Based in Alachua, Fla., Hunter Marine is one of the largest production boatbuilders in the U.S. Over the 3Ĺ decades that Hunter has been creating recreational sailboats, PS reviewers have tackled almost 20 models from 21 to 45 feet. In recent years, however, Hunter has been busy transforming its corporate culture as well as its products. Through progressive technology and genuine innovation, this companyópartially employee-owned since 1996óis beginning to distinguish its boats not merely by adding radar arches and in-mast furling, but by refining design and construction to achieve a more practical balance between comfort, performance, and reliability. Competitive pricing has always been a strong point.
At nearly 50 feet LOA, the new 49óHunterís latest modelóoffers aspects that embody this ideal combination. This boat was designed, and is being marketed, principally as a passagemaker. This is a label that some companies simply slap on larger sailboats so that they can appeal to a broader market. But displacement alone does not make an offshore boat. Passagemaking is serious business, and a well-designed platform with bulletproof construction and systems is critical for this kind of sailing. To assess the H49ís passagemaking abilities, PS spent a full day and a full night on board while sailing offshore from Charleston, S.C., to Morehead City, N.C.
The 49 exists as something of a milestone for chief designer Glenn Henderson. Since joining Hunter in 1998, he has redesigned the companyís entire line of auxiliary sailboats. In replacing the Hunter 46 (introduced in 1997; over 250 built) with the new 49, Henderson and Hunterís engineers have delivered a hull shape that promotes performance, an interior with enough volume to satisfy even the most space-hungry owner, and a versatile layout that makes sense under sail and at anchor.
Hunter offers several sailplan options for the 49. You can opt for one of three mainsail configurations: conventional mainsail with horizontal battens (777 square feet), furling mainsail with no vertical battens (569 square feet), or furling mainsail with partial-length vertical battens (621 square feet). Any of those can be coupled with a single, self-tacking jib (412 square feet) or a 110 percent overlapping jib (489 square feet). A self-tacking staysail (206 square feet) can be paired with either jib. (The prototypeóHull No. 1óthat PS sailed carried the 621-square-foot mainsail with the overlapping jib and the self-tacking staysail. According to Steve Pettingill, Hunterís director of off-shore testing, the emphasis behind this plurality of options is efficient sailhandling, all of which is based on a reasonably large mainsail and relatively small headsails.
Hunterís literature lists the dry-ship displacement of this boat at 32,813 pounds. Because those who buy this boat are almost guaranteed to weigh it down significantly with additional amenities (that figure doesnít include the considerable weight of an air-conditioning system, a combo washer-dryer unit, a genset, nor the 350 gallons of fuel and water that can be stored on board), we think most owners will favor having as much sail area as possible. In anticipation of this, Hunter now offers a tall rig option that bumps the area of a furled mainsail up to 662 square feet.
The bow of the 49 was drawn with a relatively fine entry. This gives the boat a better attitude for sailing or powering through waves and chop. Despite all the added volume, the 49ís profile remains surprisingly sleek. Her subtly reversed sheerline, combined with a low-profile cabinhouse and reasonably sized portlights, presents an aesthetic package that seems more custom than production-built.
The max beam on this boat (14 feet, 9 inches) is roughly 60 percent aft, and much of that breadth is carried all the way to the transom.
A deck-stepped, two-spreader mast from Selden comprises most of the 9/10 fractional, B&R rig, which stands 63 feet, 4 inches off the water. Whether you choose in-mast furling or the standard rig with flaking mainsail, thereís no backstay, so the shrouds are placed far enough aft to give the spreaders 28 degrees of sweep aft. The boat we tested had an inner forestay rigged with a new model Harken furler.
There are two keel options for the 49, a deep draft fin (7-foot) or a shoal draft (5-foot, 6-inch) winged keel version, which we sailed. The wings sit 12 inches above the keelís deepest point to lessen the possibility of snags.
Beginning aft, the 49ís design incorporates a T-shaped cockpit that features twin steering stations and a centerline island-table made of stainless steel, fiberglass, and Corian. Hunterís signature arch spans the full width of this space, offering not only a base for the mainsheet traveler, but an anchor point for the two-part bimini (optional) that covers the entire cockpit, and a mounting location for the stereo and speaker housing.
The space aft of each wheel (36-inch stainless steel models from Lewmar) leaves just 17 inches to the transom, but we found this sufficient for standing at the wheel or moving about. The tight spaces lets drivers more easily brace themselves while steering. And if stints at the helm get tiring, each station has a wraparound seat.
Nevertheless, the ergonomics of this control station need refining, in our opinion. On our test boat, someone seated athwartships at the port wheel would tend to knock the autopilot buttons with his or her left knee, but Hunter says that this will be remedied on subsequent 49s. And the throttle juts too far out into the fore-and-aft passageway between the port helm and the table. Pettingill assured us that this also would be relocated on future models. Thatís important, too, because the throttle is electronic (not mechanical), and it was mounted too close to the steering compass on the boat we tested.
