Finnish swans take to the water

About 50 years ago, a Finnish entrepreneur mixed nature, design and business in a line of boats that’s still sailing strong.

A dream that originated with one Finnish entrepreneur comes true whenever a Nautor Swan yacht takes to the water, combining three Finnish strengths: nature, design and business.

Finland’s winter sportsmen find it difficult to see the ice and snow melt away, but for Finnish boat owners, spring cannot come soon enough. Their euphoria becomes uncontainable when winter ends and the sea ice thaws. Boatyards along the country’s shores become hives of activity in preparation for the boating season as owners can’t wait to get out on the open water in the sun and the wind.

A distinguished Finnish member of the fleet of leisure boats that take to the water each spring is the sleek and graceful profile of Nautor’s Swan, a visual expression of all that is romantic and glamorous in sailing boats. The name forms a reminder of Finland’s national bird, the whooper swan.

Although Nautor has been under Italian ownership since 1998, the vessels still form a Finnish product, crafted at the Nautor yard in the west-coast town of Pietarsaari (known as Jakobstad in Swedish, the predominant language in the area).

A Finnish business vision

A Nautor Swan takes part in a competition off the coast of Sicily.

A Nautor Swan takes part in a competition off the coast of Sicily.Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

Pekka Koskenkylä, a Finnish entrepreneur who dreamed of producing top-quality, high-performance sailing boats, founded Nautor Ltd in 1966, delivering the first in a long line of fibreglass yachts, the Swan 36. Heritage remains a central part of the luxury Swan brand, which retains tight links with Finland and its long and admired tradition of boat- and shipbuilding.

“It’s quite unique to make yachts of this kind in a place like this,” says sales director Marcus Jungell. “Pekka Koskenkylä had a very strong vision from the start. Part of his dream was to draw on the skills and experience of the excellent craftsmen that are still found in the region.”

The Swan 36 and subsequent yachts up to the late 1970s were designed by New York architects Sparkman & Stephens, and Nautor’s Swan reputation was sealed when the Swan 65 Sayula II triumphed in the inaugural Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973 and ’74.

Timeless design, global market

Yachts are associated with both the difficult and dangerous work of racing and the luxurious world of riches and recreation.

Yachts are associated with both the difficult and dangerous work of racing and the luxurious world of riches and recreation.Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

“We offer something contemporary, yet the yachts have to stand the test of time, right through the range,” says Jungell. “The boats should always have great sailing performance and feel easy to handle, making good use of space and layout.” High quality, top technology and reliability attract sailing connoisseurs.

Luxury yachts may move further down the list of must-have items during times of economic uncertainty, and Nautor has experienced its own challenges. Yet Jungell says that a significant market nonetheless continues for Swans. You would expect someone with his job title to say that – but who is buying these boats, and how does Nautor stay on top of things?

“Our books have orders from all continents,” he says. “Traditional markets are Europe, especially the Mediterranean, but we have new markets in Russia, China, India, Mexico and the Philippines.

“We’re continuously developing our products. Cruising, for example, is a strong trend and we are responding to this to secure our position in that part of the market, having recently launched a range of performance cruising yachts.”

Jungell believes that part of Nautor’s Swan appeal is the Finnish-based connection with customers. The customer care team is headquartered in Pietarsaari, and the town’s yacht club also forms the official base for ClubSwan, which offers prestigious trophies for Swans competing in the most important regattas in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic Sea and North America. ClubSwan includes all Swan owners, past and present.

By Tim Bird, April 2014