Hunters vision of the comfortable cruiser leads back to a center cockpit design.
Hunter Marine, the well-known builder of auxiliary sailboats headquartered in Alachua, Florida, has been reinventing itself as of late. In the past five years, this firm has introduced 13 new models and the company now builds 22 different models from eight to 46 feet. But, with over a dozen new boats in just five years, it’s surprising to learn that the new Hunter 45 Center Cockpit, introduced last fall, is the first center cockpit model from this company in nine years.
When Hunter’s president, John Peterson, summarizes the company’s overall market strategy, his words apply in spades to the new 45: “Interior volume is important to us,” he proclaimed. “We put a big emphasis on amenities. We also offer boats that are easy to sail, have adequate stability, are easy to maintain, and ultimately cost less.”
Getting substantial volume and amenities into a hull that will still perform above average is the challenge of every naval architect engaged in the design of cruising vessels. In the case of the new 45, explained Glenn Henderson, Hunter’s director of engineering, the magic formula comprises equal parts of naval architecture and of the savvy use of materials. “We wanted to pack as much performance as we could into a full-volume boat. So we went for a low-drag, high-stability matrix in the design parameters.”
The hull lines of the 45 stem initially from its predecessor, the Hunter 45, in fact it’s built from the same mold, but Henderson and the Hunter design department have refined the new boat with modifications to accommodate not only the center cockpit, but their performance objectives as well. In profile, center-cockpit boats tend to resemble the proverbial wedding cake; not so the Hunter 45, which manages to achieve center-cockpit features and attributes while maintaining a relatively low coach roof profile. A bonus of this arrangement is the abundance of light that floods the saloon via the wrap-around windshield that’s set low in the coach roof.
“I took a chance early on with the application of low-drag, low-lift sections in the appendages of this boat,” said Henderson. “I knew that this approach works with sportboats, but I didn’t know how it might work with a relatively heavy displacement boat.” The objective, said Henderson, was to create a design that would attain hull speed easily and quickly.
Perhaps the most fundamental challenge here is that center cockpit designs rob space from what Henderson terms “the main high-volume area of the boat.” Devising such a design with the fewest interior compromises can stretch the abilities of any designer, but to their credit, Henderson and his team have given the 45 ample proportions below.
The Bergstrom and Ridder (B & R) rig aboard the Hunter 45 is situated well forward. Henderson is a devout fan of smaller headsails and larger mainsails for cruising boats because that arrangement affords easier sailhandling. The arrangement also solves some design challenges.
“Once you start getting all the systems and tankage in, et cetera, you’re always fighting to keep the center of gravity from moving too far aft,” explained Henderson. “So you end up putting the keel forward to counteract that, and this dictates, in part, that the rig be forward.” Hence, a larger main and the commensurately shorter J measurement.
Inherent in any center-cockpit design is the division of a boat’s deck into distinct sectors. In the case of the 45, the foredeck, aft deck, and cockpit are integrated in a fashion that makes each easily accessible from the other. This, primarily, is due to how little hardware there is cluttering the side-decks. The mainsheet traveler is up out of the way on a stout stainless steel arch that doubles as a handhold for crew moving about and an anchoring point for the bimini. And all the Lewmar hatches are low profile, as are the two cowl vents on deck.
The broad expanse of the aft deck provides plenty of space for lounging while underway in mild conditions or under power. The non-skid texture offers secure footing without being too coarse. We’d pass on the synthetic teak option, but mostly for aesthetic reasons. Housed here are large twin lockers, one in each aftermost corner, for lines, sails, buckets, etc. PS was pleased to see that their lids are controlled by gas-piston arms. Incorporated into the after pulpit are two single person seats that face forward. One nice treatment is that the upper and lower lifelines spanning the off-center gate that leads down to the swim platform each retract into the stainless stern rail.
Moving forward, a single set of winches flanks the cockpit atop the coaming. These Lewmar 48s are located almost directly outboard of the helm, so the person steering can easily adjust headsail sheet tension. (Actually, during PS’s test sail, we found that it’s possible for one person to steer through a tack, cast off, and trim on the new side, though this arrangement doesn’t promote optimum performance.) The electric mainsheet/halyard winch sits to starboard of the companionway, requiring that someone other than the person on the helm tend it. But the traveler controls—mounted on the arch supports port and starboard—are certainly handy from the helm, so the person steering can spill the mainsail if overpowered by a sudden gust.
