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Hunter vs. Beneteau

29154 Views 10 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Seeman
We are considering a Hunter 32 or 34 and also a Beneteau 311 or 331 (all new or less than 3 years old)and would be interested in hearing different perspectives about comparative quality, handling, resale etc. This is a first time purchase of a boat in this class for us and would welcome any feedback.

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I think that if you look carefully at the quality, size and strength of the fittings and standing rigging the Beneteau will win hands down. I also think that Beneteau does a better job on their interior finishing. Both are production boats and as such are compromises. You should also consider the Catalina boats in this size range. I think they are comparable with the Beneteau and are also a step above the Hunters. BTW, I have owned two Catalina boats in the past and currently have a two year old Beneteau 321. We really did not consider the Hunter seriously and picked the Beneteau over the Catalina based on the look of the interior, a purely personal decision. Whichever you choose just get out and enjoy it. I see many fine boats sit at the marina unused.

Good luck,

(This will appear in two parts since the whole post is too long to be accepted)

There is no one universally right answer here. To use my favorite analogy, it is like trying to say that vanilla ice cream is always better than strawberry or vice versa. They have very distinct differences but the differences are more a matter of style, details, and personal preference.

When you talk about the big sellers in the U.S.- Hunter, Catalina, or Beneteau, you can not make a blanket statement that one or the other is better built or worse built than the others. They each have things that they do very well and other areas that they do not so well. My take on each is as follows:

Beneteau has a number of different lines. The First series is their performance line and generally seem to be better built and finished than their Oceanis or Beneteau ''number series''. The 311 and 321 are from the Oceanis series. The First 33.7 is a first series boat. All three boats are between 32' and 32'-8" ong. The big differences are in beam and displacement. All things being equal the 321 should be fastest of the three on a reach and the 33.7 should be faster up wind.

My experience with Beneteaus is that they have nice layouts with clever little details. Like the other two manufacturers, they tend to be lightly built and place an emphasis on accommodations over performance in this size range. I like Benteau's hull deck joint best of the three. I also like their fit and finish best as well.

On the negative side, Beneteau does not publish ballast for their boats but from past data on similar models they tend to be a little lightly ballasted. I am not a big fan of Groupe Finot (the designer of the 311 and 321) type boats. Their boats tend to be overly beamy and do not handle a chop or have as comfortable a motion as well as a narrower hull form. Still Finot is a good as anyone in the world in modeling this form and their boats have reasonable performance for what they are. I do like their hull shapes better than the two Hunters in question.

One issue that I have with Beneteau comes from conversations with surveyors. In looking at the design of Beneteaus systems they do not do as good a job as the other two companies at meeting safety standards. This is especially true when it comes to the design of their systems. (For example in examining a Beneteau 38s5's propane locker I noticed an opening that was not properly sealed and connected that locker to the interior of the boat. That is a very serious no-no. It may have only been a missing finishing detail but a serious one.) They tend to do things in a way that is cheaper to build and perfectly sound until it needs to be fixed. For example the Beneteau that I know most intimately used crimped hose connectors that cannot be reused. Another example is the sprayed varnish finishes. They look great but cannot be easily touched up once scratched without removing and spraying the whole panel. (This is becoming more common in the industry due to air emissions and speed of finishing the work.)

I really do not like that Beneteau is pushing in mast furling mainsails. In my mind these are really bad ideas, especially on boats of this size. In mast mains really kill performance and shorten sail life spans. They are not good in light air (loose too much area to the hollow leeches) and not too good in a blow (they work down the luff and power up at just the time when you really need flat sails.)

Beneteaus also tend to use a lot of materials and methods of construction that are not readily available over here. Plumbing connections, through-hulls, deck cleats and misc. hardware are non-standard in the U.S. market. This is somewhat offset by the Beneteau USA''s (in Marion, S.C.) willingness to be very helpful in getting obscure spare parts very quickly and at surprisingly reasonable prices.
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(A continuation of the above)

Hunter is the most maligned and controversial of the big three. Hunter Marine marches to the sound of their own drummer and a lot of people don't like the tune. Their aesthetics are very much and acquired taste and to many of us, who grew up with more traditional designs, would prefer not to buy their look. They tend to be over sold and many of us are somewhat put off by the implication of the "Goes the Distance" motto.

