Boat Review July 1, 2004 Issue

Hunter 216

A lively little daysailer packing some impressive innovations, Hunter's 216 comes at an affordable price. So what's the downside? It's a little tender with too few crew.

Notwithstanding the tragedy of 9/11 and subsequently tumultuous stock market, during the past 10 years boat manufacturers have enjoyed a goodly number of buyers clamoring to purchase boats in the 30- to 45-foot range. The market has been so strong that builders have added to existing lines in one-foot increments, and introduced revisions to existing models. And this prosperity applies to both monohulls and multihulls. Builders typically ascribe this phenomenon to what Adam Smith called "a condition of the marketplace," which, in this case, is closely related to the age of the buyers; many older sailors are moving down to mid–sized boats that are easily sailed by a couple, and the first purchase by babyboomers is often a mid-sized boat.

However, at the other end of the scale, a viable market for smaller, lively boats occupies a niche for recreational sailors whose needs do not include multiple berths, built-in microwave ovens, and enclosed heads. Rather, the market for these boats includes sailors whose primary interests are ease of handling, performance, trailerability, low maintenance, and low-cost sailing. These boats, like the aging Rainbow, continue as learning platforms for newcomers to the sport and offer no–hassle sailing for families with young children. They also appeal to the experienced sailor who wants to compete in a serious, but uncomplicated environment, or simply untie a dock line, hoist a sail, and travel in whichever direction the wind blows. In most cases, creature comforts are limited to a cuddy cabin large enough to stow some sandwiches, life jackets, and foul weather gear.

Though the community of small boat builders is a blip on the radar screen in this industry, it is thriving. Precision Boat Builders in Palmetto, FL, which offers a line of daysailers and 23- to 27-foot cruisers, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Priced at $7,500, the P-185 is a high-performance daysailer, the most recent of the Jim Taylor designs for Precision.

The largest in Hunter's line of thermoplastic daysailers, the 216 features an open cockpit, VARA rudder stystem, hydraulically acitvated lifting keel, and the option of an asymmetrical spinnaker set on a retractable bowsprit.

 

In the same neighborhood, Steve Colgate—who is renowned as a sailing instructor—markets the Colgate 26, also a Taylor design that is constructed at Precision’s plant. On the opposite coast, Tom Schock, President of the W. D. Schock Company, recently answered the call for a daysailor with the Harbor 20, a performance-oriented sloop displacing 1,800 pounds that is equipped with a 900-pound, torpedo-shaped fixed keel. The boat is priced at $19,000.

Two "tweeners" also occupy spots in this niche. The Catalina Capri 22, priced at $11,966, closely resembles a scaled down version of the company's larger boats. Perhaps the most traditional design of the lot, the Com-Pac Sun Cat ($12,995) is a catboat with a Mastendr ™ mast that is hinged above the gooseneck. Both boats are considered daysailers, though they offer sleeping berths.

None of these vessels is a candidate for a Transat passage since they are typically lightweights with low freeboard. Only the Colgate 26, (priced at $29,995), has the displacement (2,600 pounds) and ballast, (1,050 pounds of lead in a fixed keel) to withstand moderate sea conditions.

The introduction of the Hunter 216, the latest of the genre on the market, adds a new creature to the mix while offering a snapshot of the change in attitude regarding boat design that occurred when Glenn Henderson was hired by Hunter Marine to assume the mantle of director of engineering.

Design
Henderson, who is known for fashioning high-performance hulls and foils, began sailing as a youth, building his first boats from scraps of plywood scavenged from job sites. "The first 'real' boats I owned were a 420 and Sunfish, and they are still afloat,” he said. Following graduation from the University of Northern Florida, and while postponing entrance into the work force, he "studied abroad" while cruising for six years, in the process completing degree requirements from the Westland School of Yacht Design.

Eventually returning to the homefront, he started a woodworking and fiberglass repair business and became a certified IMS and IOR measurer. Henderson reentered the boatbuilding business with the introduction of a 17-foot dinghy that was followed by a 21–foot MORC racer that "did real well," and the SR Max, a 21-footer that put his fledgling company on the map. He joined Hunter in 1999 with a charge to re-invent the company's product line by increasing the emphasis on performance without compromising on styling and appearance.

"We discovered that the market has changed from the time when interiors sold boats, to a baby boomer generation that consists of more performance-oriented buyers," he says. "But performance is not measured entirely by speed. It is a combination of speed, motion, stability, the boat's reaction to conditions, and maneuverability when docking. Comfort is still important, but we're equalizing all of the contributing factors."

Since joining the company several years ago, Henderson has fashioned lines for the 356 (which became the Hunter 36), 41 and 44 footers, the Excite 10 and the 216.

