The Swan 58 has an ambitious design remit of being a fast, luxury bluewater cruiser that can also be handled by a couple. Does it succeed?
Swan 58 tested: best of both worlds?
No other yard has been as consistently successful in producing iconic models as Nautor – historically Swans are invariably the very best yachts of their era and subsequently become design classics. But after more than 50 years can the Swan 58 still weave its magic as effectively as ever?
Nautor is billing the Swan 58 as a ‘new bluewater concept’. The idea is that the priorities of safety, comfort and autonomy don’t compromise performance, or the pleasure of helming the boat. This model is also pitched as a proper bluewater cruiser that a couple can reasonably sail and look after themselves, without a professional skipper. But is all that really possible? We sailed the Swan 58 in Barcelona to try to find out.
Onboard the Swan 58
On my first trial, in only 6-7 knots of true wind, we made 6.5-7.5 knots sailing upwind, matching speed with a 55ft performance cruising catamaran while sailing noticeably higher, and romping away from another 60ft monohull.
The ability to maintain speed in light airs adds greatly to the general enjoyment of life afloat, especially in the many popular parts of the world – including the UK in summer – where average wind speeds are well below 10 knots.
The helm has a lovely, precise and responsive feel that belies the Swan 58’s hefty 25 tonne displacement and its brisk, yet effortless, pace. We had a solid Force 4-5 for my next sail, so popped the first reef in the main and kept three to four rolls of the headsail around the foil, more for comfort and ease of sail trimming than necessity.
Designer Germàn Frers drew slightly softer forward sections for this boat than for the Swan 48, with the aim of producing a softer ride upwind in these conditions. Despite an awkward swell, the motion was impressively comfortable, with little pitching and no heavy slamming. This makes working upwind in these conditions a far more pleasant affair than on many cruising yachts.
This factor is undoubtedly helped by Nautor’s policy of concentrating all heavy systems and tankage low down and as close to the middle of the boat as possible. Even the chain locker is some 2m back from the bow, while the carbon mast helps to further reduce pitching. The cockpit coaming is designed to allow an outboard seating position that’s nicely raised above the side decks, so you stay dry. This proved to be a favoured spot for serious sailors.
Beamy yachts with wide transoms used to have a very distorted underwater shape when heeled, hence their tendency to broach easily. However, those days are well behind us – Frers designed the immersed shape to be perfectly balanced when the boat is heeled at around 20°.
It’s an outcome that in some senses has far more in common with slender designs of the late 1960s and early 1970s, than those of 25 years ago, but without the former’s wayward tendencies downwind, when rolling could reach spectacular levels. The new design of course also benefits from far more generous living spaces, both on deck and below.
Passage-making at pace
After bearing away to bring the true wind just aft of the beam we shook out the reefs and the boat accelerated to an effortless 9-10 knots. Even when well powered up the Swan 58 retains its lovely feel on the helm and one can imagine watchkeepers routinely flicking the pilot off to enjoy steering while on passage.
It’s easy to average 7-10 knots across a wide range of wind speeds and angles, without pushing the Swan 58 hard, so consistently impressive daily runs can be expected.
Heading further downwind, with the apparent at 120°, but the true wind closer to 150°, boat speed hovered around the 8.5 knots mark, still with only the main and jib set. While a Code zero and asymmetric spinnaker will be needed to make decent progress reaching and downwind in lighter airs, this demonstrated they can be kept safely bagged when family sailing in 15 knots or more of true wind.
The very tidy, slick and neat deck layout comes as no surprise and, although this boat is intended to be much less sporty than the Swan 60, first impressions are still of a fast cruiser. The sprayhood that hides away below the teak deck, and pedestal mounted mainsheet winch in the cockpit, hint at a potential for racing. Indeed, there is an optional racing package which can include a deeper keel, longer bowsprit and square-top mainsail. However, the Swan 58 is largely configured for long-distance use.
The tables each side of the cockpit have hefty removable grab handles along their full length, and there are further grab handles just outside the companionway. The carbon V-boom of our test boat looks great, and is easier than a lazy bag on a boat this size, although around 40% of owners have opted for in-boom furling.
