Review – Rupert Holmes. Yachts and Yachting Magazine.
Elan’s 333 is one of the most popular recent cruiser-racers of its size, having sold over 400 units since its launch in 1999, and even the boat’s designer Rob Humphreys owns one. So it’s no surprise that the new boat is in a very similar mould to the 333, with most changes being relatively subtle. Taken as a whole, however, the combined effect is that they add up to a significant difference compared to the older design.
The new model is intended to be more performance-oriented, both in terms of deck styling and light weather performance. It has a near plumb stem, helping to create an extra 66cm of static waterline length. In addition, the forward sections are finer and the rig is larger — around 60cm taller than that of the 333. The larger rig is balanced by deeper keels (with 1.95m and 2.1m draught), promising an increase in righting moment compared to the older design’s draught of 1.5m or 1.9m. Both keels feature large bulbs, but the deeper version is an iron/lead composite, to give a lower centre of gravity.
As well as a slant towards improved performance, the 340 also has more internal volume — Humphreys was able to move the cockpit further aft, thanks to a near vertical transom and by carrying maximum beam further aft.
The 340’s deck layout is, in general, well organised and will work well for boat shorthanded sailing and fully-crewed racing, although in the latter case the cockpit will be crowded at times. The overall impression is still of a cruiserracer rather than all-out racer, even though our test boat was fitted with the optional race pack of deck gear.
All lines are neatly led aft under the deck and the rope storage bin built in under the step at bridge deck is a tidy idea, especially when cruising or passage making. The washboard stowage is also worthy of mention — they stow neatly out of the way adjacent to the companionway, where they are easily to hand should they be needed.
The 340’s wheel is placed as far aft as possible in the cockpit — it’s a semi-recessed 1.4m diameter affair, which gives a good helming position both downwind and when close-hauled. Backstay, traveller and mainsheet are all immediately in front of the wheel and easily reached from the helm for short-handed sailing. The mainsheet has a 4:1 coarse purchase, plus a powerful 12:1 fine tuner, which provides plenty of grunt. An 8:1 backstay purchase is well matched to the boat, making adjustment a near instant operation without undue effort.
The Harken 44ST primary winches that come with the upgrade pack are ideally sized for this boat — the standard 40STs will be hard work for many when the headsail is fully loaded. A strange omission is that there’s no track on the mast for the inboard end of the spinnaker pole — there are simply two fixed rings about 50cm apart, so the height of the inboard end of the pole cannot be easily adjusted.
Cruising features in evidence on our test boat include Furlex roller furling, a substantial bow roller, and mooring cleats both fore and aft, although, mercifully, not amidships. The teak toerail running the full length of the boat adds to on-deck security, but won’t win praise from crew when hiking on a long beat. A substantial stainless steel anchor roller is fitted as standard and the chain locker is configured to make fitting an electric windlass an easy matter, with the motor located in the below decks, where it has ultimate protection from the elements.
One excellent feature is the on-deck access to the steering quadrant. It’s a really simple idea, but will make problems very much easier to rectify should the steering fail. The gas locker is also incorporated into this space. Two cockpit lockers provide reasonable on-deck stowage, the starboard one aft of the heads being quite capacious, although the opening is comparatively small.
With a full racing crew onboard the cockpit could become quite crowded — there’s ample space for helm, mainsheet trimmer, pit and one other trimmer, but space would also need to be found for a navigator/tactician — and there’s only room for the driver aft of the helm.
The 340’s 9/10ths keel-stepped rig is a relatively conservative, double-spreader, aluminium affair. It’s designed to take masthead spinnakers and provision is made both for asymmetric and symmetric sails.
On the water
Our test took place in flat water on the Solent, with the wind generally averaging 10 knots and gusting to 15. The standard Dacron white sails set surprisingly well in these conditions, although they were brand new and we did not have enough breeze to seriously stretch them.
