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Catalina vs Hunter
I''ve chartered both brands in several sizes ranging from 22 to 36 feet on several occasions. My two cents:
Catalinas look better, Hunters look a little dumpy, especially the stern. The Hunter mast and arch look, well, different.
Hunters have more space and better designed interiors. They''re more comfortable. If there''s a female involved in the final check-off, Hunter is going to win most of the time.
Catalina''s sail better for me, but this is subjective. I like a boat that has just a little weather helm and can handle 15 knots without a reef in the main. Catalinas seem to eat this up and hang in there. The 36 is an especially lovely sailer.
Hunters are easier to sail, especially singlehanded. How can this be? The arch may look weird, but it''s very effective because you''ve got lot of leverage on the boom and there''s that long traveler mounted up there to give you many adjustment options. I hated the way Hunters sailed until I learned that the boat is designed so you have to reef the main once the wind starts getting up there. After all, the Hunter has a larger main. About 15 knots the Hunter''s weather helm gets severe. Here on SF Bay, 20-30 knots is typical of a summer afternoon. But put in a reef, and the Hunter straightens up and sails very well. Because the Hunter typically uses a larger main, you can run a smaller jib, hence, the jib pops over easily and cleanly during the tack.
Customer support and owner association support for both boats is phenomenal. These two builders have outlasted hundreds of sailboat companies. The others may have been faster, cheaper, cooler, and fancier (or more expensive), but none of them gave the customer support or have had a more enthusiastic owner base than these two great American companies. I bought a used 70s 14 foot Catalina boat a few years ago. I sent an email to Catalina hoping to learn something about the boat, but expecting nothing. A few days later I got an owners manual in the mail with Catalina''s compliments.
Frankly, I like both boats for the reasons above. And if I''m lucky enough to own either one of them one of these days, I''ll probably be happy. I''ll probably end up with a Hunter because my wife finds the galley and the head to her liking.
One note on the Hunter 356. It appears Hunter simply changed the name to 36 in 2004. Some interior changes were made, but the specs are exacly the same. Maybe Hunter was concerned back in 2000 that if it called the 356 a 36, it would be confused with the earlier Hunter 36. Anyway, the 356 or new 36 continues to be a popular boat. I have a friend with one of them and it is an absolutely pleasant boat to sail and live in. Here''s a little example of Hunter design ingenuity. All through-hulls on the 356 are led to a plate aft of the keel and can be accessed by a hatch at the foot of the cabin ladder. No searching around all over the nooks and cranies of the boat to find the ball cocks to shut everything down. My only objection, which Cruising World pointed out in its review, is that the aft lockers next to the swim platform are liabilities if the hatches were to come off. This can be fixed with heavier hinges and latches.