Swan S&S. How a sailing myth is born


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CS_39_swan_cup_2000_7 Richner

There are encounters between people that change history. A 1966 dawn marked the boating world forever, when for the first time Rod Stephens (brother of the famous yacht designer Olin Stephens pictured below right) gave an appointment at 5 a.m. to Pekka Koskenkyla (pictured below left), a paper mill employee, who had been so insistent on meeting him.
The two found themselves in Pietersaari, a desolate heath in the Gulf of Bothnia, 500 km north of Helsinki and 400 km south of the Arctic Circle.Mr. Koskenkyla was determined not to miss the passage to Finland of one of the greatest living experts in pleasure yacht design to offer him a collaboration. Pekka Koskenkyla had a clear idea: to build a rather small boat, a 36-footer, but to be made and finished like a small jewel. It was the Finn’s enthusiasm and determination that convinced the incredulous New Yorker Stephens to say yes, beginning what would be one of the most valuable partnerships in world sailing. In fact, the young entrepreneur Koskenkyla organized a company, where he would have started mass production of a small 36′, One Ton Cup class, which had been designed a few years earlier by Sparkman&Stephens (drawing number 1710-51 from 1963) for a British shipowner. Tarantella, that was the name of the first Swan to see the light of day with the New York firm’s signature, was launched on July 17, 1967 at four o’clock in the afternoon. It immediately represented a great success, leading to the production of ninety examples between 1967 and 1971-a more than exceptional achievement when one also considers the historical period. The shipyard was named Nautor while the boat was named after one of the Finns’ most beloved birds, the swan, in English Swan. It was a magical union, a perfect harmony between the American designs and the impeccable execution of the Finnish craftsmen (mostly former furniture makers) who used from the start and without compromise only the best materials available in the world and first-class labor.


It was not long before the success of the ninety examples of the first Swan 36 was noticed in the world of yachting that matters. In the same 1967 Ake Lindqvist, a consultant for Lloyd’s of London in Finland, sensed that something big was happening in the Scandinavian country. Contact Sparkman&Stephens to have a 43′ hull built right in the new Finnish shipyard: this was how the Swan 43, the second model built by Nautor in 67 examples between 1967 and 1972, also saw the light of day. The contribution made by Ake Lindqvist was fundamental during these years: he became a partner in Pekka bringing new finances to the yard and, above all, many ideas; unfortunately, in the early 1970s an automobile accident prematurely interrupted this experience. Although brief, Lindqvist’s collaboration led the Finnish shipyard to high production standards, allowing it to follow step by step what was required by Lloyd’s, the most stringent and important certifying body of the period. The first five years of Nautor’s life were full of successes, boats were selling and the yard became world famous. Like all companies it had to begin to structure itself to meet the growing demands, but a fire in 1969 destroyed the yard and thwarted the efforts made up to that point. Pekka tried hard to go it alone, but eventually had to give up and look for a backer.He found it in the early 1970s: it was the Oy Wilh Schauman Ab paper mill, the same one where he worked before founding Nautor.

The Swan 65 Shirlaf
The Swan 65 Shirlaf

Having saved the company, Koskenkyla decided to retire to the French Riviera, becoming a broker for Nautor in the south of France. In those days a certain Lar Strom, a Finnish engineer of great ability, was hired at the site. It was 1973, and the Nautor S&S pairing had already given birth to nine models in just six years of operation. Strom began working at the shipyard as chief draughtsman, immediately taking charge of the creation of the signature hull of this ingenious Finland-United States collaboration: the Swan 38. Certainly working at that time was very difficult, especially if the designer was on the other side of the Ocean: in those years to make a phone call to New York City took a day-and-a-half wait; electronic calculators were beginning to appear, but they were very expensive, computers not to speak of. Each drawing was made by hand and sent only by mail. Urgent communications were carried out via Telex. The Swan 38 was an immediate success with orders confirmed directly on design, and is still the best-selling model in Nautor’s history with as many as 116 hulls launched between 1974 and 1979, in just four years. The synergy between Pietersaari and New York probably reaches its golden moment in these years. There was a great feeling between the shipyard and the design studio, who shared the desire the desire to amaze and achieve records. Thanks to the collaboration with Olin Stephens, Nautor was also the most popular shipyard for Admiral’s Cup entries for years. In fact, Stephens was among the founding fathers of the IOR regulation and a great expert in ratings. But how can we not mention another masterpiece of that period as the Swan 65? A real gem, winner of the first Withbread in the year 1973/74 (with Ramon Carlin’s Sayula II) produced in forty-one examples from 1971 to 1989. The Swan 65 is still one of the most race-winning and comfortable cruising hulls ever built. By the time the New York firm handed the ball to Ron Holland in 1979, the first computers and related computing programs were beginning to spread, and production techniques were changing. A sign, perhaps, of the end of an era that, from 1967 to 1979, was indelibly marked by these fifteen American designs from which 813 hulls came to life that still remain one of the greatest myths of world sailing. L
Screenshot 2015-10-22 at 1:47:17 p.m.



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