The confessions of Emilio, madly in love with a Swan 46

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Swan 46

It takes foresight, imagination and even a bit of “madness” to fall in love with a boat abandoned on a reservoir and – externally – in very poor condition. To bring it back to sailing in its natural habitat, the sea. To bring it back to its glory as well. Yes, indeed“splendor,” because the boat in question is not just any hull, but a 1983 Swan 46, one of Germán Frers ‘ early designs for Nautor Swan. Here is the story of Emilio, madly in love with a Swan 46.

“For years arriving in Olbia I would see this Swan 46 on its socket in the yard, right where Azzurra had been just before, abandoned without ever being moved an inch. I know these boats, the Swans, well from having sailed and worked on them, and-let’s leave out the myth for a moment-the ones from the 1980s are truly worthy of the legend they spawned.

It is no accident that the first Whitebread (the early Volvo Ocean Race) was won by a standard Swan. The 46 in particular was among Frers’ early designs for Nautor: Cracker Jack, Eurasia were timely Swan Cup winners in the 1990s. And, no small detail, it was my dream boat in the drawer.

From dream to reality

I try to make an attempt to approach the shipyard, but they are very elusive because of the constant demands over the years on this abandoned boat and in the public eye. I manage to get through an old friend the owner’s address. At this point I have him contacted by a friend who speaks German-he is German-and to my relief I find out that he does in fact want to sell the boat, but there are many years of garaging to pay. “Okay,” I say to myself, “no problem. After several months of negotiations with the shipowner the deal goes through, literally. It ends, yes, however totally blindly because the then site manager had not even made me to board without an advanced contract.

By now, however, the cards are on the table, and I just hope that the internal conditions are not like the external ones. This Swan 46, Nipper, features a garden of plants sprouting from the scuppers and moss on the deck. Before going below deck I hold my breath. Then, as soon as I cross the drum I go down the classic Swan staircase and I am interjected. The interiors are immaculate with everything in order from the oilskins to the cutlery. For everything there is a spare with post-it notes in German. What I understand from seeing the boat in that condition is how much the owner cared about it and how well it was cared for. If outside the signs of time had been “merciless” inside it was clear how much the boat had been at the heart of the previous owner.

 

Of course, there is no shortage of inevitable problems. The first is called “diesel,” the one that is old. As soon as we vary the boat the engine keeps stopping, some pipes leak. So it crunches, trudging from Olbia to Genoa where restoration begins on site. Everything is revised, disassembled and reassembled. I have a container on hand that I fill with cataloged pieces to review and check. The engine despite the rust has very few hours so we opt for restoration. It is all disassembled, sandblasted and repainted white and then reassembled by the skilled hands of mechanics. All piping is replaced, and upon re-boarding it looks factory new with the brass and steel parts polished and like those on the models.

Having completed work with the engine, it is the turn of the mast, boom. Everything is still very healthy having never been “worked on” and there is no usual corrosion so we opt to paint it white and replace the rigging. Then it is on to polishing and deck restorations, new cowling, and interior touch-ups. The hull is brought to resin and treated with epoxy despite the absolute absence of osmosis. It begins a series of winters in which a small step forward is taken each time and in “a flutter of wings,” eventually lasting about 10 years, the game is done.

swan 46 yacht

For many things, however, the bulk of the effort was a saved by the skill and precision of the old owner, a certainly ingenious person whom I would sincerely like to get to know very much. Refined in taste as well as a lover of classical music given the large number of cassettes the boat is stocked with. In addition, the name of the boat, Nipper, is the name of the dog looking into the megaphone of the gramophone in the illustration “His Master’s Voice, The Master’s Voice” by Francis Barraud and later taken up by some record companies.

Over many winters ashore the Nipperino, as I like to call it, has “grown up” to be what it is today-a comfortable fast and safe boat. After 15 knots of wind she makes her purebred race felt. Years go by, 10 to be exact, and in the photos I see my children growing up in the summers on this beautiful boat that has been equal to many homes in different places with wonderful views for us. Despite the Nipper’s many years, now almost 36, at roadsteads and ports invariably people stop, watch her ask and remember. As if it were an old Ferrari.

Emilio

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