Hunter 50AC

By: Allan Whiting, Photography by: Allan Whiting

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Hunter Yacht’s previous aft-cockpit flagship, the Hunter 49, has been superseded with the new Hunter AC 50. As Allan Whiting reports from Sydney, the US production yacht builder continues to impress.

Hunter 50AC
Hunter 50AC

Where once you could spot a Hunter yacht from a fair distance off by its distinctive, yet oddly conflicting, ports and pronounced curved rubbing strake, the new-generation Hunter is a far more aesthetically pleasing beast.

This is clearly evident in the new Hunter 50AC, with its redesigned coach house and more conventional cabin top windows. They lend the yacht a slimmer, more masculine profile without compromising the hull's generous 2.06m head room.

In this regard, Hunter owners not only get their cake, but can eat it too, thanks to the yacht's deep-vee hull shape, which puts much of its volume below the waterline. This is a carry-over from the outgoing Hunter 49 and shared in the Hunter 50CC (centre cockpit) model.

While losing out in terms of wetted surface compared with more performance-oriented flat-bottomed cruiser-racers, it is an ideal base on which to build a yacht that primarily caters to cruisers more interested in comfort than fast passage making. That's not to suggest that the new Hunter 50AC is sticky because it is not, as we discovered in a light-airs sail.

One reason for the big Hunter's respectable light airs performance is no doubt the cutter rig, a now familiar sail plan on larger Hunter yachts and a sensible option for owners with short-handed offshore cruising aspirations.

Cutter rig

Many cruising yacht owners now opt for a cutter rig setup reminiscent of the days when low-aspect-ratio rigs and large hanked-on headsails were the norm, prior to the advent of the self-furling headsail. The obvious advantage of a cutter rig is having the total sail area broken into smaller more easily-handled sail parcels.

However, the downside is the additional manpower required to bend on and trim twin headsails, and the inevitable restriction to foredeck space, especially if the inner stay sail is set on a self-tacking club foot boom.

Taller aluminium masts, stainless steel rigging and self-furling headsails allow foresail area to be concentrated in one large, variable-area, sail. This provides for cheaper and simpler headsail solutions, particularly for cruising boats up to 45 feet.

Another factor that alienated the cutter from modern rigs was the use of bendy masts, via adjustable backstays. When you crank on the backstay to bend the centre section of the mast forward to flatten the main and increase forestay tension, you automatically slacken the staysail luff tension and the staysail becomes a soggy bag.

However, many cruising yachts in the 45 feet-plus range still offer double-headed rig options. Why?

Big-yacht foresails are huge and even with modern furlers and winches to control them they can be a handful for a small crew. Two smaller sails are easier to handle if something goes wrong. Also, many cruising yachts have rigid masts and fixed backstays, so the twin-forestay tension issue isn't a problem. That's particularly the case with Hunter's B&R Rig adopted back in 1993.

The B&R rig was developed in the 1960s by Lars Bergstrom and Sven Ridder for use on shorthanded, around-the-world yachts. This rig design has swept-back spreaders with the shrouds and forestay disposed at 120-degree intervals, triangulating the mast support. There is no backstay.

To keep shroud and diagonal stay loads tolerable, the B&R rig requires a wide shroud base so Hunter yachts have long swept-back spreaders and chainplates bolted to the exterior of the hull.

On the Hunter 50AC, the cap shrouds terminate above the asymmetric spinnaker halyard sheave and lead over the spreader tips to the chainplates. Conventional diagonals run between the spreaders, but the lowers anchor at inboard chainplates, separate from the shroud chainplates. In addition, four reverse diagonals run upwards from the mast to the spreader tips, crossing over the lower diagonals. The mast and rig is extremely stiff and reminiscent of a catamaran rig.

The Hunter 50AC construction features conventional balsa-cored topsides and solid FRP below the waterline, with two layers of Kevlar in the forward sections for added impact resistance.

The deck gelcoat is Maxguard, which is said to be more flexible than most finishes and also highly UV-resistant. The interior gelcoat is MicroBan, which incorporates an anti-bacterial agent. The outer hull skin is Ashland AME-5000 modified epoxy, providing enhanced osmosis resistance.

Hunter uses winged-bulb keel shapes to concentrate ballast as low as possible without compromising the yacht's primary cruising purpose through excessive draft. The 50AC can be ordered with a shoal or deep-draft keel. Both keels are high-antimony lead bulbs and cast around stainless steel frames with integral threaded rods.

Below decks

Although keen to evaluate the cutter-rig performance, we first spent considerable time below checking out the living areas.

Like other new Hunters, the 50AC has a gently sloping companionway with full-length handrails either side, which provide for forward-facing descent into the yacht. Immediately beneath the stairs you'll find coat hooks and a lift-up panel above the engine. A hatch in the cabin sole, forward of the companionway, reveals the genset.