The design target for the 216 "was an easy-to-sail, trailerable sloop, usable for daysailing, but not for camping," he says. He aspired to endow the boat with "performance enough to intrigue a serious sailor or club racer, but easily controllable for the rank amateur. I was looking for the blend of stability produced by a moderate beam–length ratio."

With a large budget for the purchase of design software, Henderson was able to model "an innovative underbody by paying close attention to the distribution of volume in the hull." The new software allowed him to measure the pressure produced by congregations of water molecules at various points on the hull and produce a shape with little underwater resistance.

To reduce drag, "I incorporated a sportboat type hull form. The bow is plumb for maximum waterline and the waterline sections forward are hollow for low resistance and volumetric distribution control. There is a slight reflex in the stern profile that artificially extends the sailing length of the boat," explains Henderson. "The boat is very easily driven and appears to be well rounded in her performance range from light to heavy air."

Other design elements include low-lift, low-drag underwater appendages “that improve speed, which induces lift,” he says. The internal rudder is encased in round rotating "pod" in the hull, allowing crew to quickly elevate the foil in the cockpit without leaning over the stern, avoiding the risk of the chase that ensues when boat and disconnected rudder end up traveling in opposite directions.

"The rudder system is the VARA system that I have used on several race boats. On this boat it does a number of good things. First, it is very simple to raise the rudder partway when getting into shallow water, and continue to have steerage. The aspect ratio of the rudder is very high, so it provides a significant part of the lift when going upwind. This increases upwind performance dramatically."

Henderson also took the approach that a weighted centerboard is the best approach for the 216, compared to internal ballast and a lightweight keel. "To have a high limit of positive stability so she would be easy to recover from wind blast, I put a heavy, solid-lead centerboard on her," he explains.

Of the design, he says, “An advantage of internal ballast is that the stability changes little with the keel up or down. I compensated for this by placing the centerboard so that, when raised, a good portion of the board is still exposed, though lateral in position. This keeps the center of gravity low as internal ballast, and it leaves enough lateral resistance so the boat does not slide out of control when being put on a trailer. The disadvantage is that the net draft is deeper. I justify that by saying the exposed centerboard is used to guide the boat on to the trailer."

 

The centerboard, which weighs 500 pounds, is designed to lift and tuck into a recess. However, the typical ratchet-wire combination found on most small boats, which requires muscle power to manage, has been replaced by a hydraulic system located under a footbrace molded into the cockpit sole. Lifting the brace provides access to "an aluminum ram designed to be corrosion resistant. The centerboard raises from 3' 6" to 1' when fully retracted. When in the raised position, the board is still low enough to keep the center of gravity down so she isn’t too tippy when launching. The entire system has been designed so it can be easy to get to for maintenance." Raising the keel, claims Henderson, takes about 30 seconds.

The rig is a single-spreader, fractional design with a 105 percent over-lapping jib that produces light loads on sheets and eases tacking.

Designed for easy rigging by trailer sailors, the mast is stepped inside the boat, rather than on deck. As the mast is raised, it slides into a groove at the forward end of the V-shaped companionway opening. This groove effectively becomes the partners, providing support at the forward face of the mast, and laterally, but not aft. And it helps maintain control when the 30' 10" mast is raised or lowered, so a stabilizing bridle is not necessary.

Since the introduction of the 216, says Henderson, "orders for an optional retractable bowsprit have poured in," indicating that "buyers really are interested in performance, and want to use a spinnaker." Even entry level users, he says, are finding that a sprit-mounted asymmetrical spinnaker requires less deck hardware and fewer lines than a traditional rig, so it's easier to hoist, trim, and jibe.

The 216 is built at Hunter's factory in East Lyme, Connecticut. Cutter Smith, the general manager there, says that since its introduction a year ago, more than 200 have been sold, and the factory is now producing boats at the rate of one a day.

Construction
When Hunter acquired JY Boats from Rod Johnstone, it also acquired the rights to what is now the company's patented Advanced Composite Process (ACP), which produces thermoplastic hulls formed in a closed mold. The essential components of the laminate are a skin coat consisting of a BASF plastic called Luran-S, a foam core, and fibercloth backing.

Smith says that hulls for eight of the company's models are "constructed in a thermo–former, a machine that produces the outer shell of the hull." The 216 is the largest model constructed using this method, though Smith says "the current machinery is capable of producing up to 23–footers."

The urethane foam inner core "provides nearly five times the impact resistance of traditional fiberglass," Smith says, because the hull will flex under impact and absorb energy instead of breaking. "The construction of the foam inner liner is analogous to building a sheetrock wall and then putting a stud behind it that is the same size as the entire wall." The foam backing also provides more than 1,500 pounds of positive flotation that, says Smith, "makes the boat unsinkable," even when completely filled with water.

