What am I missing????
I just had someone email almost the same question this week. As I told him, there are few manufacturers that are more controversial than Hunter. Hunter has tried to deliver a lot of boats for the money and they
have been pretty inovative in doing so. According to surveyors that I have asked about them, Hunter is good at meeting the various yacht design regulations and codes. The smaller Hunters tend to be designed around the interior and so offer a lot of room for the dollar but at the compromise of some sailing ability and a lot of offshore capability. The Hunter plant is reasonably automated and from talking to current owners fo reasonaably new boats Hunter seems to have pretty good quality control record as compared to the big three manufacturers: Hunter,Beneteau and Catalina (although Beneteaus seem to do a little bit better on the quality control issue and Catalina seems to be having some recent problems).
Hunter seems to have reasonably good owner support although Beneteau seems to have the
best support and Catalina seems to have by far the worst.
Hunters are built to be price competative and so they do cut some corners. Some of these things are significant, like their hull deck joint, and some are not. Speaking of their hull to deck joint, it is one of items that I have the biggest problem with.
Hunter has gone to an outward facing flange for the hull to deck joint. This
allows the interior to be assembled, including liners, before the deck is
installed and then counts on an aircraft grade adhessives to hold the deck to
the hull (Catalina uses glued deck joints also). The problem with an outward
flange is that it exposed to impact damage, the adhessives are placed in tension rather than sheer and generally there is a smaller contact surface area for the glue. The joint is bolted but based on an interview with staff at the Research and Development Department at Hunter, these bolts are mostly for alignment purposes during assembly.
In looking at the specifications for the Hunter 340, for example, my first impression is that they are quite heavy for a modern cruising boat. (For example, the 340''s are far heavier than the 10,500 lb 38 foot cruising boat that I am in the process of buying. The boat that I am buying is known for its offshore ability.) As I ahve said here many times, weight does nothing good for a boat. For a boat of this weight it is also appears a slight bit under-ballasted (39%) especially for the shoal keel version .
The interior is clearly designed to be comfortable at anchor or at the dock
rather than underway. Still, there is a lot that I like about the interior layout (The aft head, chart table, and galley) and a lot that I don''t such as the athwartships berth ( hard to make up and one person always has to in climb over another) not much clothes storage and gear storage, and the fact that
there is not a decent seaberth on board). I don''t like the large amounts of plexiglass as these can be huge maintenance headaches.
These there is the issue of resale and why there are so many two and three year old boats on the market. In talking to people at the Hunter booth at the Annapolis Boatshow I found that many of teh people who were said they were seriously interested in Hunters were quite new to the sport. (The same can be said for the people that I chatted with at Island Packet or at Beneteau for that matter.) At Hunter they seemed to be most attracted to the price and comfort level of the boats. There was almost no mention of rig or other types of design features. As a new sailor learns to sail and spends more time out on the water for a while, they go one of a bunch of different directions. Some want better perforance and bump up against the limitations of the boat. Others might want more offshore ability. (The compromises for comfort tend to make the boats a bit ''corky''.) And still others jsut plain loose interest in the sport. In the case of Hunter, they produce so many boats in a year that there are bound to be a lot of used ones on the market due to that kind of natural attrition.
There are aesthetic issues. I think most people who have been in the sport sailing for very long are put off by the aesthetics of the Hunters, but aesthitcis are largely subjective.
I generally do not like Hunter''s deck plans. They are hard to move around on, and are not set up for varying sized jibs. I basically like their sail plan(fractional rigs) but don''t like the details (B&R rigs are overly complex, hard to tune, heavy, have a lot of drag, lack backstays and have a lot of windage.) I also don''t like the arch which seems like it could be dangerous in heavy air if a mainsheet block gets jambed and you have to work up there. (I like the Stainless steel arches on the newer versions much better
than the fiberglass ones which are imposible to maintain)
I also question how they hold up over long periods of time. I have been aboard 10 and 12 year old Hunters that were really a wreck. Some of that has to do with who buys them. People who are trying to buy a boat on the cheap often are short of money to properly maintain a boat and people who are new to the sport may not know what to do. Of course, this may also be a product of the individual owners as there are big differences in how individuals keep their boats. (For example the Laser 28 that I am selling is in very good condition. Everything works. The interior is clean and generally intact. I have been aboard Laser 28s that were only raced and raced hard and have had little maintenance that look like they are completely shot.)
All in all they are a mixed bag. Of the big three boat builders, I like the Beneteau First series better than the Hunters, but I personally have a bias that strongly favors performance over dockside comfort. The Hunters offer a lot of room for the money, reasonably good hardware and performance, and are reasonably well built for coastal cruising. They are a little aesthetically challenged, they are not known for holding up well over the long haul or to constant high loads, and give up performance and seakindliness for interior accomodations.