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Swift Trawler 44

Game On

Beneteau’s newest Fast Trawler proves it’s serious about attracting American cruisers.

I first encountered Beneteau’s Swift Trawlers in France last summer. I spent most of my time testing the 34 and concluded that the French builder had done a fine job creating a vessel that while making no pretensions to being the displacement-style cruiser her name implies, was nevertheless an efficient, flexible, and well-priced single-engine option for a cruising couple. The 44, which I tested in early April, is another great owner-operated candidate but with a second stateroom. Learning how Beneteau developed this boat makes it clear to me that it has not only learned a lot about the American market over the last nine months but that it has also become even more serious about competing in it.

The 44 replaces the Swift Trawler 42 and is a vast improvement over it. The hull is unchanged, which is a good thing since it’s a fine design. To be clear, this is no trawler in the classic sense. Her chines are hard, and she planes effortlessly and without excessive bow rise. However, like a displacement vessel, she’s quite stable—even beam-to in a moderate sea—and her keel provides excellent tracking and some grounding protection. Because the keel’s not particularly deep, it doesn’t produce that disconcerting outboard heel in turns, and it’s cut away well forward of the props so it doesn’t impair maneuverability. Indeed the 44 is surprisingly responsive to the helm, despite hydraulic steering that demands a considerable amount of muscle to effect the three-boat-length turns that this vessel is capable of.

The title of Swift Trawler is warranted in that a top speed of better than 27 mph is definitely untrawler-like and she is efficient, although here a disclaimer is required. My boat’s Volvo Penta D4-300s were connected to a standard Volvo electronic display, but the system monitored everything but fuel consumption, an inexplicable absence on a boat of this type. So the gph figures you see here have been extrapolated from Volvo’s dynomometer curve, admittedly not precisely correct but, I believe, pretty close. Based on them, the 44 registered 2 mpg or better up to 1750 rpm (10.2 mph) and better than 1 mpg to 3000 rpm (21.5 mph), numbers that compare well to many similar displacement-style cruisers. Two 186-gallon welded-aluminum fuel tanks forward of the engines translate those benchmarks into generous range.

But while Beneteau got the running bottom right from the start, the 42’s interior lacked, at least as it applied to the American market. Three problems were a dearth of stowage in the saloon; a small, somewhat cramped galley; and a guest stateroom with bunks. All were solved in the 44 by resorting to a trick that worked well on the 34: asymmetrical side decks. By making the foot-wide port one narrower and higher than the 14 1/2-inch-wide starboard one (which is accessible from the helm via a standard side door and from the dock via a midship boarding gate), Beneteau designers could outfit the port side of the saloon with a bank of cabinets, stretch the previous island galley into a much more usable U-shape affair (although it’s still a bit shy on stowage), and expand the guest stateroom to allow it to accommodate a queen-size mattress. Thus the 44 is much more amenable to the American style of cruising—actually living on the boat for three or four days at a time.

Adding to this boat’s cruisability are two exterior features. One is an exceptionally roomy bridge deck with seating for eight and room enough aft to easily accommodate an eight-foot tender. A standard mast and electric winch should make launching and retrieval a one-person operation. The other feature is a 38-inch-deep swim platform with a beefy ladder that looks like it belongs on a much larger boat. (In fact it’s the same as Beneteau uses on the Swift Trawler 52.) When deployed, its side rails extend up from the deck some 18 inches—like those on a typical swimming pool ladder—making it much easier to clear that last step and gain the platform without resorting to crawling on your arms and elbows—especially if you’re wearing a scuba tank. A slightly-to-starboard, inward-opening transom door makes it easy to access the seven-foot-long, fully covered cockpit from the platform.

Any meaningful discussion of the 44—or any of the three Swift Trawlers for that matter—must include price: Simply put, it’s enticing. As you can see, a fair amount of standard equipment is included in the 44’s base of $436,000, although to be realistic, no one is going to actually take deliver of a boat so equipped. On the other hand, our test boat was, with the exception of saloon and master stateroom TVs, truly ready to go cruising, right down to a complete suite of Raymarine electronics for both upper and lower stations, all

for a remarkable list price of $529,000. Admittedly, at this figure you’re not going to get high-gloss exotic wood joinery (the matte cherry, though well-crafted, does seem a bit dated) and imported marble countertops, although well done teak cockpit and decks are included. And judging from this boat, the quality is quite good—I was unable to discern any flaws in either the glasswork or joinery.

I’m tempted to conclude that the 44 is proof that Beneteau has upped its game for the American market. But it’s worth mentioning that when she debuted in January at the Paris Boat Show, the year’s production quickly sold out. (Fortunately the United States got a few.) It will be interesting to see if Americans take to her as readily as the French have. I suspect quite a few will be unable to resist that bottom line.

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Swift Trawler

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.