Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Design 1710 - Cybele and the Swan 36

One-Off Cybele in Wood - Swan 36 Prototype
Built by Molich of Denmark

Design #1710 has to be the most utilized design in our collection. Numerous one-offs were built of wood as well as production models from various builders in fiberglass. The Gaia Class was built by the famous Italian builder Benello, building 19 boats to the design.

Additional boats were also built to this design with slight variations, such as the Sigma 36 Class (built by Cheoy Lee), Rumbuster and many more in both wood and fiberglass. In all I believe 60 boats were built to this design with slight variations, without counting the entire Swan 36 production run of 90 boats delivered.

Here's a fairly complete list of boats.

Regarding Swan, first a little background. The Swan 36 was the very first model for Nautor. Here's the story about the start of Nautor by the founder, Pekka Kostenkyla, in his own words.

How the Swans Were Born
by Pekka Koskenkyla
Founder of Nautor's Swan

It all started as a hobby. I grew up on the coast (Helsinki) and I have always had or wanted to have boats. My first vessel was a canoe, which I built myself in the evenings after school at the age of 14. In fact next year I built five of them for sale. Then nothing much happened in my boat building career for ten years because of school and university, where I majored in economics.

After graduation I wanted to have my own boat, so I started to build a wooden sailing boat of 11-meters. I worked in the evenings and weekends in my father-in-law's shed in Pietarsaari, where I had a job selling paper sacs. It took about 2 years to finish the boat and when it was almost complete a dentist from Helsinki wanted to buy it. I gave him a, what I thought, was a high price and he agreed. So I thought that boat building looked like an easy way to make money doing what I liked. I decided to start a yard.

The first step was to find a name and get drawings. The fact that I happened to think of SWAN was lucky, because I believe that this name and the connotations it implies was important for the success of the company. The other decision, which also turned out to be right and even more crucial to our success, was to choose S&S as designers.

My first thought had been to use the drawings of the boat that I was building, especially as it was just the right size I was looking for. An important factor in the overall length of the boat that I wanted to build was that any boats over 11-meters in LOA were exempt from VAT tax. This was of course a government concession made for the commercial fishermen and nobody had thought of yachts, because pleasure craft in Finland at the time were so small. A few years later this loophole was plugged.

The first boat that I built was designed by a local amateur naval architect and full time teacher of mathematics, Eivind Still. He was naturally disappointed, when I decided not to use his drawings, but Still later became quite well-known in Scandinavia with the many boats that he later designed. At the time I was so ignorant about this business and sailboats in general, that I did not know any yacht designers - not even the most famous. Therefore I went to the local yacht club in Pietarsaari and asked, who was the best designer in the world. I was told that it was Sparkman & Stephens.

I found their address from an old yachting magazine and wrote to the company to tell them, that I needed drawings of a sailboat about 11-12 meters long. No reply! That really was not so surprising, because I did not even have letterheads, let alone a company. I waited some more and then telephoned to their office in New York. I got Rod Stephens on the phone and he told me that by coincidence he was coming to Finland in a couple of weeks to inspect a wooden sailboat being built at the time. He said we could meet. Later I got a message from his client in Finland that he could see me at 6 o'clock in his hotel room in Helsinki. However I was not sure if that was in the morning or the evening and I could not reach Rod to verify, so I decided not to take a risk and went to his hotel at 6 AM. He was there waiting for me. He must have been impressed by my enthusiasm, because that was all I had to show for.

In any case, he gave me the drawings of a 36 feet sloop, which was to be marketed as the SWAN 36. Later he told me that they had been waiting for years for somebody to approach them to design a production boat in fiberglass, but I was in fact the first one to do so. A couple of years later a lot of builders were knocking on their door, but S&S were very loyal to us and did not give out competing designs. The drawings I received from Rod were of a boat already built in wood.

Later I have sometimes thought how was it possible that I got those drawings. Maybe Rod did not take me very seriously after all? When I came back to Pietarsaari I needed a suitable space in a hurry. Outside the town, far from the sea, there was an old brick building, which had been used to process hides (skins). It was empty and I was able to rent it at a very low rate. It needed some modifications like a much bigger door and heating etc., but we had a place to start. I appointed my first wife's uncle as a foreman and we started to hire people.

