The new Elan Impression 43 has some big boots to fill. Theo Stocker sailed the new model in Slovenia to see if she has what it takes
Designing a boat that will have a production run of 20 years is rare these days. Other than a few contemporary classics, genuine production boats tend to have a shelf life of 10 years or less. Not so for the Rob Humphreys- designed Elan Impression 434, which enjoyed a hugely successful life of just over 19 years, in various guises, all with the same hull. To have drawn lines that lasted that long is quite an endorsement. In all, over 600 of the 434, 45 and 45.1 variants were built.
When Elan decided to update the model, it’s no surprise they went back to Humprheys Yacht Design for their new boat, the Elan Impression 43. Indeed, all seven current Elan models are from the Humphreys drawing board.
The brief was simple. Do it the same, but better. Elan were after a boat that was an evolution of the old model, but that offered more of the appealing attributes of the old ‘Impression’ model.
The job was simplified by the clarity Elan has over what each of its ranges is about. The E-line, including the E4, E5 and E6 (sadly the very fun 30ft E3 was no longer economical to build) are properly quick performance cruisers; the GT range are long-distance blue-water cruisers. The Impression line (43 and 51.4), in contrast, aims to produce pure family cruisers that are easily driven, enjoyable but simple to sail, comfortable to cruise, and of a quality that puts them a rung above other production boats.
At the heart of the changes for the Elan Impression 43 model was the move from single to twin rudders – a trend that has become almost ubiquitous. On a high-volume cruising boat, a single rudder becomes less effective as it heels. The waterline shape also becomes more asymmetrical. One solution is to increase volume and beam at the bow to balance things out – as more boats are doing these days, but this can detract from windward performance and sea-keeping.
The other solution is a second rudder, so that the leeward one digs in as the boat heels, increasing its power. Either way, the additional volume is clearly welcome for living aboard and the additional beam creates more form stability so requiring less ballast. The only downside is increased wetted surface area that can hamper light airs performance.
With that in mind I went to visit Elan in their native Slovenia, sandwiched between Italy and Croatia at the top of the Adriatic, with a mere 47km of coastline. In the early-summer Mediterranean warmth, with snow-specked mountains in the distance, Portoroz made a welcome change to Southampton Water.
It’s also perhaps the setting in which the Impression really comes into its own, both with the large cockpit and the larger rig to cope with the generally lighter winds in this part of the world.
Finding the breeze
That’s just as well, as we woke to mirror-flat conditions, so we retired for breakfast ashore and to await a sea breeze. It didn’t take long and we were soon setting the black, reinforced-Dacron sails from One Sails in 8 to 10 knots of true breeze.
Heading upwind on the Elan Impression 43, the boat heeled slightly and was soon nudging upwards of 6 knots, pointing between 35-40º to the apparent wind. It wasn’t enough to light the boat up, but it was clear that the boat is easily driven enough to sail well in light airs.
As we beat out of the bay, the fledgling breeze began to fail us. As true wind speed dropped to around 6 knots, we slowed to 4 knots and had to ease to around 40º to the apparent wind. The boat didn’t stop or stall, though, and with a bit of judicious trimming, she kept moving.
The Elan Impression 43 isn’t a demanding boat to sail, and the setup is intentionally simple. There’s a 9/10ths fractional rig, with a deck-stepped spar from Selden, controlled with a bifurcated backstay, which in turn is controlled with a mechanical tensioner. In the conditions and with no need to de-power, we didn’t touch it.
The mainsheet blocks form a bridle atop the coachroof, with the mainsheet attachment midway along the boom. There’s no traveller, so leech tension is controlled with the kicker. This makes the boat slightly less close-winded, as you can’t have mainsail twist as well as a centred boom. It’s a minor compromise most cruisers will be happy to live with.
Similarly, with the optional genoa that the test Elan Impression 43 was fitted with – a smaller self-tacker comes as standard – the sheet cars are pin stopped, rather than being towable, but it’s another bit of string you don’t need to worry about.
The jib sheets are led back through fairleads tucked in beside the coachroof to Harken 50ST primary winches just forward of the wheels, while the mainsheet is taken to the powered coachroof winch. Tacking with the genoa then can be handled entirely from the helm. All other controls are led aft from the mast through ducts to the coachroof clutches.