The cabin sole is timber-plywood laminated Everwear and the many under-sole access panels have a solid feel that's missing from many modern production boats.

Handrails abound and there are two stainless steel posts at the entrance to the saloon, although the mast compression post is neatly disguised by the forward cabin bulkhead structure.

The saloon, galley and chart table layout is similar to the 50CC, except that the L-shaped galley opens into the starboard aft cabin rather than having a bulkhead between the galley and the vast, single aft cabin in the 50CC. An office module is optional in the 50AC's starboard aft cabin and the test boat had a clothes washer/dryer in one of the aft-cabin cupboards.

Saloon area is huge, with lounging space for up to 12 people. Dining at the table is comfy for six; made possible by a movable padded stool that can be stowed under the table when not in use.

The 50AC's galley features heavy Corian counter tops, sink covers and island freezer lids, but the jury is out on Hunter's choice of grey tops given the glowing cherrywood cabin sole, cupboard doors and furniture. Two front-opening fridges are fitted in addition to the top-loading fridge/ freezers. A microwave, crockery drying cupboard and gimballed oven are standard kit.

Chart table space is large with a lift-up lid and electrical system control panels at eye level. The padded chair is curved to cope with boat heel and has storage space underneath.

To port of the companionway is the second aft double cabin and the day/guest head with separate shower. The aft cabins each have two ports for ventilation.

The master cabin is forward, but set back behind a generous chain locker and sail bin. So although technically a vee-berth, size and stowage isn't compromised. The four-cabin charter model has this area split into two double berths.

A large head is fitted to starboard and opposite is a shower room — the perfect live-aboard arrangement. The distinguished actress Googie Withers was once asked the secret of her long and happy marriage to equally distinguished actor John McCallum and she replied, with a laugh: "Separate bathrooms".

Performance and handling

The Hunter 50AC's cockpit and deck layout allows a dozen people to find a comfy perch and even with a deck-mounted dinghy and life raft there is still ample space for a crowd for day-sailing. The downside of enhanced deck space is a dodger that's abruptly upright and would look better, we feel, with more rake.

The test boat has real teak cockpit trim, not plastic, and the drop-side cockpit table is teak-faced too. The boat is also supplied with an infill between dodger and bimini, and a full set of clears to enclose the entire cockpit.

High coamings make the cockpit feel secure and a plethora of stainless steel handrails make movement around the boat as safe as possible. An easy transit between the twin wheels allows access to the swim ladder, via a set of batwing doors that are more user-friendly than wire rail gates. Hunter hasn't adopted a drop-down swim platform on the 50AC, opting instead for two vertical hatches in the transom opening onto large storage spaces.

The conditions for our test sail were light — a 6 to 8-knot sou'wester, ideal for gauging the light weather performance of the staysail rig.

Optional fore and aft bow thrusters with joystick controls make light work of getting the big boat out of a tight berth. The forward thruster spins in a recessed tunnel in the hull, but the aft thruster lowers and retreats behind a snug-fitting hull plate when not in use.

When motoring out to deep water we noted a firm, stable, feel from the twin wheels and there was no obvious prop walk or rudder shake. The boat held its heading without constant wheel movement and engine noise was well muffled with very little vibration.

With powered halyard and sheet winches plus twin headsail furlers and in-mast furling mainsail, we made sail in seconds without raising a sweat. This was the new Hunter 50AC's maiden sail, so we forgave the main's pleated pre-tuning appearance. The headsails set perfectly with powered winches taking the hard work out of genoa trim and the staysail self-tacked happily on its curved foredeck track.

We played around with the staysail rig for a couple of hours and were impressed with its on and off-wind performance. In a light breeze, the big boat tacked easily and quickly through 90 degrees and powered to windward at 5 to 5.5kts. With the sails eased to a reach, the speed climbed to 5.6 to 5.8kts.

Normally on Hunters that have the flat mainsail shape necessary for successful in-mast furling, there's a larger speed difference between being hard-on and reaching. We noticed that the twin headsails generated much more windward power than a single genoa and the combination of headsails seemed to make the main power-up better. Helm balance could be set to neutral by fiddling with the main and sheet winches and the boat was happy to self-steer in a steady breeze..

Like all Hunters, the 50AC can sail wing-and-wing without the need for a pole, but when running square the staysail is a nuisance and is better furled up and kept out of the way.

The 50AC retains Hunter's cockpit arch that consists of paired heavy-wall stainless steel tubes that form a targa top over the cockpit that doubles as mainsheet traveler and bimini frame. The traveler car operates via lines led down each side of the arch tubes to cam-cleats. The endless mainsheet has end-boom sheeting and can be worked by the helmsman using the port jib sheet winch and a fat clutch mounted on the arch, or from the electric halyard winch behind the spray dodger. The helmsman can sail the 50AC singlehandedly, if necessary.

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