Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route - 05/09/2012

On May 15th a lone Beneteau Swift 34 will begin a cruise from Annapolis, Maryland that will take her all around the North American Great Loop Route -- the circumnavigation of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River --in a single summer. The Swift 34 will start out heading north toward Canada. About mid-August the boat will be in Charleston, South Carolina where a BoatTEST.com captain will get on the vessel for her final leg back to Annapolis, thus closing the Great Loop. Our goal is to do an evaluation of how well she held up on this 5,000+ mile voyage.

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
The Beneteau Swift 34 has two staterooms and was designed for long cruises by one or two couples or a family.
Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
The Great Loop route is a popular cruising adventure for couples or families with some time on their hands. BoatTEST.com will take the boat on her final lap from Charleston, SC (lower arrow) to Annapolis, MD (upper arrow.)

The Great Loop Route

The circumnavigation of Eastern North America by water is known as the Great Loop. The trip varies from 5,000 miles to 7,500 miles depending on the options chosen. Typically the boats used to make this cruise range from about 25' (7.62 m) to 60' (18.28 m). Both sailboats and powerboats are used, but the most common boats are 34–45 ft recreational trawlers.

The main factors that govern the size of the boat are the limited draft (5 feet) in some locations on the Loop and the height of one bridge (19 feet) in Chicago, Illinois. For that reason we feel the Beneteau Swift 34 is an ideal type and size boat for this voyage.

Getting Looped

While much of the Great Loop is in protected waters such as the ICW and the Mississippi River, long stretches of the Loop are in the open ocean, Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes. Long stretches of the Mississippi River are treacherous due to currents and debris, and many areas along the route are shoal. Because a vessel cruising the Loop encounters all types of conditions this 5,000+ mile trip becomes a good test of the Swift 34 and its components, including its engine, a Cummins QSB5.9 312 KW (425-hp).

The Swift 34

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
The Beneteau Swift 34 has a LOA of 36'7" (11.15 m) and a beam of 13'1" (4 m). She draws 3'3" (1.10 m) and has a dry weight of 16,471 lbs. (7,471 kgs.). She is powered by a single 425-hp Cummins QSB 5.9 diesel engine.

When our BoatTEST captain takes the helm he will be reporting back to you on several evaluation points which will include how the Swift 34 handles differing sea conditions, livability over many days, systems reliability and overall observations.

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
The salon is cozy and practical. Forward to port is the U-shaped galley and the raised helm seat is to starboard.

Performance of the Swift 34

Our test of the Swift 34 revealed a WOT speed of 20 knots and a comfortable planing speed of 17 knots at 2750 rpm, 88% of full throttle. This means that while the Swift 34 looks like a trawler, she in fact, has the legs to scoot if need be to get to a marina before a front comes through. At her best planing cruise speed we found that she goes 14.7 knots (80% of WOT) and burns 11.4 gph.

Slow down the Swift 34 to displacement speeds and we discover that at 1200 rpms she goes 6.7 knots, burning only 1.9 gph. That speed is better than most moderate-sized sailboats make on average. At that speed the Swift 34 can travel 705 nautical miles between fuel stops, with a 10% reserve.

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
The galley is to port of the helm. The drawers are large enough for plates, and the shelf below the window is ideal for ancillaries. The window opens for flow-through ventilation, especially convenient when cooking.

Questions to be Answered

The next question most buyers raise is: how comfortable is it to cruise on a 34-footer for extended periods of time? Good question. And that is one we will have an answer for in mid-September, after our cruise from Charleston to Annapolis. However, we have cruised for up to a month at a time on other boats of similar size and this size range does not have an inherent livability problem, in our opinion.

How comfortable can a second couple be in the guest cabin and sharing a single head? This is another good question. We plan to take another couple aboard, so we will find out and record their reactions. Guest cabins in boats of this size are notoriously tight. Beneteau's designers have addressed this problem by making the boat's deck layout asymmetrical in order to get standing headroom in the port guest cabin. We will find out if the cabin is large enough for comfortable sleeping, changing of clothes and has enough real-world storage space.

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
It'd be a shame to be feeding your guests and leave the poor captain out, not a factor on the Swift 34 with the dining area right next to the helm.

More Practical Questions

We will address issues like fresh water tank capacity, water pressure, showering room, counter space for preparing meals, efficiency in the galley, stowage space for dry goods and needed equipment and much more. Since we will be on the Swift 34 for about 16 days we will also discover how easy or hard it is to change sheets, wash dishes and relax on the seats provided. It goes without saying that we will also critique the boat's sea-handling abilities and manners at the dock and at anchor.

In short, we plan to answer all of the questions that a buyer might have about how ergonomically friendly the boat is for prolonged living aboard and how well she performs her mission.

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
For nearly four months the Swift 34 will be taken into and out of tight marinas and with all sorts of adverse currents. It will be fun to see how well she handles with a single engine, a Cummins QSB5.9 312 KW (425-hp).

But the question at the top of our list will be, "How well did the Swift 34 survive the 5,000 miles being operated by over nine different crew teams and skippers?" We will inspect all aspects of the boat to see how the vessel stood up to the wear and tear of dozens of people unfamiliar with the boat -- who also didn't own it! In many respects this Great Loop cruise by the Swift 34 will be much more arduous for the boat than would be the same amount of time in the charter trade where typically the boats are not taken any great distances.

Planned Schedule for the Swift 34 Great Loop Voyage*

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
If you are in the area of any of these stops, why not drop by and take a look at the Beneteau 34 and talk to her crew?

We can't wait to give you a full BoatTEST.com report.

In the meantime, those interested in following the Beneteau Swift 34 along the Great Loop can follow the blog at www.thegreatestloop.com.

See our full test on the Swift 34…

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
The Swift 34 is seen here at the Beneteau headquarters in Annapolis, MD. She will leave Annapolis on her first leg on May 15th.

Beneteau Swift 34: Making the Great Loop Route
Beneteau techs give the running gear a last-minute check before launching. Note the shallow down angle of the prop shaft due to the boat's tunnel. Both the shallow angle and the tunnel add to the boat's efficiency. The stern thruster can be seen at left.

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