REVIEW: ELAN IMPRESSION 394
Elan sailboats like the Impression 394 are no-nonsense cruising yachts with good blue-water potential.
The Elan Impression 394 is a proven blue-water cruising yacht that doesn’t compromise seaworthiness, while being comfortable on deck and below.
The modern sailor demands more from deck space but this can come at the expense of seaworthiness when open transoms are confronted by large following seas. In this respect the Impression 394’s approach, made by Slovenian sailboat builder Elan, gets my vote. The twin wheels with tall transom and drop-drown swimplatform offer the best of both worlds. It creates a steering space that I’d enjoy mid-Atlantic or negotiating the shallows.
The deep cockpit is dominated by the fibreglass table but a drop-down version is also available to maximise space at swim time. Teak slatted benches, including guard rail seats, make this a sheltered space under the retractable bimini and there are even drinkholders on the benches which also have sizeable lockers beneath.
Sail controls are away from the main seating with twin Harken 35.2s on the coachroof for halyards and a set of H40.2s beside the steering wheels for the genoa. The binnacles hold the Raymarine i70 wind and autopilot instruments, along with a compass on each, and all are safely accessible while holding the composite steering wheels. Also well-placed is the starboard throttle which sits high beside the wheel and proved easy to operate while sitting or standing.
Moving below decks through the tall main hatch which has its washboards neatly stowed in the bathroom, you are well supported by sturdy handrails and wide steps for the descent into the voluminous saloon. There are four layouts available, ranging from a two-cabin with single or double head compartments to a three-cabin, again with single or double heads.
Our review boat, hull #32, came with the conventional V-berth in a rather Spartan but voluminous cabin (1.98m headroom) with hanging locker, under-bed stowage and shelving. One of the two aft cabins could be changed to a walk-in lazarette.
Elan’s self-described ‘semi-deck saloon’ is achieved by raising the cabin sole, which affords views through the tear-drop coachroof windows, although the slit-like portlights look rather a waste of time. Instead, I’d combine them to make one viewable portlight. But natural light is in abundance thanks to the two square skylights, with a third opening forward to maximise ventilation at anchor. Headroom is a towering 2.7m.
There are no surprises with the layout either, thanks to a sensible apportioning of space with U-shaped dinette on the forward portside and large lounge settee opposite in hard-wearing dark blue material. The main table folds out to create space for all the crew (another version slides down to become a bunk). A striking feature in the Impression 394 is the blonde oak veneer which has been wisely used to create rounded ends and grabrails throughout the saloon. Combined with a support post, longitudinal handrails and forward mast compression post, it gives you plenty of confidence when moving around in a bumpy seaway.
The L-shaped galley also gets the thumbs-up thanks to a double sink with composite covers that create enough workspace when needed. The twin-burner cooker-oven is gimballed and there’s an 85lt chest fridge with plenty of locker space above and below.
Moving across the floor revealed my only real complaint with the layout when I tripped on the step as I went to the navigation table. There’s a second step forward as well – I’d be tempted to put LED lights on both of these for night sailing.
The navigation table will cope with most paper charts, while above there’s locker space and just enough bulkhead room for the seven-inch Raymarine e7 plotter and VHF. Both bathrooms do their job thanks to being fully moulded (so easy to clean), with sufficiently deep sinks and opening hatches, while the tap/shower head can also be used for cleaning the area. There are no dramas either when it comes to maintaining the saildrive engine – simply lift up the companionway steps to reveal the 38hp Volvo Penta D2-40 (29hp version is standard). There is side access for easy bleeding of the four injectors and all filters are elevated, at the back.
Selden’s in-mast mainsail reefing is a proven design and assuming sailcloth weights are closely followed, should never jam, so ideal for shorthanded sailing or for those seeking an easy life at sea. It’s an option worth having rather than the standard slab-reefed mainsail with lazyjacks on this style of cruising yacht. The same applies with the roller headsail, with cars adjustable from the cockpit.
Also good on the 394 is a proper mainsheet track on the saloon roof. Along with the metal vang, it controls the Italian OneSails mainsail well.
Rigging comprises inboard shrouds (strongly held by tie-rods to the hull grid) allowing clear access to the foredeck, with stainless steel handrails guiding you along the coachroof and teak toerails. A split backstay avoids impeding water access too. The only thing missing are midship cleats.
At the bow a vertical Quick windlass operates via foot buttons and there’s a deep chainlocker with single anchor roller. Another plus is the stainless steel bowsleeve to protect the hull.
The hull is made from the latest vacuum infusion system using epoxy and vinylester GRP. Construction is sandwich with closed-cell foam core above the waterline and solid GRP beneath – again a wise choice for a cruising boat and easily repaired in remote locations. Decks are also sandwich with balsa core. A conventional cast-iron keel is used with a deep single-spade rudder.
A breezy autumn day on Sydney Harbour is a fairly good test of any yacht as the wind varies around the headlands and bays, giving the crew few idle moments – and so it was for my host Ed and me.
Negotiating the busy waterway below the Harbour Bridge required the twin-bladed propeller to do its job as we motored between the outgoing ferries and incoming cruiseboats. We reached 7.5kts as the 38hp motor span at 3000rpm, with no vibration on the composite steering wheel and minimum noise.
Readying for sailing, as we passed the towering topsides of the Navy’s new amphibious landing ship at Garden Island, the only reason to leave the cockpit was to click the mast mechanism of the furler before winching it out. Unfurling the genoa went without a hitch, allowing me to sit comfortably on the gunwale to get a feel for the Impression 394.
I wasn’t expecting too much from the mainsail with its lack of roach and narrow head. But after tightening the leech line and tweaking the vang, along with easing of the outhaul, the Dacron sail pulled well in the 19.1kt breeze allowing us to climb to 58 degrees and 7.2kts. The helm felt very light and balanced, allowing me to leave it unattended while I adjusted the cars on the genoa, so would require minimum effort from the Raymarine autopilot.
With the breeze shifting, I tacked away by letting go while Ed wound on and the 394 spun around and accelerated well. Moving between the helms was easy and surefooted on the teak-clad cockpit sole, while the Raymarine i70 wind instruments were clearly readable.
In the fading breeze, we eased sheets on our way home, rolling along at 4.3kts in the 10kt breeze with the wind just behind the beam.
• Protective cockpit
• Easy sail handling with in-mast furler
• Quality finish throughout
• Steps in saloon floor
• Requires midship cleats
ELAN IMPRESSION 394 SPECIFICATIONS
PRICE AS TESTED
Premier (power) Pack, Raymarine Pack (SPX 10 autopilot, i70 instruments and e7 plotter), Sony audio pack, Selden mast furling, and upgraded 38hp Volvo Penta
BALLAST 2545kg; 2479kg shallow draft
DRAFT 1.8m; 1.5m shallow draft
PEOPLE (NIGHT) 6+2
WATER 240lt; 272lt optional
MAKE/MODEL Volvo Penta D2 diesel
RATED HP 28.4; 39.6 optional
Sydney By Sail Festival Pontoon,
2 Murray Street,
Darling Harbour, NSW, 2001
PHONE +61 2 9281 4422
See the full version of this review in Trade-A-Boat #454, July 2014. Why not subscribe today?
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