When choosing a boat, it always comes down to a ‘feeling’ you get about it, doesn’t it? You can look at boats on the internet all day long, but until you have actually been on the vessel, there is no way to know if it’s the ‘right’ boat for you. If you have read any of my other boat ‘reviews’ you’ll know that I focus mainly on the livability issues of a boat, and sometimes that seems a little unfair because, after all, a boat is meant to be sailed.
The sailing ability is why we were very excited to see this 1971 Nautor Swan 40. Not many Swans come on the market in this area, and they are known for being well built and excellent sailing boats. They are fast, they are sexy. They turn heads. I was so excited to see this boat that I had dreams about it the night before; dreams of a roomy vessel with lots of wood, a responsive helm, cavernous spaces below. I awoke thinking ‘My God! I think this will be our boat!’. Alas, dreams are not as easy to interpret as all that. The dream turned out to be one of bitter irony.
First off, this is an absolutely beautiful boat in terms of its lines, as one would expect of a boat designed by Sparkman and Stevens. The exterior needs some sprucing up (after all, this boat was built in 1971). The fiberglass is crazed in a lot of areas but nothing one would not expect. This boat is well loved and maintained. The owner showed us the boat and his pride in the vessel is evident.
The non-skid could use touching up. Again, nothing big here, and this is how people bond with their boats: by working on them. This kind of thing would have nothing to do with our choice of vessel, and anyone looking at this boat seriously should expect to find such cosmetic issues in an older boat.
Since we’re looking for boats to go blue water cruising, I’ll mention that this Nautor Swan 40 has a seaworthy companionway that would go far in protecting the boat’s interior from big waves. There is an interesting bar in front of the helm which I assume is to help the helmsman step over the traveler without holding onto the wheel. I don’t particularly like this set up with the traveler, but that is only a matter of opinion and I might like it fine after I got used to it.
The owner said that the cockpit sole grates were from an old 1880’s schooner. That’s so cool! That kind of thing really gives a boat character.
Inside is where this boat really gets interesting. The interior is just beautifully crafted, something for which Swans are known. The cabinetry is first rate and the wood is lovely, giving the interior of the boat a warm glow. Everything is in very good condition. Also, we looked at this boat in the pouring rain. Really. It was a very rainy day. I did not see any leaks, and the boat smells like a dry boat should smell.
So it’s hard for me to understand why the boat didn’t ‘feel’ right to me. It felt small on the inside, sort of like being in a submarine. This boat is not like some we’ve looked at where it felt like they took a larger boat and crammed it into a smaller space. Nothing like that. And on paper, this boat is 10″ wider at the beam than Moonrise. That’s probably where my dream of ‘cavernous spaces’ came into play.
There is plenty of headroom, as you can see in the photo. Mike is 6 feet tall. But the settees are very narrow, and the walkway between them and the table is also narrow. Possibly it’s because of the table, a necessary feature in a boat, but one that frequently gets in the way when not in use. I know it sounds trite, but I really do want to have wide, comfortable settees since most of the time in the boat will be spent at anchor somewhere. I figure passages are going to last 4, maybe 5 weeks at the most before we are anchored out. I recognize the value of good sea berths, so it would be nice if the settees could be adjustable, as I’ve seen in some boats. Perhaps they are in this boat, but we didn’t ask about that. If the owner sees this, perhaps he will let us know and we can add that information later.
Then there is the v berth. I’m beginning to wonder why the v berth in our Cal 34 is so big because we’re finding precious few boats that have this amount of room in the forward cabin, regardless of whether they have two cabins or not. This v berth would be very difficult for me to get into and out of without a stepladder, which is not a good feature for me. It’s also pretty small for two people who like to have a little space when they sleep. If you haven’t already figured this out, sleep is extremely important to me. I must have it. And frankly I cannot sleep cuddled up with anyone. Neither can Mike.
One of the reasons we looked at this vessel was because in the photos it appeared to have a second cabin. Technically I guess it would but, again, photos are deceiving. The port quarter berth, which is counted as a ‘cabin’, is not one for the claustrophobic. Again, it would be a good quarter berth in a big sea, but getting in and out of that space is not for the faint of heart. The headroom is lower than it looks in the photos. You have to crouch down to get into the space, and then there isn’t room to even turn around. I didn’t bother to go inside that space. If I don’t want to bother getting into a space when I’m looking at a boat, that’s a sign to me that I don’t feel too comfortable with it because I am not at all shy about crawling into boat spaces and basically pulling the interior apart.
This boat has an awesome chart table just to port when you enter the salon.
Interestingly, I didn’t photograph the galley. It was small, L shaped, and adequate but not a focus of the design of this boat. There is another small access aft of the galley that leads to the second quarter berth and because it’s there, reduces the amount of space available to devote to a proper galley.
In the end, while this is a lovely, well kept boat, it’s not the boat for us. I already knew that this boat was one that was designed for performance and not necessarily comfort. Now I have a better idea of what that means. We would probably love to sail this boat, but living on it would be a challenge. It’s just hard to find a boat that can do both well. There are probably things I could change about the interior of this boat to make it more livable, but I would hesitate to change anything in a Swan. I mean, really, take a look again at that beautiful woodwork. Cutting into that would be a little like sacrilege, I think. Some boats you can remodel, but my gut feeling is that a Swan is not one of them. Not if you want it to hold its value.
So my dream was not to be. This is a boat that is probably great when you are in the open sea with big swells and you want solid, small areas where you are not going to be slung around. It’s probably also great when you want to get somewhere faster than other boats. In our search for the right kinds of compromises in a boat, we may have to give up some performance in order to get the livability we require. Someone is going to love this boat on first sight. Hopefully this review will help that person find this worthy vessel. The boat is listed on Yachtworld for more information.