Still looking at them objectively they are reasonable performers for coastal cruising. They offer a lot of accommodations and features for the money. They tend to be sold amazingly well equipped. According to the surveyors that I have talked to Hunter does an excellent job at designing and building boats that meet the various safety standards. The two boats in question have a CE ''B'' Classification which means that they are not certified for open ocean useage.

On the flip side, few builders seem to draw the heavy fire in the court of "common knowledge". Some of this is just plain unwarranted but quite a bit reflects the reality of these boats. They are designed for a very specific clientele. These are not the circumnavigators but a family that is going to weekend and overnight. They are not really set up with sea berths or offshore galleys but the interiors work well on the anchor. They have narrow side decks and rigs that are at their best reaching but give up a bit beating (headstay sag due to no backstay) and running (the mainsail ends up plastered against the shrouds). The fractional rigs are easier to tack and are easier to deal with in changing conditions.

Things I dislike about Hunters; I really do not like the huge plastic port lights. This will deteriorate (my experience about 10 to 14 years in Maryland) and these big panels will be become unsafe and in need of replacement. That will be very expensive. I don't like the rolled out flange hull deck joint. While it provides a nice rubrail, it is highly vulnerable and from an engineering standpoint has the most bending stresses and highest strains compared to almost any other kind of hull deck joint. (My current boat has this kind of hull deck joint and frankly it is the probably one thing I really don''t like about my boat. It is one thing to do this on a Kevlar boat like mine and an entirely different thing to do on an all glass boat)

I don't like the B&R backstayless rigs. I have spent a lot of time on fractional rigs and masthead rigs. To me a fractional rig really makes a lot of sense for cruising but only with a backstay adjuster. Ideally, Fractional rigs can carry considerable larger working sail plans because of their ability to increase backstay tension and quickly depower the sailplan. This means few sail changes and few reefs. BUT the B&R rig does not use a backstay so rapid depowering is not an option. In that case much of the advantage of a fractional rig is lost. Their interiors also tend to be more sterile.

Lastly if you buy a Hunter you have to deal with the emotional issues about them. There are absolutely rabid Hunter haters out there. You can not under estimate the vehemence of their hatred. Then there are rabid Hunter lovers and defenders out there. They can be almost as bad. This roiling controversy results in a situation where you are left either defending the boat to detractors or defending you lack of defense to the rabid defenders.

(to be continued)
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A continuation of the above two posts.


My experience with Catalina is that they are no better built and no better sailors than the other two. They have their strengths and they have their weaknesses. The thing about Catalina (at least in the US) they are seen as being the most normal. They are not great boats, but they have no big faults either. Catalina uses a lot of well know hardware and details. They tend not to walk down the path less traveled which depending on your perspective is both a real strength and a real disadvantage. They definitely care about how they are perceived. I raised some issues with Catalinas on another BB and Frank Butler, the founder and president of Catalina, called me personally and explained to me why I was wrong in my opinion. (I have actually met both Frank Butler and Warren Luhrs from Hunter and both are people who are trying to do the right thing. They each have a vision of what that right thing is and (and even if their detractors question their definition of what is the right way to go with their boast) they seem to pursue their goals with a lot of personal integrity.) Catalinas are generally roomy and generally sail reasonably well. They don''t have the kind of quirky details that can drive you crazy with the other two companies.

The negatives on the Catalinas are somewhat subjective, but in terms of fit and finish, Catalinas seem to be the worst of the three. (The flip side is that they have finishes that the average guy can maintain.) Their boats have a dated look to my eye but to many people that can be seen as a traditional charm.

Then there is the cored hull issue. The other two manufacturers use some coring in their hulls. This is important to me and I would not by a boat for coastal cruising that did not have a cored hull. Cored hulls are considerably lighter and stiffer. This means less heeling and less flexing which can fatigue the glass over time. (Obviously this is not a universally held belief and I am sure that there are people out there who would not buy a cored hull on a dare.) Cored hulls are actually more expensive to produce if they are produced with care. In any event, per conversations at the Annapolis Boat Show, Catalina is in the process of switching over to cored hulls with a couple models that have already switched over and newer cored models in the works. To me building a boat intended for coastal use without a cored hull is just plain backwards BUT I emphasize that this is only my opinion and its not hard to make the case for either side of this argument.

