Elan’s Impression range of cruisers are the sensible sisters to its ‘E’ line of cruiser/racers. Yet, as Sam Jefferson discovers, its Impression 43 is a boat that seems to have taken tips on style and speed from her more performance oriented sisters
Many things have changed since 2006; some have been positive – some, well, not so much. Back in 2006 Europe and America sweltered in an unprecedented heatwave over the summer months, a UK government crossed its fingers and hoped that it could get in for an unprecedented fourth term, an ex Russian KGB man died after drinking tea laced with Polonuim. These things all sound familiar and credible scenarios. Meanwhile, the BBC aired a documentary entitled The Queen by Rolf in which Rolf Harris painted a portrait of the Queen. This really happened and, definitively, it will never happen again. Times have changed – to some extent.
Yet one thing that didn’t change was Elan’s Impression 434. This practical, spacious cruiser has been dutifully plying the seas in ever increasing numbers ever since 2006. When Lehman brothers chose to implode in 2008, this boat sailed on. When Britain decided to leave the EU in 2016, the yacht cruised onward unperturbed. That is until now. All good things must come to an end and the 434 – renamed the Impression 45.1 has finished its production cycle after 17 years and 600 boats.
So where to go from here for the Slovenian boatbuilders? Well, back to the drawing board of Rob Humphreys, its go to designer. Elan has always been in a slightly unusual position as a boatbuilder. For those who don’t know the back story, the company started out building skis in the Slovenian Alps. From there its expertise in glassfibre led it into the world of sailing yachts. From there the company made a name for itself producing both cruiser/racers and full blown cruising yachts. The company sits in a slightly unusual niche in that it is neither a mass producer a la Beneteau or Bavaria, yet it produces enough boats every year to be well beyond a bespoke boatbuilder of semi custom projects. The company has therefore paid careful attention to its positioning in the market; its boats need to be a bit different and individual without being cripplingly overpriced. In recent years the company made a smart move by both sticking with Rob Humphreys for the design but also working with first Studio F.A Porsche for the styling of the Elan GT6 and then Pininfarina on the Elan E6. This gave both boats a certain ‘X’ factor that definitely helped them stand out from the crowd.
The company has continued this partnership with the new Elan 43, with Humphreys providing the hull lines and Pininfarina offering styling touches both inside and out. In addition, the company has continued its partnership with Gurit, an expert in the field of composites, to optimise both stiffness and weight saving. All this means that, although the Elan 43 Impression is definitely the workhorse of the fleet and perhaps not as glamorous as yachts such as the E6, it benefits from the same resources lavished on bigger, sportier, more luxurious boats in the range. The result is a boat that is striking to look at in the water. It’s a quantum leap forward in terms of styling compared to the old Impression 434 with more aggressive lines, a plumb bow with optional glassfibre sprit reinforced with steel. There is a decent amount of freeboard, masses of beam – 13ft 11in to be precise, as opposed to 13ft 8in for her predecessor. The boat has a soft chine, twin rudders and an L-shaped iron keel with a choice of 1.95m or 1.7m depths. The boat is distinctly different from her predecessor, although she still sports the high coachroof of the old 434. This is far less bulbous and pronounced than before, and the Pininfarina styling is evident in its sleek, purposeful look.
The sail plan is not excessive but it is easy to handle. In standard format the boat comes with a self-tacking jib and fully-battened main. The test boat actually had the optional genoa with an extra pair of winches to accommodate this. You get a 45hp motor as standard but you can upgrade to a 57hp engine if you are in a hurry, or an 80hp motor if you want to defy the laws of hull speed. Intriguingly, the boat is heavier than its predecessor (11,100kg against 10,790kg) with a smaller sail area (80.7m2 against 99m2).
Step onboard and you are immediately drawn to the sheer volume and size of the cockpit. It’s very broad and feels nicely enclosed at the forward end thanks to very high coamings. Aft there is a half height bathing platform as standard and a full height one as an option which further encloses things. In front of this is a bench locker that can either be for storage or for the inevitable grill/sink arrangement for those who are keen on cooking alfresco. The two corner seats on the pulpit which were such a boon on the Elan 434, have, thankfully been retained.
On deck in this aft area is a very deep lazarette which would be ideal for storing a liferaft and a few fenders or a deflated dinghy. Forward of these are the twin wheel binnacles which are straight off the Elan E6 and therefore extremely stylish with B&G chartplotters set into them. This boat had the two optional extra winches for the genoa set just forward of the wheels. I would imagine most prospective buyers would want these as you also need them if you’re going to set a gennaker at any point. The decks and cockpit were in Flexiteek which was an option, as are regular teak laminates. Forward of the helms are twin tables with drop down leaves which are divided out to provide a walkway down the middle of the cockpit into the companionway. These double tables can be folded out to make one huge table if you’re entertaining guests and can also drop down to connect with the cockpit benches to create a huge lounging area.
There is further storage underneath the cockpit seats. The aft part of the coachroof then has two winches, one powered, with the mainsheet, reefing lines etc all controlled from here via two banks of jammers. The mainsheet is mounted forward of this on top of the coachroof. The side decks on the old 434 were quite modest thanks to that large, bulbous coachroof and you used to end up doing a fair amount of clambering. This has been remedied on the 43 although the side decks still aren’t the widest. Up forward there is a truly huge lazarette which is ideal for storing sails – you could almost sleep in it but not quite – it also houses the gas locker. Forward of this is the anchor locker.
The descent into the saloon is gently angled and you don’t drop down too far. You find yourself in quite a distinctively styled area with the most striking feature being the proliferation of oak throughout. This gives the boat a very individual look that will inevitably divide opinion. I rather liked it and I discovered that the reason it had been chosen was that the suppliers of this rather top end material, used extensively in the Elan E6, had agreed to supply a lot more at a discount as it was quite knotty. This meant that the Impression 43 gets a top end finish at a discount and the results are notable, with the soft tones of the wood contrasting with the hard grey of the cupboards. It’s an intriguing approach but I liked it; it sounds more sustainable and also gives the saloon a warm and individual look. The saloon layout is simple with a day heads and shower to port and a galley forward of this which runs the length of the saloon.
To starboard is a large saloon table and U-shaped seating arrangement. Additional seating is provided in port by two solid oak folding chairs which stow away under the double berth forward. Aft of the seating area is a decent sized chart table which runs athwartships, although this can be substituted with a cupboard for those who have long since given up on the nav station.
The forward cabin is very large – partly because the large lazarette forward of this space means that this cabin starts sufficiently far back from the bow that there is good beam. This means that the 43 has an aft facing double berth which you can walk round the side of in order to get in. There is a huge cupboard to port and further storage under the bed.
Aft of this, set to starboard, is a very large heads and shower. This is a huge space, although there is an alternative arrangement up forward with a bunk room situated to starboard and a smaller heads/shower to port.
Aft are two decent sized doubles that benefit from good standing headroom in the forward section. Headroom throughout was, in fact, substantial and helped add to the feeling of space. There was also good access to the engine and rudder quadrants.
I tested the Impression 43 off the Istrian coast of Slovenia on a day that promised rain but, after a murky start, revealed itself as a beautiful spring day. The winds were pretty much ideal for a test sail, with 15kts of breeze slowly dropping off to 5kts as the afternoon wore on. With full main and genoa set, we headed into the breeze and I was immediately struck by the speed of the yacht.
This is essentially a moderately heavy cruising yacht but, with the wind hovering between 12 and 14kts in flat water, we were soon trucking along at 7.5kts. This seemed unfeasibly quick for such a boat and I rather wondered if the log was malfunctioning – but it wasn’t.
The boat was close winded and forgiving to an inattentive helm. The Jefa steering was light but there was a bit of weight to it which gave some feel. I’d imagine that the boat would be fairly surefooted if pressed, as the twin rudders and beam aft would give the boat a decent amount of both grip and power. I was surprised at the overall poise and speed of the boat and was a pleasure to sail.
It was also easy to handle – and would have been even easier with a self tacker. I suppose with the mainsheet running to the coachroof it’s moderately more difficult to singlehand than some others but that is really nit picking. I did wonder if the boat would struggle as the wind eased but she still went well enough.
We then put up the moderately dimensioned gennaker for a gentle downwind run, and bathed in warm spring sunshine. The whole experience was a pleasure. Of course, part of this is down to the weather and crew, but the boat itself has to take some of the credit for providing such a comfortable platform to relax and simply enjoy the pleasure of sailing.
This article first appeared in the June 2023 issue of Sailing Today with Yachts & Yachting. Subscribe or try a single issue here.