by George Day
Blue Water Sailing
Hunter 49 Heads the Company Offshore
We set off from Stamford, Conn., on a calm June dawn with 100 miles ahead of us to our destination in Newport, R.I. Aboard with us was Steve Pettingill and two helpful crew, both named Katie. Pettingill is one of America's most experienced offshore sailors and among his bona fides is the speed record from New York to San Francisco- via Cape Horn. He works with Hunter in a variety of capacities, including as test pilot for all new cruising designs. That he planned to make the 100-mile trip in a daylight run says something about what he expected of the new 49-footer.
The new 49 was designed by Glen Henderson, Hunter's design chief, to replace the Hunter 46, of which more than 250 have been built. But the new boat was not to be simply an extension of the ideas in the 46. Instead, Henderson took a blank sheet of paper and set out to create an entirely new type of Hunter, a design that would combine the company's signature ease of handling and innovative sailing rigs with a very stable hull. Down below, the company has made a commitment to offer customers a higher level of finish and quality and installed systems that make the boat as comfortable to live aboard as possible.
The resulting design combines a voluminous hull with full sections forward and a lot of beam aft. The maximum beam of 14 feet, nine inches seems generous by traditional standards but fits right in with modern thinking about what makes a hull both powerful and comfortable.
Henderson has kept the overhangs relatively short, which translates into a 43-foot, 10-inch waterline length. Short ends and a long waterline provide a higher base hull speed and will dampen the pitching motion in head seas.
The 49's rig will look familiar to Hunter owners. The B&R rig with swept back spreaders, a large roller- furling mainsail, a 100-percent self-tacking head sail and no backstay combine to form one of the easiest sail plans for a couple to handle. All lines lead aft to the cockpit and the main sheet runs to the traveler on the stainless steel arch over the cockpit where it is out of the way but easy to control; the mainsheet is dual-ended so the sail can be trimmed either from the helm or from the companionway.
Displacing 32,485 pounds, with a deep keel, the 49 falls into the moderate category for modern cruisers. The 49 does nothing suddenly yet has a firm and responsive feel to the helm, due in large part to the size of the balanced spade rudder and the positive link of the Lewmar rack-and-pinion (Mamba) steering system from the twin wheel in the cockpit.
During our run up Long Island Sound and into Rhode Island Sound and then to Newport, we had lovely settled early summer weather-not much wind-so we got a chance to see how the 49 performs under power. Driven by an optional 100-horsepower turbo diesel, we cruised easily at eight knots and could have pushed it to nearly nine knots in a pinch.
For three hours of the run we had a building and fading sea breeze on the beam. With the full main and headsail, the 49 ambled along at five to six knots in 11 knots of true breeze. In the puffs off the headlands we accelerated steadily and saw the GPS/speedo read over six knots on several occasions.
Hunter set out to design and build a hull that would be forgiving and stable yet slippery enough to knock off good daily runs under both power and sail-hence Pettingill's confidence that we would have no trouble making the 100 miles of our planned run before the sun set. As it turned out, the promise of the design concept translated better than expected into pure cruising performance-we made the run in 12 hours at an average speed of 8.1 knots over the bottom with a little favorable current thrown in.
The hull is hand- laid-up fiberglass with epoxy resins. Below the waterline the laminate is solid glass and epoxy and thus as impervious to damage from a collision as possible.
Forward sections of the hull have been reinforced with Kevlar. The hull sides above the waterline have a Balsa core, which makes for a lighter hull and also adds both sound and thermal insulation.
The deck and cockpit are Balsa-cored laminates, which makes the pieces stiff and light and, again, adds to the insulating properties.
The hull is lined with a structural grid, designed to add the strength fore and aft and athwartship while providing anchor points for the engine, tanks and bulkheads. The grid also makes the hull stiff and disperses the loads from the rig and the weight of the keel uniformly throughout the whole middle sections of the boat.
The 49 has a lot of hull volume below the floors so the grid is massive, and the spaces between grid sections are large enough to accommodate most of the boat's systems. Note that there is good access to the hull throughout and excellent access to all seacocks (bronze), which are centrally located in the main sump beneath the saloon floorboards. The two large electric bilge pumps are located here as well. With almost all of the through-hulls in one area of the bilge, the crew will be able to keep an eye on them without having to burrow into the back of remote cabinets.
Under the floors you will also find the engine, with access through hatches under the companionway, and the Fischer-Panda generator housed in its own insulated box. Because of the large, deep sump, even large amounts of water that may get into the boat will not flood either of the engineering spaces.
Two keels are offered, a seven- foot performance fin and bulb design or a shoal five-foot, six-inch fin and bulb with additional side wings. Both keels are lead and attached to the hull and internal grid with stainless steel bolts.
The spade rudder has been designed for strength, maximum control and performance. Hunter uses a fiberglass epoxy rudder post and will provide an internal stainless steel sleeve for the post as an option. The company provides both an emergency tiller and also has available a complete emergency rudder system. As far as BWS knows, Hunter is the only boatbuilder to offer such an option.
Two guest quarter cabins are large enough for extended stays and have plenty of locker space for a guest's kit plus room for overflow storage for the forward cabin and spare parts.
The dinette in the saloon will seat six comfortably and across is a bench settee that will make a good sea berth. The nav table, which has a modern carbon fiber laminate surface, sports a high- back, leather captain's chair-fully adjustable-and plenty of space for charts and all the electronics a navigator might desire.
The interior is finished in grain- matched teak panels and cabinetry, ash slats or ceilings on the hull and white panels over- head. Solid wood doors, drawer fronts and cabinets, high-quality stainless steel latches and hinges are all well assembled and solid. Doors and drawers fit tightly so nothing rattles or pops open when the boat falls off a wave.
The details of the interior will be the talking points, from the executive chair in the nav station, to the flat-panel screen TV on the main bulkhead, to the unique dish drying rack in the galley. Throughout, Hunter has made an effort to give buyers something extra and to make the new 49 as homey, modern and comfortable as possible.
Motoring long distances, the boat will make excellent time and the crew will arrive without nerves frayed or ears deafened by the engine noise. Under sail, the 49 is both easy to handle and offers plenty of cruising performance. We did not test the boat in much wind, but in light airs it gathered way nicely and was easy to trim and hold in the groove.
For extended offshore work, we would add a cruising chute, a storm trysail and, because we are "belt-and-suspender sailors," we would look into adding runners on the main for the rare occasions when running in truly boisterous conditions.
Hunter made an effort to create a boat that is suitable for the seagoing life and offshore sailing and succeeded admirably. Many of today's cruisers expect builders to solve the compromises for them. In the case of the Hunter 49, the builder has created a boat that emphasizes comfort and ease of handling over pure performance and a boat that offers a lot of basic quality and tons of amenities at a very good value. If the new Hunter 49 is the "Hunter of the Future," we heartily approve.