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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Beneteau Swift Trawler 34

Franco-American

Beneteau introduces a single-engine cruiser that’s got some American soul.

I admit to harboring a prejudice when it comes to single-diesel-engine cruising boats—I like ‘em. Maybe it’s because I do most of my boating in New England where there are a lot of practical Yankee boaters. Whatever the reason for my affection, I admire the fuel efficiency, affordability, relatively low maintenance, and ease of handling (if equipped with a bow thruster) by a short-handed crew that are all inherent in this design.

But like all boats, the single-engine type can have its drawbacks. Take performance. The last such boat I owned, a 32-foot lobster boat powered by a 215-hp Cummins, was a delight in every way but her cruising speed. Twelve to 14 knots was about eight knots too few for me. The cause of this leisurely pace was not just a lack of horsepower but also a soft-chine displacement-style hull form that just didn’t want to get much above its theoretical hull speed, and when forced into that realm, squatted like a Sumo wrestler and demanded prodigious amounts of power. On the other hand, those nicely rounded aftersections made for the kind of delightfully seakindly ride that an owner of a typical hard-chine design could only envy.

I was keenly mindful of that old boat when I stepped aboard Beneteau’s Swift Trawler 34 in Marseilles, France, back in early March. She certainly looked salty, with her full walkaround decks, lots of freeboard, generous flare, and big flying bridge (the 34 is also available without it) that had both a helm and space for a RIB that could be launched via a mast and boom. But that Yankee voice in my head wondered, can the French build an authentic American trawler?

Well, first of all, despite the name, this is not a trawler—that is to say, she does not have a full-displacement hull form. Consider her a hybrid, with a semidisplacement running surface that features fine foresections, two lifting strakes per side, a long but relatively shallow keel that’s cut away around the props for good maneuverability, and most important, hard chines. A collaboration between Beneteau and the French naval architectural firm Joubert Nivelt, the form is designed to combine better-than-displacement-speed performance with good stability and fuel efficiency.

And second, while Beneteau is most definitely a French company and the 34 is built in France, she has a legitimate cruising pedigree thanks to a pair of sisterships, the 42 and 52 Swift Trawlers, both with twin engines and semidisplacement hulls and both quite successful on this side of the Atlantic.

Looking at the 34 also brought to mind the Mainship 35 I’d boarded a month earlier at the Miami International Boat Show. And indeed, there is some resemblance both in appearance and general philosophy although oddly enough, given each boat’s numerical designation, the Swift is six inches longer (but nearly a foot narrower). She also has higher bulwarks along her sides, a larger bridge overhang protecting them and the windshield, and considerably more flare. Despite being marginally longer, the Swift is listed as about 3,500 pounds lighter, perhaps due to her balsa-cored hull and superstructure. Finally, the Swift has 45 more horsepower in standard form—425 versus 380. (The Mainship is available with twin diesels.) And of course, the Mainship is built in New Jersey while the Swift is built in—yup, France.

On first glance I also thought the Swift seemed a bit tall for her length although subsequent research revealed that her vertical clearance measured to the bridge (with the standard mast folded flat) was a moderate 11'1". Still I wondered whether she might be a bit tender, especially with just a single diesel to ballast her. But a blustery day (15-knot winds) and choppy seas—admittedly not really challenging conditions—didn’t reveal any such tendency, perhaps due to that keel. Nor did the conditions prevent the single 435-hp Cummins from propelling the 116,471-pound 34 to well in excess of her theoretical hull speed—but at a price. At her top speed of 24.3 mph, mpg was a dismal (for a single-diesel boat) 1.12, and range was just over 200 miles. The good news is that, as is typical of a good semidisplacement hull form, the more you back off the throttle, the better the picture gets. The boat seems particularly happy at 2000 rpm where 12.3 mph yields better than a mile and a half per gallon and a nearly 300-mile range.

At 78 dB-A, sound levels at this cruising speed are also much better than her WOT reading of 84 dB-A. With the engine just aft of the helm, under the saloon sole, and relatively mild acoustical insulation (40mm-thick foam on the engine room overhead and hatch but no lead), the optional saloon carpet ($1,435) is not only a blessing but in my opinion, a must for a quiet cabin, even if it does make periodic maintenance a pain. (To check the oil you need to not only remove it, but also move the saloon table and fold up an aft seat.)

As you can see in the accompanying illustration, the interior of my test vessel is laid out in relatively straightforward fashion. Worth noting is that the Swift’s galley is all the way forward on the port side directly across from the helm station (the ‘fridge is under the double helm seat), while the Mainship’s is aft along the port side. Which you prefer depends on whether you want to put the food nearer the helmsman or guests. I prefer the Mainship’s placement, but I also like that the Swift’s galley is U-shape, which is more secure in a seaway. In the saloon, the Swift offers a single bench to starboard, but because the galley is forward, there’s room on the port side for two barrel chairs. A nice extra is the starboard sofa that conceals a pull-out double bed. An adjustable-height coffee/dining table in front of it is standard, but finding a place for it when doing maintenance checks or extending the sofa bed takes some ingenuity.

I admired this boat’s high (2'7") bulwarks, side boarding gates, and generous side decks. The latter feature points up an oddity: this is an asymmetrical layout: the port side deck is 11" wide while the starboard one is 1'3". I assume the reason for the difference is that the starboard side also has a helm-station door and hence should get more traffic. It also has a wing door between the side deck and cockpit, an unusual feature on a boat of this size, and a midship boarding gate.

Speaking of the helm, the 34’s lower station is elevated enough to provide excellent sightlines all around; believe it or not, visibility is actually better here than from the bridge, mainly because you have an excellent view aft. This is the location from which you’ll want to dock the boat if you’re backing into a slip. As for the upper station, it’s very low—you’re quite exposed to the wind even when seated. A bimini top is an option but was not installed on our boat. I had a bit of trouble trying to imagining what the boat would look like with it up, but in the pictures it looks fine.

Underway, well-designed hydraulic steering makes the 34 easy to pilot, and her long keel allows her to hold course even in a quartering sea. There appeared to be a lot of lift in the forward sections although running angles were moderate and proceeded in relatively straight-line fashion from idle—in other words, no hump.

But to me, things like the different-width decks and single wing door—quirky though they may be—indicate that Beneteau was determined to put its own unique spin on the mid-30-foot, single-diesel cruiser. The quirks may be French, but the boat is one a lot of Americans will like.

Beneteau (843) 629-5300.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.