Don Macpherson is the Santa Monica-based owner of Swan 90 S sailing yacht Freya. Completed as the 2,000th Swan vessel in 2012, superyacht Freya boasts an elegant blue-grey hue, a sleek and modern design, as well as top of the range technology on board.
Don Macpherson developed a passion for sailing in his twenties while cruising with his father, a navigator in the US Navy, on the family Swan 57. “My father really wanted me to experience the challenge and adventure of proper navigation, and we went all over the place with that boat. We did many trips along the East coast of the United States, through the Caribbean, down through the Panama Canal and up to LA, from LA to Vancouver, and from LA down to Mexico multiple times,” recounts Don. “My experience was all about cruising, and I hadn’t really done any racing. We sailed in many different weather conditions, and we always felt extremely safe on our Swan, it is such a fast and well-built luxury cruising yacht. Since my mid-thirties, owning a Swan has always been my ultimate dream. I wanted to re-live the experiences that I had with my father – spending quality time as a family on a beautiful boat,” added Don.
“When I had kids, I took a break from sailing, but when they got a little older and they were ready to enjoy sailing I started playing again with the idea of buying a yacht. Swan was of course the brand of choice.” Then in 1998 Leonardo Ferragamo and a group of investors purchased Nautor’s Swan, and Macpherson wanted to take some time to observe closely and watch the outcome of this marriage between Finnish and Italian cultures: “There is quite a big social difference between the Finns and the Italians – Finns are traditionally considered very focused, with a keen eye on engineering, while Italians have a lot of style and flair,” commented Don. It was a great success. “I think it’s been a really fantastic match. In the first place because Mr Ferragamo is an avid sailor, with a passion that stems from his core, and he brings a lot of style and fashion to these boats.” No wonder Don chose the name Freya for its Swan: “These yachts are simply gorgeous, so well designed and expertly built, they are a beauty to sail, strong, fast and reliable.” A match made in heaven – Freya, the goddess of love, once again rules.
Buying a Swan is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You are not buying off a shelf or from a catalogue. “My dream came true a couple of years ago, when we launched Freya. But the story started well before that. From the moment the decision was made, it took almost two years to build the dream. Every three months I travelled to the yard in Finland,” recalls Don. “It was an amazing learning experience, going through many milestones, and I enjoyed it enormously. It was a pretty intense period of time, I got to meet all the designers, the engineers, the team, and had to make a lot of decisions. Then it all comes together and it is almost like magic – the systems, the carpentry, all the details, it was great fun.”
During this two year process, Mr Macpherson also got to know Mr Ferragamo quite well and came to appreciate even more the value of the Nautor’s Swan as a brand: “It is not only about boats. It is about the bigger picture, the long term strategy, the family of owners. Mr Ferragamo is a family man, he loves sailing and he is fully dedicated to the passion of Swan. I think it’s fantastic to have an owner [of the company] who not only loves sailing but also the brand – there is a great future ahead for Swan.”
The allure of the Nautor’s Swan brand lies also in the vibrant community of Swan owners all over the world. A group of people who have a lot in common, who create and foster new friendships at the many ClubSwan regattas, cruising rendez-vous and social events exclusively created for Swan owners. Perhaps this is also what spurred Don to attend the first big regatta of his life, the inaugural edition of the Rolex Swan Cup Caribbean hosted by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Virgin Gorda, BVI, in 2013. “I had never really raced much, especially on big boats, and when we built Freya I hired a crew. My captain suggested I give racing a try, and so I did. I was immediately hooked,” said Don. “When you race, the whole dynamic is different than cruising – more people, a common purpose, camaraderie, competition – there’s always some way to make the boat go faster and to improve yourself.”
After the Rolex Cup Caribbean, Freya competed in more events both in the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean – including the Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta and Rendezvous, the Palma Superyacht Cup and the Maxi Rolex Cup; luxury yacht Freya crossed the Atlantic again to participate in the Antigua Superyacht Challenge and the Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta. “The results of these regattas tell a successful story,” recounts Don, “as Freya steadily moved up in the ranks from back of the fleet to 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st. Then we drifted back to the Mediterranean for the Rolex Swan Cup in Porto Cervo and Les Voles de Saint Tropez.”
“It’s been a lot of fun, sometimes it’s overwhelming, but very gratifying. I love to race with my family on board, my kids and their friends,” commented Macpherson. “I remember thinking that from a distance racing looked like a lot of yelling, but not on this boat. We make very few mistakes and there is no shouting. We are competitive but in a very gentlemanlike fashion.” With more than 25 people on board, it can surely be challenging to keep calm and focused, and it helps to have some seasoned professionals on board. America’s Cup veteran Mike Toppa is one of the friendly, laid-back but veteran professionals, who is often seen sailing with Don.
At last September’s Rolex Swan Cup Freya yacht won the windy, 51-mile coastal race, a feather in the cap for any sailor, let alone a relative newcomer to the racing scene. Safety was a priority: “We had a lot of people on board who had never sailed before, so it was important to bear that in mind,” said Toppa, who agrees with Don that it often pays to be conservative with decisions when racing, and “wait for other people to make mistakes,” commented Toppa.
The fun will continue and the love and passion heralded by luxury yacht Freya carries on: “Over these years I’ve met many great people with whom I have a lot in common. It is fantastic and an honour to be part of the Swan family and share the spirit of Swan.”