Test: Hunter 40

By: Kevin Green, Photography by: Jack Murphy

Hunter 40 Bow is fine with enough rake to give a traditional profile, enhanced by the reverse counter stern Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Twin binnacles open up the cockpit and stern, giving easy access to the drop-down swim platform Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Well stocked L-shaped galley with good ventilation and natural light Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Comfortable, well-appointed. Lustrous wood throughout Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Owner’s suite in entire aft section features twin wardrobes and en suite Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Easy to sail and handle, it’s a born cruiser that can capably cope with fickle conditions Hunter 40
Hunter 40 At the bow, oversize horizontal Lewmar windlass with capstan adds to the yacht’s cruising credentials Hunter 40
Hunter 40 Cockpit remains largely the same seaworthy standard of all Hunters thanks to high coamings, a deep well, tall sprayhood and bimini Hunter 40

The Hunter 40 is a dedicated cruiser that ticks all the boxes for the aspiring offshore sailor.

Test: Hunter 40
A modern take on old values, the Hunter 40 sports newly-designed hard-chined hull and sleeker topsides

The fortunes of Hunter Yachts have pretty much reflected the trend of its domestic market in the US, where the company had been building yachts for four decades, until the recession temporarily halted this mid-sized builder. Emerging under the new ownership of entrepreneur and motorboat builder David Marlow in 2012, the Florida-based yard is seeking to modernise its range and the Hunter 40 very much heralds a new beginning. Sporting a newly-designed hard-chined hull, sleeker topsides and folding transom, the H40 combines the new with the old Hunter values of good practicalities.

American-built production yachts (such as Catalina, J/Boats, and Hunter) tend to be strong on the basics and utilitarianism, such as functional sail plans, good general usability and build. Where these mid-sized manufacturers tend to struggle against their mass-produced European competitors is in the refinement, and the new Hunter 40 pretty much fits this profile.

Seaworthy interior

Hunter has continued its pragmatic build below decks, combined with a modern level of comfort. So, as you enter the cherrywood-clad interior, you're supported by handrails, handholds and a pole, all of which guide you safely to the U-shaped dinette, an area dominated by a lustrously-varnished table. Lifting it reveals a smaller cocktail table, but storing the bigger one in a padded bag lacks that aforementioned refinement.

Opposite the dinette, the longitudinal lounge shares the space with the navigation table. The latter is rather small by traditional Hunter standards but is nevertheless fairly efficient, as the hardwood seat abuts the bathroom bulkhead, thereby supporting the skipper's back while he studies the instrumentation.

The new Sydney-based owner of our test boat had fitted the Raymarine remote autopilot handset, but of particular interest was the factory-fitted iPad that now comes standard. The iPad uses Raymarine's wireless app to link the cockpit e-Series 120 plotter, which is also linked via a VGA cable to the flatscreen digital television on the dinette bulkhead, so charting information abounds. Ideally, the iPad should be removable, allowing the skipper to monitor navigation/autopilot data from his aft suite.

Across from the nav station, the L-shaped galley neatly fits behind the dinette. Again, a no-nonsense layout with two-burner gimballed Force 10 stove/oven, small microwave and deep double sinks surrounded by hard-wearing white Corian work surfaces, the rounded edges ensuring the chef isn't too bruised at sea. Lockers come with solid-wood doors and frosted panels but are let down by the flimsy plastic catches. Perishables have plenty of room in the household-sized front-opening fridge plus icebox/bin. Ventilation and natural light is good, Lewmar hatches facing both fore and aft, while an opening hatch airs the cooker, and traditional dorade vents ensure constant airflow.

Comfortable aft

Accommodation and ablutions are spacious for a 40-footer, with either two or three cabins offered. The test boat's two-cabin, two-bathroom layout works well, with the owner's suite encompassing the entire aft section. Design constraints in this layout mean the choice is either a shallow cockpit to increase overhead space, or constricting interior space with a more seaworthy deep cockpit. Hunter chose the latter option for the 40, with head space restricted over the bed but standing height (two metres) is good around it. Sensibly, a headboard at the inboard end allows you to sleep either way. The wood-clad interior gives a warm ambience and twin wardrobes and other lockers can store plenty of clothing for extended cruising — though a dedicated wet locker would be welcome in the en suite. The bathroom has the shower sharing the head, covered in a drop-down teak-slatted cover, with separate cubicle for the sink.

Moving forward into the bow, the V-berth is rather pinched at the forepeak — as Hunter has chosen to include a seat in front and chain locker forward — but is an effective berth with ample head space, side shelving, a wardrobe and good natural illumination from the portlights and deck hatch. Annoyingly, a mirror is positioned right where your feet lie, which is rather unnerving and ideally should be placed up on the forward bulkhead. The spacious en suite is similar to the owner's, with deep sink and Corian top, a curtain and Perspex screen separating the shower/head.

The engine bay is opened by removing the front panel at the base of the companionway stairs and a hinged top cover, but this requires a bolt to hold it while engine access is hampered by a wooden crossbar. Nearly all the opposition use a hinged companionway on gas-assisted struts and this important part of the H40 requires reworking, though there is engine access from both sides as well, and main service points for the impeller, oil and water are reachable. The test boat had the upgraded 54hp Yanmar saildrive fitted, rather than the standard 40hp model with 80A alternator (plus 40A battery charger) to charge the lithium batteries.

For running white goods there's even space for an optional four-kilowatt Fischer Panda generator. Electrics are generally good but some tidying is required in the aft locker where exposed wiring is open to dampness and being snagged by warps and other gear. Another commendable feature on the H40 is the deep bilges — at least on this shoal-draft version — which trap excess water safely low down in the hull. Another plus is the cabin sole — hardwood slats backed with marine ply laminate — which felt solid under foot.

