Fifty feet. It sounds big and it is big. Yet yachts in this size range are enjoying a renaissance right now. Dufour recently introduced the Dufour 500, the French company’s new top-of-the-line model that’s supposed to stand apart from more conventional competitors by larger manufacturers, thanks to several special features.
At the same time the Slovenian manufacturer Elan Yachts has introduced the Impression 494, their largest model, and there are a number of surprising parallels between these two new boats that will battle for market share in this class. The question who came first with concept and ideas remains undecided, however. Naturally, the comments coming from both yards are biased, but it doesn’t matter: Similar to the large Dufour, Elan’s premium model surprises with a raft of special features. Above and belowdecks, these boats are radical departures from the proven but rather conservative interpretation of large production yachts for private owners and charter companies. The number of sold boats and the reaction of the competitors will tell whether these two firms have managed to set new standards. At the very least, it makes for an interesting development in the luxury segment.
On the Elan Impression 494 the notable features start with cockpit design. The Slovenians created more space for the helmsperson behind the wheels, which results in more elbow-room than on many other boats of the same size. The helmsman can take pleasure from the very functional layout, including winches that are perfectly positioned and easily reached from the helm. This is made possible by two mighty steering pedestals that divide the cockpit into two completely separate areas in terms of space and functionality. Forward is the seating area for guests, while aft is the sailing/working area. The helmsman doesn’t need any extra hands in his area and can drive the boat all alone. The only exceptions are the two halyard winches off to the side of the companionway, which aren’t used very often anyway on large cruising boats like the Impression 494.
The standard version of the yacht comes with a self-tacking jib, which is a novelty for Elan. Main and jib sheets are led back to the cockpit on the side, so they remain on the winches permanently. The Harken 50 drums are a bit too small for a boat of this size and take some effort during manual operation. Larger winches, or even better, electric ones, are available as options.
On the test boat, which was hull No. 2, the track for the self-tacking job forward of the mast was a) clearly too short and b) not bent upwards near the ends as it should be. Therefore the sheeting angles for the jib remained too small, which prevented the sail from being fully sheeted in. The yard is aware of this issue and promises to fix it in future boats.
Despite this deficiency, the Impression 494 turned in a flawless performance during our test, which took place in a gusty breeze of 14 to 20 knots. Upwind the 494 hit 6.7 knots, which can be expected for a boat this size. More impressive was how close the boat could sail to the breeze. Several tacks confirmed that the boat tacks through 75 degrees, despite the trim issues with the jib.
It was noted that the Impression tends to heel rather soon. It’s not dramatic, but it might be a bit unpleasant for sensitive crewmembers. The boat tracks well at 30 degrees of heel and beyond, and never threatened to shoot into the sun during the test. There is no doubt that the twin rudders are in part responsible for this; they are are unusually long and arranged at a blunt angle towards each other. When heeled, the flow onto the blades is very good, as is the control of the boat. Regarding the dimensions and the position of twin rudders, Elan’s lead designer Rob Humphreys has gathered plenty of experience with the boats of Elan’s performance line, which are equipped with twin rudders already.
Another specialty of the Impression 494 is the U-shaped cockpit that includes a bridge deck at the companionway. This layout, which used to be common on cruising boats, has completely fallen out of fashion to keep the cockpit sole low all the way to the companionway. The reason for the Elan's arrangement is the unusual cabin layout for an aft-cockpit yacht, with a large owner’s stateroom and a berth on centerline aft. To maintain standing headroom in that cabin, a bridge deck in the forward area of the cockpit became necessary. The downside? To get from the cockpit into the saloon you have to take a big step.
The generously sized aft owner’s cabin, with built-in head compartment, is one of several layout versions of the Impression 494. There’s also an option for the owner’s stateroom forward, also including a lavatory with a separate shower stall. However, the standard version is the four-cabin option with two forward and two aft. Elan emphasizes their intention to put their new flagship in charter fleets. The choice of layout doesn’t have to be forever, either, because the boats can be retrofitted for private ownership later with reasonable effort.
Two features set the Elan Impression apart from the competition. First, the galley on the 494 is positioned forward at the main bulkhead. This layout is not exclusive to Elan -- the Dufour 500 also is set up in that way -- but the Elan is more adaptable in the area aft of the bulkhead: To starboard the possibilities include either an expanded galley, a larger nav station, or a supersized stowage locker. In the standard version with a double cabin forward, the lavatory for the guests also is fitted in the forecastle.
|Elan Impression 494|
|Draft, std/shoal||2.25/1.80 m|
|Ballast||4.5 t (32 %)|
|Mainsail||67.1 sq. m.|
|Self-tacking jib||49.2 sq. m.|
|Engine||Volvo-Penta 55 kW/75 hp|
The second standout feature, an absolute novelty in this market segment, is the freestanding companionway ladder. To get to the aft cabins, one has to walk around the ladder and descend two more steps from the elevated cabin sole to get down to the cabin level. At first, this arrangement seems fresh and clever, because it is unusual. And in port it indeed has aesthetic and functional advantages. Especially in the saloon, the space seems larger and better utilized than on boats with a more common layout. However when sailing in a seaway or heeled, the steps turn out to be more of an obstacle. In this case you have to literally snake around to reach the cabins. Solid and well-positioned handrails alleviate this procedure somewhat.
On the flipside it’s noticeable that the two aft cabins appear rather dark inside. There are small ports that offer minimum cross-ventilation, but the ingress of light remains rather modest. Combined with the entrances that are recessed behind the companionway, it quickly feels like diving down into the catacombs of the boat. The undersides of the steering mechanisms are also a bit ungainly, reducing the legroom in both cabins somewhat.
By the same token, the berth areas are large enough for two adults. In the owner's cabin forward the bed is king-sized with a shoulder width of two meters. The Elan also earns high marks for the exemplary organization of the numerous large and easily accessible stowage areas throughout the vessel.
Attractive purchase price
The published prices of the competition show that the Elan 494 doesn’t have to fear cost comparisons. At a base price of 261,790 euros for the generously appointed standard version, the boat from Slovenia is one of the most attractive offers, even though the prices in this segment are tightly spaced. In addition, the Impression 494 is built with sophisticated methods by comparison. Vacuum-infusion and vinylester resins that resist osmosis guarantee solid and durable laminates.
So far the Slovenians at Elan have never followed the competition, but have been looking for individuality and fresh ideas. With the Impression 494 the yard takes one step farther with a unusually courageous, versatile, and varied concept.
For more information, visit Elan Yachts.
This story originally appeared in YACHT magazine, and is republished here by permission. Translated by Dieter Loibner.