Boat Reviews

Hunter 30

This coastal cruiser is aimed squarely at the bottom end of the market--a lot of boat for little money.

Hunter began building auxiliary sailboats in 1974, largely as the result of the first oil embargo and the new energy consciousness that followed in this country. Hunter began as a division of Silverton, one of the country’s large manufacturers of small powerboats, which was interested in expanding its offerings and taking advantage of the new interest in saving fuel.

The new company’s aim was high-volume production, keeping prices low by standardizing design, making as few tooling changes as possible, and offering its boats “fully equipped,” this in the days when other companies were selling such things as bow pulpits and lifelines as options on a 30-foot boat.

The original boats came with sails, dock lines, fenders, lifejackets, and fire extinguishers, in what Hunter came to call the “Cruise Pak” of standard features. About the only option available on the early Hunters was a choice of shoal or deep draft keels.

The company’s corporate goals seem little different today, a remarkable consistency in marketing sailboats through the ups and downs of the last 18 years. The company continues the Cruise Pak on its boats to this day, now offering even electronic equipment and a copy of Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship, and Small-Boat Handling. The one notable change in Hunter over the years has been in the number of models offered. Hunter began—like its chief competitor, Catalina Yachts—with a small group of standardized models. From 1974 through 1977 they offered only the Hunter 25, 27, and 30 models, and from 1977 through 1979 they added only the 33 and 37.

Nowadays, unlike Catalina, Hunter is offering an almost bewildering variety of models, with frequent updates and design changes. Model lines called “Hunter,” or “Vision,” or “Legend,” have little in the way of family resemblance.

The Hunter 30 is a John Cherubini design, as was the companion Hunter 27. The third of the original Hunters—the 25—was designed by Cherubini and Robert Seidelmann.

The company has been remarkably reticent about giving out information—more so than any other boat builder Practical Sailor has ever dealt with. We called for information on how many 30s had been built, for example, and were told simply, “We don’t release that information.”

We asked also for design information, both for the original 30 and the current Hunters, which are advertised as the product of CEO “Warren Luhrs and the Hunter Design Team.” Again, the company declined, and we can only guess as to who is responsible for this policy.

The latest 30 we examined was a 1980 model, hull #934. The 30 we sailed was a 1978, hull #568. The boats were built from 1974 until 1983, and we presume that more than 1,000 were built.

Some number of them were sold as “Quest 30s,” which was essentially a sail-away bare-hull kit boat, with the purchaser completing the interior and the fitting out.

The Hunter 30 owners who responded to our reader surveys generally felt they were decently treated by the company. Most said the company had responded to warranty problems and to inquiries and complaints, though a number of owners did remark on the long time it sometimes took to get a response.

One example of good customer relations was in the owner’s manual that we found on each Hunter 30—a good, clear, simple manual. It has always amazed us how many other makers of low-priced, and even expensive, boats provide the buyer with little or no printed information.

The Boat

In contrast to today’s Hunters, the early Cherubini-designed models were conservative and conventional in design.

The longer sister models—the 33 and 37—were in our opinion good-looking boats, moderately styled, with an attractive bow line and sheer and a pleasing coach roof. The smaller boats, the 25 and 27, were not ugly; however, packing a lot of room into a short waterline caused them to be higher-sided with boxier cabin houses than would be ideal for appearance’s sake.

The 30 lies somewhere between—handsome from some angles but just a little bit too flat in the sheer and high in the cabin top to be considered beautiful. Still, most traditionalists will consider it a much more attractive boat than the modern Euro-style Hunters.

The hull is very full to give a lot of interior room, but otherwise quite typical of the racer-cruisers of the 1970s. Overall, the boat is 29' 11"—the maximum allowable length under the then popular Midget Ocean Racing Club (MORC) rule. The short overhangs result in a long waterline, fundamental for sailing speed. The beam, at just a hair over 10 feet, is moderate by 1970s standards, but narrow in comparison to the “big” 30-footers that have appeared since. The Catalina 30, for example, is nine inches wider, and many current boats carry a foot more beam (and generally carry it further aft) than the Hunter 30.

