Our resident used boat expert Peter Poland explains how to pick out a good Fairey Swordsman 30 on the secondhand market…
Willie Bewes, retired director of Transworld Yachts, had a successful career selling large numbers of Swedish Hallberg-Rassy cruising yachts to the British market. But despite this commercial success his boating passion, I suspect, lives elsewhere.
“Many years ago,” he told me, “I bought an old Fairey Marine Huntress powerboat and restored it at home. A bit later, I bought a Christina 25 – winner of the first Cowes to Torquay Power Boat Race – and then I rebuilt a Fairey Swordsman 42 (one of four built).”
These are all classic offshore powerboats that hailed from a golden age back in the last century. No sign of any sailing boats here!
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The early range of hot-moulded wooden Fairey powerboats started with a Raymond Hunt-designed 23ft launch.
However, Fairey later decided that the Hunt design could be improved and called in Alan Burnard, who designed a new 23ft boat with a cabin.
Named the Huntress 23, this became the first of a new range of Burnard-designed hot-moulded wooden Faireys, soon to be followed by the Huntsman 28.
The Huntsman 31, Swordsman 33 and rarer Super Swordsman came later, followed by the GRP Faireys: the Spearfish 30 and its military derivation the Spear.
The last GRP Fairey was the aft cabin Fantôme 32. In all, around 450 hot-moulded wooden Faireys were built, followed by around 150 GRP boats.
Stars of a Bond movie
These Faireys sold well in the UK and abroad. Their initial appeal was boosted by the appearance of Huntress 23 and Huntsman 28 models in the James Bond film From Russia with Love. 007’s boat was a Huntress 23.
In the film the boats were piloted by Peter Twiss – holder of the 1956 world air speed record of 1,132mph in a Fairey Delta 2 – and Fairey Marine’s sales director Charles Currey.
At that time, Bruce Campbell also bought a few Fairey-built hulls that he completed and marketed as Christinas. Dell Quay Marine, meanwhile, bought over 80 hulls that they completed and sold as Dell Quay Ranger 25s and 27s. All these boats are welcomed by The Fairey Owners Club.
Willie Bewes always admired the sleek lines, seagoing performance and overall charm of the Alan Burnard-designed Fairey powerboats.
So when he discovered the neglected moulds of the Fairey Dagger (a GRP military version of 36-40ft models) lying abandoned in Scotland he, fellow director Jeremy Mason and business partners/directors Richard and Anne Gough, bought and refurbished them. From these moulds, they launched the new Swordsman 37 and later Swordsman 40 models.
Over 20 were sold to owners wanting something a cut above a run of the mill mass-produced power cruiser. To call these boats ‘retro’ would be missing the point. They ooze classic style, seaworthiness and performance.
Bewes soon realised there was also a market for something a bit smaller than these twin-engined 37ft and 40ft beauties. So when he located the moulds for the original Fairey Spearfish Mk lll, he and his partners leapt at the chance to use them.
The Spearfish had only ever been built in GRP and is much sought after on the second-hand market – but there are not a lot available because many had been sold to the Maldive Islands where they operated as high-speed inter-island taxi boats.
Fairey Swordsman 30: A class act
At first sight the Spearfish-based Fairey Swordsman 30 can’t fail to impress – even when stationary in a marina. If anything, it’s even more elegant than its Spearfish predecessor. This is no modern ‘plastic fantastic’ – it’s a class act that stands out among the crowd.
A subtle hint of reverse sheer is set off by the traditional solid teak rubbing-band that encircles the boat. The sleek cabin top is perfectly proportioned to the hull and merges into the cockpit coamings that swoop down to the stern.
When we arrived, the cockpit sprayhood and canopy were erected, but Bewes soon had them stowed away.
The cockpit, as befits a sports cruiser, is enormous. Finely executed teak decking covers the sole, seats, aft and side deck areas and large cockpit lockers lurk under the side and aft seats.
Access to the propulsion unit (a HJ274 Hamilton waterjet) is via a hatch in the cockpit sole and the voluminous engine space is reached via a larger hatch just forward of this.
This particular boat was powered by a single 370hp 6-cylinder Cummins 5.9 BTM3 and boasted twin fuel tanks (240lt each) with duplicated fuel systems.
This is a great feature, because if one tank or set of pipes suffers a fuel blockage, there’s a second system to fall back on – which is not always the case even on twin-engine boats.
The helmsman and co-pilot each have plush and comfortably upholstered adjustable bucket seats – one on each side of the companionway leading down into the saloon – and the dashboard has space for as many instruments as you’re likely to need.
As soon as we cast off and headed into the river Hamble the many advantages of a Hamilton jet became apparent. The tide was low and a mud bank bordered the exit from the marina.
No problem with a jet unit – even if you hit the mud – because there’s no prop or rudder to get damaged. The waterjet flow is deflected at its exit nozzle and this steers the boat.
Then we came upon a row of floating mooring lines running along the trots. No problem for a jet boat because there are no props to tangle up in the ropes. So we drove straight over them.
Once we were clear of the river, Bewes piled on the power and shot straight across the shallows on the edge of the Hamble Spit.
“The only danger”, he said “is that other boat owners might see us do this without realising we’re a jet boat. If they try to follow us, they can break their rudders or graunch their props. Or both.”
Shallow water specialist
All this brought back memories of the Jetcruiser 23 (designed by Hamilton) that we built at Hunter Boats in the 1970s. We even sold a couple to Colonel Blashford-Snell for his 1974-5 expedition down the river Zaire.
Thanks to the Hamilton waterjet, the Jetcruisers handled the Zaire’s rapids with ease while escorting the rubber dinghies used on the trip.
