Friday, June 21, 2013

Elan 400 Review

Here is an interesting new yacht from a British designer, Rob Humphreys, and Slovenia based Elan Yachts. The Elan 400 is their latest collaboration and it is indeed a unique boat. It is a racer/cruiser with twin rudders, hard chines and a very distinctive look. It's a look that I find visually quite attractive.
Elan 400: Slovenian Speedster

Let's start by studying the hull. In the plan view, notice that it's rather full in the bow at the deck level, fairing into a  moderate beam of 12.69 feet. It carries that beam all the way aft where we find hard chines and a near vertical transom. At 16,500 pounds displacement the Elan 400 has a displacement/length ratio of 141. This is not much lighter than my unabashedly cruisey Beneteau 423, which has a D/L ratio 154. But coupled with a sail area/displacement ratio of 21.1, the Elan will be much quicker in all conditions than my slightly underpowered Beneteau, which has a SA/D of only about 16.0.  With these data points, it's clear that the Elan is a pretty sporty ride, but what about those chines and the twin rudders? Do they offer any meaningful advantages or are they there merely for style? Starting with the chines, I would say that they do little, if anything, for performance.  Don't get me wrong, chines have been shown to enhance performance on sailboats. But in my opinion they only make a difference when a boat is in planing mode, which won't be very often for the Elan. I should point out that the Humphreys firm has designed at least one VO70 with chines, and I am certain they make a critical performance difference on such a light and powerful boat. But the 400 is a family style racer/cruiser and I think the chines are there more for style than planing performance. There is nothing wrong with this, they add visual interest and certainly don't take away any performance potential.

Humphreys VO70 at speed. Notice the chine at work, and the weather rudder almost completely out of the water.

What about the twin rudders? Once again, on a VO70 they make a lot of sense. But does that translate to a racer/cruiser like the Elan 400? It would be very interesting to compare a single ruddered 400 with a twin ruddered version. I have no data to support my opinion, but my gut feeling is that in most conditions that average people sail in, the single ruddered boat would perform as well or better than her twin ruddered sister. Here in southern California, we have lots of kelp and I can foresee plenty of fiddling around with a kelp stick and a fair amount of strong language as a racing crew struggles with kelp on our local offshore races. When I think of the added weight, drag and cost of a twin wheel-twin rudder arrangement, I would demand a meaningful improvement in performance from the two rudders and I just don't think it's there in typical conditions on a boat of this type. With all that said, I'd love to go for a ride on one of these boats.

With its powerful hull,  bow pole, non-overlapping jib and svelte cabin trunk, the Elan 400 is a sporty looking ride.

Moving on to the deck, I'm impressed with the innovative features incorporated into it. The transom is wide open, with a seat panel spanning it. This panel is removable and doubles as a gangplank, complete with wheels on the shoreside end,  for when you're Med moored in Monte Carlo. The transom also has a drop-down panel making it into a water-level swim step with boarding ladder and transom shower.

The cockpit is beautifully laid out for racing.

The cockpit itself is very well laid out for a racing crew, with plenty of room to move and ergonomically sensible access to winches, etc. The twin wheels are mounted on fairly lethal looking pedestals and give the helmsman a great view. The general arrangement is typical of the modern racer/cruiser, with short seats forward and wide open space aft. The traveler is mounted on the cockpit sole, which I think is the best place for it and the halyard winches are on the cabin top where they should be. The designers have incorporated a number of tricky features into this area. There is a cleverly designed dining table that retracts into the cockpit sole, retractable footrests for the helmsman, and a recess near the transom for the life raft. Add covered bins for sheets and a retractable companionway hatch board and you've got a pretty busy cockpit. Yet it looks clean and elegant!
Beautifully detailed deck

The rest of the deck is fairly conventional with a low and aesthetically pleasing cabin trunk, jib tracks mounted close inboard and an anchor windlass and locker forward. The boat is equipped with inhauls for the jib, which is an indicator of how serious Elan is about racing performance. Your average cruising sailor wouldn't know what to do with them.

Elan offers the 400 with either two or three cabins. I chose the two cabin version mainly because I prefer to have a dedicated nav station instead of a fold-away chart desk. I think those things look great at boat shows but are not particularly useful. Of course if you're sailing is limited to local waters you have little need for a dedicated chart table and the space would be better used for other purposes.

Sensible layout for casual racing and weekends at the island.

The accommodations plan incorporates a good sized forward cabin with a V-berth, seats and storage lockers. Elan thoughtfully refrained from pushing the berth too far forward so the foot of the bunk is reasonably wide. As in the rest of the boat, there is a plethora of locker doors that conceal lots of fairly small shelves. In spite of all those doors, it looks like usable storage space is somewhat limited. This is because the builder has pushed the lockers well outboard, making them quite shallow, The trade-off is the visual sensation of bright, wide open space below.  I think this is perfectly acceptable given that the Elan 400 is not intended for living aboard or long offshore passagemaking.
In the three cabin version, the chart table folds away to make a full length settee on the port side of the salon.

Given the intended purpose of the boat, the galley is adequate, although you may wish for a bit more storage space here. The aft stateroom is quite large and comfortable looking. The hard chines may contribute to the extra space here, or it could just be that the transom on the 400 is in the neighborhood of eleven feet wide.

The 400 looks fast.

Overall, there is much to like about the Elan 400. The tall rig with non overlapping headsails provides lots of horsepower. The twin rudders should provide precise steering and the deep keel will keep the boat on its feet. As I mentioned before, to my eye this is a pretty boat that has excellent performance potential. While the squared off trapezoid shape deadlights in the hull could have been more artfully designed I expect the Elan 400 to turn heads wherever she goes. I took all the photos shown here from Elan's excellent web site and I invite you to visit to learn more about this interesting boat.

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