The primary winches on either side of the cockpit (Lewmar 54s) are within easy reach of the person steering. The furling lines for both headsails are led to cleats nearby; the sheets are tended by self-tailing winches. Hunter has cleverly installed a double-ended mainsheet so that adjustments can be made either from the companionway-bridgedeck or from the port side steering station, which has a dedicated Lewmar 54 winch and a Spinlock rope clutch standing by. The mainsail traveler controls are led down from above to swiveling cam cleats mounted on the arch supports. Those, too, are within easy reach of the helm stations.
The centerline opening in the transom leads to a narrow swim platform and collapsible boarding ladder. The stainless and King Starboard swing doors that are hung here seem superfluous, but Pettingill explained that they will keep small items from sliding or bouncing out of the opening. On both sides of the transom, a large Bomar hatch (each with four dogs for additional security) has been mounted to afford easy access to the mechanical components of Lewmarís Mamba rack-and-pinion steering system below.
The cockpit offers substantial stowage in six different lockers surrounding the steering stations. The two lockers under the cockpit seats are large enough to accommodate a life raft in a valise or other bulky items like sails. The cockpit seats themselves are just long enough for a person to fully recline (74 inches). Though Hunter has used Flexiteek in many locations, like the small step molded into the coaming, most of the deck is standard diamond-patterned nonskid with good traction.
The forward end of the cock-pit gives way to a well-protected bridgedeck, which leads to the companionway. From here, you can tend the various sail controls that are led aft to either side of the companionway. Each side has five Spinlock rope clutches mounted just forward of a self-tailing winch (Lewmar 44).
Moderately wide side decks (aminimum of 16 inches) lead forward on board the 49, and the positioning of the shroud chainplates means that crew can move forward and aft without obstruction. The side decks extend all the way aft to the steering stations, which allows the helmsman to easily move forward directly from his station.
The bow features a large sail locker, ideal for stowing an asymmetrical cruising spinnaker, dock lines, and fenders. Just forward of that, separated by a watertight bulkhead, is the anchor well. Itís divided into two chambers to keep the rodes of two anchors separated. Thereís a large stainless cleat to port and a stainless U-bolt affixed to starboard, with room between them to mount an electric windlass. Ownerís options of windlass brands are limited here, however, due to the design of the well and its hatch, which has a notch molded into it to accommodate the top of a vertical windlassís drum.
Hunter offers three layout options on the 49: the standard three-cabin version, a four-cabin option, or a three-cabin layout with an office in the starboard aft cabin. PS tested the standard layout.
A simple but elegant set of teak steps hung on a stainless steel frame leads below to a well-illuminated and airy interior. An L-shaped gal-ley to starboard offers more than sufficient stowage for foodstuffs and crockery. It features Corian counters surrounded by 1ľ-inch teak fiddles, twin stainless-steel sinks, a three-burner Seaward Princess stove-and-oven combo with a range hood, a combined microwave-coffee maker unit, and front-loading refrigeration units. Thereís also a dish-storage and drying cabinet equipped with a drain and a fan. Of course, there are always compromises on board boats, and two here are evident: Access to the freshwater manifold means removing the trash con-tainer, and entering or leaving the starboard aft cabin you must pass through the galley. For emergency egress from either aft cabin, occupants can kick out a specially designed panel (which is labeled as such) and climb through to escape on the other side.
The saloon is arranged around a 42-inch-by-36-inch teak table that can be lowered to form a double berth. This table could comfortably seat six diners. The settees on each side of the saloon could suffice as seaberths, but lee cloths would have to be added.
The entry near the companionway is illuminated by an arc of rope lighting recessed in the overhead. This is a stylish touch, but this recess will no doubt be inviting as a handhold for those descending from on deck. Because itís not designed to support any weight, a sturdy and obvious grabrail should be added here.
Each aft stateroom has numerous drawers and cabinets, plus a dressing bench and a queen-sized berth. They share a bath (to port), which has a private door leading to the port aft cabin. The starboard cabin on the boat PS tested included an optional Splendide combo washer-dryer installed in a cabinet, but that still left sufficient space to stow an occupantís belongIngs for a week on board. That perk notwithstanding, itís the ownerís cabin forward that will really spoil its users. A queen-sized peninsula berth occupies most of the space, but thereís still a generous amount of stowage. Included is an ensuite head with sink and vanity to star-board, and a separate shower stall to port. The counters are Corian and the cabinetry is teak.
There are two cedar-lined hanging lockers here and two large drawers under the berth. Natural ventilation comes via twin hatches; our only gripe here is that the airflow may be slightly stagnant in the forward section of the cabin as the hatches are positioned at the aft end of this space.
