BOAT REVIEW Elan S3 The Countess

April 2017 Yacht Reviews
Words by Sarah Ell, photos by Will Calver
Build Quality
DESIGNER Humphreys Yacht Design/Elan
BUILDER Elan Yachts
CONSTRUCTION Foam sandwich
LOA 9.25M
LENGTH (Waterline) 8.71M
BEAM 3.22M
ENGINE 18hp Volvo
Mast & Rigging carbon
Sail Area 30.15 SqM
Ballast 895
  • All the performance boxes have been ticked
  • Square-top main by North Sails
  • Privides a bit of performance 'bite' when the wind gets up
  • Twin wheels look sharp and work well
  • Carbon rig
  • Lightweigh foam sandwich construction
  • Cockpit works well
  • Standard interior
  • Lighter and more nimble than cruising Elans
  • Wand requires an extra crewman to prevent it catching on the main during a gybe
  • Interior layout is practical if unconventional

A sunny day on the Hauraki Gulf might be half a world away from Dracula’s castle – but the dead travel fast.

John Weston’s new Elan S3 The Countess is a ‘wicked-up’ performance cruiser with an interesting tale to tell. While Elan’s main factory is in Slovenia, the carbon rig is made by Axxon Composites in Brasov, Romania – which is, in Weston’s words, “three doors down from Drac’s castle”. So what better name to call your new nautical lady-friend than The Countess? With her black sails, chine-accenting paint job and bright green wheels she certainly cuts a striking figure.
Weston, a former competitive sailor and coach and now broker with local Elan agents Pinnacle Marine, decided to bring in a S3 for his own use. He admits to having “ticked all the boxes on the spreadsheet” to create the raciest interpretation of the boat, both for his own enjoyment and to demonstrate what’s possible for those who want a bit more bite.
The S series of boats are supplied without sails, so owners can suit them out to their tastes, which in this case means a North Sails 3Di carbon square-top main and jib, code 0 and 75m2 gennaker. The boat also has a carbon mast and boom and a few other bits of sports kit that give it a bit more racing cred. The signwriting is yet to go on, but will announce The Countess in an eye-catching font, with
green highlights.


The Elan S range is based on its E range of cruisers, lightened up for increased performance. The hull is built in sandwich construction using multi-directional fibreglass over a structural closed-cell foam
core. The deck is also built in full vinylester, laminated with VAIL (vacuum-assisted infusion lamination) technology and sandwich construction, and weight has been saved in the interior by using oak-veneered plywood with a foam core.
While the Auckland summer weather has been less than cooperative since the boat arrived late last year, Weston has had his first few competitive outings, including sailing her single-handed from her
base at Gulf Harbour up to Mahurangi for a cruising regatta there. He also recently took on the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s night race to Kawau and Squadron Weekend, sailing with a disabled
crew including Paralympians Rick Dodson and Andrew May; like Dodson, Weston is affected by multiple sclerosis. Weston also hopes to race two-handed in the SSANZ series over winter.

Carbon rig, Norths Sails.

The first thing you notice about her are the fluoro-green steering wheels, which immediately suggest this is more than your average cruiser. The paint job also cleverly accentuates the chine, like a streak of eyeliner, drawing attention to the hull shape designed in conjunction with race-boat designer Rob Humphreys.
The boat is nigh-on 30 feet long – 9.25m, that is – making it a practical size for Kiwis who want a bit of performance and some cruising comfort that will still fit in an affordable marina berth. Weston sees it racing against such stalwarts as the Young 88, although with its retractable prod and asymmetric gennaker, there’s a lot more zig-zagging (and excitement) to be had going downwind.
The cockpit is large and slightly V-shaped, narrowing from the wide, open transom forward to the cabin. Those bright green twin wheels are placed on angled pedestals well aft, leaving the cockpit nice and open.

Twin wheels.