Safe cockpit

The cockpit remains largely the same seaworthy standard of all Hunters, thanks to high coamings, a deep well and tall sprayhood, all protected by the trademark stainless steel and canvas bimini. My only gripe here was the small protruding bulkhead that tripped up several of us during the test sail, hidden as it was in the bottom corner of the cockpit well. The twin binnacles open up the stern nicely, giving easy access to the drop-down swim platform.

On this highly-optioned boat, some items didn't quite fit and most annoying were the buttons for the electric Lewmar 46 primaries — the button covers jamming the steering wheels and hurting a few fingers during the sail, while the throttle also impinged the stainless steel spokes of the wheels.

The German mainsheet system can be conveniently controlled from the coach roof or the jammer near the helm and is another well-proven Hunter feature, while all halyards arrived via gutters to the Lewmar jammers either side of the companionway. On the binnacles the optional tunnel bowthruster's controls had been duplicated across each helm. Sharing the cockpit table, the swivelling housing for the Raymarine plotter works well and, along with the i70 multipurpose instrumentation, gives the helmsperson clear information.

Cruising credentials

On deck, plenty of non-slip mouldings and handrails offer good support, and at the bow the oversize horizontal Lewmar windlass with capstan further adds to the yacht's cruising credentials. The capstan can run off the second bowroller as well, while the chain locker is sealed, with access through the V-berth. An innovative touch is the new folding cleats, which again are oversize and are midships as well, though I continue to disagree with their placement on the transom rather than the deck.

Hunter has been careful not to change its reliable B&R Selden rig featuring swept-back shrouds (with inboard inner shrouds and outboard cap shrouds) plus twin spreaders. Also, tie rods from the inner shrouds connect directly to the hull grid completing an ocean-ready rig. The test boat came with the optional in-mast furling mainsail, which significantly reduces the roach (and 10 percent sail area) of the standard slab reefing one, but is a good option with cruising comfort in mind.

Our test boat was hull number four and came with the optional shoal-draft keel rather than the deep 2.03m fin, plus deep spade rudder. The big change is the inclusion of the fashionable chine, which does help tracking and heeling angle. Hunter's sensible rubbing strake continues on the new hull, which looks to have more vertical topsides, abruptly stopping at the stern where the hard chine tucks the aft section in. The bow is fine with enough rake to give the H40 a traditional profile, enhanced by the reverse counter stern. Hull layup is strong with 10 layers of multidirectional and woven fibreglass with Kevlar in the forward impact zones (bow through to the leading edge of the keel), while underwater is solid GRP and sandwich balsa core above.

Gusty test

This test took place in Sydney, the CBD of which is increasingly built-up with skyscrapers — the southerly wind finds ever more creative ways to flow around it, making for a tough test. An ideal day to have a thruster fitted, as the owner of our test had done, guiding our bow against the gusts before bowling down Darling Harbour.

Motoring past the speed limit zone, I accelerated to a top speed of 8.4kt as we sped towards Circular Quay and a sail hoist sheltered from the blustery conditions in Farm Cove. On days like this the in-mast furling is particularly welcome — simply unclip the lock on the mast, then return to the sheltered cockpit to unwind the sail with the electric Lewmar coach roof winch. Similarly, the 110 percent genoa rolled off the Furlex 2000S as I steered us on a broad reach while stopping the engine and folding the two-blade propeller.

Trimming the primaries is comfortably done with manual handles right beside the helms, but, as mentioned, the optioned electric buttons were a hazard for fingers due to the wheel spokes. Sitting out on the gunwales is also comfortably done, although when heeled the footplate moulding gave insufficient support. Weather protection is excellent with sprayhood and bimini combining well, and there are clear views forward with enough window in the bimini to eyeball the mainsail.

The Hunter 40 revelled in the broad reaching and beam reaching — ideal cruising conditions — with the 8.5kt SOG registering on the Raymarine plotter. As we began to harden up, my host for the day, Ed Penn from US Yachts, simply rolled in some of the Doyle Dacron mainsail to reduce our heeling angle, while I spun the primary winch to bring the genoa into the shrouds. We crept up to 50 degrees in the gusty 20-knot wind with our speed settling to 8.1kt. Not bad considering this was the shoal-draft keel with compromised mainsail, which loses its shape even more when reefed.

Easing off the mainsheet, which I could do from the jammer on the bimini, crew Lisa then wound it in on the cabin top to centralise the long boom before our gybe, which went without dramas. We did this manoeuvre several times. Amid the stronger gusts the H40 simply rounded up gradually, showing a sensible amount of weather helm, but at all times I felt quite happy steering with the wheel mostly nicely balanced. Again the yacht showed good cruising credentials.

The last word

Dedicated cruising boats require easy sail handling, and the new Hunter 40 offers plenty of this, especially with its optional in-mast reefing Selden rig, which allows couples to sail while being well protected in the deep cockpit. Hunter's move to twin binnacles also gives the helmsman good steering options while increasing cockpit access, and the inclusion of the Quick tunnel bowthruster adds a level of insurance that makes berthing drama free.

Overall the Hunter 40 is the kind of boat that I wouldn't hesitate to cruise with, because it's a solid yacht with practical sail handling, a seaworthy layout and comes from a company with a well-proven cruising pedigree.

For more information contact Rod at Gulf Group on 027 235 8306, or rodb@gulfgroup.co.nz or visit boatbroker.co.nz.

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