Late afternoon was a fitting time of day to take the Elan E3 out for a sail.
The owner, Jefferson Smith, joined us for his first sail and in a blustery, winter’s day we skimmed eastward along Sydney Harbour; leaving the sun setting behind the bridge just to prove that this owner will not go quietly towards the light but will continue to race hard in his later years.
In 15 to 20 knots the E3 (formerly known as the Elan 320) was getting into its straps. Looking at the velocity prediction polar plot (VPP) it clearly shows that once the wind gets into the higher breeze range this boat loves to crack sheets.
It is no slouch in the lighter winds mind you, as it attains theoretical hull speed of 7.17 knots in just seven knots of true wind, 90 degrees off the bow.
Launch the asymmetric from its extendable prodder however, and you have one fast, responsive craft. At 140º apparent in 18 knots of true wind we hit 10.6 knots and easily sat above nine for the entire ride.
It was a grinning Smith at the end of the ride that knew he had made a good decision. Smith had enjoyed a review of a boat not available in Australia, the Pogo 30. He took the opportunity to view one when travelling in France.
While he liked what he saw, there were several barriers to making the final purchase, “then I saw the E3 at SIBS (Sydney International Boat Show) and thought it has everything I need at a better price.”
The clincher for the deal was that it was already in Australia and it has the support structure from agency brokers US yachts.
Smith’s current yacht is a Cavalier 28 and, while he intends to keep it for the close fleet racing he enjoys, he is buying the E3 for its line honours speed.
On the day of our test sail he discovered another added bonus, “the boom stops well short of the helm station, so the rain doesn’t run down the boom and wet me!”
But this is certainly a yacht that suits this growing market, older sailors looking for a boat that will go fast yet is easy enough to handle for the similarly-aged crew. Being comfortable down below adds to its desirability.
There are several reasons why the E3 suits Smith and others like him. Twin rudders connected to twin wheels delivers a tight helm control on the boat: twin rudders are well outside the flow off the keel and the wheels allow the helmsperson to sit well outside to weather or to leeward depending on preference. If you prefer to stand behind the wheel then adjustable foot chocks keep you level.
Two concerns I had with the helming area was due to the wheel cutting into the cockpit sides. This allows the small wheels to be seated in a good position for sitting outboard when steering, but the cutaway may be a finger trap during an out-of-control situation.
Due to the wheels being this far outboard I found standing behind the wheel a bit cramped as you are forced against the cockpit wall. Sitting down and steering with one hand is by far the best and easiest option.
Having loaded the boat up to see how she reacts to gusts I have to note that it is extremely easy to retain control in a roundup and the fear of jamming the hand in the cutaways did not eventuate.
If sailing short-handed, full mainsail controls are just forward of the wheels with end-boom sheeting, giving the helmsperson quick access to control any weather helm issues. The mainsheet comes with a fine tune two-speed control.
Deck hardware consists of Harken winches that are well-sized for the loads expected. Again this appears to be a nod to the target market in making the boat easy to handle.
The genoa winches are well outboard of nicely rounded coamings that again make it easy to sit outboard and still wind on or be in the cockpit and easily kneel over the winch to grind.
All other lines run as per normal from the mast base, alongside the companionway to halyard winches with Spinlock jammers.
The barber hauler system is well inboard, allowing the trim of the jib inboard to be done via the halyard winches, this can provide a very tight angle on the jib trim.
The cockpit enhances sitting outboard with grooves running along the edge of the bench seating which acts as a foot support when facing inboard. Three could easily sit on each bench and there is a slot provided for a drop-in cockpit table if desired.
Up forward, the for’ard hatch is large for easy access launching and retrieving the spinnaker. The jib roller furling unit is below deck making it easy to access the retractable prodder. The pulpit is open around the bow.
So the deck layout is designed for easy sailing, how does the hull shape equate with this philosophy?
Looking at the side view of the Rob Humphreys Yacht Design and it appears quite deep in the canoe body, especially when compared to Smith’s other choice the Pogo. Humphreys have a tendency toward rounded hull shapes and this looks familiar to others from its drawing board.
Maximum beam is well aft of the rig and the sharp freeboard chine starts at that point also. The beam carries well aft with only a small reduction at the transom. To my (untrained) eye I thought the bow sections were quite rounded as well, not a fine pointed bow as one would expect.
The T-shaped keel sits just aft of the mast step on this 7/8ths rig. Twin rudders are not required to be as deep as a single rudder and they reach just below the saildrive propellor.
The twin spreader rig has swept back spreaders of 300 and the split backstay has a control alongside the mainsheet controls, forward of the wheels.
On the specifications of the E3 the displacement to length ratio places this yacht just out of the cruiser/racer range with its sail area to displacement putting it well into racing range.
On our sail review day we had cold gusty southerlies (with rain squalls) making consistent reading of handling difficult but providing opportunity to test the hull’s response to changing conditions. With US Yachts director Matt Hayes unable to cease providing helming tips we easily exceeded the VPPs on each point of sail: 30º, 60º and 90º.
Pushing the boat to round up shows just how easy to drive this yacht is. The boat does lose control but the leeward rudder manages to retain grip, so the boat just quietly pokes its head to wind, riding on the chine and then leisurely resumes its previous course. It was quite an unnatural feeling as there was no shaking, no steep heeling, no panic. It was the same when flying the chute.
‘Quiet’ is good word to describe sailing the E3. The boat sashays through the water with very little hull noise. Down below it is even better.
I have had the opportunity to test review the Elan 394 and came away impressed by the build from these Slovenian builders. Ed Penn from US Yachts tells me Elan is a manufacturer of all manner of goods so it not only has a long history but also experience across a range of engineering disciplines.
Vacuum-infused hull and deck construction ensures not only the best strength to weight ratio but also a minimum of wastage. The interior design is strong and bonded well to the hull and deck. Elan have a tendency to extend its fiddlework so the inboard edges become full grip handholds.
Layout is simple and works well with a port aft double berth and another in the forepeak. To starboard of the cockpit is the head and shower with a neat, large, open bin glassed in behind the head. This comes with a handrail under the cockpit floor to hang wet weather gear and store fenders, ropes etc. A neat trick.
The galley is for’ard of the aft cabin and is a safe and simple L-shape. To starboard, for’ard of the head is the navigator’s table which is one of the biggest I have seen in any larger yacht recently.
The two saloon berths either side of the table would each seat four comfortably. The bulkhead walls and door to the for’ard cabin are thick and sturdy; as are the floorboards which have the cut edges covered to stop squeaking.
Under the floorboards the seven keel bolts are washered with steel U-shape ring frames. It would appear the minimalist build process manages to keep the weight down on this boat without having to compromise on strength.
Standard engine is a Volvo 13 kilowatt three cylinder engine with a 50 litre tank. This should give you around 17 hours of motoring at cruising speed of 6.5 knots at 2000rpm. When the engine is running the surrounding noise insulation keeps it down to a dull hum down below.
The Elan E3 has a Class A CE certification for unlimited ocean voyages, which you probably would not want to do but it is nice to know!
Base boat price is under the $200,000 mark but this owner got quite a few of the extras added on to bump his dream boat up to a respectable $237,100.
A fair bit of interest was generated at SIBS this year so Jefferson and his crew may well have some good fleet competition on their hands.
Designer: Humphreys Yacht Design and Elan design team
Overall Length: 9.55m
Waterline Length: 8.71m
Maximum Beam: 3.22m
Light Displacement: 3.750kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 50L
Water Tank Capacity: 150L
Base Price: $189,000
This article was first published in the October-November issue of Australian Sailing + Yachting.