An ancillary bonus that many owners will appreciate is that in the event of a collision, the hull can be sanded and buffed to its original appearance. Should the outer skin be torn, which would require substantial impact, it can easily be repaired via patching with a urethane compound. The only caveat regarding thermoplastics is that solvents will erode them, so cleaning is done either with alcohol or simply soap and water.

Pricing
Hunter has taken a very aggressive approach to pricing the new 216. Though prices in the daysailer market cover a broad spectrum, in many cases the least desirable pricing characteristics offered by companies include a long list of optional equipment and the phrase "FOB the Factory." Though nice for some buyers, such options and purchase restrictions are possible deterrents.

Hunter avoids both conditions by including a sailaway package that is just that. The standard equipment with the 216 includes North Sails mainsail and jib, Harken furler, and a trailer, priced at $13,995, including delivery, regardless of destination in the lower 48 (for a limited time, we're told). The optional spinnaker package, including bowsprit and asymmetrical sail, will add approximately $1,600 to the total.

Performance
We sailed the Hunter 216 twice at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands, not long after the resort had taken delivery of a fleet of them for use by guests, and to serve as one-design racers in the various regattas run at the resort. Both outings occurred in light breezes between 6 and 10 knots (unusually light for that area). For the first sail we ventured out solo; for the second we took along a novice sailor. In both instances the boat moved quickly and smoothly through the flat water, responding well to the helm and giving light, even feedback through the tiller. It heeled and accelerated in the puffs without increased leeway; tacked and jibed effortlessly. Though it's not a speedster, it certainly offers a better turn of speed than most family daysailers with equal comfort and stability.

The tiller and mainsheet are appropriately located for the helmsman, and tacking the small roller-furling jib involves minimal labor. Getting underway requires nothing more than raising the main, unfurling the little jib, and casting off. Back on the mooring, or headed for the trailer, raising the 500-pound keel with the hydraulic lever pump takes about 70 throws, which meant a couple minutes' effort, but was not hard on the muscles. Overall, this is a very simple and gratifying boat to sail in its essential form, and in those breezes.

 

The cockpit is remarkably open, and thus it's easy to move anywhere about the boat. The long bench seats are comfortable, and offer good back support. In the two boats we sailed, there were no handholds anywhere on the coamings, and a complete lack of non-skid on the seats and cockpit well. The boats as they were would have been very slippery and hard to hang onto when heeled well over in a breeze.

The BEYC is a true proving ground: New sailboats see more use and abuse here in six months there than most boats do in a lifetime. We took our tests sails soon after designer Glenn Henderson had departed after inspecting the BEYC fleet. His visit was precipitated by problems with the masts pumping and inverting in the BVI’s heavy air. As a result, the spreader brackets had to be beefed up, and the masts braced better in the partners by the addition of a retention pin and mast collar. These measures had shored up the spars for our visit, and BEYC personnel were already designing handhold and non-skid solutions.

We canvassed BEYC sailing staff then, and for this review, to glean their true feelings regarding the boat. On balance, those feelings are quite positive. First (and near foremost, for them) the boat is tough. As one person said, "The thermoplastic construction is excellent—we’ve had plenty of hard contact between boats in three major pro-level regattas, and there are no dings, no scratches."

The boats in the BEYC fleet are also tender, however, when the breeze builds to 20 knots and there are only two people aboard. The reason may be that the boats in that fleet are stripped out—they carry no loose gear or amenities, no outboard engine and fuel tank, no loaded cooler, or any of the trappings of the typical family daysailer. Consequently, they are quite buoyant and sit high on their lines. When they heel over with low crew weight, they can't take proper advantage of Henderson’s modern underwater shape, which would otherwise help transform wind pressure into efficient horsepower. It was noted that when the boats are more heavily loaded, that tenderness disappears. Consequently, members of the BEYC staff are working on simple ballast solutions for their fleet. This tenderness shouldn't be a problem with normal loading (and in more moderate wind conditions), but you should be aware of it nonetheless.

Cutter Smith explains that non-skid surfacing in the cockpit is now standard on all production 216s, as are reinforced spreader brackets.

We give Henderson's VARA rudder system high marks for the excellent shape of its high-aspect rudder, and for the versatility of the system itself: It allows the rudder to be raised or removed for roll-on/roll-off trailering, easy beaching, and maintenance, yet behaves like a permanent rudder with tube, stock, and bearings, set inboard of the transom. The VARA "pod" also allows for a centerline engine mount and a small transom scoop, and makes the boat look clean and fast. Some of the BEYC boats had problems with the ball bearings in their assemblies, but these were apparently caused by an isolated installation glitch that has been resolved.

The 216 is a welcome addition to the entry-level market, and we suspect that it will be embraced as well by experienced sailors who just want to get out for a lively, easy sail, with no rigging hassles, few control lines, and no extra crew requirements.

Contact - Hunter Marine Corp., 386/462-3077, www.huntermarine.com.

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