One advantage of the increased beam is that the L-shaped seats mean that non-sailing crew can tuck themselves out of the way. While this cockpit arrangement is becoming more common, the high cockpit coamings set the Elan Impression 43 apart.
Even without the sprayhood set, it feels incredibly secure and protected – ideal if you have children or non-sailors aboard. Bracing for crew is provided by tables either side of a central walkthrough.
Drop leaves allow these to be used separately, or to join them up into one big table. Sun-worshippers will also be delighted that the tables can slide down to form larger lounging areas.
Deck access on the Elan Impression 43 is good via the walkthrough ahead of the wheels, which are set on stylish pedestals, sweeping up from the side deck. Jefa steering connects each wheel to its respective rudder.
As with all Elans, the steering remains separate, save for a solid tie bar between the quadrants, which, they claim, obviates the need for emergency steering, as the rudders can be disconnected and used independently if one is out of action.
The conditions weren’t enough to feel the Elan Impression 43 fully powered up, but in 11 knots true, the helm felt light, balanced and precise with no play between the wheels.
My only criticism was that there was a lack of feedback to the wheels – possibly a symptom of the conditions, or rudders that are so well balanced that they deaden the feel somewhat, as I found on the Elan E4. Keeping the Elan Impression 43 in the groove, at least in these conditions, needed a bit of concentration on the telltales and instruments.
After a quick lunch, the wind built back up to 8-10 knots. Upwind, the additional breeze showed that we could get slightly higher on the wind, sitting between 35° and 38° to the wind, and tacking through 90°-100° on the compass.
At the transom, the helm is enclosed by two boxes that form helm seats and stowage. On our test version of the Elan Impression 43, these had been fitted with a fridge and a gas grill, the latter of which is used from the electrically lowered bathing platform.
Liferaft stowage is provided between these boxes, also housing the bathing ladder. One nice little detail was that a line for the emergency ladder is led down to the waterline via a duct, making it neat as well as easy to operate should you fall in at your mooring. Access to the steering quadrants and tie bars is through the bulkhead aft of the aft cabins.
As the wind started to fade away, we set the furling asymmetric off the bowsprit for a gorgeously gentle reach back into the bay past the old town of Piran, slipping along at 6-6.5 knots with barely a ripple, and with that we were back in harbour and ready to slake our thirst.
We had taken the bimini down for the test sail, and resetting it provided some very welcome shade as we made the most of the extensive cockpit to put our feet up and chew the cud over a cold beer.
Overnight on the Elan Impression 43
I was lucky enough to stay aboard for two nights, making this a 36-hour test, rather more than the usual handful of hours I get aboard. After all, owners of a cruising boat are going to spend more time aboard in harbour or at anchor than under way.
The accommodation has to function when the boat’s heeling over and pitching through waves, but that’s not how it will be experienced for the majority of the time.
Elan have sought to completely rethink the accommodation on this boat, and engaged design house Pininfarina for the purpose. The result is striking, though potentially polarising.
Stylistically, the first thing you notice on the Elan Impression 43 is the amount of wood, and not just any wood. Traditional straight-grained timber such as teak and mahogany as well as modern ALPI timbers were eschewed in favour of rustic knotted oak. The swirls and knots of the grain are visually interesting, and the colour is light and attractive.
Given the veneers serve no structural purpose these days, it’s a departure I like, and having stayed on board for a couple of days, I grew to like it more. It felt warm and homely where boats sometimes feel sterile. To keep the looks up to date, however, Pininfarina juxtaposed it with straight lines and matt grey fabrics and finishes, most notably on the overhead lockers. I think it worked, but as with all things aesthetic, others may disagree.
At the bottom of the companionway you are met by a vast saloon, with a smidge over 2m (6ft 7in) headroom, thanks to the relatively high coachroof, a very generous single-piece table with C-shaped seating, and two folding chairs to accommodate up to 10 people – just as well as the four-cabin charter version of this boat can sleep that many.
There’s a longitudinal galley opposite the table, with a three-burner stove, double sink, aft-facing, front-opening fridge, and a small top-opening one outboard of it, which could also act as a freezer.
