Thanks for the update Mike. I will disagree with you that Hunter quality improved from 1998 on. I have seen enough of their new boats in that period to know that while designs may have changed...they were still building to that 1990's standard until recently...if I had to guess, I'd say that around 2004-2005 they really began to address some of the quality issues and I think it will be a few more years yet before we can truly say that the newer boats have stood up well to hard use...though your own testimony about the factory and some of the testing they are now undergoing bodes well for a change in opinion by many. The good news is that no matter what quality they built to over the years...they always remembered to take care of their customers and so have a very loyal base.
So...we can agree that Henderson and his team have made a difference while disagreeing a bit on how far back that difference goes.
Henderson joined Hunter in 1998. No one can expect him to instantly pop-out a bunch of new designs, have the existing corporate structure immediately adopt them, re-tool on the spot and begin producing new and improved boats the next day. As with change in any large and complex manufacturing process, things are done one step at a time. Initially, the new designer's task would likely have been to convince the corporate hierarchy to adopt his first new design.
From what I can find out, Henderson's first 'from-the-ground-up" boat was the 356, introduced in 2002. Over 500 of these were built, and I will assume this made Hunter happy, and willing to give him more room. So the change you note as dating to 2004-05, fits well this scenario.
I have no idea!
It's certainly not my cup of tea, but I don't like centre cockpits, anyway. To me it seems a good example of a marketing team getting in the way of a design team. I'm sure that marketing knows more of its potential market than we do.
The 50 uses the 49 hull, which at 49'-11" can easily be called 50'. From the companionway forward, the interior has very few changes from the 49, so rework the after part of the interior, make a new deck mould and voila!