Leading the charge of changes to the trawler genre, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 is powered by pod drives and, given its length, is incredibly inventive with its accommodation.
For decades, trawlers brought to mind a distinct set of values as much as they did a style: Herculean build quality and an indomitable go-anywhere hull, an immaculate engineroom bursting with engineering excellence and a good deal of redundancy.
And a traditional interior often fashioned from big chunks of solid teak. Unsurprisingly, along with those elevated values came the correspondingly eye-watering price tag.
More recently, the high volume production boatbuilders realised that they could build modern incarnations of the traditional trawler for a lot less money.
Although some of the old trawler values inevitably have to be diluted.
There is nothing stopping builders capitalising fully on others, such as deep bulwarks and safe walkaround side decks, high volume interiors, and the low-key styling that some buyers feel more comfortable with when they move from sail to power.
And so a new genre of trawler was born, as characterised by Bénéteau’s Swift Trawler range and Azimut’s fleet of Magellanos.
Change never ceases though, and with Bénéteau’s latest Swift Trawler 50, architect Michel Joubert and designer Pierre Frutschi have moved on again.
Most significantly, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 is powered not by conventional shaftdrive but by pod drive, specifically twin 435hp Volvo IPS600.
And although few trawlers could be described as sleek, the towering Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 has taken trawler styling to new heights.
The result is a voluminous craft boasting accommodation that is barely believable for a boat whose hull length (excluding the bathing platform) is a mere 43ft 9in (13.33m).
Part of Bénéteau’s conjuring trick is designing the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 with bolt upright front windscreens that sit proportionately far further forward than usual.
That endows the boat with longer than expected main deck accommodation – enough to incorporate a respectable pilothouse rather than just a simple helm station.
Like the trawlers built by Grand Banks, this is open-plan to the rest of the saloon, not closed off like a Fleming or a Nordhavn’s pilothouse would be.
Open or closed though, with its small convertible dinette, starboard side door, plus an exemplary and expansive dash, the pilothouse adds a sense of serious intent to the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50.
There’s also an unexpected bonus below decks.
Although a number of similarly sized cruisers do offer a third cabin, outside of the aft-cabin boats from the likes of Broom and Atlantic I cannot think of another which offers the owners completely separate ensuite heads and shower compartments.
Both have their own hand basins and plenty of floor space – they’re not just tiny cubicles – and for owners intending to spend long periods on board I think they add a significant degree of flexibility to this boat.
I would question the use of frosted glass for the doors though; I can’t imagine much noise being held in check, and there are things which some of us prefer to keep as quietly private as possible.
You have to accept that in return for getting your hands on this much boat for such reasonable money, something has to give.
So Bénéteau’s archetypal mass-produced furniture takes the place of the solid chunks of teak you might find on more traditional trawlers.
However, although it may ultimately lack the top-class finish evident on more expensive trawlers, Bénéteau has shrewdly used solid timber for the parts likely to sustain the worst wear: door frames, fiddles, drawer fronts and so on.
Only time will tell, but I suspect the interior may endure wear and tear quite well.
Cross channel dash: Driving the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50
Our test was an unusual one, a swift dash across the channel from the Hamble to the boat’s home port of St Helier in Jersey.
Actually, swift is a little generous – 21 knots flat out is a modest speed for a 50 footer fitted with twin 435hp IPS600, even one like ours with its tanks full of fuel.
For example, the 50-foot Prestige 500 we tested (MBY September 2011) achieved 28 knots with identical power plants.
However, the 16 tonne (light) Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 is around 20% heavier, has a small keel and a lot more windage, plus it carries a little more beam.
Those impediments produced a boat that exhibited disappointing fuel efficiency, e.g. 0.55mpg at 16 knots.
Moreover, its efficiency only started to exceed 1.0mpg once it dropped below 10 knots; at 9.2 knots for instance, its 1.15mpg was level pegging with the 56 tonne Nordhavn 55 I tested (MBY August 2008).
So intrepid explorers need to be mindful of the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50’s limited range at its higher speeds.
It’s worth noting that IPS can sometimes be sensitive to weight and weight distribution, so an Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 with a different load of fuel and water and cruising stores could perform quite differently.
If the fuel consumption was a surprise, so was the handling.
With its towering height – 22ft 5in (6.82m) air draft including the topmost lights – I’d been expecting at least a smidgen of rock and roll.
But the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 confounded me by dishing up an impressively resolute and stable ride.
And that held true even when we ploughed our way through a turbulent Alderney Race.
