How to splash out in style

It's tasteful, elegant, and, at pounds 120,000, expensive. But the Swordsman is worth every penny, argues Stuart Alexander
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Indy Lifestyle Online
IT'S A bit like someone building an E-Type, but with comfortable seats and tiptronic gear change. The 30-foot Swordsman, a powerboat with mature heritage and brand new attitude, would probably appeal to the same sort of owner. Achieving a reputation not just for timeless excellence but enduring desirability is given to only a handful of the goodies in the toybox - I would almost sell the house for a musclebound DB9 but have an enduring love for the neat elegance of the DB4 - and that reputation is not just a question of mere product approval.

It is a mark of good taste, `ah, yes, of course it's a Fairey' will be the inevitable murmur from one who wishes you to know that he knows, and that means an entry card into that most beloved of British social groups, a club. The afficionadi who make an annual pilgrimage to the Festival of Speed at Goodwood are liberally sprinkled with people willing to lavish much chequebook love on the restoration and upkeep of a Fairey powerboat.

Not surprising really. The story of these boats goes back to 1922 and a young man called Alan Burnard being starry-eyed and smitten by his naval architect father, `CW', who had founded a yacht and launch works at Walton- on-Thames. CW was also a Brooklands regular and modified both Aston Martin and Bentley engines to power new breeds of speedboats.

Burnard junior followed in father's footsteps - he still owns a 1927 Grand Prix Delage - and ended up as chief designer at Fairey marine in Hamble, which was eventually run by Aviation's chief test pilot, world air speed record holder and the man who was first to break the 1,000mph barrier, Peter Twiss. The boats they produced were cherished by the likes of Max Aitken and Tommy Sopwith, won Cowes-Torquay-Cowes races and, when VAT hit leisure sales in the '70s, were as enthusiastically taken up by customs, police and patrol boat authorities around the world.

What a gamble, then, to take a classic hull and add some Star Wars engineering that will fuel heated arguments for generations to come. The purists will doubtless attack the pragmatists with gusto. Not that water jet propulsion is the most modern of technical feats, but it allows a strange feeling of hovering and floating while manoeuvering, with one engine, in tight spaces which is light years away from the jerky, clunky business of using two engines, forwards, backwards and in opposition only to end up hitting boats on either side. It can easily turn in its own length.

It still looks like a Fairey, though cleaner and better finished with its teak-laid decks, and it sounds like a Fairey, so it must be a Fairey. After all, the mould from which the hulls are made is the original, now pushing 30 years old, and the shape is unmistakable. Burnard, now a sprightly 82 and still with an office very close to the site where the originals were made after the Fairey Aviation company was swallowed up by Westland, has had a hand in the latest version of what started life as the Spearfish. Does he approve? Yes, and not just because of a potential renewed flow of royalties.

The boats are made of fibreglass instead of the old hot moulding process, in a shed less than 100m away by a man called Hedley Bewes, whose brother Willie is responsible for bringing back to life a marque which ceased production 25 years ago.

But it has also changed in comfort as well as handling feel. Gone is the old spartan interior, which had all the elegance of a bakelite bedroom suite, to be replaced by smallish teak cupboards - do not expect to hang up a ballgown - a loo with a hot water shower, and, in addition to the vee bow section which converts from an occasional dining area into a double berth, there is another double berth tucked under the deck as space was freed up by changing from two engines to one. Expect no privacy. This is intimacy with a capital I. Which means this is not a luxury cruiser. It is, at best, an overnighter to be used by people who will probably have all their main meals ashore and, if the weather is right, then invite a few people back for nightcaps - just to balance out the aperitif session - in what has become a very spacious cockpit area. Anyway, headroom in the cabin is only about 5ft 8in so a double headache constantly threatens.

What the new engineering does offer is the ability to work in very shallow water, about 18 inches, without the fear of damaging the props, nor do they hook themselves up to lobster pots. At pounds 120,000, plus VAT, plus about pounds 5,000 of extra goodies it is not outrageously expensive and the target is to build about 10 a year. Unlike its 37-foot and 40-foot big brothers, for which there is a waiting list of about a year, you could be making 30-knots plus towards a very good dinner in a 21st century Swordsman next Spring.

But I would prefer an invite to the Channel Islands, rather than Torquay.

Contact: Transworld Yachts +44 2380 457704.