The fuel and water tanks are made of polyethylene. In PSís opinion, the material is not a good choice for a large diesel tank because such tanks usually lack inspection ports, making them very difficult to clean and inspect in the likely event of contamination. (We will be exploring the topic of fuel tank selection in depth in a coming issue.) The tanks aboard the Hunter allow access for cleaning with a vacuum or high-pressure hose via a single 2-inch-diameter hole in the top where the fuel pickup tube enters. The hole is directly above a sump in the tank where large matter is likely to collect. Most of the vesselís other systems are easily accessible to facilitate regular maintenance. The propane locker resides just outboard of the starboard helm, with sufficient drainage leading overboard.
Hunter uses only bronze through-hulls and seacocks beneath the waterline, and these are essentially ganged in deep sumps in two locations, again to make things easier for maintenance.
The house and starting batteries are located in separate compartments beneath the sole in the saloon. Each bank was secured in place and the battery terminals were protected. (The shore power system on this boat is wired for 220 volts to accommodate the washer-dryer unit.) This kind of preventative approach is important on any boat, but particularly so on a passagemaker. Given that, we were a little surprised to find that some of the removable panels in the sole were not secured with hardware.
The engine is accessed via a top panel for fluid checks, but can be fully exposed by removing the entire surrounding structure (a five-minute process). This compartment is soundproofed with two-inch foam, and thereís room for more should an owner deem that necessary. At 2,740 rpm, we recorded a quiet 76 dB of noise (normal conversation is 60 dB) at the base of the companionway steps. The engine compartment comes standard with a Fireboy-Xintex automatic fire-extinguishing system.
The 75-hp diesel engine is standard on the Hunter 49, but Hull No. 1 carried the 100-hp option. Under power, the boat handled well, accelerating easily in flat water and turning in a reasonably short radius. She registered 7.8 knots with the fixed, three-blade, 17-inch prop churning away at 2,600 rpms. The twin steering wheels connect to the rudder post by way of Lewmarís Mamba rack-and-pinion system. Though the response from the rudder isnít lively, you donít have to fight the wheel and the autopilot doesnít appear to labor. To overcome the excessive current we encountered while docking, we made good use of the optional bow thruster.
Chief within Hunterís design brief for the 49 was making this boat easy to sail single-handed, something the company claims as a hallmark of its boats. We verified that when one of our testers easily tacked the boat through four-foot seas with 14 knots of wind by himself. In those conditions, with a full main and the self-tacking staysail, the 49ís pointing ability wasnít impressive (the boat rarely tacked through less than 100 degrees), but the task was easy to manage. The acceleration out of tacks was very gradual, about what youíd expect for a 32,800-pound vessel in such conditions.
With the staysail furled and the 110-percent headsail deployed, the 49ís speedo registered between 7 and 8 knots on a beam reach with 14 knots of true wind and fairly calm beam seas. There are optimal sight lines from each helm station due to the low profile of the cabinhouse, and itís not difficult to see the sailtrim because Hunter has added clear plastic viewports to the bimini. Despite the less-than-lively feedback from the helm, driving this boat was a pleasure. Both upwind and reaching, it was easy to find the groove when the wind surged above 14 knots, but with less wind than that, maintaining speed was more of a challenge.
At one point in our passage, the breeze piped up and we responded by easily tightening both the mainsail and staysail halyards without leaving the cockpit. We also set the boatís asymmetrical cruising spinnaker for an hour or so to assess the 49ís jibing characteristics. With that sail set, the boat responded well, picking up a knot of speed and becoming more stable in the quartering seas.
The design of the 49 impresses us as much more streamlined than many previous models from this builder. And Hunter has fulfilled most of its self-imposed mandate regarding this boat. This vessel makes significant strides toward easier maintenance. For a boat of this size, the H49 is easy to manage under sail. And many elements of the design will enhance on-the-water safety (the kick-out panel in the aft cabins, the two watertight bulkheads, and easy access to the head of the rudder post for using the emergency tiller offer strong testimony to that notion).
But the 49 does have some short-comingsóprincipally performance in light to moderate air. We didnít have the opportunity to test a tall-rig version of this boat, or to sail the boat in more than 16 knots of wind, but our experience indicates that the 49 yearns for additional sail area in winds less than 12 knots, particularly when the sea state is agitated. We expect that most owners intent on getting from A to B will resort to motor-sailing in these situations, which isnít an overwhelming disadvantage. We were able to make 9 knots with the main sheeted hard and the iron genny cranking at 3,400 rpm. However, given that the average winds throughout North American waters tend to be in the 8- to 12-knot range, weíd like a little more sail area to work with.
Hunter is clearly taking great measures to ensure that this boat lives up to its bluewater billing (Pettengill personally drove the prototype into the beach 10 times at up to 9.5 knots with the mainsail drawing). In our opinion, the 49 offers moderate passagemaking potential with sufficient comfort, and relatively low maintenance to justify its base price of $320,000. With some modification (lee cloths for dedicated sea berths, a more rugged