Miles Kendall goes for a spin on the Slovenian-built Elan 350 and finds plenty of proper sailing fun in a well-designed, high-performance package that could get cruisers going faster
Why do we go sailing? It’s a question that most of us never ask ourselves. Perhaps it’s for the delight of travel and the discovery of hidden creeks and new landfalls. Maybe we seek satisfaction in good seamanship and pride in a well-maintained vessel. And what of the exercise, excitement and camaraderie? It’s a combination of all these of course, but let’s not forget the out and out joy of hoisting canvas, switching off the engine and gliding almost silently across the sea.
This is sailing – the rest of it is fantastic but peripheral. The rest can be achieved with a canoe or motorboat. Different owners will give different levels of importance to the actual sailing experience. Seakeeping, space, comfort and solidity will often triumph over speed, and there is a balance to be struck. There are plenty of boats out there for out-and-out racers and a huge choice for more conservative cruisers too. The Elan 350 is aimed between the two markets. It has obvious appeal to competitive sailors but also has plenty to offer to cruising yachtsmen.
The 350 is the big sister to the impressive 310, launched last year. The wide aft sections and sharp chine give her masses of stability, and designer Rob Humphreys has been inspired by the shape of Open 60s, whose lines provide control and off wind speed.
The first thing you notice as you come below is the mast that intrudes through the centre of the saloon table. There is a slight IKEA feel to some of the light finishes – they look great out of the box but may not wear well. Headroom is excellent but stowage is not, as tanks occupy space under both benches. Light comes from long thin ports, two small ventilation hatches and a futher mid-size hatch.
There’s plenty of knee room beneath the chart table and the slight angle to the inboard edge of the seat shows that the designers have given some thought to the practicalities of navigating at sea. There is further stowage in the foot of the chart table and in large lockers aft of the nav station.
The L-shaped galley is to port and covers for the sink and cooker maximise work surface. The fridge is well insulated and held open on a gas strut, though it’s very deep and narrow. The double sinks are useful for washing and draining. Stowage is excellent with lots of space for crockery as well as masses of useable room under the sink.
The cockpit spreads out from the coachroof with the maximum 3.5-metre beam reducing very little. There’s a brace on the sole to stop you sliding from one side to another and a lip on the edge of the seats is designed to help you scale the heights from leeward to windward.
The twin wheels on sexily raked struts are more user friendly than a giant racing wheel. A race kit option includes a curved traveller, underdeck furler and beefed up halyard winches. The cockpit locker is very large and not something you’d see on an out-and-out racer. The transom is wide open though a bench bridge is an option.
The angled coamings soon become more horizontal when the 350 is heeled and non-slip dimples aid grip on deck. The side decks are wide and clear. A teak toe rail and amidships cleats again suggest this is a boat built with the cruising sailor in mind – though the inhaulers for the jib sheet show that racers are not ignored. Lines are led aft along channels recessed into the top of the coachroof.
The pole outhaul is led across the foredeck then into the anchor locker that also houses the pole (some builders have the pole intruding and inevitably dripping into the forecabin). The tack line is led down one side of the foredeck and the jib furling line down the other: it’s all neater than it sounds. The single bow roller extends well beyond the bow and if it looks like something of an afterthought that’s because it is removable. The anchor locker is deep and spacious.
The wheel of the 350 is so sensitive that I found it hard to get her in the groove in the light airs at the start of the test. As the wind built she settled on her chine and things became easier. The flip-up helm platform was a huge improvement on the foot bar of the 310 and though the heel was dramatic, I felt secure as the log exceeded seven knots pointing at 30 degrees to the apparent breeze of 14 knots. The helm stayed incredibly light (due to twin rudders) and the one time she became overpowered, the round-up was gradual and soon corrected. The lee rail is a long way down though and this is not a boat for infants or the less agile.
With the smaller of the two asymmetrics hoisted, we pinched as high as 60 degrees to the apparent wind and made a maximum of 8.5 knots at 65 degrees in ten knots of breeze. With the wind just aft of the beam, the log showed 7.8 knots. Lines were easily managed. The twin wheels allowed a choice of views and stayed so light as to almost be unsettling. The clear aft deck was an area of sanctuary away from the bustle of the cockpit. On the long run home we had the larger asymmetric up, and within seconds we accelerated away, with the log showing 7.5 knots with eight knots apparent at 145 degrees.
The 350 was so easy to manoeuvre that I immediately had the confidence to perform three-point turns between the pontoons of Hamble Point Marina on her 27-horsepower Volvo D1-30 and Saildrive. Engine access is good, with the companionway lifting on a strut and there is further access from the heads and aft cabin.
The Elan 350 is a pleasure to sail. She is not an out-and-out racer and offers plenty of concessions to the cruising sailor, though her angle of heel is not one of them. The compromise is an eventual stiffness that inspires confidence and equates with speed. The rudders are well balanced and the helm remarkably light. The interior will be too modern for some and there are occasional rough edges as could be expected for the reasonable price. With good stowage and spacious accommodation, the Elan 350 could coax cruising sailors into the fast lane.
Technical Specifications – Elan 350
Sail area: 65.2m2
Engine: 27hp Volvo D1-30
Designer: Rob Humphreys
Builder: Elan Marine