YM reader John Bailey invites Dick Durham for an overnight cruise aboard a classic from the 1970s
What’s she like to sail?
For her size, the Swan 411 is a marvel of manoeuvrability. She points higher than most boats yet runs off downwind quickly – although you’ll want to set a kite to enjoy her at her best. Her masthead rig was originally sloop, but John has set up a permanent babystay to make her a cutter. Her keel-stepped mast is so strong that you only need to fuss about with running backstays when going to windward in heavy weather. John has replaced the original wire runners with Dyneema. The main and headsail halyards are operated at the mast, but you could have them led back to the cockpit, which would boost both safety and friction.
Her mainsheet is led to a winch in front of the bridge deck, which is where the traveller is mounted. This arrangement keeps the sheet clear of the crew during gybes, but a singlehanded helmsman has to leave the wheel and walk forward to trim the mainsail – and John’s retrofitted 48-inch wheel gets in the way.
On passage, the crew must clip on their harnesses before exiting the main hatch because they are high up and exposed
when crossing the bridgedeck en route to the cockpit.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
Down below, her teak panelling, holly and teak cabin sole and teak bulkheads, shelving and cupboards give a warm, inviting and traditional feel. But she is darker than a modern yacht. When she was launched, boatbuilders thought ‘windows’ were for houses, not yachts. But then again, many modern hulls are bulbous and misshapen in order to accommodate a master bedroom aft. Not so this Swan – the shape of the hull comes first and is not allowed to be compromised by internal comfort. That said, the accommodation is reassuring: the upright surfaces are not at great lurch-distance from each other in a seaway. There are a good many handholds throughout and you could live aboard in comfort.
Her deep bilge allows for generous standing headroom without the need for skyscraper topsides, and her low freeboard is a boon when you’re moored up alongside a pontoon – just an easy step up through the rail gate without the need of a clumsy Speaker’s Corner box on the dock. And like all Swans, she has a sump so that the bilges can be washed through and drained when she’s laid up.
Would she suit you and your crew?
Her draught rules her out as a creek crawler, but for pure sailing pleasure, peerless sea-keeping and sheer beauty, very few other boats can hold a candle to this all-time classic. She’s a fine, fast passage-maker that revels in a good blow and offers her crew a comfortable motion at sea, yet she has the manoeuvrability that most comparable yachts lack, performs well in light airs too, and can sail closer to the wind than most modern cruisers. The genoa is a beast but the staysail is manageable and you’ll rarely need to use the runners, so short-tacking won’t be a chore.
The accommodation, though tratitional, is more than adequate for a modern crew of six to live aboard in harbour, or to cross an ocean in comfort. You may want for ventilation in steamy tropical anchorages, but otherwise she’s good for Trade Wind sailing, too.
The downside of nearly all 1970s Swans, for cruising purposes, is that their deck layout and huge headsails demand a full crew. Certainly, singlehanding Avista keeps John on his toes, but he’s proved that it’s possible for a keen connoisseur to cruise her solo.