Maybe it’s just sour grapes, but a part of me has always preferred smaller boats. Granted, there’s no denying that an 80-footer is going to attract more attention at the dock. But there’s something about the design challenges inherent in fitting everything a crew needs within the space of a hull measuring 40ft or less that I find absolutely fascinating—especially when those challenges have been overcome with as much success as they have aboard the Elan E4, winner of SAIL’s Best Boats award in the 30-40ft monohull category.
Design & Construction
As is true of any successful new boat, that success begins with a combination of smart hull design and rock-solid construction. In the case of the E4—a product of the same Slovenian company renowned for its skis—this includes a hull layup comprised of a combination of both polyester and vinylester resins with a closed-cell foam core assembled using what Elan calls its “VAIL” method, which stands for vacuum assisted infusion laminate. The result is a strong, lightweight hull with an optimized resin-to-fabric ratio that will do equally cruising or on the racecourse. (An even higher-performance “S4” version of the boat employs all vinylester resin and even lighter-weight construction to take over 1,000lb out of the canoe body.)
Plumb ends maximize the boat’s waterline length in the interest of optimizing boatspeed, while chines and broadly powerful stern sections allow the boat to stand up to a press of sail off the wind (think the hull shape on the latest generation of boats used in the Volvo Ocean Race, which inspired the hull form on the E4). To ensure the boat stays under control in all conditions, designer Rob Humphreys equipped the E4 with a deep T-keel to maximize righting moment and two rudders to ensure a nice solid helm even when the boat is on its ear.
The standard double-spreader fractional rig employs a Seldén aluminum mast and boom. Carbon spars are an option and come standard on the S4 (as does Dyform standing rigging and a Dyneema backstay). Up in the bow, there’s a retractable sprit for flying an A-sail, and the slightly overlapping genoa flies from a belowdeck Harken furler—in my mind the mark of boat that means business as it allows you to maximize your sail area with a nice long luff. Genoa tracks are inboard with adjustable leads you can tend from the cockpit. In-haulers allow you to trim for even tighter tacking angles, and the mainsail runs to a recessed track in the cockpit sole, another nice touch.
The cockpit is well laid out and even smarter than it looks at first glance. Cutouts in the cockpit benches serve as good foot braces, and a clever optional folding cockpit table stows into a shallow locker in the cockpit sole. There’s also a bench spanning the aft end of the cockpit, which can not only be removed for racing but doubles as a gangplank when Med-moored. Retractable mooring cleats are a nice touch, the side decks have excellent molded-in nonskid, and the double lifelines are much higher than commonly found on production boats theses days. There’s a low toerail running from stem to stern for added security, but it’s shallow and wide enough that it won’t be too hard on the legs of your rail meat. The wheel pedestals include rotating plotter pods making it that much easier to keep an eye on your B&G or Raymarine electronics, and there are a pair of small hinged platforms to provide better footing for the person at the helm. The list of both practical and go-fast features aboard this boat goes on and on.
The Elan E4 is available with either two or three cabins and a single head/shower compartment. The two-cabin version, which is what we had aboard our test boat, includes a forward-facing nav station to starboard of the companionway across from the L-shaped galley. There is also a large storage area aft of the nav station, where the starboard quarterberth goes in the three-cabin version.
Forward of the galley and nav stations, the two versions are identical, with a U-shaped settee to port of the dining table and a straight settee to starboard. Both are long enough to serve as excellent sea berths, so there’s plenty of space for the off-watch to crash out. There’s also the option of an adjustable dining table that lowers to create a double berth to port.
The V-berth forward works, but is a bit on the tight side, and an especially tall couple will definitely want to opt for the quarterberth aft. Although not immediately apparent, there are plenty of good handholds throughout the saloon, and for a boat this size and with these kinds of accommodations, there’s also a good deal of storage space. An especially nice feature is the large wet locker just aft of the head, one of those things that might not make much of a splash at a boat show, but sure comes in handy in snotty weather.
The overall look of the boat with its Light Oak veneered joinerywork is clean and modern without being sterile. Wiring and systems installation all look to be very well done and more than up to the rigors of life offshore.
For our sail trial, we only had light winds and our test boat carried the optional shoal-draft keel, but the E4 still provided for a great time out on Long Island Sound. Beating in 8 to 6 knots of wind we easily maintained 5-plus knots at a 45-degree true wind angle, and the boat’s Jefa steering felt light and responsive as we short-tacked our way between North and South Dumpling islands.
Bearing away, we deployed a gennaker out on the sprit—a piece of cake using a continuous line furler—and gybed our way back downwind at just under wind speed. Although our test sail didn’t give me much of an opportunity to see how the boat performs in the big stuff, I liked what I saw, with the lines, Harken winches and other deck gear arranged so that they were all easy to tend, especially from the helm. The German-style mainsheet and main traveler were particularly well situated for anyone trimming the main in a racing situation. When the time comes to dump power in a gust aboard the E4, doing so should be no problem.
In addition to being great for controlling a boat under sail, twin rudders also work well maneuvering, and the E4 is no exception. Backing up with the help of a two-blade Flexofold prop on a Volvo saildrive leg, the boat felt completely under control from the word go. Fuel tankage is somewhat limited at 20 gallons, but then again, aboard this boat, there’s no excuse to not sail in anything but a true drifter.
Being somewhat of an old-timer, it never ceases to amaze me how today’s materials and construction techniques make it possible for naval architects to pack as much into a limited LOA as they do. True, in some cases builders take this a bit too far. But with the E4, Elan has struck just the right balance, and the result is a real winner.
What do the ratios mean? Visit sailmagazine.com/ratios