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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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*
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.