Elan Impression 434
by George & Rosie Day
Blue Water Sailing
Designed by Rob Humphreys and built in Slovenia, the Elan Impression 434 offers great cruising accommodations in a hull that sails sweetly
Long Island Sound at the end of summer has a lot to offer coastal cruisers, so we were not surprised to find the Connecticut shore and then the eastern tip of Long Island bustling with boats, both power and sail. The early fall air was crisp and clear. The wind, out of the northwest following a passing cold front, was piping at 15 to 18 knots. And, the sound was roiled by both an inshore chop and the swirls of the flooding tide that ran at two knots to the west.
Rosie and I were aboard a new Elan Impression 434 that we had picked up from Sound Yachts in Westbrook, Conn., early that morning. After a thorough briefing, we dropped the mooring lines and motored out of the marina. The 434 handled very easily and surely under power, so we had no problem negotiating the narrow channel and the constant boat traffic.
The model we were testing has a 75-horsepower turbocharged Volvo diesel, with the engine controls at the starboard wheel (the 434 has twin wheels). As we cleared the channel we put the hammer down until we had the motor up to near maximum revs of 3,000 rpm. The 434 accelerated deliberately and then settled down at a respectable 8.2 knots through the water. There was no cavitation from the sail drive and the three-bladed, feathering prop, and the rudder handled the thrust without much play.
After putting the boat through a series of turns and stops to see how it would handle in close quarters, we rolled out the mainsail from the Selden in-mast furling system and the genoa (Selden Furlex) and pointed the bow east-southeast toward Long Island’s Plum Gut, 12 miles away.
The mainsail we were using had full-length vertical battens so its shape was better than you usually see on in-mast mainsails—more roach and a fuller draft. We had about 14 knots over the deck on a beam reach so we were able to play the main and balance the helm by sliding the traveler to leeward. All the mainsail control lines lead through jammers to winches on either side of the companionway, which enables one person to rollout, reef, furl and trim the big sail from the protection of the cockpit. This is ideal for cruising couples or those who sail their boats essentially singlehanded. Also, with the traveler on top of the raised saloon, the cockpit is left open and uncluttered.
The 130-percent genoa has the reefing control line led aft to the starboard quarter where it is handy to the helmsman. The sheets run through adjustable cars on the side-deck tracks, which also can be adjusted from the cockpit. As we reached off toward Long Island, we played with the sheet leads to trim the top of the sail and found that by sliding the cars slightly forward we could tighten the leech and keep the head of the sail from twisting off and losing power.
On a beam reach in 15 knots, the boat charged along at a happy 8 knots and was easy to steer from both sides of the cockpit. After rounding a mid-Sound bell buoy, we fell off to about 160 degrees off the wind and ran onward with the chop rising to three foot waves as we got farther from land. The boat is lively in a breeze, buoyant and quick. With less than 10 knots apparent wind we had the 434 broad reaching at close to 8 knots all the way across the sound.
Once we cleared Plum Gut, we turned west and sailed close hauled down Gardner’s Bay to Shelter Island, happily overtaking one cruising boat after the next. With the genoa cars trimmed aft a bit and the traveler hauled to near amidships, the 434 sailed at 45 degrees off the wind and tacked—easily—through 90 degrees. As the sun was getting low, we sailed to the entrance of Shelter Island’s Deering Harbor, rolled up the sails—gone in two minutes— and motored into the mooring area where we picked up a mooring. For Rosie and me, this was a perfect afternoon of sailing. The wind was right, the sky clear and the boat was fun to sail. Simple, elegant and fast, the 434 epitomizes the best in modern cruising boat design.
Designed by noted English naval architect Rob Humphreys, the 434 is a moderate displacement cruiser with a look of real distinction and offshore sailing qualities. The raised deck saloon configuration, with the cat’s eyes windows, looks seek and contemporary. The cabin top is nicely curved and angles down aft of the mast to a low, raised coach roof over the forward cabins. The foredeck is an open space that will be great for sunning, stowing a dinghy while on passage or flying a cruising chute.
The 434 has a bulbed fin keel (standard or shoal draft) that provides ample lift for upwind sailing and a low center of gravity for stability. The rudder is a balanced blade that has plenty of surface area for a solid feel to the helm and plenty of bite when you are fighting off a gust of wind. Because the boat has a broad transom, the rudder has to be quite deep to avoid stalling as the hull heels over. Also, maneuvering in close quarters, the rudder shifts the boat easily and quickly in both forward and reverse.
The design's non-dimensional numbers help to describe how the designer and builder approached the 434 and its cruising mission. The displacement-length ratio of 202 is about average for modern production cruisers but slightly lower than the 250, which a generation ago was considered about right for cruising boats. That means the boat is relatively light, will be fast and nimble and will be happiest when sailed upright.
The sail area to displacement ratio is 18.36 (100-percent foretriangle). I was pleasantly surprised that the ratio is this high (I was expecting something near 16) since the 434 has an in-mast roller furling mainsail. But the rig has been designed to have enough power to perform well in light breezes while still being short enough to fit beneath the bridges of the East Coast’s Intracoastal Waterway.
The limit of positive stability is 127, or way above the international norm of 120; it is good to know that the 434 has much more ultimate stability than required by the ISAF or the Ocean Racing Council and more than most of the cruising boats in its class.