If sailing shorthanded, or you just need a spare hand, the wheels can be locked off with a knob in the centre, or there’s the option of what Weston refers to as an “extra crew member”: the autopilot, handily positioned right in front of the starboard wheel. This can be deployed at the touch of a button and did an excellent job of keeping us on course.
Controls for the small but perfectly formed Volvo D1-20 18hp diesel (easily accessed beneath the companionway steps) are also to hand at the starboard wheel. There’s a B&G flat-screen at each wheel on which to run a chart-plotter or display technical info, as well a pair of digital instruments forward of the companionway for heads-up display.
The traveller runs across right in front of the wheels, in a shallow trough, with cleats each side for this and the mainsheet, making for easy access when sailing short-handed. There are two pairs of Harken S35 self-tailing winches: a pair of primaries on the cockpit coaming and a further two on the cabintop for control lines.
The boat has a single Dyneema backstay – with, in this case, some modifications from the
standard. Because Weston has gone for a squaretop main – he says he was only going to have a 450mm top, but Dodson talked him into 800mm – the backstay has to run from a ‘wand’ at the
top of the mast. Weston says this has created the need for another crew position – a wand trimmer, who they nickname ‘the witch’ – to adjust the backstay when tacking or gybing so it doesn’t catch the top of the main.
There is plenty of room to manoeuvre in the cockpit, and the seats have a big groove in them to make it easier to balance on the coaming when the boat is heeled. Because the traveller is quite well aft, there is ample space to sit around and socialise when not in race-mode, too.

The side-decks are wide, with an angled panel against the cabin topsides so it’s easy to go forward when the boat is heeled. There’s an anchor locker right forward, and the boat has an extendable carbon prod (which Weston plans to make longer) for running asymmetrics downwind.

Down below there’s a slightly unconventional layout which makes good use of the available space. At the bottom of the companionway steps to port is a small galley, with a two-burner cooker, sink and top-accessed chiller, while to starboard is the nav station.
There is just the one quarterberth cabin aft, to port – a large double – while on the other side is the head and shower, with a large storage space behind it where wet sheets and gear can be hung to dry and drain (the rest of the space on this side is taken up by a very deep storage locker for fenders and so on, accessed through the starboard cockpit seat).

On water shoot
Saloon layout.

Forward, there is seating either side of a central table, with leaves that fold out, which surrounds the keel-stepped mast in all its black shininess. In the bow is another large double v-berth.
Perhaps surprisingly, the interior is pretty much standard – maybe Weston decided to use all his ticks to make the boat go faster, rather than playing interior designer. It’s a pleasant beige oak, with beige and tan upholstery, pale floorboards, cream head-linings and a couple of flashy touches: two lines of LED lights in the ceiling and a pair of ghostly Elan logos illuminate the storage lockers on the forward bulkhead. The spectre of the Countess, perhaps?

The latest bout of terrible ‘summer’ weather abates just in time for us to get out for a sail. Heading out of Gulf Harbour into the northwestern Hauraki Gulf makes for a pleasant change of scene to sailing up and down ‘the ditch’ in Auckland.
Unfortunately bad weather and tight timing means we have missed our chance to get out for a race, but it’s a pretty nice day to go out for a shorthanded sail with Weston and his mate Jamie, a launchie who is slowly being converted to the ways of sail.
The forecast is for 20-plus knots but at first we struggle to find much breeze. The shiny black main goes up easily from the lazy-bag on the mast, and the jib in its headfoil. A few tweaks and we are sitting nicely on the wind, the twin rudders giving plenty of grip even when well-heeled. She feels well-balanced and sits nicely in the groove. Sheet and halyard loads are easily manageable and there’s plenty of room in the cockpit to get about and make adjustments.
Time to try out the gennaker, so we bear away and hoist the bag. The helm stays light and responsive and the Elan seems to enjoy the extra sail power. It’s only about 8-10 knots but we are enjoying a comfortable 7.5 knots of boat speed.

It’s light enough to gybe the gennaker inside – remembering that wand up the top when we gybe the main – and we head for Tiri and bit more sunshine, one eye on the line of breeze coming
across the gulf from the southwest.
We’ve just got the kite down when the wind hits, rising rapidly to 20 knots as we head back to the marina on the wind. (If you were going to labour the Gothic analogy, you might say it was
howling.) Jamie mutters something about this being a good time to have a launch, but it’s good to feel how the Elan handles in a bit more breeze. Despite being a bit short of rail-weight we
manage around 6 knots, with a top speed of 6.4 knots, with very little water getting on the side decks.
Back in the confines of the marina, it’s back to sunshine and light breezes again, but at least we’ve had a taste of how the S3 can handle the rougher stuff. It was a pleasure meeting a fine gentlewoman like The Countess. But sleep with one eye open – this lady’s got some teeth.


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