Can the Frenchmen triumph again and improve upon the range that has already revolutionised the way we view trawlers? Jack Haines takes a look at the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44.
As oxymorons go, Swift Trawler is a fine example. The perception is that trawlers are lethargic, sturdy, well built and comfortable when it’s rough – but pretty much anything but swift.
This was until the arrival of the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 42 in 2004. Which looked and felt like a trawler yacht in all that it did but with the extra get up and go of something far sportier and sexier.
The new Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44, then, has quite some shoes to fill and a family name to bolster.
Spot the difference
Visually, the most obvious tweak on the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44 over the original Swift Trawler 42 is the vertical windscreen.
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Personally, I think it looks the business and adds a real purpose and weight to the boat’s presence. Others may say that it is too work-boat like but each to their own and all that.
As well as adding some vigour to the appearance there is a strong practical element to the new screens as well.
Their wraparound design and the pleasant lack of mullions mean the view forward from the helm is nothing short of astonishing.
The only blind spot appearing when you look aft on the starboard side and clap eyes on a bulkhead.
The added benefit of this large, unbroken window area is the amount of light that floods the saloon.
Thanks to a slight extension of the wheelhouse, the saloon is physically bigger than the old Swift Trawler 42’s but the light adds to the illusion, despite the use of dark cherry wood.
The décor feels very beach house with its Venetian blinds and slatted cupboard fascias in the sideboard opposite the dinette.
There’s an air of tactility about the whole interior, nothing overly flash but it all works and feels well built. By night, a sofa bed allows the dinette to be transformed into a very comfortable double berth.
The bed works brilliantly, unfolding from the couch with one swift tug whilst keeping all of the cushions intact so there’s no messing about having to store them.
It’s a simple idea which means the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44 can easily sleep eight people, even if privacy for those in the saloon only comes courtesy of a curtain.
The galley, adjacent to the helm, is perfectly positioned for making quick snacks or a cuppa on a long journey. It has a nice slab of open work surface too, and ventilation from a sliding window above.
The flat work surface can be boosted by flipping the double helm seat forward, which leaves the large flat base open for resting plates.
It’s a bit of a strange system, which actually comes from a request by a Swift Trawler 42 owner. And the whole design would be better if Bénéteau had just opted for a helm seat that simply slid back and forth.
The galley isn’t overly laden with storage but there is plenty of drawer space including a suitably deep one for pots and pans. All of the drawers are also soft-closing but in stark contrast to this attention to detail are the cheap and nasty plastic panels that slide to reveal fiddled storage above the work surface.
The whole galley is, nevertheless, a vast improvement on the Swift Trawler 42’s galley, which was inconveniently bisected by the port-side sliding door and therefore difficult to use.
The arguments for and against Bénéteau’s adoption of asymmetric decks, as seen on the smaller Swift Trawler 34, will rage on but we are avid fans of the new style.
As well as affording extra space in the saloon the combination of the wide starboard side deck and the sliding door and bulwark gate mean berthing is a cinch. It’s not as if the port-side deck is meagre either, it is perfectly good for hanging fenders and making your way forward.
Back to the accommodation and the cabins which, in one way or another, improve on the offerings of the Swift Trawler 42. They still don’t feel special enough but they are comfortable and well designed.
The forward cabin gets a big berth which hinges up on gas struts, although they need beefing up because they’re not currently up to the job.
However, below there is a truly enormous storage area. It’s also compartmentalised, which is perfect for storing suitcases, shoes, towels and all the other gear that accumulates on a long cruise.
The guest cabin gets similar amounts of storage, although to get to it you have to hold up both the mattress and the fiddly, wooden lids.
The elongated window, which is mimicked in the master cabin, works wonders in providing the cabin with natural light and there’s loads of room to change next to the bed without being bent double.
Bénéteau desperately want customers to regard the Swift Trawler 44 as a proper liveaboard.
To this end the current layout of an ensuite heads to the master cabin and a separate day heads can be changed to make the day heads into a large shower compartment, adding some luxury for the cruising couple.
There are details all over the boat that allude to its ability to tackle long- distance cruises with aplomb. There are small features like the red light system at the lower helm.
Which means the skipper’s night vision isn’t affected whilst navigating at night.
Then there is the expanse of flat dashboard to port which is perfect for laying out a chart.
On the decks of the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44
In the cockpit there are two large hatches that lead to a cavernous lazerette, which can easily swallow all your clobber for long trips.
The cockpit also gains an optional L-shaped bench seat over the Swift Trawler 42 but there is still enough space for a table and some free-standing chairs to transform it into another eating and socialising area.
The flybridge is accessed via an excellent set of wooden steps, which conceal the gas locker, bordered by a pair of chunky, stainless steel banisters. The flybridge feels huge for a boat of this size.
True, the aft section is snaffled up by the tender, which is now hoisted up onto the deck with the aid of an electric winch, but when the tender is in the water there’s loads of room for some deck chairs or sunbeds.
The wet-bar is placed handily close to the stairs, where food can be passed between the two decks with ease.
The forward section of the flybridge works really well with a bench seat and chaise longue to starboard and a generous portion of U-shaped seating to port, plus a smart wooden table, far superior to the GRP versions fitted by some.
Again though, this quality touch is let down by another component, this time the Plexiglass flybridge hatch, which is woefully flimsy and wobbles around all over the place at sea despite a stainless steel brace bar.