In any event it all comes down to how you will use you boat. If all you are doing is coastal work then any of the three should work. I have spent a lot of time on examples of all three manufacturers and none of the three are compellingly superior to the other two. It''s a matter of what you wish to accomplish and which one moves you most.

Catalina like Hunter uses glued hull to deck joints. As Mr. Butler pointed out to me, Catalina uses a space age adhessive caulk developed for the aerospace industry and it is very tenacious stuff. The bolts are only there for alignment during construction. I think that this is a reasonable hull to deck joint but it is not may favorite.

In conclusion, it all comes down to how you will use you boat. If all you are doing is coastal work then any of the three should work. I have spent a lot of time on examples of all three manufacturers and none of the three are compellingly superior to the other two. It''''s a matter of what you wish to accomplish and which one moves you most.

One last point, if you are new to sailing and owning boats of this size, I would suggest that you start out with a used boat. It takes a lot to equip a boat and boats have a lot of depreciation in their first five years. It does not look like as much depreciation because you are typically comparing the ''''base price'''' or ''''delivery price'''' with that of a fully found used boat that has had the 1001 odds and ends added to make it a finished and usable boat. You may very well find that the boat you bought was not right for you and it is far easier to sell out gracefully on a used boat.

In any case good luck in your search and let us know what you decided to do. Your decision making process might be helpful to others making this kind of decision.

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Thak you for your thourough insight. We will definately take your comments into consideration... especially the concept of purchasing used as a first step.

I''ll keep you posted.

Thanks again.

I was looking through old posts and came across your''s on the Hunter vs Beneteau topic. You mention, "I don''t like the rolled out hull deck joint. While it provides a nice rubrail, it is highly vulnerable and from an engineering standpoint has the most bending stresses and highest strains compared to almost any other kind of hull deck joint."
I''m not sure I know the technique of rolled hull/deck joint, or may know it by another title. Would you provide a little extra description when you have a moment please?

On the newer Hunters the hull deck joint occurs below the deck level. The deck molding turns down toward the topsides and then has a flange that turns outward. Similarly the top of the hull molding has a flange that turns out. This joint is then glued together and bolted. The primary bond is formed by a very hogh strength adhesive developed for the aerospace industry. It is similar to the adhesive used by Catalina.

The out-turning flanges are then covered by a rubber rub rail. A rolled out flange is less expensive and a bit easier to build as the molds do not have to be disassembled to remove the flange and the radii are all outside turns.

In my mind it is preferable for the joint to occur at the deck line with a flange turned in. When the flange turns in at the underside of the deck the joint only experiences sheer, compression and tension but no bending. With an outward facing flange the flange can experience a lot of bending moment across the joint.

The other issue is that the flanges can be much larger on an inward facing flange. This means more surface for the adhesive (reducing loads per square inch) and there is more room for bolting.

Last year I moderated an online question and answer session with a rep from Hunter. In that discussion with Hunter, the joint question was addressed to Hunter. Hunter was asked, "Why does Hunter use an outward facing flange hull deck joint?"

Hunter responded, "We do use outboard lapped flanges because they are easier to construct than inboard flanges. We cycle tooling at a rather high rate and to obtain that rate sometimes we need two to four sets of identical tooling. That adds up fast because tooling is the major investment in FRP construction. Outward flange tooling allows more rapid reuse of tooling.

I don''t argue that an inboard lapped flange is better. But I will argue that an outboard flange for the reasons mentioned earlier is more than adequate and is construction friendly. It is certainly better than a shoe box joint that provides none of the benefits of either and is more prone to leaking and harder to repair if damaged. Inboard lapped joints tend to be harder to repair and harder to access it''s fasteners."

Its hard to describe this kind of thing over this media so I don''t know if that answers you question clearly but I would be glad to discuss it further.

