That has not been my impression at all. For the record, I do not work for Catalina. I get nothing out of them. But let me tell you what I have seen, first hand, with the other builders. Lets start with Hunter:
I personally have seen more than one Hunter where the glass was SO thin you could see daylight plainly shinning through. Of course it cracked, as did the arch. They also put cabinetry over the access for the chain plates The problem is that in order to service them once you get a leak, you have to pull the entire cabinets off. Access to systems is atrocious and furniture placement makes any altercations a major overhaul. Now you say ignore that? Ignore how many years of building boats like that because the new ones are great? Hmph. I am not discounting it, but I certainly have not bought it hook, line, and sinker. Only time will tell. I will say that of all three of the manufacturers, Hunter seems (at this moment) to be making the best effort for change. But after that many years of building VERY poor quality boats - they have a lot to prove and can only go up. - CD
I will grant you that, when compared to the traditional cruising sailboat, many of the Hunters that were built during the '90s appear to have had corners cut in their build and fit-out. I think this was the case of many of the builders of that era; they were all trying to survive with growing competition in a shrinking market. Many of them didn't make it. Those that did survive mostly did so by finding the right level of build quality for the intended purpose of the boat.
It seems that Hunter concentrated most of its efforts in the 90s on building boats intended for day sailing, bay explorations and coastal cruising. They recognized that they did not have to add extra beef that was not required, and they focused on making sailing very comfortable, very easy and very affordable. In doing so, they produced boats that met the needs of the vast majority of the market. They survived.
Many of these boats, which were designed and built for coastal use, have made circumnavigations, they continue to do major bluewater passages, and they are frequently seen arriving in and departing from anchorages around the world. Are the early Hunters the best boat for that purpose? Certainly not, nor are many of the other boats that are out doing major offshore passages.
In the late 90s, Hunter brought in Glenn Henderson to lead their design team, and he has now completed the replacement of the entire fleet. Most of the boats are still designed primarily as local or coastal cruisers, with the emphasis on comfort and ease of handling. The quality of build, the fit-out and the finish have all improved, and the access to systems and the ease of maintenance are much simpler (as is the case with almost all modern boats).
The Hunter 49 is the first production boat that Hunter has designed specifically for offshore passagemaking. While it is very commodious and comfortable, and can also be a great coastal cruiser or a wonderful floating condo, it has already proven itself to be a very capable bluewater boat. In January 2008, Mike Harker completed a circumnavigation in his new Hunter 49, logging over 26,000 miles in eleven months and spending nearly six of those months in port. Not a bad feat for an able-bodied crew, but Mike did the voyage solo, and he is a paraplegic.
The 49 is not a slug either; I have just read that in this month's Carib 1500, a Hunter 49 was the 5th boat across the line in a fleet of 50, and the first in the 'Cruising Boat' category. More than half the fleet was over 50 feet in length and included some of the best names in sailboat racing. The Hunter 49 finished in 8 days, 1 hour, and behind only four 'Race Class' boats: a Santa Cruz 52, a Halberg-Rassy 62, a Halberg-Rassey 49 ketch and a Swan 58. Some of the 'Race Class' boats that arrived after the Hunter 49 were a MacGregor 65, a Catana 50, a Beneteau 57, a Jeanneau 57, a Farr 50, a Tayana 58, a Taswell 58 and a Hinkley 51.
Now I know many here bash the BOTY Awards, but I would be remiss if I did not point out that Cruising World named the Hunter 49 its 2008 Boat of the Year - Best Full-Size Cruiser. Also, if you care to count ad pages, Hunter less space in Cruising World and in Sail than many of the boats that didn't even get on the also-ran list.