A conventional fin keel, drawing 5' 3", was standard, with a 4' 0" shoal keel as an option. We sailed only on the deep keel version, and suspect it is much to be preferred unless you absolutely need the shallower draft. Company literature lists the displacement and ballast as identical on both models. If true, the shallow keel version will be more tender, calling for a reef early as the wind pipes up. There’s a full skeg ahead of the rudder. If you have to remove the propeller shaft for some reason, you’ll have to remove the engine first, or tear the skeg off.

In construction, the boat is very conventional—an economical solid-glass layup in the hull and a balsacored deck with plywood for backing under cleats. A conventional flange, with a through-bolted aluminum toerail, joins the hull and deck together. Our opinion of the fiberglass work was that it was good but a little light—marginal for offshore sailing but strong enough for typical coastal cruising. On one of the boats we looked at there was extensive delamination of the cockpit sole and the bench seats.

The conventional construction is quite in contrast to the present-day Hunters. CEO Warren Luhrs has heavily advertised his participation in long-distance singlehanded races, featuring boats with high-tech construction and exotic materials. And the new Hunters can generally be described as highly engineered, at the opposite end of the spectrum from the early Hunters, like the 30.

Finally, on the two 30s that we examined thoroughly, there was a good bit of sloppy glass work—ragged edges, un-resinated glass—in compartments and otherwise out of sight. And among responses from Hunter 30 owners, there’s a surprisingly high number of complaints about what we would collectively call quality control problems: fuel-return lines improperly hooked up, chafed hoses, leaking ports, plumbing kinked, untightened screws and nuts, poorly fitted hatch boards and lazarette covers, improperly installed exhaust systems, and so on.

On Deck

The foredeck is a bit small for anchor work and sail handling because the cabin house extends quite far forward. The 1978 and later models have an anchor well built into the foredeck.

A significant shortcoming of the boat’s design is the narrow walkway on each side of the cabin. The wide cabin house makes it clear that the top priority was interior room, with deck work being a distant consideration. It’s hard to get past the chainplates, especially on the leeward side when under a press of canvas. The boat we sailed had a furling jib, a desirable option in view of the small foredeck.

The boat has a good cockpit, a bit smaller than many other 30s (again, a result of extending the cabin house for maximum interior room). A wheel was standard on the boat; it’s small, which is good for moving around the cockpit, but less than ideal for sailing. We’re not big fans of steering wheels on boats under 40 feet or so, but Hunter is obviously successful in appealing to the entry level sailor or the small boat sailor moving up to a first cruising boat.

A “T” cockpit became standard following 1980, and some people prefer that arrangement; however, you can lie down on the older bench seats and you can’t with the T. The bench seats would benefit from some sort of drain arrangement since they trap water. In addition, cushions, especially back cushions, would make the cockpit seats more comfortable.

A peculiarity of the decks on the early Hunters is that the non-skid pattern was not molded in as is customary on fiberglass decks. Instead, non-skid material was painted on. In almost all older Hunters we’ve seen, that material is coming off in spots or even large patches. Fortunately, repair is straightforward (though time-consuming), requiring the filling and fairing of any holes and then the application of a new non-skid paint.

On the boats we examined, there was minimal sail handling equipment on deck—one pair of jib sheet winches, a small halyard winch for the jib, no winch at all for the main halyard, no Cunningham or vang, no control lines on the traveler, no flattening reef, a single jiffy reef block, two jib lead blocks out on the toerail, no backstay adjuster.

Interior

The interior was originally a strong selling point for the boat. Almost every owner commented on the size of the interior—often relative to low price—when talking about their reasons for buying the 30.

The interior is well laid out, but plain. Some of the details could use changing, like the alcohol stove, lack of vents and small water tank. There’s a lot here for the money, however.

Layout is conventional, with a good V-berth forward, then a head with small hanging locker opposite, settee berths on each side with a drop-leaf table in the middle, an L-shaped galley, with the sink underneath the companionway, and a quarter berth, with a tiny chart table at its head. The berths are of decent size, though a tall person will wish they were all a few inches longer.

Many of the boats have alcohol stoves (“Cooks about like a solar oven,” said one owner) that will be due for upgrading. The icebox on the boat we looked at had minimal insulation and would benefit from several more inches all around.

The deck house is high and wide, and this gives a look of spaciousness below. The white hull liner overhead helps to offset the extensive teak veneer on the bulkheads, ceilings, sole, and furniture.

There are adequate windows and hatches for adequate light inside, and opening portlights (Hunter was one of the first production boats to offer numerous opening ports as standard) to give good ventilation. If the boat has not been upgraded by the time of purchase, the new owner will probably want to add some Dorade or solar vents to keep the air moving when the opening ports must be closed.

Finish below is average—typical of the low-cost production boats which depend on pre-fab components, rapidly installed in the hull. In our owner surveys, there were a great many complaints about sloppy detailing in the joinerwork, door hinges, hardware, and loose trim. Storage space is minimal, and water tankage of 35 gallons is marginally adequate for cruising.

Engine

For the first four years, a 12-hp Yanmar diesel was standard. After 1978, a 15-hp Yanmar and finally an 18-hp Yanmar.

The 12 was a particularly noisy engine, the later models less so. Most of the owners who completed our survey thought the engines were minimal for powering the boat, especially in any kind of head seas; however, by traditional standards even the 12-hp model should be adequate for the weight and length of the boat. Although the 12 is highly praised for its reliability, many people may find later models to be more desirable because of their larger and smoother running engines.

Engine accessibility is criticized by almost all the owners who completed our survey. “Access is awful,” said one. “You must be a left-handed midget to work on this engine.”

We thought accessibility was far from ideal, but it really isn’t too unusual for this size boat. With a big interior and a small cockpit, it’s hard to stuff an engine under the cockpit sole without cramping.

The boat we sailed (with the Yanmar 12) was well behaved under power, backing nicely, turning crisply, driving through strong winds (though in protected water) with no problem. Our impression was that the vibration and noise were more of a concern than the power of the engine. Anyone buying the boat with the Yanmar 12 will probably want to spend the time to get perfect alignment. We’d also look closely at the engine mounts and the shaft strut mounting.

A two-blade solid prop was standard, but a number of owners refitted the boat with a three-blade solid prop, apparently to improve powering. We doubt if the gain would offset the loss in sailing ability.

Sailing

We were pleasantly surprised by the sailing performance of the Hunter 30. We sailed one in a long triangular race—two triangles, then windward-leeward-windward legs—in heavy air, a little over 20 knots at the start.

Considering that the boat had almost no sail controls and old sails, and that the underbody was rough and a bit weedy, the boat moved very well, going to weather respectably in a serious racing fleet, and reaching and running competitively.

The jib we used was the 130-percent genoa on roller-furling, and this was about right for the boat in those conditions. When the wind faded near the end of race, the boat was clearly under-canvassed.

The boat is slightly under-rigged with its short mast. To sail well in light air, especially with the solid prop that almost all the 30s have, a huge jib is required, with all the consequent hassle of tacking and winch cranking.

Nonetheless, the 30 is a good sailing boat, responsive and easy to steer. Its PHRF rating of 186 would probably be very favorable if the boat were rigged with a full complement of sail controls and modern sails. It should be able to stay with other 30-footers of the same era, such as the Pearson 30, Catalina 30 (not the tall rig), and O’Day 30. Since sailing is what sailing is all about, our opinion of the Hunter 30 was improved dramatically when we took a first in our main-and-jib class.

Conclusions

The Hunter 30 was a boat built to a price—to sell at the bottom end of the market and appeal to the sailor who wanted a lot of room for the least amount of money.

As long as the buyer understands that, not expecting custom quality at barnyard prices, the Hunter 30 can be a good value in a used boat. It’s easy to pay too much for a used boat these days, but for a roomy coastal cruiser in good condition, the Hunter 30 can be had at a decent price—a lot of cruisability at a very minimal investment.

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