As I had already built one boat in the area I knew that there were many skillful joiners in the surrounding area of Pietarsaari. Many of them were part time farmers and eager to take a full time job, because their farms were so small that they could not sup-port them. In fact these people were busy only at harvest time during the summer. Many of these people had a small woodworking shop at home and they had been doing doors, window frames and furniture etc. to supplement their income.

These activities were, however, getting uneconomical, because more and more factories were producing these items on a mass production basis and thereby suppressing prices. The other category of workers I was able to hire were small individual boat builders. These were typically also small farmers or sometimes fishermen, who could not fish or farm during the winter because of ice and snow. Their boat building operation was family business, and most of them built wooden fishing boats, but there were some, notably the Branbacka family, who built pleasure boats to customers' orders.

If we go back to the history of Pietarsaari and the surrounding counties we find that this area was once one of the main ship building areas in Scandinavia. This was the era of wooden sailing ships during the time when Finland was part of Sweden. These mostly commercial vessels were built in amazing numbers and with amazing speed. In the Pietarsaari Museum there is more information about all this. In fact a few years ago they even built one vessel to these old drawings on a voluntary basis.

I have gone into all the above in more detail, because it is important to understand that the quality of the workers and their skills in the counties around Pietarsaari is something very special. If I had not had access to these kinds of people we would have failed, especially considering my lack of experience in business in general and running a yard in particular. Fortunately there was no shortage of these highly skilled and motivated people in the area.

We were like a family and run the business as such. One could either say that we had perfect industrial relations or that none of us had ever even heard about such a thing. There was one episode that comes to mind, when I think about the loyalty of our workers at that time. My very first delivery of the SWAN 36 was about to happen. This was the only wooden SWAN ever built. It was built in mahogany. The reason was that I thought we would save money this way, because a fiberglass mold needs a wooden plug and rather than build a plug and then destroy it, we decided take the mold off a real boat that could be sold. All went well except that when the hull mold was being made it cracked the planking of the wooden hull, because when the fiberglass and resin mixture hardens, it becomes very warm, which again dries the wooden hull underneath. These small cracks were repaired, but on a varnished surface they could still be seen.

My customer, a businessman from Helsinki, demanded a discount of his boat because of this. My situation, however, was very simple. If I did not immediately get the foil price in order to pay back a bank loan I would go broke. The customer did not want to hear. He insisted. He even ordered a trucking company to come and take the boat away from the yard. When he and his men with the big truck and the crane came, my men decided to stop the operation by physically blocking entry into the yard. As I had more men and they seemed to be more eager for a fight, my customer decided to pay in full.

The first year we built four boats, the wooden one, which we used for a plug and three fiberglass SWAN 36's. I was able to sell all of them at a very early stage. The most important factor for this initial success was not so much my honest looking face or the fantastic workforce we had, because we had nothing to show. It was the name and reputation of Sparkman & Stephens. It is difficult to understand now how superior in reputation they were compared to other yacht designers. There was only one best choice then. The name and reputation of S&S was built on the winning boats of their design in all ocean racing from the America's Cup, One Ton Cup, Admirals Cup, Cowes week etc. Most of the winners in these races were designed by S&S.

Then came Nautor from Finland, the first to produce S&S designed boats not only in series at a very reasonable price, but also in a new and stronger material than wood. On the top of that, the SWANs were lighter as well, and therefore had a better chance of winning races. Just to broaden the appeal to more potential buyers my sales argument was that because it was built of a lighter material we can afford to make the boat with a nice wooden interior and therefore appealing as a nice family cruising boat as well as a racing boat. This was the argument the racing minded sailor needed to convince his wife. The racing in those days was not as competitive, or rather, the boats were not as extreme racing machines as they are today, so it was in fact possible to win big time with a SWAN that looked like a family cruising boat with heavy teak interior.

Swan 36

Here are the plans.

The following is a very good design review that appeared in the Yachtsman magazine in 1967.

Principal Dimensions
LOA 36'-0"
LWL 25'-6"
Beam 9'-8"
Draft 6'-0"
Displacement 14,650 lbs
Ballast 7,440 lbs
Sail Area 545 sq ft

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