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Thanks Jeff,

I understand. I was not aware of this technique. Is this unique to Hunter or do you know of others that use this hull/deck bond as well?

Rolled out deck joints have been tryed by many production builders but few on boats the size of the boats that Hunter uses it on. Oday used this detain on a number of boats. So did Pearson. Catalina uses it on their smaller boats and some of their larger boast. Cal used it alot in the early years. All of the Morgan Out Island series used this type of joint, to name a few.

One big difference today is the advent of modern adhensives. Years ago the best that was available was 3M 5200, a pretty good product but no where near permanent. Today''s space age adhesives are stronger and offer a longer lifespan.

This type of connection saves a lot of money. When you build a boat with a rolled in flange the part of the mold that forms the flange must be removeable so that you can get the boat out of the mold. Typically the inward facing flange mold is bolted on and so the flange must be bolted on for each molding. Beyond that the outboard corner of flange mold must be faired each time the mold is opened or the corner of the gelcoat must be handworked. It is difficult work in the tight corner at the outboard corner of the flange as well so it takes greater care to build and inward facing flange.

Not only do you have more handwork and but the handwork slows the turnover of the molds. With a company like Hunter, who uses multiple sets of molds for each of its smaller boats, days lost to a slower mold turnover is a significant cost.

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There has been some pretty good responses to your question. As a Hunter owner perhaps I can provide some feedback:

1. We have a 1988 H-35 which we bought new as a place-holder and now we''re getting into the 2001 model year - this is thirteen years later! - and we''ve been looking for the boat all this time. My parents always had boats and so have I. I''ve seen a lot of performance improvements over the years but there are still some things that don''t change much. I prefer a more traditional style to the bathtub approach. Our boat was somewhat non-traditional when it was new - open transom, deadlights in the coach roof, swept-back spreaders, CNG gas stove, bulb-wing keel, to name a few, but all-in-all she has worked out very well.

2. Our cruising grounds are the Pacific Northwest and we''ve cruised both up the inside passage and up the outside to the Queen Charlottes - the latter is a route very few boats would ever take, not even ocean going tugs and cruise ships.

3. The Legend series (around ''87 until around ''94) have an aluminum toe rail - which I think is a positive. The interior is an inexpensive varnished finish but can be improved on with additional coats if a person knows how to do it. The rig is fractional with backstay (ours is adjustable) and slab reefing - very easy to singlehand.

4. Performance: In our local club races we beat boat-for-boat a Hinkley 59 with furling main, Beneteau 44 with skipper who knows how to sail it, Catalina 42, and on occassion a Hobie 33, to name a few. When out just cruising around there are very few boats that aren''t race prepared (faired bottom, slick bottom paint, etc.) and in our size range that will leave us behind. The H-35 is a good sailing boat even at a PHRF of 123! We wouldn''t have a sailboat without a feathering prop. A 35.5 won her class in the double handed division in the Pacific Cup race from San Francisco to Hawaii against probably the top tactician in the 100 plus boat fleet on his own Cal 40, and the Hunter sailors were "no-name" sailors!

5. We have 4-golf cart batteries plus a group 28 start battery - a lot of weight plus a lot of reserve electrical power. Great for refrigeration, say two days on the hook. We carry 45 ft of 3/8 BBB chain plus 350 ft of 5/8-in rode and a Delta 35# anchor as standard ground tackle, plus a heaver system for the storm anchor. We''ve got a really large lazarette for storage of the 8hp outboard, sail bags, oars, storm anchor system, etc.

Dollar for dollar you''d have a hard time beating the performance and the utility of the Hunters from this vintage. Unless you really like the style of the newer boats my recommendation would be to step back a few more years and pick up a bigger boat that is better equiped, has been taken care of, and you''ll probably still pay less than the ones you''re looking at. Get one that is "properly" equipped, where things were not "thrown on" but installed properly and with some forthought.

Over 75-percent of the Hunter owners in the Pacific Northwest club are "on-line". Check out the and the Benneteau and Catalina sites hosted by the same person as the Hunter site (bottom right corner of web page).

With these boats the displacement is probably a better measure of size than length. Sail some boats before buying one. Good luck in your decision.
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