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Swan 45—Quality, Maneuverability, and Pace

Sailing World¿s 2003 Boat of the Year--Best Racer/Cruiser

November 6, 2002
Walter Cooper

The first time I saw the Swan 45, it was racing in the American Spring Series on Long Island Sound. Rush looked small compared to Idler, CanvasBack, and the other IMS 50s. Starting after them in the Farr 40 Class, I watched with interest. The Swan lined up on a port-tack approach with 1:20 left, with the rest of the fleet already lined up luffing on starboard. There was a little space down at the pin and sure enough Rush tacked in there like a dinghy. With large swept-back spreaders and no runners, it seemed to have much more maneuverability than its competition. Rush sat for a bit, sheeted in, and accelerated off the line in good shape. We started and were concentrating on our own race, but I couldn’t help noticing the first division coming downwind with Rush out front, boat for boat. It became quite obvious that this was something special.

The next race Rush won on corrected time. I remember sitting around the clubhouse afterwards listening to the gossip about the new boat that had just handled the fleet out there. The boat looks really cool on the water with its plumb bow and long waterline, but when racing against 50-footers it looked small; yet it absolutely outperformed them!

When I learned the Swan 45 was in this year’s BOTY contest, I couldn’t wait to check it out. On arrival for the dockside inspections, there was a crowd surrounding the Swan, always a good sign. Any time they make you where those booties that go over your shoes so you don’t mark-up the deck, I look at why. In this case the reason was the first-class teak decks, which look great. In addition, all the lines are led underneath the cabin top, which makes for a clean-looking boat. I went right to the controls and immediately noticed the Harken big-boat traveler system control line led from the base of the wheel support. Giving it a try, it moved extremely easily and performed just as well later when loaded up during sailing.

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The backstay was simple and efficient as well. It used a single Spectra line that led below into the lazarette where a Navtec hydraulic ram handled the job with minimal gear topside. Our test boat had a hydraulic control panel on either side of the cockpit where the main trimmer could easily adjust pressure. These two controls, the traveler system and the backstay, were typical of the styling and concentration of weight as low as possible throughout the boat.

The owner of the boat we tested had fitted out his vessel for cruising. He had power winches, watermaker, and a second head below on the starboard side, aft. Rush, on the other hand, is set up more for racing, with the aft head removed and another bunk installed for distance racing. Both versions look killer and are rigged so simply that this size boat won’t intimidate the average sailor.

In conversation with Kevin Dailey, the company rep, we addressed the issue of “Rudders Falling Off”–something that happened to some 45s at the Swan Cup in Europe last summer. Dailey said that the company hadn’t expected the boats to be going so fast downwind and that some rudders did sheer off. He said that the issue has been resolved and all existing boats are being retrofit with a beefier construction. He added that Rush had replaced theirs before they raced in the Swan Cup, and it wasn’t one of the boats that lost its rudder–they finished third overall.

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Down below the boat looked great, offered nice access to all systems, and was quite comfortable. The batteries were stored inside the dining table, above the keel, in a perfect spot to apply weight for racing. The settee backs folded up to double as sea berths, making this a really good interior for either long distance races or cruising.

When it was time to go sailing on the mighty yacht, it wasn’t the best weather–overcast with a light rain and only blowing 4 to 8 knots in flukey puffs. But I was still ready to see if my experience would meet the expectations set last spring as I saw Rush crush the cream of Long Island Sound racers. Under power, I floored the Volvo diesel and she handled well. The boat would stop and go without any issues, ran unbelievably quietly, and spun a 360 within its own length.

During my helm time under sail, I like to simulate a stop-and-go prestart maneuver at the pin end of a line, followed by a 360-degree penalty turn–as if we hit the mark. Able to hold it nicely for about 45 seconds at the simulated pin end, the boat had a great feel on the helm–nicely controlled. The boat also accelerated quickly with only a few people on the rail. The breeze built slightly to 8 or 9 knots, so we twisted off the top of the sails, which helped us get some height out of the boat. We did the “hit the mark” maneuver and she performed perfectly. The only thing I can compare the Swan 45 to is a big dinghy when it comes to maneuvering like this.

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Tacking was simple; the most important controls are the mainsheet tension and traveler height. A little bit of mainsheet ease seemed to help through the tack with lots of twist coming out. As we used more mainsheet tension–until the boom was almost hitting the wheel–the speed rose. Watch out for the boom, though; it overhangs the wheel by a foot and could hit you during a tack or jibe.

What I liked most was that the boat got up to speed and just seemed to lock in–it was also hard to fall out of the groove. Downwind was more of the same– the boat performs superbly! No problems with the rudder stalling out when heading up with an asymmetric kite tacked to the bow. It really goes, climbing to the targets and beyond. Jibing was also simple; without runners, you can whip it around like a small boat.

Even though the price tag is up there at $568,000 and likely to be $750,000 in race-ready mode, the Swan 45 was clearly the boat out of all those tested that I would choose to buy (if I had the money) to go cruising, buoy racing, or long distance racing on. If you get a chance to sail the Swan 45–go for it–you won’t be disappointed!

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www.nautorgroup.com

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