Our test boat, fitted with the standard 1.9m draught iron keel, was more tender than we expected, with a tendency to round up in gusts unless the main was well depowered. Watching from a RIB, it was clear that the broad stern sections were lifting the upper portion of the rudder clear of the water at relatively modest angles of heel [see left]. We were also able to compare her progress upwind to that of an X-35 being tested at the same time for Y&Y. It came as no surprise that the X-Yacht was noticeably faster, but it was also more upright, with at least five degrees of heel less.
Close-hauled in 13-15 knots apparent, the boat is finger light on the helm and easy to place in a deep groove, making around a little over six knots and tacking through 75-80 degrees. In stronger puffs, however, the weather helm builds quickly and the traveller needs to be eased early to maintain course.
Flying the masthead symmetrical spinnaker on a broad reach, the boat behaved well and with just 12 knots of apparent breeze we made a creditable 7.8 knots. Hotting up onto more of a beam reach, however, it was relatively easy to induce a broach, with very little warning that the rudder was about to stall. This leads us to suspect that boats fitted with the standard keel will be lively to handle downwind in a big blow.
Fore and aft weight distribution will be important for maximum boatspeed. Although the static waterline shows the transom a couple of inches clear of the water, she very readily drags her stern when underway.
Having more crew on the rail and laminate sails would have certainly made the boat less tender. However, even allowing for the benefit gained in light airs due to the tall rig, with the standard keel we feel this design is certainly more cruiser-racer than racer-cruiser. The deeper keel gives just 15cm more draught, but its iron/lead composite construction gives a significantly lower centre of gravity. Given the relatively modest additional cost and draught of the composite keel, it’s difficult to see why anyone serious about performance and handling qualities would specify the standard foil.
The 340’s interior is a more modern style than that of its predecessor, with light wooden veneers used throughout, beige internal GRP parts and a dark laminate cabin sole. If this is not to your taste, a more traditional teak interior is offered as an option, but it’s an extra £7,000.
The two-cabin layout with aft heads is well executed, with all areas having adequate space. Sensibly, the builders have not tried to shoehorn more cabins or other features into the extra volume offered by the 340. Instead, compared to the 340, each area has a little more room, with a more spacious feel, larger berth sizes and more stowage. Headroom varies from 1.85m in the saloon, aft cabin and heads, to a still respectable 1.78m in the forecabin. Berths in both sleeping cabins are larger than those of the 333 — they are slightly wider, noticeably so in the critical area at the foot of the forecabin berth, and almost 10cm longer.
Stowage is good in each of the cabins, particularly so in the spacious forecabin, and in the heads compartment, which includes a large wet locker. Cruising types may mourn the lack of provision for lockers (or at least seriously deep fiddles for the shelves) outboard of and above the saloon seating — but racers will no doubt be glad that there’s no opportunity for weighty clutter to accumulate in this area.
The L-shaped galley has good stowage and twin sinks, although the top of the icebox/optional fridge doubles as the main worktop area. Neither oven, hot water system, nor fridge are provided as standard equipment, so most owners are likely to want to add these to the extras list.
The saloon’s two settees would make reasonable sea berths if fitted with lee-cloths. There’s stowage under each, as well as behind the seat backs. The forward-facing nav station is well appointed, with plenty of space to mount instruments and a variety of easily-accessed stowage compartments, although a higher fiddle on the chart table would not go amiss.
Elan 340 Review: Verdict
The Elan 333 was always going to be a hard act to follow, but many owners will appreciate the extra space and light weather performance of the new design. The 340 has been well received — winning European Boat of the Year in its size category.
However, those who place performance and handling characteristics above all else may feel Humphreys and Elan have gone a tad too far in squeezing extra volume and waterline length into a sub-10m hull length. Nevertheless, the new design should certainly be on the shortlist for anyone considering a dual-purpose boat in this size range, particularly if the deeper keel is specified.
In addition to providing extra power for round the cans racing, the tall rig means that in cruising or short-handed racing mode, with a relatively small (110-120 per cent) furling genoa, the boat will offer a good balance between easy handling and efficient sailing without unduly compromising light weather performance.
G-whizz Elan 340