Nautor Swan sailing yachts were originally made to race, that has been the spirit this premium performance cruisers never lost. But the Swans are much more than this. Build way up north in Finland, they are a testament to a breathtaking sailing superhero origin story
There are only few brands among yacht manufacturers who have an image such as the Nautor Swan. Founded in 1966 by Pekka Koskenkyla in Pietarsaari, Nautor Swan is today the leader in the luxury yacht market. More than 2,350 yachts have been built over five decades between 36 and 131 feet. The range is divided into four different lines: ClubSwan Yachts, Swan Yachts, Swan Maxi Yachts and Swan Shadow, the first motor yacht by Swan.
For sailing lovers, visiting Nautor Swan is what visiting Disneyland is to kids. Those of us old enough to remember the era of the before-dinner cartoon, the pre-digital bliss when objects of our young interest weren’t so omnipresent and available for admiration 24-7, will best understand the thrill of seeing Swans being made with your own eyes.
The Finnish builder also hails from a pre-digital era: more than fifty years ago Pekka Koskenkylä founded Nautor, more than fifty years ago Swan 36 won the Cowes Week regatta and sailed into the hearts and wallets of the sailing royalty. More than fifty years of glory – the basis for today’s popularity and reputation – have been made possible by the very factors that in this era of extremes make it possible for Nautor Swan to build something still unique and exceptional.
The Finnish town of Pietarsaari is now the home of the Swan, in the close vicinity of the yard where Nautor was founded. The small town uncomfortably close to the Arctic circle, lives and breathes shipbuilding.
With hundreds of years of Finnish boat building tradition, Pekka was inspired by a vision to start producing high-quality and high performance sailing yachts, made for the those, like him, who had the passion for cruising and racing in full contact with the water and nature. This was despite the challenging environment around the small town of Pietarsaari, where temperatures can fall to -30 C in the depths of winter and the sea can be frozen for up to five months of the year.
Pekka, educated in the USA, had the intuition and the ability to convince Sparkman & Stephens – New York, one of the most acclaimed yacht designers at that time, to design his first sailing yacht in fibreglass trimmed with wood. No one before had built a vessel over 10 metres in length with this material, which was still in its infancy for shipbuilding. He had a vision that this material would dominate the production of vessels in the years to come.
The first Swan yacht produced was the Swan 36, a yacht that introduced, in addition to the fibreglass used for the hull, a significant number of innovations such as the rudder positioned fully aft, the skeg separated from the fin keel, the centre of the hull shifted back with the application of a bustle, and the swelling of the keel aft thus providing great steering stability. It was a vessel that marked the beginning of one of the most prestigious boat yards in the world.
In the spring of 1968, a Swan 36 was delivered to British sailor, Dave Johnson, who skippered the yacht with remarkable success in regattas around the British Isles, and in particular at Cowes. These racing achievements generated such a positive feedback that Nautor Swan rapidly established its reputation as the foremost manufacturer of high performance racing yachts.
Nautor Swan continued to fulfil expectations entering the market for larger seaworthy, elegant and timeless yachts with the introduction of the Swan 55 and the Swan 65. These models offered owners all the joys of cruising combined with the opportunity for racing success – most poignantly, this included Swan 65 Sayula II’s victory in the first ever Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973/74.
Between 1978 and 1981, another very well-known yacht designer, Ron Holland, started his collaboration with Nautor Swan. Holland designed five boats of which approximately 300 units were produced, including the well-known Swan 37, Swan 39 and Swan 42.
During the 1980s, Nautor Swan entered a new era with the appointment of German Frers as designer, who has since been responsible for the design of all Swan yachts, maintaining that vital balance of competent racers, comfort and beauty in their design. Taking over from Sparkman & Stephens, Frers has been responsible for the design of all Swan yachts, maintaining that vital balance of competent racers, comfort and beauty in their design.
Nautor Swan is all about consistence, and other than in the choice of co-operating with same designers over decades, that stability is reflected in their choice of managers. Since 1998 Leonardo Ferragamo has controlled and managed Nautor Swan. This management has evolved the brand by continuing to push forward a whirlwind of innovations and changes that firmly place the Swan yachts at the forefront of the international sailing world.
In 2015 Nautor Swan reached another milestone unveiling the new ClubSwan 50 designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian. This is a high-tech, aesthetically captivating one-design yacht, that appeals to the young and competitive, while still allowing the pleasure of cruising in the true spirit of Swan. The ClubSwan 50 is a professionally managed owner-driver class, with a global racing circuit.
Nautor Swan has valuable and unmatched experience in designing and managing one-design fleets, having launched the Swan 45, followed by the successful Club Swan 42, Swan 601 and Swan 60.
In the recent years Nautor Swan expanded the ClubSwan family with two exceptional projects: ClubSwan 36 and ClubSwan 80 and entered the motor yacht market for the first time with a 13.2 metre chase boat called the Swan Shadow.
Today, Nautor Swan with more than 50 years of heritage, is a leader in the luxury sailing yacht market. It is globally recognised as the producer of exquisitely crafted yachts, capable of offering the perfect balance of style and performance. Swans are renowned as the most elegant and safest sailing yachts in the world.
During our visit we have seen the Swan people work. Every move every employee makes is intensively optimized and careful, with the sole purpose of making every element of the boat perfect and with utter disregard of time, money and effort needed to make it so. When the boat leaves the production hall, the owner will probably notice that radiant perfection without thinking twice about the time needed to achieve it.
Swan is really a cut above, and any comparison to other brands would be useless, not to mention unfair to them. Yacht builders are in general detail- and quality-oriented, but the makers of Swan make it an art.
We have seen the Swan people work, we have looked into every aspect of boat-making the Finnish way and we have noticed an interesting red line meandering through the entire process: every step is taken to the max.
Every move every employee makes is intensively optimized and careful, with the sole purpose of making every element of the boat perfect and with utter disregard of time, money and effort needed to make it so.
A friend of mine, an employee of another renowned builder, tells me his yard can built an entire boat in the same amount of time the perfectionists at Swan take just to build interiors. Still, don’t let that casual attitude toward time fool you: the Finnish makers are everything but inefficient – it’s just they themselves are built differently.
Actually, you can hardly see qualities built into Swan yachts from the first look, but hidden quality is simply superb. We couldn’t help but wonder about the drive behind that quest for perfection, that passion bordering with obsession. Our kind hosts simply stated it was how they did things, and we have come to draw the same conclusions from the atmosphere in Pietarsaari – the builders of sail boats named after the national bird of Finland really are natural-born perfectionists.
There are companies with the same philosophy in other branches of the industry of luxury; in the aviation, in the mega-yacht sector, in the automotive sector (think Rolls Royce!) – but none of them are as small and as niche as Swan.
They take things slow – even if that their Italian management (the seat of Nautor Swan is in Florence) drives a bit crazy – but take them to perfection. The effort of the Finnish masters of perfection is therefore even more admirable, and they have a lot to teach the rest of the industry – tenacity, skills, consistence.
Ever since the conception of the brand, Swan yachts have been made in avant-garde materials of the moment, and now that means carbon fiber, Nomex, rubber isolation to reduce noise and vibrations to a barely audible minimum.
We have seen the mold for the sensational ClubSwan 125 – the mold was finished in carbon to increase precision, even though the unit ordered might have been the only one Nautor will ever make. That’s dedication.
Still, Swan will take things to the next level: the newly launched ClubSwan 80 with C-foils, designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian, sailing icon Swan 48 or the heartbeat-raising Swan 88 are wonders ready to take the world.
The value of Swan is in the heritage, craftsmanship, excellence and expertise, from the design process to the production, from the top quality materials to the technological innovations, from the comfort to the safety of all the yachts. That said, being the Swan owner simply means excellence, a membership into the special club of sailing enthusiasts and high society under sails.
So, lovers of sails and boats, racers at heart, if you have always dreamed about visiting the magic land where the perfect sailing yachts are made, wait no more: the marvelous Pietarsaari and Swan are waiting for you.
Text Darko Šupuk
Photos & video Nautor Swan