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A new one-design for the NYYC

Commissioned by the New York Yacht Club, the Club Swan 42 is a product of Finnish builder Nautor’s Swan

Commissioned by the New York Yacht Club, the Club Swan 42 is a product of Finnish builder Nautor’s Swan

The first of 26 new 42-foot sloops to be built by Nautor’s Swan, and delivered this summer to its New York Yacht Club owners, will be notably short on the teak and joinery for which the boatbuilder is known. Indeed, a Swan executive views this latest model from his high-end Finnish yacht company as something of an entry-level product.

And this is what David Elwell, the NYYC rear commodore whose syndicate will get that first new Swan, wanted. It is he who pushed the club to commission a fleet of modern one-design boats meant to race under the International Rules Committee system. The budget-conscious flag officer of one of the most upscale yacht clubs in the nation had set a spending limit, and he exceeded it by only 20 percent.

The Club Swan 42, as the design will be known, joins a list of seven other legendary one-design classes commissioned by the NYYC. The first, the NY-70, was designed in 1900 by Nathanael G. Herreshoff and built in the Herreshoff yard. It was followed five years later by Herreshoff’s NY-30. The most recent, the Doug Peterson-designed NY-40, is a 28-year-old design.

Elwell, who was a grinder on 1967 America’s Cup victor Intrepid and has a long resume of international racing achievements, says three considerations contributed to making 2006 the year to introduce yet another NYYC one-design class. “No. 1, the New York Yacht Club, as well as a bunch of other clubs, had embraced the IRC rule,” says Elwell. (Unlike older systems, IRC can account for such modern technology as asymmetric spinnakers and carbon fiber spars.) “No. 2, there was a growing concern about professional involvement in racing. No. 3, I thought the economy was good enough that people would have the money to buy it if you delivered the product.”

Elwell and other club officers began discussing the concept of a one-design fleet in January 2005. Over the next few months, the group talked with various designers and boatbuilders, he says. “The objective was to create a boat that … was a multipurpose cruiser-racer, was built to be extremely competitive under the IRC rule, was capable of being taken on the [biennial] Bermuda race, for sure, and was configured in a fashion that you could easily handle with a couple,” Elwell says. “Originally, we wanted to do the project for no more than $500,000 on the starting line.” he says.

He says talks were held with eight or nine designers, the most intensive with Tartan/C&C. “The pricing was all virtually the same,” Elwell says. “One of the critical issues is getting a builder who can deliver the product. That eliminated a fair number of builders.”

Swan heard of the project through a sailmaker and approached the club, according to Jack Gierhart, Nautor USA executive vice president for marketing. “The initial proposal was to take the Swan 45 and re-spec it so it would meet some of their requirements from a budget perspective,” he says. “We’ve got 50 of the boats in the world, with owner-drivers very interested in the kind of sailing that the New York Yacht Club was defining.” Swan offered to let the club take over the class and rewrite the rules.

Elwell says that suggestion was rejected in part because the club felt it would be too difficult to rebrand an existing class. Moreover, Elwell doubted a builder of Swan’s caliber could be “price competitive.”

But Swan came back with a proposal for a 42-footer designed by German Frers Jr., and to the surprise of Elwell, the price tag was $600,000. Close enough.

Unlike all previous Swans, the Club Swan 42 won’t come with teak decks. In the cabins, where sole-to-overhead teak joinery is the standard, this boat will have wood only on the lower half of the cabin, with fiberglass above. Gierhart, who calls the 42 “a great entry point for people to come into the Swan community,” says wood can be added by the buyer as an option.

Another option would be a dark hull. “We’re very concerned with the quality of the finish,” says Gierhart. “When you do a dark color, the impact of the construction and the layup design has implications on show-through. In assuring that our dark hull is perfectly smooth, we have to modify our layup process. We want to make sure the blue boat will look as good as a white boat.”

The new boats — NYYC members have ordered 26, with a $60,000 down payment for each — will share with their club one-design predecessors the “Corinthian spirit,” Elwell says. In other words, they will be raced by their owners or other non-professionals. And like prior classes, Swan Club 42s will be limited in their sail inventory: three jibs, three spinnakers and one mainsail, along with the appropriate storm sails. And each boat can replace only three sails a year, he says.

But compared with its immediate predecessor, the NY-40, the Club 42 is an entirely different boat. Above the water, the most obvious differences are a sprit, for anchoring the spinnaker, and two helms. But the most significant change is in the keel, a T-shaped foil with a long, torpedo-like bulb at the bottom of a slender fin.

“We were open on the issue [of keel design],” Elwell says. “I don’t think any of us understood the magnitude of the speed differential, especially when you adjust it for what the rating might do or might not do.” But after every designer told the club that a so-called T-keel would shave three to four seconds per mile off a boat’s time, the issue was resolved. “Had it been a half a second a mile, we probably would have gone with the normal L-keel,” Elwell says. “Forty seconds [over a 10-mile course] is a huge amount of time to give up on a raceboat.”

In December, NYYC officers hosted other yacht clubs at the American Yacht Club in Rye, N.Y., where Elwell is a past commodore, offering them an opportunity to become involved in the new class. “It’s my desire to pursue additional boats at the club level as opposed to going out to the open market,” Elwell says. “The club aspect of this is what I’m trying to capture.” He says St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco has told the NYYC that its members likely would buy 10 to 15 of the Club Swan 42s.

Construction of Club Swan 42 No. 1 — which will be owned by Elwell, NYYC commodore George R. Hinman Jr., Richard Werdiger and Donald Elliman — was set to begin in January. The new boat, like the syndicate’s current Farr 40 and its previous boats, will be called Conspiracy.