Rob Humphreys has designed many well respected, high quality cruising and offshore racing boats. He likes the 434 so much—its design, impeccable construction and long term value—that he is having one built currently as his personal yacht.
The galley is L-shaped and offers plenty of counter space for preparing meals. The sinks are off centerline but still will drain on both tacks. The three burner stove/oven is outboard to port and fitted with gimbals.
The boat we sailed had a front loading fridge aft of the stove; this works fine on the starboard tack but tends to dump its contents on the port tack. For coastal cruising, a front loading fridge might be easier to use but we would recommend the top-loading option for those who will be taking the 434 on longer coastal runs or to sea.
The dinette will seat four to six comfortably around the table and with the folding leaf deployed will feed another two who sit on the settee. The ergonomics of the dinette are excellent and we enjoyed an evening lounging there with our books and the music playing on th sound system.
The team at Elan and Humphreys set out to make the 434 a boat that is blue-water capable; that entails offering owners plenty of storage space for clothing, spare parts and supplies. Throughout the boat, the furniture has been constructed so there is plenty of open space beneath and behind it with open cabinets and bins. Beneath the floorboards, the structural grid provides a series of useful compartments for heavier items. The galley has a large dry storage bin and the heads both have ample cabinet space for toiletries and medical supplies.
Tankage has been built in for up to 198 gallons of water and 71 gallons of fuel. And battery capacity, stored under the after berth, is ample for coastal cruising and can be expanded for those who will be living aboard at anchor for extended periods.
The interior of the 434 is finished in light, varnished hardwood that looks classic and gives the boat a light, warm ambience. The raised saloon windows, both sides and forward, provide a lot of natural light, plus, even a five-foot, six-inch crew member can see out from the galley. With the custom shades drawn, the interior becomes snug and private.
We chose to sleep aft in the double berth under the cockpit. The centerline bunk is large, comfortable and well equipped with reading lamps and convenient shelf space. There is plenty of storage on either side of the bunk and in the hanging locker. With opening ports in the cockpit, we found that the ventilation aft was fine.
For a couple and their friends or a family with children, the 434 is set up for very comfortable living aboard, whether that be for a weekend cruise or an extended voyage to parts unknown.
The Elan team has benefited from both their experience in ski manufacturing and the technical developments in boatbuilding in the last decade. Hulls and decks are molded out of quadri-axial and multi-axial fiberglass cloth infused with isophthalic resins. The gel coat is applied with robotic spray arms to guarantee uniform thickness and a pre-laminate application of vinylester resin ensures that the hull laminate is protected from osmotic blistering. The hulls are cored with Aramat and Dyvinicell and the bow sections and mast step laminates are reinforced with Kevlar cloth. This sophisticated building technique results in hulls and decks that are light, incredibly strong and durable.
The interior structural grid has been designed to stiffen the hull and provide a base for the mast step, keel bolts, engine bed and interior furniture. It is worth noting that the grid has both lateral and fore and aft stringers yet between these the hull is accessible for inspection or repairs. The grid fastened to the hull with space-age adhesive and then tabbed to the hull with fiberglass. This extra step ensures that the hull will never twist under strain and that the anchor points for the keel, chainplates and rig are as robustly reinforced as possible.
The keel of the 434 is attached to the hull with 14 stainless steel keel bolts. The chain plates run through the side decks to heavily laid fiberglass anchor points inside the hull that are integral with the structural grid. The hull-deck joint is made fast with adhesive, stainless steel bolts and sealed with a toe rail that is screwed through the whole joint. The bow and stern sections of the hull-deck joint are then tabbed together with fiberglass.
Deck hardware for the 434 was a mix of well-known brands such as Harken, Selden and Lewmar. All deck mounted gear is supported with heavy backing plates laminated into the structure.
Elan has taken long strides to build the highest quality into the 434 and its other boats that are being built on a production line basis. After thorough inspection, we can attest that the result is a hull and rig with true blue-water integrity in a boat that also is finely finished in Euro-modern style.
We also noted that when you start to peel back the boat’s surfaces and look into how it was put together, that you will have only pleasant surprises. The details matter, whether it be how the electrical system has been neatly organized and labeled, or how the water and fuel tanks have been designed to fit the hull, or how the drawers are fitted so they are perfectly square and don’t rattle in bouncy conditions.
At the quoted price of $370,000, the 434 comes incredibly well equipped with a full set of electronics, autopilot, bow thruster, two refrigeration units, air conditioning, electric primary winches, an in-mast furling mast and sails, and compete cockpit canvas. Straight from the dealer, the boat is capable of making fast and safe coastal runs of hundreds of miles and is set up for truly elegant and comfortable cruising. With an investment in offshore safety gear and some commonsense upgrades - extra batteries, storm sails, expanded communications tools - the 434 will make a fine world cruiser… just as Elan and Humphreys intended.
Interestingly, Elan is willing to customize the interiors of the 434 to fit an owner’s needs - within reason. And, the company can adapt the gear and equipment lists and options to an owner’s specification - again within reason. The 434 is a production boat but not a cookie cutter cruiser.
What sets the Elan Impression 434 apart in the cruising fleet is the combination of thoroughly modern design, advanced engineering, sophisticated building techniques, strict quality control and the builder’s dedication to creating cruising boats that will serve owners well for generations. Whether you are planning to sail across Long Island Sound or around the world, the Elan Impression 434 will carry you there in style and safety.