I leaned against the edge of the Swift Trawler 50’s helm console and finished writing down the data displayed at 3000 rpm on the Raymarine chart plotter screen, the Volvo digital engine display and my portable sound meter. When I finished, I glanced quickly through the large forward windows and watched the next wave approach. Marvelous, I thought.
“Take her up to 3500 rpm, please.”
We were cruising across the Bay of Palma on the southeast side of Palma de Mallorca, midafternoon on a brilliantly sunny day, with temperatures approaching 70ºF. Strong, 20-knot southerly winds sweeping up from the southern Mediterranean Sea had turned the bay into a washboard of 6-foot waves that the ST 50 climbed over easily time and again. Soon enough, I’d take the helm and get a chance to see how this new cruiser responded to my commands in rough water.
I’d flown more than 4,500 miles to Palma de Mallorca to take part in the Beneteau Sea Trials 2013, to spend three days in this pleasant Spanish haven and several days poking about in and taking command of the newest Swift Trawler from the French boatbuilding giant. I was one of several dozen journalists from all over the world hosted over an entire week by the world’s largest boatbuilding company, and Beneteau had done a superb job of scheduling our time. The weather was most cooperative, too.
Once again, Beneteau has turned to naval architects Michel Joubert and Bernard Nivelt, as well as the in-house staff of Beneteau Power, to create a distance cruiser that embodies the best characteristics of a boat that owners will enjoy living on for extended periods—a boat that will meet their expectations when cruising anywhere in open coastal waters. The boat features a modern silhouette, a smart interior design from the board of Pierre Frutschi and a flexible stateroom layout to cater to owner/operator couples who may need a professional space aboard.
The hull is a semi-displacement design featuring a stem that is slightly raked from vertical and leads down to a deep forefoot, which turns gradually aft to become a three-quarter-length keel taken deep enough to provide drive gear in case of a grounding. Beam is carried well forward and there is some flare, but the principal feature that helps keep the boat running dry and steady is the significant chine that starts forward as a spray strake and becomes wider from amidship to the transom.
Propulsion is provided by a pair of 435hp Volvo D6 and IPS pod drives. This specific power package was part of the design brief for a number of reasons.
“By incorporating Volvo IPS pod propulsion, not only is the Swift 50 as quick and fuel efficient as her sisters in the range, but it frees up valuable space in the midship, making the boat feel larger and more spacious than other boats in her classwhile providing exceptional maneuverability,” said Laurent Fabre, vice president of sales and marketing for Beneteau Powerboats Division.
The ST 50’s hand layup begins with a gelcoat from NPG polyester resin that has a specific formulation to resist osmosis and prevent yellowing with age. After the gelcoat comes a vinyl-ester layer of resin for more strength and osmotic protection. Beneteau engineers design the layup of
the hull, deck and flybridge structures using various kinds of mat and woven roving to address mechanical and stress needs. Specialized directional weaves of fibers are designated for places like the anchor locker, or the intricate supporting structure for the pods, or the chines and keel.
The keel is a solid fiberglass structure. Balsa is the core material used for stiffening in the hull, deck house and flybridge, but solid fiberglass is used wherever fasteners will be employed. The stringers are reinforced polyester structures, made part of the bottom with layers of mono- or bi-directional fiberglass. The hull and deck are glued and screwed following current industry practices. The flybridge is also glued and screwed to the wheelhouse, and the mullions of the windshield. Windows are bonded, and in some cases also bolted, in the saloon and pilothouse. Beneteau provides a limited five-year warranty for the hull, deck and fabricated structures, as well as a limited three-year warranty for their manufacturing and assembly. All other equipment is warranted by individual manufacturers.
The ST 50 is EC certified for B14 and C18 classifications, with the former indicating a yacht “designed for offshore voyages where conditions up to and including wind force 8 and significant wave heights up to and including 4 meters may be experienced.”
I stepped onto the ST 50’s optional hydraulic swim platform and entered the aft deck up molded starboard-side transom steps and through an inward-opening transom door. Later on, I would enter the optional crew quarters through the watertight door to port. When crew quarters are not contemplated, this can be a voluminous storage compartment. The overhead boat deck extension completely shelters the teak-planked aft deck, which is large enough for several chairs and has a huge watertight hatch in the sole for excellent access to the engine room. Molded steps lead up to the side decks, the starboard deck being wide enough to walk easily.
A wing door closes off the aft deck from the starboard side deck but not from the port side deck, which is narrower yet well equipped with grabrails for safety. Bulwarks are thigh high on this side, capped with teak rails left natural, and lead to steps up to the foredeck, which is surrounded by substantial stainless steel rails. I particularly liked the opening side door just outboard of the pilothouse door, with a handy midship cleat for those times when the helmsperson wants to reach the dock quickly and snub a line.
