Captain’s Review – Beneteau Swift Trawler 44
Captain Assen Alexandrov and his brother Nikolay are USCG Licensed Master Captains based in San Diego, CA. (www.sandiegocaptains.com). They are highly-recommended and referenced delivery captains, logging well over 15,000 nautical miles per year – each – with lots of short trips not even being counted.
Raised in Bulgaria, the brothers learned the art of sailing in many types of small boats on the Black Sea. One of the tallest peaks in the Balkan Mountains is nearby, and the weather patterns can be quite volatile. Winds can change from 15 to 50 knots very quickly, creating very dangerous situations for mariners. Being taught to sail in barely-maintained boats in a military fashion in a Communist State (until 1989), the boys learned to be self-sufficient, independent, self-reliant problem solvers on the water. There were no yacht clubs. There was little instruction. There most certainly was no coddling.
The Alexandrov brothers have delivered yachts all over the world: Alaska, across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Mexico, Australia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Hawaii, the Panama Canal – you get the picture. Specializing in yachts 40 – 80 feet, more than half of their deliveries in the last five years have been power yachts. They offer instruction, charters, and deliveries with the utmost personal care and professional competence. “We don’t get paid to drive yachts, we get paid to make the right decisions,” Assen told me in our interview. Smart.
So when South Coast Yachts of San Diego asked Assen to assist a new Beneteau customer to deliver his Swift Trawler 44 from San Diego to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, he started doing his homework to prepare for the trip. “The statistics were easy to calculate for fuel and mileage,” said Assen, “and I knew the boat was easy to handle, and the engines and transmissions were solid.” But finding stories on the internet about how the relatively new vessel handled and held up when fishing, cruising or on deliveries, particularly in heavier seas, was difficult. How would it handle? What were its limits?
The 1,200 mile trip from San Diego to Salt Spring Island is not an easy one by any stretch of the imagination. Add to that a June departure, (which is great if you’re sitting on the beach) and you could be in for a rough ride. The warm lands heat up substantially in the summer, and onshore sea-breezes of 25-30 knots are common from Point Conception, just west of Santa Barbara, to Tatoosh Island, Washington. There are about 1,000 miles of open ocean, strong breeze, swells, and big wind chop. Assen knew he and the ST44 would be challenged by some potentially rough conditions on the way north.
Preparations for the voyage began with Assen loading some spare parts (fuel filters and the like), tools, safety gear, etc. Two hundred gallons of extra diesel were brought onboard, strapped to the side decks and in the cockpit in Jerry Jugs. Lastly, Assen brought a 42”, 240 Watt LED light bar for nighttime offshore use. He knew that 40% of boats that go down are sunk because of striking a semi-submerged object at night, and he knew he had about a 50/50 chance of wrapping a prop in a crab pot line or coming into contact with debris from the Japanese tsunami catastrophe. As a point of reference, the boat was also loaded heavily with the owner’s personal belongings and furnishings for their summer home in Canada.
The run from San Diego to Santa Barbara was, as expected, flawless. The ST44 ran a solid 20 knots in flat seas and light headwinds, sipping just 1 gallon per nautical mile. The easy part was done. The trip from Santa Barbara west to Point Conception is notoriously tough that time of year. An east-to-west current pushes into 20-25 knots of breeze, creating steep, choppy seas with 7-10 foot breaking waves. As Assen put it, “Point Conception is not a place to go, and then decide what to do.” Planning is vital.
The turn and 12 miles to the northwest after that to Point Arguello was even more punishing, and Assen throttled back so he was running about 4.5 – 5 knots of boat speed. How was the ST44 doing? “She was solid, stable, comfortable even in those conditions, and fuel efficient. We were consuming just over ½ gallon per hour,” Assen said.
During the thousand-mile, open-ocean run from Point Conception to Tatoosh Island, Assen and the ST44 saw as much as 40-45 knots of wind, gusts to 50, and breaking seas as large as 15 feet. “Every hour we trusted the boat more and more, having confidence to push her if we needed to,” Assen explains. “One early morning, about 2-3 a.m., in the pitch black with no moon, we were pushing into 15 foot breakers and 40+ knots of wind, and still making 3.5 – 4.5 knots of boat speed. Any faster and the boat would have been jumping off the crests of the waves. We were tracking with two local heavily-built fishing boats approximately 80 feet in length, mile after mile, maintaining similar speed.”
“Our LED light bar was strapped to the bow pulpit, and lit up the oncoming breakers and any debris so that we could plan and react accordingly,” he continues. “It was sometimes scary to see what was coming, but better than not seeing it at all until the last minute!”
Seven and a half days after departing San Diego, the quickest of Assen’s nine trips on this route, he and the Swift Trawler 44 arrived at Salt Springs Island. I asked him to summarize how he would describe the boat, and if he would be willing to bring it back down to San Diego for the winter months, as the customer plans to do.
“The boat was quite amazing, and handled the heavy conditions very well. I would not recommend going out in 40 knots of wind, but if you are caught out there in this boat you will be ok. The way the boat handled the seas, I was confident to go out with a forecast of 25-30 knots of wind. Even though we took water over the bow, and heavy spray over the bridge, we stayed absolutely dry inside. Not one drop! The boat was comfortable and well fitted. I didn’t have to tighten screws or re-attach electronics or things shaken loose on the voyage, which is often the case on other boats.”
“The boat is a blast to drive, and docking it, with the bow and stern thrusters, is like a game – so easy! The huge upper deck and cockpit areas make the boat very comfortable, and everything is convenient. The huge windows provide nearly 360 degrees of view to the outside, yet didn’t leak at all in the rough conditions. Total fuel consumption for the trip was right about one gallon per nautical mile. The trip back south to San Diego will be a breeze compared to this one.”
“After some deliveries, we are absolutely exhausted. Not so, on this trip. There were only two of us, but when we arrived, we were relaxed, comfortable, and felt like we could have kept going. This will be a great, safe, easy-to-handle boat that is perfect for a family to go cruising. I was very impressed with the comfort and seaworthiness of this Beneteau.”
–Rick Day, South Coast Yachts, San Diego