FROM MOUN­TAINS TO THE SEA

Cruising World - - Boats & Gear -

ields of wild­flow­ers and snow­capped peaks greet

a vis­i­tor to the head­quar­ters of Elan Yachts, a divi­sion of the Slove­nian man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany whose skis and snow­boards are known world­wide, and which also man­u­fac­tures com­po­nents for wind tur­bines and sports-sta­dium equip­ment. It’s a set­ting that would be pic­ture-per­fect for a pro­duc­tion of but a boat­build­ing mecca? Well, ac­tu­ally, that works too.

Elan be­gan life dur­ing World War II as a shop that turned out skis for Yu­gosla­vian troops fight­ing in the moun­tains sur­round­ing its fa­cil­ity lo­cated in Be­gunje na Goren­jskem, a small town near the city of Ljubl­jana. Pro­duc­tion con­tin­ued af­ter the war as the win­ter­time alpine va­ca­tion in­dus­try took off, and in 1949, the com­pany be­gan to build ca­noes and kayaks, in part to keep its crafts­men busy year-round.

Then, with the adop­tion of fiber­glass, Elan be­gan build­ing larger power- and sail­ing yachts. To­day its sail­boats range from 30 to 50 feet and in­clude the E and S se­ries of per­for­mance boats; the Im­pres­sion line, which caters to both the recre­ational and char­ter in­dus­try; and its new GT5, the first model in a new lux­ury-cruis­ing range. Rob Humphreys, and Humphreys Yacht De­sign, has been the com­pany’s long­time ex­clu­sive de­signer.

For much of its life, Elan was state-owned, but in 2015, the com­pany was pri­va­tized and sold to in­vestors Mer­rill Lynch In­ter­na­tional and VR Cap­i­tal. This past year, the new own­ers brought for­mer Hunter Ma­rine pres­i­dent John Peter­son aboard to run the ma­rine divi­sion, and a de­ci­sion was made to once again fo­cus on the North Amer­i­can mar­ket, where Elan had be­gun to make in­roads with its boats be­fore the eco­nomic down­turn a decade or so ago.

Elan’s two old­est di­vi­sions — its skis and sail­boats — and its wind com­po­nents are built side by side on a 100-acre site that’s home to a sprawling col­lec­tion of build­ings, some of which date back to the war years, in var­i­ous stages of ren­o­va­tion. Such an eclec­tic her­itage has its ben­e­fits and chal­lenges, Peter­son

noted as we toured the plant one day this past spring. Boat­build­ing com­peti­tors in France have fac­to­ries de­signed for build­ing yachts. Elan’s be­gan with skis, and boat pro­duc­tion sheds sprang up around them. On the plus side, many skills have been shared over the evo­lu­tion of the prod­ucts.

In to­tal, Elan em­ploys about 700 peo­ple at the Slove­nia site. Peter­son said 125 of th­ese work­ers are boat­builders and another 75 work on wind com­po­nents,

of over­lap be­tween the teams when it comes to com­pos­ites.

At the peak of the boat­ing mar­ket, Elan pro­duced close to 300 sail­boats an­nu­ally. In 2016, 80 boats were built, but Peter­son pre­dicts that num­ber will in­crease by 30 per­cent an­nu­ally in the near term as ma­rine mar­kets re­bound.

Like its build­ings, Elan Yachts’ pro­duc­tion meth­ods are a mix of old and new. Hulls and decks are in­fused us­ing state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy that’s shared with the wind divi­sion. In the wood shop, some parts are cut by CNC ma­chine, while oth­ers, such as teak decks, locker lids, and even whole head and gal­ley mod­ules, are put to­gether by crafts­men, most of whom have worked their way up as they gained skills in-house.

“We are the school,” Peter­son said when asked about worker train­ing.

Vis­it­ing French and Ger­man boat fac­to­ries, one’s struck by the ma­chin­ery; at Elan, it’s the peo­ple who stand out. Women and men were present in seem­ingly equal num­bers, and those not wear­ing pro­tec­tive cov­er­alls all wore com­pany shirts. Em­ploy­ees get 25 days’ va­ca­tion a year, and lunch is served on-site daily in the com­pany cafe­te­ria.

Walk­ing from one build­ing, where we watched a deck be­ing low­ered onto a wait­ing hull, we en­tered an ad­ja­cent shop where women were in­spect­ing skis and sharp­en­ing edges on a large grind­ing ma­chine. Through­out the plant, ev­ery request for a photo was greeted with a smile. An on-site com­pany re­tail store sells a range of ski­ing and sport­ing goods.

The night be­fore our fac­tory tour, we vis­ited the nearby re­sort vil­lage at Lake Bled. It was early in the sea­son, so the wa­ter­side restau­rants weren’t too crowded, and our visit in­cluded a stop at Bled Cas­tle, a tow­er­ing fortress that dates back to 1011.

Cas­tles, skis, yachts — why not?

The com­pany’s head­quar­ters were be­ing ren­o­vated dur­ing our visit, and the new of­fices were mod­ern-look­ing, com­fort­able and of­fered a stun­ning view of the nearby moun­tains (left). Be­fore a deck gets glued and bolted into place, equip­ment such as ports and genoa tracks are in­stalled (top left). Work­ers pre­pare a hull mold (top right) by lam­i­nat­ing glass along the hull-deck flange. The next step will be to stack fiber­glass and cor­ing in place, then vac­uum bag the en­tire struc­ture so it can be in­fused with resin. Teak is hand-laid in the wood shop (above right). Elan skis are made on-site too.

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