There are few things that elicit genuine dread within me. Likewise, it’s a similarly small palette that induces absolute passion within me. For readers of these pages, they will know that all things automotive fall within the joy remit. What some may not know is just how deeply deep water sits into the former category.
So, I can’t swim. There, I said it. Ok, a slight contingency to that statement: I can kind of swim, I just can’t tread water or float with any real confidence. That means, should I find myself in water deeper than my five-foot ten inch frame, it’s not that I’m screwed, it’s that I’m scared.
I was never taught, you see. Water being water, and deep water being, well, deep water, I never had the confidence to learn as an adult and kept my frolicking to swimming pools and dips just below the nipples should I be near the sea. I’ve also never seen The Perfect Storm, Master and Commander, and baulk at the sight of an advert for The Deadliest Catch. It’s fair to say I’m not a fan.
READ THE ALICIA AGNESON EDITION HERE
Where are we going with this? Well, across the desk came an invite from the lovely people at Yacht builder extraordinaire, Nautor Swan. The penultimate round of the single marque series in conjunction with Rolex was gracing the coast of Sardinia, based around the legendary and beautiful Costa Smerelda Yacht Club, a jewel in the many jewelled crowns of The Aga Khan. I surveyed the itinerary: Owners Dinner, lovely. Rolex Crew Party, don’t mind if I do. Day on board a 115 foot Nautor Swan masterpiece, Solleone, owned by none other than Leonardo Ferragamo? Therein lies the rub. Out on deck, in the open sea. Alone.
Once more unto the breach dear friends. Once more…
I set off to Gatwick and onwards to Sardinia to meet the rest of my group. I wondered whether they were similarly green. I wondered if they could swim. I met at the airport Sabina from the agency kind enough to provide the invite, and we journeyed together to our home for the next few days; the lovely and slightly quaint Colonna Resort. Having Sabina proved invaluable from the start as her knowledge base, being so huge, allowed me a great insight into the history of the brand and the competition, as well as a wider sense of what the community offers. I am immediately aware that family is an ethos running through this industry. Crews comprise millionaire or billionaire owners plus the whole gamut of seafarers. Hobbyists, ex-pros, current pros all mesh together with a sense of solidarity one would rarely see from a team made of such disparate parts.
We entered the impeccably maintained and spectacularly well-appointed yacht club for our evening. We were treated to a delightful meal, plentiful wine and then a rousing set of speeches from the Commodore of Yacht Club Smeralda, event organiser and Leonardo Ferragamo, owner of the Nautor Swan brand.
The next day was scheduled for a morning of racing, wherein we would accompany the teams out into the open seas to watch the competition. As is seemingly a possible issue at times with naturally propelled instruments, the wind wasn’t playing ball until the afternoon. This allowed a morning of rest, or for me, a crash course in both yacht making and competitive yacht racing.
Nautor Swan, the boat builder of choice for the single marque extravaganza has been crafting sailing yachts since 1966 and is one of the few builders that take the process from inception through to delivery. Design, fabrication, and finish; everything is completed by in-house staff. In the five decades since, some 2,350 boats have been produced, ranging from 36 to 131 feet. Their range is divided into four lines: ClubSwan Yachts, Swan Yachts, Swan Maxi Yachts and new for 2023, the Swan Shadow, their first foray into motor yacht manufacture. The brand also has service hubs, with four across the Mediterranean and 18 service points. Within the brand alongside the ClubSwan Racing offering, there is also Brokerage and Charter, meaning they are a company that remains active across the whole landscape and lifespan of a yacht.
I digress – I am here for the racing and as the brand says, it’s not just about the competition, but the desire to share stories, create memories and experience some of the most vigorous competitions on the calendar. Nautor Swan manages the whole programme alongside long-term partners BMW, Rolex and Randstad. The regattas include both One Design Regattas and rating events at the highest level. Competition is fierce and played out across a packed calendar. To see it out on the water can make for some confusing viewing if one is as unaccustomed to the sport as I am. However, the effort and passion that goes into each turn of a handle is evident through each hoist of a sail and each plot of a course.