The seats in the cockpit are long enough to recline on (over 7 feet), but too narrow for a proper snooze. Like the steps that access the cockpit outboard of the coaming, the seats are covered with synthetic teak (Flexiteek). The PS reviewers were divided over whether we preferred this to plain fiberglass in this application. The seatbacks are high enough that they offer support up to the mid back on most sailors, and they’re angled outboard for comfort. There are no visible scuppers in the cockpit sole, but this area has a large drain forward, shielded by a removable fiberglass panel. While we’re not sure how that arrangement will function, we do like that the companionway hatch retracts into the boat, so it’s handy when needed.
But two fundamental aspects of the cockpit really gave us doubts: the respective size of the footwell and the pedestal. The footwell is wide enough to offer comfort, but it would be much easier to move around in if it were just three to six inches longer fore and aft. According to our measurements, it’s a mere 50 inches long, and the base of the mammoth pedestal housed here takes up 13 by 8 inches of that, almost in the middle.
Though beautiful in its ergonomics, the Lewmar pedestal—what one PS reviewer referred to as the elephant in the room—is so large in this relatively small space that it dominates, particularly the oversize instrument display. However, when you step out from behind the pedestal, the sight lines from the cockpit are superb, as well they should be since occupants sit roughly eight to nine feet above the water. For any serious offshore sailing, PS would add more dedicated padeyes for harness tethers, because the 45 comes with just one in the cockpit.
One of the 45’s most distinctive features is the 1/2-inch-thick acrylic wrap-around portlight. This is covered by what company reps call a “brow,” and it’s to this brow that the grabrail is fastened. When we tugged on the rail, the brow beneath it flexed visibly. Hunter’s on-board rep told us that it’s fastened to the rest of the structure with machine screws, which are a little light duty for our taste.
The bow features a stout, stainless stem cap integrated into a double anchor roller, and an anchor locker that’s large enough to house sufficient rode and a Simpson-Lawrence windlass. Little design ingenuity has been used to keep the hatch cover on the anchor locker open. It’s simply meant to be held ajar with a small length of bungee cord and a hook. Not a fancy system, but it works.
The saloon sets the tone for the rest of the interior—it’s remarkably voluminous. To begin with, there’s 6’ 11” of headroom, with a broad passage leading forward past the polished teak table to port and an inviting, full-length settee to starboard. Glossy teak woodwork abounds, all cushions are upholstered with an attractive yet rugged fake leather (optional, not standard), and the overhead is covered in a white, foam-backed fabric that Henderson calculates is 600 pounds lighter than the fiberglass liner installation Hunter used previously.
To port is the nav station—with an ample desk and sufficient vertical space to house a bank of instruments. Hunter’s choice for a navigator’s seat—not unlike an executive office chair—is initially comfortable, but has no system for height adjustment and was wobbly enough to be worrisome in a seaway, we felt.
To starboard is a U-shaped galley with Corian countertops, stainless steel sinks, and a number of desirable amenities like a gimballed, three-burner stove/oven, front-loading stainless refrigerator, and a top-loading freezer compartment.
The saloon’s table could seat five comfortably with its wrap-around settee, and two more might squeeze onto the bench that’s set on centerline. We like that the 45’s cabin sole is engineered to afford some of the best access we’ve seen to the bilge sump, fresh-water system, and tanks, but these panels pose a concern for heavy weather. Neither the benchtop nor the inspection panels had any provision to be locked in place.
The bilge sump is deep (roughly 28 inches) and affords ready access to all the keel bolts. The boat PS sailed was equipped with primary (Rule 1500) and secondary high-volume (Rule 4000) bilge pumps, both with Rule-amatic float switches. There was also a manual bilge pump that you operate from the cockpit.
The saloon is well illuminated by a series of recessed lights and dedicated reading lamps as well as courtesy lighting near the sole, two fixed portlights in the hull, and the wrap-around coach roof windshield. Three hatches and two dorade vents provide ample ventilation dockside. But with just those two dorades serving the entire boat, it may get stuffy below while underway.