Our test boat had an optional sunning pad on the foredeck, an integral folding bow lounge seat and a raised platform forward for anchoring duties. Returning to the aft deck, I climbed the stainless steel ladder with teak treads, angled for easy climbing, through a watertight door to the flybridge. The boat deck is quite large and, like the rest of the flybridge, surrounded by sturdy stainless steel safety rails. The helm is far forward, with a centerline wheel and two adjustable chairs. The console is thoughtfully designed, with very good ergonomics, but I have a preference for chart plotter placement ahead of the skipper that I might suggest as a change.
There’s comfortable bench seating for eight people aft of the helm chairs, and a good-looking folding-leaf teak table that adjusts so you can feed a crowd alfresco. Beneath the starboard seat is a clever feature: a hatch that opens to reveal a manual waiter, allowing the chef in the galley to load up goodies and have them retrieved topside, eliminating the need to carry trays of food or drinks up the flybridge ladder.
Wide opening doors lead into a compact saloon that has excellent views out both sides and aft. Comfortable cushions make the starboard-side C-shaped lounge a great place to hang out and enjoy the entertainment center housed in the storage lockers with louvered doors to port. Alpi mahogany is the dominant wood used in the interior, and it is, to my eye, as attractive as it is durable. Three steps lead up to the bridgedeck, with the galley to starboard and a small dinette that converts to an off-watch lounge or berth to port. The large, U-shaped galley shows considerable design effort to make the chef’s life easier, and there’s loads of storage space above and below the counters for appliances and cookware. In fact, I was told the ST 50 has “8 cubic meters” of storage space, a boon for those who plan to live aboard for weeks on end.
Visibility from the helm is truly outstanding, with only a quick glance out the starboard sliding door required to check the aft quarter for traffic. The helm console is massive, with room aplenty for a pair of optional MFD screens and room left over for a full complement of switch panels and small digital instruments, including the Volvo digital information screen. Of particular note: the console is hinged for easy access to the electrical wiring and termination of ship-handling controls.
A quarter-turn staircase leads down to the accommodations level, which features a full-beam master stateroom aft, beneath the bridgedeck, and two cabins forward, one of which can be optionally equipped as an office with a single convertible berth. Headroom here, as throughout the ship, is more than sufficient for this 6-foot-3-inch boat tester.
THE SEA TRIAL
When I finished gathering all the performance data, which included measuring sound in the cabins below and in the saloon aft, not just at the helm, I put away my notes and took the helm. We spent several hours that day not just putting the ST 50 through her paces on all points of the compass, but also in pursuit of two new sailboats on hand for the Beneteau Sea Trials, following them closely so that a photographer from a European boating magazine could take action shots.
The hull shape is truly marvelous not only for its soft, deep entry, but, in view of the heavy wave action, also for its natural balance when it came to roll and pitch dampening. The deep keel combined with the Volvo IPS drives to track straight and true, and the boat answered every command from the wheel with a quick response. The boat showed no problems whatsoever climbing the waves at an appropriate angle or running down them.
Back inside the breakwaters, I found a buoy and measured the joystick capabilities of the IPS drives, finding them easy to understand and operate. I could even step out the pilothouse door and reach inside to adjust the well-placed joystick—a benefit when you want a good view of a tight slip or need to make adjustments to land softly on a side-tie.
All too soon, my sojourn in the Spanish Med was over, and I boarded a plane to return home. After my day on the wonderfully wild waters of the Bay of Palma, I came away convinced that Beneteau has raised a bar for itself and others with the new Swift Trawler 50. Carefully designed, precisely built and beautifully executed inside and out, this new cruiser carries on the tradition started by the company in 2003 with the introduction of the Swift Trawler—a line of boats that are distance capable and made to satisfy the needs of those who prize the cruising-under-power lifestyle.
LOA 43' 9"
LWL 40' 2"
BEAM 15' 3"
DRAFT 3' 5"
DISPLACEMENT 35,264 lb. (light load)
BRIDGE CLEARANCE 22' 5"
ENGINES Twin 435 hp Volvo D6 IPS600s (standard)
FUEL 634 U.S. gal.
WATER 212 U.S. gal.
HOLDING TANK 40 U.S. gal.
MAXIMUM SPEED 23.5 knots (as tested)
CRUISE SPEED 9.5–15.2 knots (as tested)
RANGE AT CRUISE SPEED 330–531nm (as tested)
NAVAL ARCHITECTURE Joubert & Nivelt, Beneteau Power
DESIGNER Pierre Frutschi
BASE PRICE $1.1 million
For more information:
Beneteau America, Inc.
105 Eastern Ave., Suite 201
Annapolis, MD 21403
Engine Speed, Fuel burn, Sound level, Range,
rpm knots gph dBA nm
900 5.0 1.5 61 1,903
1270 6.0 2.1 62 1,631
1500 7.6 3.9 65 1,112
2000 9.5 10.2 65 531
2500 11.0 19.0 68 330
3000 15.2 31.2 71 278
3450 23.4 44.6 71 299
Speeds are two-way averages measured with the Raymarine GPS. Fuel burn estimates are via the Volvo engine display. Range is based on 90% of advertised fuel capacity. Sound levels measured at the helm (65 dBA is the level of normal conversation). Condition of bottom: unknown. Fuel load: 90%. Water: full. Four people aboard.