It was 1966. Finnish boatbuilder Pekka Koskenkylä had asked the New York-based design firm Sparkman & Stephens to draw up lines for an 11- to 12-meter sailboat that was seaworthy and strong enough for bluewater cruising but quick on the racecourse, too. Rod Stephens was in Finland to check on a project that was underway, and he gave Koskenkylä the drawings.
S&S design No. 1701 became the Swan 36, a trendsetter that changed the way performance cruisers were designed and built. The sloop was a departure from the norm, from her underbody to her cabin layout to her construction — using a new material called fiberglass. In fact, it was S&S’s first production sailboat in fiberglass.
The Swan 36 looked like a classic, with her overhangs, wood coaming and trim, and traditional masthead rig. But the rudder was placed aft, with the skeg separated from the fin keel, and the center of the hull was moved aft with a “bustle” — features that were later used on S&S’s two-time America’s Cup winner Intrepid.
British yachtsman Dave Johnson took delivery of Swan 36 hull No. 1. His Tarantella sailed brilliantly, making headlines during the 1967 racing season. In 1968 the Swan 36 Casse Tete won all seven races at England’s prestigious Cowes Week. Orders poured in, with owners touting not just the boat’s performance but also her wood-rich, high-end interior and graceful lines. Ninety Swan 36s were built by Koskenkylä’s Oy Nautor AB yard in Jakobstad before it was replaced by the Swan 37 in 1970.
Swan became synonymous with luxury and bluewater performance. The name came to Koskenkylä as he took a dockside stroll. There was the sail-training ship Suomen Jousten, or “Swan of Finland.” The swan, he thought, is a powerful, majestic creature, and that’s just what he wanted his sailboats to be.
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue.