This coastal cruiser has a number of innovations to like but performance in light air is only so-so.
Formed in Florida in 1972 by brothers Warren and John Luhrs, Hunter Marine is one of the two largest builders of sailboats in the US; Catalina Yachts is the other. Hunter makes more than 1,200 boats a year.
It entered the marketplace with a 25-footer that made its debut in 1973. Now focusing on a market that includes buyers new to the sport and those stepping up from daysailers, its current product line includes boats ranging in size from nine to 50 feet.
The more high profile of the two owners, Warren made history in the boating industry when he completed a record breaking doublehanded voyage from New York to San Francisco. Sailing aboard Thursday’s Child, a 60-footer with innovations later incorporated into production boats, he challenged the New York-San Francisco record set by the legendary clipper Flying Cloud. Despite a slew of mechanical breakdowns and unfavorable weather patterns, he sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge only 80 days and 20 hours after departing New York, shattering the record by eight days, 12 hours.
Hunter Marine employs 450 people at a 200,000 square foot facility, and has 140 dealers worldwide. It was converted to an employee-owned operation in 1996, and currently operates under the direction of Dan Jett, president.
Hunter’s in-house design team draws all of the company’s yachts, which bear a striking resemblance to each other.
Like most other Hunters, the 320 was designed to appeal to people who are interested in comfortable, easy-to-sail boats that are not too expensive…or as companies such as Hunter like to say, “good values.”
The 320 has a lot of curvy, round shapes, from the profile of the transom to the cockpit coaming to the sloped cabin top. She has good curb appeal, though will not be described as “sleek.” Freeboard at maximum beam is 45". The bow, with a 14° entry angle, is nearly plumb. Beam is a generous 10' 10".
The cabintop also is rounded. A prominent design element is the dark acrylic portlights in assorted sizes and shapes. A flat area forward of the sea hood is large enough to stow a small uninflated rubber dinghy.
Like her sisterships, the 320 has a cockpit designed for modest dockside entertaining. A most distinctive innovation is the “integrated arch” mounted aft in the cockpit. The end-boom mainsheet tackle connects to the arch rather than to the customary cockpit or coachroof traveler. The 320’s arch is made of stainless steel tubing and is less of a visual obstruction than the solid fiberglass arches installed on other Hunter models.
The mast, a seven-eighths fractional rig, measures 46' 9" above the designed waterline. The rig puts much of the sail area in the mainsail. The jib is just a 110% lapper so that trimming large genoas is eliminated. The spinnaker halyard is blocked well above the headstay for a near full-hoist.
Two keels are offered—a shoal draft that draws 4' 4", and a deep keel that draws 5' 10".
Actual sail area is 540 sq. ft., giving a sail area/displacement (SA/D) ratio of 20.6. But rated sail area is less, about 437 sq. ft., which reduces the SA/D to just 16.7.
The lay-up process and lamination schedule for the 320 are typical of many production boats intended for daysailing and cruising coastal waters. Vinylester resin is used in the outer ply to provide blister resistance. The hull below the waterline is solid fiberglass with alternating layers of 24-oz. roving, 18-oz. unidirectional roving, and 1.5-oz. mat. Hull thickness at the keel is 3/4". The topsides are cored with end-grain balsa; the skins are mat and roving.
A similar schedule is followed during construction of the deck, except that the core is 1/2" thick marine grade plywood.
The hull-deck joint is a flange bonded with 3M 5200 and fastened with stainless steel lag bolts on 4" centers. Areas in which winches, stanchions and hardware are installed are reinforced with additional plies but without backing plates—a serious omission in our view.
A heavy, 2"-wide rub rail encircling the hull conceals the deck seam.
The 320 features a unique B&R rig with Selden mast with two pairs of spreaders swept aft 30° that designers claim gives 11.5° sheeting angles and good upwind performance.
Standing rigging is wire ranging in size from 3/16"-1/4".
Designers claim that the B&R rig increases support for the mast, eliminates the need for a permanent backstay and, allows for use of a full roach main that produces correspondingly better performance and sail shape.
We agree with the first and last of these claims, but are unconvinced that the rig improves sail shape (a factor that may be of little importance to most prospective buyers as we suspect that the average Hunter owner is not a high-performance sailor).
The significant difference between this and a conventional rig is the addition of several diamond stays and a “mast strut.” The strut is a stainless steel rod, one end of which is attached to the lower section of the mast, the other to the cabintop. Hunter says that the strut stabilizes the lower section of the mast and creates a strong point for boom and spinnaker pole loading.
The boat has significantly more wire aloft than similarly sized yachts, but this permits the use of a smaller mast section, which results in less weight aloft, hence less heeling. But while a thinner mast section reduces weight aloft, the additional wire rigging increases windage.
We are unconvinced that this rig improves sail shape because, despite prebend in the mast, there is no obvious way to tension the headstay when hard on the wind.
One obvious benefit of a rig without lower shrouds led to the rail is that the 13" side decks are free of obstructions. Coupled with 25" high pulpits and double lifelines, three 22" handrails, and nonskid on deck and cabintop, we moved safely about the deck during our test sail.
For handling ground tackle there is an anchor roller, which extends 4" from the hull to help keep the anchor’s flukes from marring the topsides. The anchor locker is well conceived with a flush-mounted hatch, two cleats to hold the rope rode and chain, and a mounting pad for a windlass. The anchor locker drain is close to the waterline, which eliminates unsightly rust and mud lines that inevitably run down the hull.
Light and ventilation for the forward cabin is provided by a 22" x 22" Lewmar hatch as well as recessed portlights over the berth.
Moving aft, four small opening portlights, one on each side of the mast and a pair over the saloon, provide light and ventilation in the main cabin.
Most deck hardware is provided by respected manufacturers. Blocks and winches, for example, are from Harken, Lewmar, and Schaefer, and our test boat was equipped with a Furlex headsail furler. However, because company marketing literature does not specify suppliers, they are subject to change.
Running rigging is well organized and laid out. Halyards and reef lines are internal, led to Spinlock XA rope clutches. Rather than cluttering the deck with a pair of single height turning blocks, the boat is equipped with two-level Schaefer blocks.
Standard equipment is one two-speed Lewmar 30 and one single speed self-tailing winch, both on the cabin top. These are for trimming the jib and hoisting halyards.
While this minimalist approach to sail control may reduce the number of lines in the cockpit, as well as cost, we prefer the arrangement on our test boat. The boat was equipped with Lewmar 46 self-tailers on each side of the cockpit, augmented by Schaefer turning blocks located at the base of the arch. This arrangement places the jib sheets within reach of the helm; spinnaker sheets are led from the arch to the cabintop winch.
Despite appearances, the arch is functional.
It consists of two, 1-1/2" stainless steel tubes whose bases are firmly secured to the hull on stainless steel pads. At the top of the arch, the mainsheet is led from a Harken track and blocks to a Harken block at the end of the boom. The sheet is led to the forward end of the boom, through a block to the deck at the base of the mast, and aft to a sheet stopper on the cabintop. It is within easy reach of crew, and within two footsteps of the helm.
Traveler sheets are led down the inner sides of the arch to cleats that are also within reach of the helm.
It’s a tidy arrangement. In its basic configuration there are no lines in the cockpit; the jib sheets are led to the cabintop.
The underside of the arch can house stereo speakers and an overhead light.
The cockpit, large enough to seat six adults comfortably, is formed by several curved seats. Those forward are 19" wide and 24" long; the middle seats are 17" wide and 35" long; and a third pair are 24" wide teardrop-shaped seats fit in the stern pulpit.
A large lazarette accommodates dock lines and fenders; propane tanks are located in the starboard cockpit corner.
The combination of wide seats and 10"-12" high coamings provide comfortable seating.
An interesting element is a 12" x 17" opening hatch beneath the port seat that provides light and ventilation for the aft stateroom. The tradeoff is the loss of a storage area.
As with most newer model production sailboats, the helmsman’s seat folds down for access to the swim platform. The rubber hinges holding the seat in place do not appear to be very strong.
The fiberglass binnacle, on the other hand, is brutish, measuring 28" long and 16" wide. It is equipped with two built-in winch handle holders and a table with leaves that lower when not in use; both are good design elements.
The wheel is a 32" stainless steel destroyer type; a larger wheel would ease steering in heavy breezes and allow better sight lines to jib telltales.
The standard instrument package includes only the basics: a tachometer, inclinometer, Autohelm knotmeter and depthsounder.
With 6' 4" standing headroom, several ports, and bright wood surfaces, the 320’s cabin is easy to move about and well-lighted.
The ambiance is acceptable. The galley and head have Corian countertops, the cabin sole is teak and holly, and the liner in the main cabin accents the area. Bulkheads and doors are overlaid with a teak veneer lookalike. Joinery is typical of a mass-produced boat; surfaces are well sanded and varnished, but we found joints that were not precisely cut. The boat’s interior mirrors many of its competitors in the under-35 foot range.
A stateroom is situated aft below the cockpit. The galley and head are on opposite sides at the foot of the companionway, the main cabin is slightly forward of amidships, and the master stateroom is forward.
This commonly seen plan seems to suggest a typical buyer who uses his craft for shorter periods of time than in the past, first-timers, couples with children, and those stepping down to smaller boats who spend less time on extended cruises or overnighting. As a consequence, sea berths are not incorporated into the design, and master staterooms located in the bow are generally less comfortable underway or in a bumpy anchorage. The benefit, of course, is more room amidships for entertaining and relaxing.
The centerpiece is an 86" long L-shaped settee that seats three to four adults. The leafed table is 23" wide and 50" long. Raising the hinged leaves adds 12" to each side of the table.
To maximize interior space, however (and to save money, one presumes), there are no shelves or cabinets outboard. The hull is covered by a liner that on our test best was sagging and becoming unglued.
The port settee is 65" long and 20" wide; it is large enough to seat two adults and converts to a narrow single berth.
Light enters from many directions. Windows are recessed on each side of the cabin, the longest of which is 48"; there are opening ports over the galley and head; and two ports recessed in the hull above the water line provide views when seated.
The U-shaped galley has adequate storage for weekending or short cruises. Storage is in three areas: a 11" x 17" x 12" cabinet outboard of the ice box; three utensil drawers; and a 26" overhead shelf outfitted with fiddles for plates and cups.
The galley countertops have plenty of surface area.
The standard stove is a two-burner by Force 10 Marine; gimbals and an oven are optional. However, a small microwave is standard equipment. It operates only from shore power; to use elsewhere you’ll have to install an inverter.
Hot and cold pressure water is standard, as is a stainless steel sink.
An aft stateroom enclosed by a wood door spans the stern section below the cockpit. Though large enough for two adults to sleep athwartships it has limited headroom.
The 44" x 43" head is equipped with a fiberglass sink, hot and cold water, a handheld shower and tiny medicine cabinet.
The navigation station has a 29" x 20" table mounted on the bulkhead forward of the head; one sits on the after edge of the port settee. The bulkhead has an 18-circuit electrical panel and sufficient space for the addition of a book rack, binocular holder, VHF, stereo and GPS.
The master stateroom has a removable, window-sized cutout in the main bulkhead to improve ventilation. Years ago, we recall seeing a similar window in Eric and Susan Hiscock’s Wanderer IV.
Headroom in the stateroom is 69". The queen-size berth measures 52" x 72" berth. There is a hanging locker and a small cabinet.
Though the liner covers the hull and underside of the deck, plumbing and wiring runs are accessible through cutouts, and behind removable fiberglass covers screwed to the hull.
The Yanmar 18-hp. Diesel engine is inside a removable box that also forms the companionway ladder. One-inch lead-cored soundproofing keeps engine noise to a low rumble, even at cruising speeds.
At the invitation of Don Durant of Admiralty Yachts, we singledhanded a 320 from his charter fleet on San Francisco Bay.
The first thing we learned was that she maneuvers easily out of a tight slip and turns quickly in her own length.
We sailed in 10-15 knot breezes with full mainsail and 110% genoa, the factory standard. While hard on the wind she carried a moderate weather helm. She felt fairly stiff and responsive to the wheel. Absent wind instruments, a spar fly indicated we were sailing fairly close to the apparent wind at 4-4.25 knots. She tacked easily.
Though it took a few moments to adjust to driving in the shadow of the stainless steel arch, we discovered that having the end of the mainsheet traveler control line at shoulder height and within reach allowed us to ease the mainsail when sailing through puffs. However, moving forward to trim the sheet required locking the wheel to prevent spinouts.
When we bore off to 60°-70° and eased the sheets, speed increased to 4.5-4.85 knots, and she buried her shoulder in the chop. On that point of sail, she provided a comfortable ride.
She was equally comfortable sailing at 120° of the apparent wind, when we gained another quarter knot of boat speed. When we footed off 5° more she slowed noticeably. A problem off the wind is the inability to let the mainsail out very far because it hits the swept back spreaders.
With a fairly low displacement/length ratio of 169 and an ordinary area/displacement ratio of about 16.7, you’d expect the Hunter 320 to be an ordinary performer, too, and that was our experience.
Owners interested in maximizing performance will benefit from the addition of a 135%-150% genoa. Additional sail area will improve downwind performance; she’s sluggish below five knots of wind. With just the 110% lapper, you’ll use the engine quite a bit in light winds.
Like many moderately priced production boats, the Hunter 320 is a middle-of-the-road boat designed for middle-of-the-road sailors. The ease of sailing her will appeal to entry-level sailors. Unless one-design fleets are formed (and that’s unlikely), she’s not a candidate for the race course.
The cabins are suitable for overnight cruises. Enclosed sleeping quarters are large enough for four adults, and the settees are convertible. The galley and head are large enough.
Construction is adequate for coastal cruising; we would not hesitate to sail her on overnight cruises outside the Golden Gate bridge, but do not consider the Hunter 320 an offshore boat. Feedback we get from readers concerning customer service is quite good. Suggested retail price is $71,500 FOB the factory.
Contact- Hunter Marine Corp., Route 441, Box 1030, Alachua, FL, 32615; tel. 904/462-3077, 800/771-5556 www.huntermarine.com.