodger forward over the companionway. The aft cockpit has a unique navigation system that allows the helmsman to not only see wind, speed and depth, but also echart and radar overlays. Also, above the displays are winches were the traveler and mainsheet can be run. And heat is plumbed into the cockpit by the helm so you can keep warm as you sail or motor, which would be particularly nice here in the PNW.
Not only does the dual cockpit setup on Swansong make her distinct on deck, but it also dictates the layout down below as well. Dropping down the companionway from the forward cockpit, you’re stepping right into the middle of the boat, which gives the layout a part center cockpit part aft cockpit feel. The finish of the varnished teak and holly cabin sole, and hand rubbed teak joinery and cabinetry is beautifully crafted by Nautor Swan and is unparalleled when compared to many new and used boats.
A large saloon with white leather cushions spreads out forward of the companionway and pilot berths are located to port above the U-shaped settee and to starboard above a long bench. I’m a big fan of pilot berths while at sea and these are well incorporated into the boat’s layout. The dropleaf table has storage in the middle and also houses the mechanisms for raising and lowering the centerboard — which changes the draft from a modest 5 feet 7 inches to a deep 9 feet 5 inches. A white headliner, large opening hatch and four dome lights illuminate the space and fans will keep air moving on hot days.
To starboard of the companionway and slightly aft is a large navigation station with a bench seat. This is one of the biggest nav stations I’ve seen and it would be a pleasure to navigate or work from. Housed above the desk is an ICOM M802 SSB with tuner, Pactor modem, Mini-ATX compact PC computer for running navigation software, ICOM M505 VHF radio and more. The electrical panel is next to the seat to starboard.
To port of the companionway is the galley and access to the engine. As with many center cockpit boats, the galley is in-line and creates part of the passage back to the aft stateroom. Top loading and front loading refrigerators provide lots of cold storage and shelves behind the stainless steel double sink and four burner stove will house food and dishes. Having cooked in similar galleys underway, I like this placement for moving around and bracing myself as the boat heels and the teak handrail running the length of the galley will only help.
Aft of the galley is the master stateroom with centerline walk-around bunk and benches on either side. Hanging and cabinet storage are on both sides, and a sizable ensuite head is forward and to starboard. There is a large opening port above the bed to provide ventilation and it would also be a good way to pass things to crewmembers in the cockpit. But my favorite feature in this room is the B&G repeater mounted on the ceiling above the bed — I’d love to to wake up and see all that info without getting out of my bunk!
Swansong’s other stateroom is forward of the saloon and also has a large ensuite head. Two pipe berth-style bunks on either side have new cushions and can flip up to reveal storage underneath. While this isn’t a classic V-berth style, I think it is actually a lot more functional, as the storage is more accessible and a ladder up through the forward hatch will allow for easier passage of sails, lines and gear.
No swan song for this Swan
Feeling sturdy underfoot while tacking and jibing gracefully across Lake Union’s calm waters, I easily envisioned sailing this boat north up the Inside Passage with friends, south towards tropical waters as a family or racing offshore with a full crew in an event like this summer’s Vic-Maui. Like many modern boats are trying to be, I found it to be the best of many worlds.
And though a “swan song” is typically seen as the last act or performance before retirement, this Swan is anything but close to a final curtain call. With incredible upkeep and upgrades throughout, coupled with the quality of design by German Frers and build by Nautor Swan, Swansong is a performer that still has a long distinguished career ahead of her.
For more information on the 1984 Swan 46 Swansong, visit swiftsureyachts.com