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SHOULD I BUY A NAUTOR 43?

Here follows an (edited) copy of a letter that I wrote to somebody who was thinking about purchasing a Nautor 43.
He is planning a 5 year circumnavigation with his family, including kids.

About the model

The Nautor 43 is a true Swan yacht with respect to quality of design and workmanship, and it's from the drawing boards of Sparkman & Stephens, as all Swans of that period. The concept is, however, completely different from the cruiser-racers of the rest of the Swan line. I once discussed the model with Olle Emmes, long time managing director of Nautor's Swan and he said that the reason for calling it Nautor 43 was, that the sales department was a bit worried that the market might get the wrong signal, i.e. that the whole Swan-philosophy was changing. With hind sight, he said, that was a mistake, it's a true Swan sailing boat and should have given a straight name, such as Swan 43M.

Construction

Scorpio is very well built and the construction is solid like a tank. If she would be a Hummer vehicle, the Beneteaus and Bavarias would be Kleinbusses. The hull is very thick and all the hardware on deck is over dimensioned. Therefore, a Nautor 43 is also relatively heavy. Our previous yacht was a Moody 425, also considered as a tough sailing vessel, almost exactly of the same size, with the same keel ballast, but weighs 3 tonnes (!) less. All those 3 tonnes are probably explained by the difference in material (thickness of hull, no sandwich below waterline, size of hardware and rigging etc).

I have sailed on Scorpio more than 80 000 nm over 23 years, sometimes in pretty rough weather (thankfully no hurricanes) and never been worried about the boat. Several times during longer passages we find out that other boats have suffered damages, when Scorpio did just fine.

Having said that, some parts naturally suffer from fatigue and has to be replaced, such as rigging wires, end terminals, toggle plates etc. And as an example, please have a look at the issue of corrosion at the mast fittings, illustrated HERE.

Sailing

In a review of Scorpio's bigger sister, the Nautor 50, the Finnish yachting magazine Vene wrote: "It would not be S&S designed if it were not a fair sailer as well, though she needs to be kept rather upright because of the shallow draft keel. The yacht is very agile sailing as well as motoring". And I think that the Nautor 43 probably sails even better than the bigger version.

Because of the heavy displacement combined with a relatively modest sail area Scorpio prefers apparent winds of at least 15 knots. In very light weather (especially downwind) we have been motoring a lot, but if you are patient and not on a schedule it may not be too bad. A good light-wind spinnaker is great, but the problem is the nights. Short handed as we are, I never use the spinnaker during the dark hours.

With light winds on the beam we have had much joy of the mizzen stay sail. When we use this sail we usually douse the main. (Click the photos below for larger images of this sail set)

Scorpio is not very good at sailing up wind if the seas are short and the waves tightly spaced because she has a tendency to start pitching. In large seas this is not usually a problem. Also the tacking angle is not great because the chain plates are almost at the toe rail, which means that the headsail cannot be sheeted close enough to the centre line. We have an inner track also, but a sail on the head stay that is sheeted to those tracks will be very small (and enough only for motor sailing or a small jib in very heavy weather). You could install a (removable) baby stay on foredeck (I even got the drawings for one from Nautor) but on long passages or big seas we keep the dinghy (RIB) upside down on top of the anchor windlass, which would make using the stay impossible. To get around this obstacle you could probably install a davits on the push pit/transom for storage of the dinghy, but I have been reluctant to do that because a) of the added windage and b) it would disturb the wind vane.

Click the photos for larger image
Going down wind we often douse the main and use two head sails poled out, each on it’s own pole, thus avoiding the problems with a wing-on-wing set up, where you often need to gybe as the main starts obscuring the genoa. The double head sail-configuration also makes for less rolling and is easier for the autopilot or windvane, not to mention the reduced risk of an accidental gybe. Of course there's some initial extra work required with putting up two poles (especially if you already have the main hoisted), so on day sails we often end up going wing-on-wing, in which cases I think a good whisker pole would be worth a lot.
Two headsails + main
Dead run: two headsails no main
Spinnaker-time

In light winds Scorpio is over-taken by lighter yachts, but when the winds pick up and the others have to start reefing we will be carrying all sails, going like a train, picking up the others again. We don’t have to start reefing until the apparent wind is well above 20 knots, except if going upwind because Scorpio does better when she’s more upright.

Although all the halyards are at the mast (which is unsafe according to yachting magazines), I prefer this to having them taken to the cockpit, where they are just in the way. Scorpios large, uncluttered decks make moving around in most foul weather easy and reefing the main is a breeze. I’ve had three yachts before with the lines in the cockpit, so I should know.