Stowage on the Elan Impression 43 is pretty good with a row of overhead lockers to augment those below the worksurface. There aren’t any lockers behind the worksurface, though, and as there’s no island for the galley, this makes it a little less practical than some boats of this size.
Still, the aim has been to maximise the feeling of space using the boat’s prodigious volume. The downside of this is that there is no bracing, were you to use the galley on port tack. In reality, any serious catering on this boat will be done in harbour.
There are stainless steel grab bars along the deckhead, though not full-length, and anyone of diminutive stature might struggle to reach them. I’d be tempted to specify extra grabholds on some of the bulkheads. Ventilation is good throughout, with plenty of opening hatches, and there is decent light from these and the hull windows.
There are a few Elan Impression 43 layout options. The test boat was the three-cabin version, with two doubles aft and an owner’s cabin with en suite forwards. The version I saw back in January also had the fourth cabin – a pullman with two bunk beds tucked to starboard ahead of the saloon – an arrangement that worked surprisingly well.
The test boat also had a chart table aft of the saloon, facing outboard and with a hinge-out stool to sit on. It included decent stowage for charts, and lockers above and below. Simarine digital switching allows for remote control of all the systems on board (including battery isolators), either via the plotter or from your phone, while having physical switches as backup on the back of the panel.
There is an option for a stowage unit in place of the chart table, ideal if you have crew sleeping in the saloon. Facing this to port is the main heads, aft of the galley, complete with separate shower stall, which could double as a wet locker for drip-drying wet gear.
The aft cabins are mirror images of each other, with modest upright lockers with shelves and hanging space, a wide shelf along the hull above the bunk, and bin stowage below the locker and drawers beneath the bed, which is 140cm wide and just over 200cm long.
Between these is the engine compartment, which is well insulated, and was fitted with the top option of an 80hp Yanmar engine (45hp is standard) with saildrive and a 3-bladed Flexofold propeller. This arrangement pushed along at a rapid 8.3 knots at a mere 2,200rpm – the 57hp option would probably be plenty. As it’s a twin-rudder boat, the optional bowthruster is essential for marina manoeuvring.
Finally, the forward cabin on the three-cabin version we tested was well fitted out and extremely comfortable. The only niggle I had was that a ledge got in the way when sitting up in bed leaning against the headboard, but Elan assured me this has already been noted and will be rectified.
The bed (205cm by 140cm) is fairly high in order to accommodate a 270L water tank below (an extra 200L can be added in the saloon), so a couple of steps make access easier, and also double as lockers.
There is space around the tank for infrequently used kit, but bins under the foot end of the mattress and two drawers are a good use of space – the upper of the two houses the saloon folding chairs. There’s a single large locker to port, and a generous heads to starboard, again with a separate shower area.
Elan is proud of its construction method, using vacuum infusion with vinylester resin on the outer skin, a foam core and polyester resin on the inner skin, with solid laminate around the keel stub and rudder posts. Longitudinal hull stringers are vacuum laminated into the hull sides as part of this process, while the keel matrix is bonded in, with additional lamination around the keel area.
It’s a tried-and-tested method that produces stiff and light hulls. The keel of this boat is a relatively long cord L-shape in cast iron, bolted to the moulded keel stub, with a draught of 1.9m as standard or a slightly heavier 1.7m shoal draught option.
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Elan has achieved what it set out to. There is no doubt that this boat will be a comfortable cruiser for family holidays, with the ability to host guests with no sense of being crammed in. The Impression 43 is enjoyable to sail without being demanding; she is easily driven and promises a reasonable turn of speed, though she’s not the most close-winded sailing machine. I’d have liked a little more feel through the wheel, but otherwise her handling was vice-free. The cockpit and deck worked well for a crew of two and felt extremely safe and well-protected at sea, with the option for extra crew to get involved with, or avoid, the sailing activity. Controls are simple but effective and the rig seemed well-balanced in the conditions, though not over-canvassed. Below decks, she is spacious and genuinely stylish. The layout works well, though I’d want some more hand holds. It’s a shame we didn’t have chunkier conditions in which to test both the layout and the performance.