Beneteau Swift Trawler 42By Capt. Bill Pike
Humphrey Bogart should be test-driving this baby, not me. That’s what I was thinking as I watched Beneteau’s Swift Trawler 42 sedately cross Back Creek en route to her slip at Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard in Annapolis, Maryland. I folded my arms across my chest and stood there smiling, admiring the boat’s classic lines from the balcony of Jabin’s office. By stretching my imagination only slightly, I could envision the Beneteau playing a feature role in any number of romantic old movies, although To Have and Have Not seemed to top the list. In spite of her French lineage and modern appearance, I could imagine the boat working her way through the cinematic shadows and intrigues of Vichy Martinique in the early 1940’s, Bogart at the helm.
The 42 slowed to a crawl, then began sidling gently to starboard toward an empty pier. I heard a couple of short bursts from the electric bow thruster as her shapely curves compressed a couple of fenders. A guy inside moved away from the lower helm station, eased through the nearby sliding door onto the wide, teak-plank side deck, and stepped ashore via the hinged door in the bulwarks. He began tying up with a casual air.
I scrutinized the 42 more closely. Maybe “classic” wasn’t exactly the best word for describing such a craft. Maybe, given the glossiness of her electric-blue hull, the burnished gleam of her stainless steel quarterguards and rubrails, and the modern Raymarine radar antenna mounted halfway up the white, all-aluminum mast, “neo-classical” was more applicable. The boat’s tumblehome hull form, high bulwarks, and custom, round portlights were flat-out traditional, for sure. But the materials and components giving substance to these features were wholly contemporary.
I struck out for the Beneteau with an enthusiastic gait, a clipboard in one hand and a Pelican case burgeoning with boat-testing paraphernalia in the other. Wayne Burdick, the guy I’d been watching from the balcony, was just securing the last dockline when I arrived. Burdick is president of South Carolina-based Beneteau USA, which in the future will likely take over the 42 project from the French plant that was handling it when I did my test. I noted with relish that the guy seemed to know his way around a clove hitch, a simple talent I seldom encounter on the boat-test trail these days, sadly enough.
Since the 42’s twin 370-hp Yanmars were still running, we decided to do our sea trial in Chesapeake Bay immediately. I took the con at the lower station, where visibility was superb—I could see the transom through the sliding saloon doors, check the sides of the boat through the two cabin doors, and had virtually unobstructed forward visibility thanks to the narrowness of the windshield mullions. Unfortunately, the single-lever, mechanical Volvo Penta engine controls were sticky—I much prefer precisely detented electronic types from Volvo and other manufacturers—but maneuvering was excellent. I departed the dock easily enough and spun the boat within her own length by simply clutching the mains in and out of gear. I managed to zigzag through a couple of anchorages en route to the bay with rudders alone.
Open-water performance was good. With two-to three-foot seas prevailing, I recorded an average top speed of 29.9 mph. Tracking was excellent, up-sea, down-sea, and side-sea, and the ride was dry, with nary a drop of spray splashing the windshield panes. Steering was smooth, even with one main throttled back to neutral to simulate engine trouble, thanks to Lacomble & Schmitt hydraulics. At 2000 rpm and above, however, visibility forward from the lower helm became poor. At 5’11”, I could barely see over the bow, even when standing. I suggested two remedies to Burdick. First, a loftier helm seat&mdasah;the test boat’s was six inches too low for me. And second, larger trim tabs. Our electric Lencos were simply too small to have any effect.
My sea trial complete, I docked the 42 from the center helm station. The experience was satisfying except for one thing: The treads on the ladder to the bridge from the cockpit were bowl-shape, not flat. While such a detail may be interesting from a design standpoint, I found it impractical under real-world conditions. Otherwise, our pocketed props were near-instantaneously effective and evinced little vibration or bottom-end rumble. The 42 did not seem overly susceptible to windage, most likely thanks to her keel and deep, stabilizing forefoot. And the Volvo Penta QL bow thruster, which I used more because it was there than out of necessity, had plenty of oomph.
Burdick and I began touring the 42’s interior as soon as I’d shut the mains down. It’s a tried-and-true layout, with a saloon and galley on the main deck and a master stateroom forward, guest stateroom to starboard, and head to port, all a couple of steps down. Notable features were a separate stall shower in the head (with standing headroom), plentiful ventilation thanks to a profusion of doors, windows, and opening ports, and mahogany joinery that looks like natural cherry, thanks to a tinted varnish.
I gained access to the engine room by lifting a panel or two from the teak-and-holly sole in the saloon, although a number of panels are removable should extracting an engine for major repairs ever prove necessary. Lighting in the engine room was adequate, and the aluminum diamond-plate decking was solid underfoot, but there were some engineering details I wasn’t enthusiastic about. For example, flexible fuel lines were secured to the Volvo Penta filters forward with hose clamps. On vessels in the 42’s size range, I’d rather see hard, compression-type fittings, since they make for tighter, more positive plumbing. And the electrical wiring in the aft starboard corner looked like a big ball of spaghetti. While Burdick said this was simply an agglomeration of extra-long wires to facilitate future electrical installations and/or repairs, I much prefer crisper, more logically laid out work.
After I’d completed my test, I hung around the marina for a while, eventually returning to Jabin’s balcony for a last look at the Beneteau Swift Trawler 42. If anything, the boat seemed more engaging and romantic in the fading light than she had earlier in the day. A few defects? Yeah, but the boat’s a beauty nevertheless.
“Here’s lookin’ at you kid,” I said, nodding goodbye. Under the circumstances, the famous old line seemed fitting.
This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.