For efficient sailing in stronger winds an optional self-tacking staysail can be set up with a halyard lock, plus tensioning tackle at the tack, or a 2:1 halyard. There’s also a choice of different staysail sizes.
The performance option is for true wind of 25 knots or more and is ideal for windy regions such as the Aegean, offering lots of power with two reefs in the main. Alternatively, a smaller storm jib size sail is designed for more than 30 knots and can be used without the mainsail set when it’s properly windy.
The single-line mainsail reefing works well, although the apparent wind needs to be well forward to keep the mainsheet clear of the person working the winches on starboard tack. When tacking, if two people are handling headsail sheets it’s possible to time things such that the clew of the sail needs to move little more than a couple of metres, which makes this a simple manoeuvre. However, the ease of handling the electric winches and headsail furlers can make it easy to forget this is a very powerful large yacht on which problems can escalate quickly.
Rope bins at the aft end of the cockpit benches are fairly shallow, though this would be less of a problem for the many owners who opt for in-boom reefing. There are also two shallow cockpit lockers under the benches, which are great for stowing smaller items and allow a few fenders and warps to always be close to hand.
One of these lockers can be fitted with a drinks fridge. For bulkier items there’s a large sail locker forward and liferaft stowage below the cockpit sole, while a generously-sized tender garage will accommodate a 3m dinghy.
The big sprayhood has detachable sides and removable front sections. It offers good protection, but can also be opened up to maximise airflow in hot climes. There’s also an optional wide bimini to give shelter further aft.
This is the first Swan of its size with a double L-shape seating configuration for the cockpit. It offers decent sized twin tables with space to seat four or five people on each side of the central walkway. The tables can be set at different heights for use as a coffee table, for dining, or to use as sunbeds. When not under way the two tables can be joined to create a huge space for entertaining.
Effective production engineering is a key prerequisite for reliable quality products. We see this in today’s cars, for example, where standardised processes that are carefully thought through result in reliability and longevity that might have seemed impossible a few decades ago.
Too much customisation risks diluting that quality, so how does a yacht builder – whose clients demand a high degree of personalisation – deal with these apparently conflicting requirements? Nautor has invested heavily in production engineering for the Swan 58. At the same time, many different options have been designed in right from the original concept of this boat, including three distinctly different styles or ‘moods’.
There are five different choices for the area around the navigation station, for instance. Around half the 20 boats sold to date have a fourth cabin here, with a small chart table forward. The extra cabin makes for a very flexible arrangement and can be fitted out as an office or workshop, without losing the option to convert back to Pullman-style twin bunks.
Our test boat had a brilliant, big transverse chart table that can double up for use as a home office while in port. Alternatively a more traditional forward-facing chart table is offered, which frees-up space for a useful, easily accessible stowage cabinet immediately aft.
Engine and wiring
Traditionally, switch panels are at the chart table, so having so many different options in this part of the Swan 58 could run counter to the principle of standardising production as much as possible. Nautor’s solution was to create an electrical nerve centre on the main bulkhead forward of the mast. This helps make owner maintenance easier and facilitates talking through a problem with an engineer from the yard when cruising in remote locations. This is also an example of standardisation that helps to maintain build quality – whatever the layout of the navstation, the wiring hub is always in the same place.
The boat does lack a full walk-in engine room or the dedicated technical area that is popular among French designs, where all key systems are gathered together in one place. As a result, for instance, the battery charger/inverter of our test boat was located behind the seat cushions on the port side of the saloon and other items distributed in different places on board.
The reality is, of course, that – even in a Swan of this size – there are compromises that need to be made. A big engine room or technical area would impinge on the volume available for this boat’s two gloriously spacious aft guest cabins.
Nevertheless, the engine and generator are both sited to give good access, with the latter slightly offset to allow access to all key service points on the main engine. A parallel fuel filter set-up allows a reserve filter to be quickly switched into the system if the original filter blocks. This is much easier than changing filters when underway, especially if in confined or busy waters.