I have not figured out how Scorpio could be heaved-to in particularly foul weather, which many cruisers we know do often. However, we have never had the need to hove-to. With self-steering and a minimum of sails, provided we have enough sea room, we can choose the most comfortable course and let the yacht handle her self (keeping a constant lookout for other traffic of course).

If I would get a chance to redesign the rig, I would build it 2 metres higher, put the chainplates closer to the centre line (obviously redesigning the spreaders also, probably adding one) and have a bow sprit. Flying an MPS or genaker from a bow sprit would probably be fruitful. I’m planning to design some kind of (removable) pole for this purpose, to be attached to the port side anchor fitting. A higher mast combined with a cutter rig would have been ideal. Some of the Nautor 43s (like hull #9) do have a bow sprit, however.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the upwind performance, though. But it depends a lot on where you are planning to sail. On a circumnavigation along the usual trade wind / SE-monsoon route you will have a minimum of tacking. Of course the Read Sea could be a struggle, but at least at present, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go that way in any case.

We spent several years in the Caribbean, especially Windward and Leeward islands, where you have constant big seas and 25 knots of wind on the beam or slightly fwd of the beam and Scorpio behaved very well indeed (see photo to the left). In the Mediterranean it is worse because of the short steep waves, but the (western) Med is not a great place for a sailing vessel in any case (either no wind or force 10 and few good anchorages = need to stay in expensive marinas).

(Click photo for a larger image)

Other

I wouldn’t worry about having to motor or motorsail once in a while - after all, the diesel engine likes to be running, we need to charge the batteries and run the freezer and fridge compressor at least an hour a’ day anyway - and we have 1 100 litres of fuel! Instead of poking around in the doldrums for days it is much smarter to go and find the wind (maybe just 10 miles ahead). Recently when we were sailing from Vanuatu to Australia, there was little wind for several weeks and several boats found themselves short on fuel. On another page of this web site you can find a video showing Scorpio delivering fuel to a fellow yacht in the middle of the Coral Sea!

Scorpio behaves very well in heavy seas and all over the interior there are points to hang on to. The aft cabin is usually very comfortable.

There's plenty of storage space. The Nautor 43 is built around the concept of two persons with occasional guests. Many yachts of the same size aimed for the charter market have cabins and berths for 10-12 people! You would have to go up to the Swan 48 to get as much space as in the Nautor 43, but you will never get the same size fuel and water tanks! However, it might be a good idea to install a water maker. Then you could get rid of two of the three water tanks and thus free up some space and lessen the weight.

The centre cockpit makes you feel secure in most weather, and it’s a short distance to move to get below. We only have a canvas dodger, so in foul weather you may get wet and miserable, but the alternative would be some kind of deck house structure which we feel would be a disaster on sunny, hot days. Unfortunately it’s always a compromise.

The workmanship is superb, but naturally the yachts are 30 years old or more, so the present condition of each individual depends on how well it has been taken care of.

Autopilots. We have two completely independent autopilots. One hydraulic drive is connected to the quadrant and one rotary drive to the wheel. Read more (with photos) regarding this subject HERE.

Windvane. We have an old servo pendulum Sailomat 3040 which we used almost all the time for the first 10 years. The good thing about this model is that it is independent of the wheel and rudder (has it’s own rudder). It’s excellent upwind (and the better the harder it blows), but because of Scorpio’s weight I was never comfortable going downwind in big seas. The stress on the connecting point to the transom is enormous when there’s a constant need to adjust the course. I would have bought a new one with control lines to the wheel, but haven’t figured out how the lines could be snuggly taken to the cockpit.

Bowthruster. One of our best investments, but we had to sacrifice part of the anchor’s chain locker. Scorpio is hopeless to steer when motoring backwards, which makes movements in a marina and especially backing into a travellift or a berth a horrible experience in any crosswind. With a bow thruster it’s a piece of cake. Read about the installation HERE.

Is the Nautor 43 for you?

If you plan to go sailing along the coast for only a few days or just a week and need to be able to tack back to your port in any weather, the Nautor 43 is not for you. Choose a Swan 41, 44, 48 or any other of the old S&S models, instead. But if you have the same objective as we do, to make your yacht your home for several years and remain self sufficient in remote parts of the world, you would not be comfortable in that kind of a boat. If that is your plan, choose the Nautor 43 instead - I find it difficult to imagine a better choice.

For more details on equipment aboard Scorpio, se The Yacht-web page and regarding measurements see the Fact Sheet.

Any comments would be appreciated, please write.

Related reading: Is Scorpio a Swan?

[Note: The text has been updated to reflect the time that has passed since the letter was originally written.]

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