The solid GRP one from the Swift Trawler 34, although less visually attractive, would be a far better option and is an easy fix. The only gripe with both of the seating areas is the low backrests.
It’s bearable when the boat is stationary but when the boat is moving you get neck ache from having to hold your torso steady without the necessary support.
The upper helm is all the better for gaining a second helm seat, which along with the skipper’s chair swivels around to face the table.
The smart beige dash cladding, which looks far better than swathes of white plastic on previous models, should do a fine job of keeping glare to a minimum.
The brown, PVC upholstery looks lovely and adds a subdued classiness to the seating areas and bow cushions.
However, the dark colour is not so good at disguising salt which, when the spray has been flying, shows up very easily and will no doubt keep cleaning-obsessed skippers busy long after the engines have stopped.
Performance of the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44
When it comes to handling, the Swift Trawler 44 is off to a flying start because it uses the same cracking Joubert/Nivelt hull as the old Swift Trawler 42.
We were taken aback by its wonderful blend of rough-sea prowess and fun handling on test back in 2004.
However, nothing about the old boat’s fuel consumption with the standard twin Yanmar 370hp engines lived up to the expectations of a trawler yacht.
No, it’s not a trawler per se but it still needs to be able to do some decent distances on a tank of diesel. The Swift Trawler 44, and its twin D4 300s, is much improved in this area.
As a direct comparison if you study their relative efficiency at 3,100rpm and a cruising speed of around 20 knots, the new Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44 is consuming 19.1gph and doing 1.07mpg whereas the older Swift Trawler 42 guzzled 28.2gph and achieved only 0.82mpg.
The engines are also punchy, smooth and remarkably quiet. The boat has an urgency that belies its looks and the 24.9-knot top speed certainly justifies the ‘swift’ in Swift Trawler.
The handling is supple and direct; hard turns are disposed of with minimum fuss and hardly any lean.
The conditions weren’t overly challenging but there was enough of a swell to detect that the near-vertical stem slices waves beautifully and the ride in general is incredibly solid and assured.
However, although this wasn’t the case with us, other journalists on the boat said that the ride got quite splashy in a head sea, dumping water on the flybridge.
Even as we rocketed through the waves with the swell behind us there was not a hint of a wallow, which is impressive considering the size of the keel that this boat drags through the water and the height that it carries.
Both helm stations are good to drive from but the lower one delights with a layout that is unfussy yet effective with a superb view out.
From the upper helm, where the engines are a muted burble, it is genuinely peaceful, even at fast cruising speeds.
The view is perfect and she trims neatly with no help from the tabs; from the lower helm though, more vertically challenged skippers may need to ease the bow down with the tabs to give them an optimal view of the horizon.
The new Volvo throttles seem to have been designed with rough weather in mind as the hub and levers are perfectly aligned so that you can rest your hand without varying the revs wildly when it’s choppy.
The stubby, grey levers aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing design on the market, not even compared to the old Volvo Penta EDC controls, but they feel spot on and work with an engineered precision that suits the boat down to the ground.
A closer look at the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44
Storage spaces like this are so useful on board any boat.
This one beneath the berth in the master cabin is gigantic and split into sections, which make it all the more useful.
The lifting rams need beefing up though.
The old Swift Trawler 42 had just the small opening port that you can see in this picture.
The Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44 has sprouted some excellent elongated windows in the guest and forward cabins.
Light floods in and makes both spaces feel far bigger.
Bénéteau have used this tan leather very cleverly around the lower helm.
Slapping it on the instrument binnacle and on this large dash area gives a far greater impression of quality. The lined storage tray is useful too.
Access to the engineroom is gained through a hatch in the saloon floor, which means getting in there is quick and easy.
Once inside, however, you do feel the pinch a bit and moving around inside isn’t particularly pleasant.
Getting to the dipsticks is fine but you have to check the raw water strainers through a separate hatch next to the helm.
On the plus side, the installation is of high quality and looks tidy.
Bénéteau Swift Trawler 44 Verdict
The Swift Trawler 44 builds on what the Swift Trawler 42 started. It seems the designers have crawled over the old boat and rectified any downfalls.
The process has also produced a new contemporary, eye-catching look which may not tug at the heart strings like the more traditional styling of the original but it demands attention.
The interior is spacious – even with the world’s press poking around on test we didn’t get under each other’s feet.
Dynamically it is wonderfully balanced and as happy romping through the chop at 24 knots as it is purring along at 8 knots, when it has a range just shy of 650 miles.
No, it’s not as sexy or fast as a regular flybridge boat and some of the components and finishing detract from what is actually a very well-constructed boat.
That said, the use of leather at the lower helm and the eradication of great swathes of empty GRP show that Bénéteau are upping their concentration on the fine details that turn a good boat a great one.
Yes, the name may be oxymoronic but the Swift Trawler is as straight talking and hard hitting as they come.
First published in the June 2011 issue of MBY.
Price from: £340,486 inc UK VAT
Price as tested: £416,054 inc UK VAT
Length overall: 45ft 5in (13.88m)
Beam: 13ft 9in (4.25m)
Fuel capacity: 307 imp gal (1,400 litres)
Water capacity: 140 imp gal (640 litres)
Draught: 3ft 4in (1.05m)
RCD category: B (for 12 people)
Displacement: 11 tonnes light (empty), 13.8 tonnes full (100% fuel and water)
Designers: Bénéteau and Joubert/Nivelt