There are plenty of other examples of neat solutions. The fresh-water system, for instance, has two pumps in series. Only one operates if a single tap is running, but when more outlets are open the second pump kicks in. This arrangement means that, should one pump fail, the system will continue to work, albeit with a reduction of maximum pressure.
Both pumps are located in a sound-proof box in the bilge just ahead of the engine space, which gives instant access for repairs and maintenance such as filter changes.
As befits a serious bluewater boat, tankage is of a good size, with 1,100lt of diesel and 960lt of water as standard. One of the two water tanks can be substituted for an additional diesel tank raising fuel capacity to 1,580lt as an option. This will give a 1,500-mile range at 7.5 knots, as well as plenty of generating power to remain autonomous for extended periods.
Swan’s long-standing ventilation system moves air constantly past the back of head linings and hull linings, which minimises the potential for mould to form, even in hot and humid conditions. However, the uncluttered style of the low profile coachroof, with few overhead hatches, means natural ventilation when at anchor won’t be as effective as it typically is for deck saloon designs with opening windows at the front of the coachroof.
Accommodation is arranged in an owner forward layout, plus two large, comfortable quarter cabins and the optional fourth Pullman cabin. Quarter cabins can be fitted out with two single berths that convert into a huge double, or with a peninsula double berth. Both have a combined en-suite/day heads, with the starboard one also benefitting from a separate shower stall.
The owner’s cabin of this Swan 58 has a very generous 2.08 x 1.68m bed, while the shower compartment is the same size as that of the Swan 90. On the downside, stowage here is not overly generous for those who intend to spend extended periods on board. Nevertheless drawers are fitted wherever possible throughout the boat, including below the seating in the saloon, which makes stowage particularly easy to access. The saloon also has lots of useful eye level lockers, several book shelves, a bar and a pop-up TV.
Creating a top-notch galley requires both knowledge and expense – the details that improve ergonomics and maximise stowage volumes are always costly. Nautor has excelled in this respect. The arrangement is designed to be safe and secure at sea, but allows for two people to work when necessary.
Essential worktop space has not been sacrificed to improve stowage and there are four separate worktop areas, all with deep fiddles, plus a 1.5 bowl sink and space for a five-burner cooker. There’s proper extraction above the cooker, not just a cooker hood with a filter.
As standard there is a fridge with front opening door and top loading freezer. There’s also provision for an optional icemaker, dishwasher and mineral watermaker.
A neat separate counter and locker for tableware is located inboard of the main galley area, easily accessed both from the galley and the dining area. The full domestic size washer-dryer is contained in the starboard aft heads.
In common with most contemporary yachts of this size, the interior is very wide. Good handholds are provided close to the companionway. The central overhead handrail works well on port tack when moving forward past the saloon table (providing you’re sufficiently tall) but moving forward when well heeled on starboard tack is more of a challenge.
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Together with naval architect Germàn Frers and interior designer Misa Poggi, Nautor has created a yacht that is highly appealing. This is borne out by early sales of this model. Even before the first example hit the water, more than 20 had been sold to owners all over the world. The mix of performance, handling and comfort this yacht offers are qualities sought after by many. But how well does it satisfy the concept of a bluewater cruiser for a couple to handle without a professional skipper? There’s no doubt the Swan 58 would be a supremely comfortable boat on which to spend large portions of your life, with ample space to accommodate up to six guests. Yet, such a powerful and complex boat won’t suit everyone looking for an ocean cruising yacht. Some may not want to invest the time needed to learn the systems that would be necessary to be truly self-sufficient in remote areas. Others might lean towards a lighter design with lower loads that’s therefore easier to handle. But Nautor understands its market and knows there are plenty of people who are looking for a yacht of exactly this type. Even if you normally plan on sailing with more people on board, the option of being able to handle the boat without additional crew has many benefits in an era with unpredictable restrictions on international travel. In this context it’s a very appealing option for an Atlantic circuit, covering large distances in the Mediterranean or even for the occasional friendly regatta. There’s no doubt the Swan 58 would be a supremely comfortable boat on which to spend large portions of your life. Yet, such a powerful and complex boat won’t suit everyone looking for an ocean cruising yacht.