Aft of the nav station is a large area to house the 45-gallon holding tank. And even farther aft is the master stateroom, a 10’ by 12’ chamber naturally illuminated with five opening portlights in the cabin trunk, two in the hull, and a central hatch overhead. Without lee cloths, the centerline, queen-sized berth will not be a comfortable for sleeping in a seaway.
Hunter offers the 45 with numerous options. The boat we sailed had two air-conditioning units that served two separate zones. There were also a generator, a flat-screen TV, a top-loading freezer, and a Bose stereo system. There’s a sizeable list of standard equipment, including an 11-gallon water heater, 45-gallon holding tank with macerator pump, an isolation transformer, and a Raymarine knotmeter and depthsounder with alarms.
PS took Hull No. 1 out for a spin off St. Augustine, FL, on a relatively breezy afternoon. We assessed both the boat’s performance under sail and under power. We also put the anchor down for about 10 minutes, just to see how that aspect of the design functioned.
This boat is powered by a 75-hp Yanmar that is cooled with fresh water. Under power, the 45 spun in remarkably small diameter circles. (Hull No. 1 was also equipped with an optional bow thruster, which did an admirable job of squaring away our landing once back at the dock.) We ultimately got up to 8.9 knots of boat speed through flat water with the fixed, three-blade prop spinning at 3,200 rpm. That diminished to 7.2 knots as we throttled back to 2,800 in a small swell at the harbor’s entrance. We also took decibel readings with the engine at idle (89 to 91 dB from the saloon table). Then, after revving it up to 2,800 rpm, we recorded 88 dB from the nav station. From the cockpit, that diminished to a modest 82 dB.
The beefy, all-mechanical Whitlock steering linkage was surprisingly responsive. Stainless steel components comprise the linkage, which runs from the pedestal down through the engine compartment, beneath the aft cabin’s sole, and under the master berth to the rudder post. Most every section is easily accessed.
PS unfurled the mainsail to the point of the first reef. Then we opened up the headsail. With 15 to 17 knots of breeze, the boat heeled about 15 degrees when closehauled, but didn’t feel tender at all with its shoal-draft wing keel going to work. The sea presented us with a two-foot chop, and the 45 moved along at six to seven knots under these conditions. We tacked several times and noted that the boatspeed drops significantly through a tack, which isn’t surprising for a 23,000-pound boat. What is remarkable is how quickly the 45 regains its speed—roughly 45 seconds from three knots to the mid six-knot range. The boat tracked well upwind (we could leave the helm untended for brief periods), and the tacking angles were roughly 90 degrees. While underway, we didn’t detect any creaking or groaning noises down below, a sign of solid secondary bonds and good joinery work.
Sailing nearly dead downwind, the 45 made 5.5 knots (measured by our GPS over the ground). We had quartering waves at this juncture, with a steady 12-knot wind, but despite the relatively high elevation of the center cockpit, there was no untoward yawing or rolling motion.
We put the asymmetrical cruising spinnaker up and the GPS showed 7.4 knots. The increased sail also made steering noticeably more manageable. Then we hardened up to spend some time on a beam reach. The GPS registered 7.8 knots with a 78-degree apparent wind angle. When the occasional puffs hit, the 45 translated that additional energy into acceleration with minimal heel —a response that surprised many of us on board. It was a good, reassuring indication that the boat would stand up well to a blow if the sail trim was attended to properly.
Henderson and his design team have managed to achieve a workable balance of luxury amenities, low-maintenance equipment applications, and good sailing ability. Hands-on owners will be happy with the boat’s excellent access to the engine and important system controls (battery banks, gauges, manifolds, valves, through hulls, etc.). And its sailing performance will generally be appreciated by most. But purists will likely shake their heads at many elements of the 45—particularly the gargantuan pedestal and the B & R rig.
The market PS perceives for this boat is the emerging coastal sailor with a small family to keep happy with creature comforts underway and at the dock. An owner who is unperturbed by non-conventional design, who is perhaps stepping up from a mid 30-footer and looking for something that can cover greater distances with more comfort, fits the bill here. At a very competitive base boat price of $269,900, that customer should find a lot to like in the 45.