The only time it rolled around noticeably was when we crossed the wake of the Azimut Magellano 43 that accompanied us across the Channel.
At marina manoeuvring speed, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 was equally impressive.
And not just because the joystick provided unmatched low speed control, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 also handled perfectly using the almost silent option of throttles and IPS vectoring.
Its tall form may be more of a handful in windy conditions, but the optional bow and stern thrusters should take care of that.
Let’s not forget that the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50’s excellent underlying design makes all this manoeuvring a lot easier.
It’s entirely possible to stand on the starboard side deck just outside the pilothouse door, and manoeuvre the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 into the tightest of berths using the joystick (perfectly located just inside the door).
Then open the side gate and quickly pin the boat to the dock using the nearby spring cleat.
Our Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50’s owner, Greg, saw his boat as suitable for single-handed operation, and I agree completely – there are 40-foot sportscruisers that would be harder to park.
Blatting across the Channel, I found the ride quality was a little disappointing.
Although the very front end of the beamy hull is impressively sharp, it flattens out rapidly, and the wide low chines drop quickly into the water.
Consequently, however I trimmed the boat – full tabs, no tabs, full tab on one side only to heel the boat away from (or into) the prevailing waves – the hull chattered its way across the messy Channel chop we encountered rather than slicing smoothly through.
In its defence, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 does position its helmsman an abnormally long way forward, so impacts and movements are exaggerated.
However, I feel the boat has little excuse for the unrelenting squeaking that seemed to be coming from the glassfibre ceiling mouldings.
Had VAT been added, our boat would have cost £744,000, and for that sort of money I’d personally be expecting rigidly assembled silence.
A closer look at the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50
Big, bolt upright windscreens and windows may look utilitarian but they provide an outstanding view out for the helmsman and crew.
It may be an extra, but it’s not expensive and it adds big-boat style practicality to the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50, providing walk-in access to the full-width lazarette (or optional crew cabin).
Raising the windlass platform to a practical level enlarges the lockers below.
Cleats are a good size, but surely a 50 footer merits a second set of spring cleats.
The engines are connected to the IPS drives using short cardan shafts – this places the weight of the engines slightly further forward, providing better weight distribution and balance.
Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 verdict
The Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 causes us to pause and re-evaluate what the notion of a trawler means.
If it means a practical roomy pilothouse instead of a simple helm station, then this boat fits the bill perfectly.
Likewise, thanks to its waist level bulwarks and broad walkaround side decks, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 provides a level of on-board safety, under way or at rest, that is in a different league to conventional flybridge cruisers of similar size.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to undertake intrepid, swift, long-distance voyages in all weathers, then this probably isn’t the boat for you.
It’s ride wasn’t terrible, it was okay, but at speed it is not in the same league as the more traditional trawlers; in comparison boats such as the Hardy 42, or any of AquaStar’s or Fleming’s trawlers, have a magic carpet ride.
And at its swifter cruising speeds of 16 knots or above, its range only just pips 230 miles
Bénéteau’s assertion that “the innovative design enables a range of over 1,000 miles and fuel consumption less than 30 litres per hour” holds at least one clue to the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50’s appeal.
According to our figures, that 1,000 mile, 30litres/hr cruising nirvana only appears below 9 knots.
At this speed, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 makes considerable sense as a displacement cruiser, one with the invaluable ability to double its speed when a rapid dash for cover is required.
It is impressively quiet at displacement speeds, and its low speed handling is excellent.Regardless of its speed, the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 offers the roomy accommodation that trawlers are renowned for.
In truth, more traditional trawlers of the same true length would be hard pressed to match the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 in this department.
It’s an unusually safe and secure boat to wander around, and with its optional crew cabin it could accommodate up to seven people, more if you’re prepared to temporarily cannibalise the saloon.
So regardless of whether the Bénéteau Swift Trawler 50 is swift by your standards, or even an authentic trawler in your eyes, there’s no doubt that it’s a great family cruiser.
First published in the January 2015 issue of MBY.
Price from: approx £550,309 (twin 435hp IPS600)
Price as tested: £744,000 (twin 435hp IPS600)
Length overall: 49ft 2in (14.99m)
Beam: 15ft 3in (4.65m)
Fuel capacity: 528 imp gal (2,400 litres)
Water capacity: 176 imp gal (800 litres)
Draught: 3ft 5in (1.05m)
RCD category: B (for 14 people)
Displacement: 16.0 tonnes (empty) 18.8 tonnes (full fuel & water)
Designners: Michel Joubert & Pierre Frutschi