Seeing the speed and grace with which these colossal creations move is a testament not only to the quality of the product but also to the skill of the participants. One could compare it to some of the amateur motor racing classes such as the Ferrari Challenge and Porsche Cup, where relatively well-heeled owners pay for the privilege of racing their toys. This feels somehow more than that, with a purity that’s in a league of its own. Despite my inherent fear of nearly every aspect of the weekend (bar the drinking, naturally), there is something about the oldest form of transport, and about ships that discovered the world setting sail across huge bodies of water like the Mediterranean. Whilst technology has taken these vessels very much into the 21st century, the ideals behind wind, sail and man are clear for all to see.
Having the opportunity to view some of the vessels up close whilst docked was pretty awe-inspiring. These things range from the oldest survivor – a 1967 Swan 36 foot – to the gargantuan Solleone that I was lucky enough to spend a day aboard whilst watching the action from a distance. The attention to detail, fit and finish is something to behold, and extends from the smallest detail to the hull itself, with thousands of pieces made of the highest quality melding together to create floating masterpieces. The quality of some of the carbon on show would make automotive manufacturers cower.
As the brand encompasses so much history, there were boats from all eras of production and across all sizing classes. The newest products showcase some of the forward-thinking in design and aesthetics with impressive use of perfectly woven carbon fibre. Unfortunately due to the choppy waters in Porto Cervo, we weren’t able to sample the new motorised addition to the product lineup; a sleek, understated but hugely purposeful and poised futuristic design that takes cues from the brand’s history, but very much sets its own path. Conversation with project lead Roy Capasso, himself the 2010 Powerboat World Champion, further showed the passion that underpins all the products. That he looks like the lead in some brooding Italian crime drama adds somewhat to the aura behind what they do. New this year is the Swan Overshadow, based around the high-performing hull of the Swan Shadow. Everyone is invested, from designers, builders, owners and crew; each cog in the machine is a bought and paid-up member of team Nautor Swan.
The day aboard Solleone showcased just what yacht life can also represent aside from fast racing. With an on-board chef and plentiful bubbles to hand, I am not sure I could think of a better way to spend a day in the sun. Sat beneath azure skies looking off into the middle distance as a multitude of coloured sails danced in the haze, I almost forgot I was at sea. At one point I even went to venture towards the bow, then the yacht lurched on an errant swell, and I was instantly conscious of our distance from shore and the sparsity of the side protection – a tourist pleasure boat this certainly was not. I’ll admit I froze for a good ten minutes, or until I felt the sea was calm enough to enable an all-fours crawl back to midships. My fellow travellers had assumed my gripping of the main mast was just peacocking in the sun rather than a white-knuckle ride for all my senses, but I returned to the champagne in one piece.
The festivities continued into the night with the all-crew party, held for literally everyone involved in the event, a throng of a thousand souls all united in their love of sailing. Good food was had (including some wonderful pasta dishes) and wine flowed plentifully from numerous bar stations. I danced. A lot. I ripped a lovely pair of raffia loafers I had purchased in Marrakech, and I nearly bagged a lift with a friend of King Carlos of Spain. From memory, I certainly enjoyed myself.
A hazy morning back in the Costa Smerelda club saw a slow but steady influx of owners and associates as the prize-giving ceremony marked the culmination of all the efforts. I was treated to a tour of the clubhouse itself and tried hard to feign as much nonchalance as possible as I took in some of the most incredible fossil and natural specimens I have seen outside of museums. Hell, outside of galleries. Hell, INSIDE galleries and museums. Back in the sun, a lovely middle-aged Italian man engaged me in ten minutes of eager conversation before bidding me a good day. Having never met him, I can only assume he thought I was the other ‘person of colour’ at the event. He was certainly friendly. Some lovely Rolex pieces were handed out to people who were bolstering existing collections and handshakes and back slaps resounded all round. But there wasn’t any ego to discern, not really. Everyone was there for the same purpose. Not necessarily to win – well, perhaps, but the taking part truly is of just as much importance.
The adherence to the principles of the brand unites all who are involved with Nautor Swan. As a new participant in the theatre that yacht racing represents, I was taken aback and enthused in equal measure to see the commitment that each person has to not only the racing but to the brand, to their crew and their competitors, but mostly to their boats, which represent more than material things. They open a world to friendships and adventures that were evident and abundant across the weekend. Nautor Swan demonstrated with real panache how multifaceted a company they are, providing full service not just to the yachts that they build, but to the family they build with each event.