When I finally succeeded in getting the steering wheel out of Bewes’s hands, I realised just how special this Fairey Swordsman 30 is.
With its deep V hull (24° deadrise at the transom) and solid, substantial construction, this is a craft that can cope with almost anything.
In the days of the Cowes-Torquay offshore powerboat race, Faireys of varying sizes were always among the prizes – especially in rough water.
In the challenging conditions of the 2008 Round Britain Powerboat race, an original GRP Spearfish (built in 1978) came a creditable 29th out of a total entry of 45 boats and 2nd overall in the Historic Class.
A Fairey Huntsman and Swordsman took 3rd and 4th positions respectively in the same class, proving that their powerful offshore performance in heavy weather is timeless.
On the overcast day of our test there was rain, a brisk breeze and a chop. At 2,000rpm, the Swordsman cruised at around 10 knots.
Then she surged onto the plane at 2,500rpm taking her through 18 knots before full throttle produced 32 knots (all on the boat’s instruments).
Driving the Fairey Swordsman 30: Poetry in motion
But the speed is almost irrelevant compared to the sensation of actually driving this boat. Which is pure joy. Even when charging into the wake of a ferry, the Fairey Swordsman 30 carried on unperturbed.
No slamming or banging. Just poetry in motion. The steering is precise and controls straightforward.
There is no ‘ahead-astern-neutral’ gearbox on the Hamilton jet unit. You just adjust (with a lever) the position of the deflector that sits over the jet outlet. ‘Deflector up’ is full ahead. ‘Deflector half down’ directs the jet vertically downwards.
So this is effectively neutral but with sideways steering – especially if combined with a bow thruster. And ‘deflector right down’ redirects the water jet forward as reverse thrust. This is ‘astern’. It’s as simple as that.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can spin this boat on its axis, execute crash stops, or hold it stationary against a tidal flow. In fact you can put it just about anywhere.
But you need to get used to driving the boat astern. You have to turn the wheel the opposite way to normal. It’s a bit like backing a trailer.
Having said all this, most traditional Faireys had conventional shaft drives and single or twin diesels. But it’s interesting to note that such upmarket brands as Hinkley and Oyster fitted jet drives to their famous Picnic Boat and LD43 models. Hamilton claims to have supplied more than 600,000 waterjets over 70+ years.
Down below the Fairey Swordsman 30 has a surprising amount of space. Its interior feels more like that of a yacht than a powerboat. Matt finished teak abounds and there’s a light and airy ambience, thanks to the long, elegantly shaped saloon windows.
The saloon sole is teak with holly stripes. The saloon table – that also drops to create a double berth – has robust rebated yacht-style stainless steel hinges for the leaves to enlarge it to full ‘dining size’.
The settees are upholstered in a discreet blue material and above there’s a row of overhead lockers providing useful extra stowage space.
The galley, which is amidships to port, comes with a two burner hob, sink, and hot and cold water. And there is stowage space in lockers, cupboards and a drawer.
The 47lt fridge is on the starboard side with a chart table and switch panel above. Aft of this there’s a spacious heads compartment, complete with marine toilet, wash basin and shower.
The second sleeping area is aft, under the forward end of the cockpit. This comprises an athwartships berth. Sitting-up headroom at the head of the berth is adequate and this sleeping area is more airy than some I have seen on similar sized motorboats.
All in all, the Swordsman’s accommodation works well within the parameters of a rakish 30ft sports cruiser and the traditional teak joinery complements the boat’s overall quality.
How much does a Fairey Swordsman 30 cost?
What will a boat of the Swordsman 30’s quality and pedigree set you back? If you’re comparing prices with more modern sports cruisers of similar size, you’re not really comparing like with like. I spotted a 2005 Fairey Swordsman 30 advertised at £125,000 and another at £110,000.
I spoke to owner Robert Conley who bought Revelation – Fairey Swordsman 30 No2 (2005) – seven years ago and he said the original Iveco 450 runs beautifully and that Martin Moody still had the original deck patterns so he was able to renew the teak decking.
Robert added that he replaces the anodes (attached to jet unit and trim tabs) every year to protect the unit and said about the only problem was the occasional raft of floating weed on the Medina or Hamble rivers that could block the water intake at low speed.
Anyone interested in buying an old Fairey can contact Gordon Currey at fairey-boat-sales.com. If you fancy a wooden hot-moulded example, Huntress 23s seem to go on the market from around £25,000 and Huntsman 28s from around £35,000 subject to engine and overall condition. Good examples can sell for considerably more; while poor examples can cost less but prove expensive to restore.
As with any classic boat, it pays to ask an expert to check it over. The GRP Fairey Spearfish seems to be advertised at between £45,000 and £69,000. But do your homework and check the condition and prices carefully.
There is an active Fairey Owners Club that arranges many annual events – both afloat and ashore.
The principal aim of the Club is to preserve the marque. Membership is not restricted to Fairey owners; anyone who enjoys what Fairey Marine stood for – with particular emphasis on the powerboats – is welcomed.
Fairey Swordsman 30 specification
LOA: 9.14m 30ft 0in
Beam: 3.12m 10ft 3in
Draught: 0.50m 1ft 8in
Displacement: 3,600kg / 7,937lb
Fuel capacity (2 tanks): 480lt / 105gal
Water capacity: 160lt / 35gal
Engine: Cummins 370hp 5.9 BTM3
Propulsion: Hamilton HJ274 waterjet
Builder: Swordsman Marine, Hamble Point Marina, Southampton
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This feature appeared in the February 2022 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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