Boat Review: Hunter 50AC
Long a major force in the boatbuilding world, Hunter Marine Corp. just seems to keep getting better and better at building sailboats. The latest Hunter to hit the water, the 50AC, demonstrates that despite its success the company refuses to rest on its laurels.
Sailing in 8-10 knots of wind on Miami’s Biscayne Bay, the 50AC behaved like a perfect cruising platform. Despite being equipped with an in-mast furling main and a 90-percent self-tacking blade jib, the boat quickly accelerated to 5-plus knots on the wind at an apparent wind angle of around 35 degrees.
I put the boat through a series of tacks, and it turned easily through the wind, losing minimal way as it did so. With its self-tacking jib—the standard headsail on the 50AC— and the mainsheet overhead on Hunter’s trademark tubular mainsheet arch, the boat was easier to maneuver than many boats a fraction of its size.
Off the wind, we could have used more sail as the apparent wind shifted aft. A 110-headsail with adjustable tracks and a spinnaker are options, as is a staysail for hunkering down when the wind pipes up. For my money, though, the self-tacking jib is the way to go. Coupled with the boat’s beamy hull, it makes the 50AC an excellent choice for taking your non-sailing friends and family out for a fun, comfortable daysail.
Complementing the boat’s ease of use (a central tenant of Hunter Marine’s boatbuilding philosophy) is a deck and cockpit layout well suited to both sailors and passengers. The boat’s twin wheels allow you to steer comfortably from well outboard so you can keep an eye on the telltales. They also permit easy access to the transom swim step when on the hook. Like the rest of the Hunter line, the 50AC sports a backstay-free B&R rig, so there’s no wire to get in the way either.
Winches for the headsail and mainsheet are close at hand (electric winches are an option), and the cockpit features nicely angled seatbacks for comfortable lounging and a bridgedeck to keep water out of the saloon. The raised base of the cockpit table also serves as an effective cleat for bracing your feet when the boat is on its ear—an excellent example of the smaller touches that make the boat so user friendly.
Along these same lines, the leading edge of the cockpit coaming includes a sculpted curve, specifically designed to direct green water outboard away from the helmsman. The boat’s “teak” benches, swim step and transom seats are, in fact, PlasDECK, a synthetic teak substitute. In addition to being essentially maintenance free, PlasDECK looks good and serves as an excellent nonskid material. Some claim it gets too hot in direct sunlight, which may be the case if used over a large area—say an entire sidedeck. But the deck temperature underfoot, in 80F weather off Miami, seemed fine during our test sail.
Moving forward there are sturdy stainless steel handrails running along the top of the cabinhouse. The sidedecks are good and wide, with the chainplates out of the way (set either outboard for the cap shroud or along the deck-cabinhouse joint for the lowers), allowing unimpeded access to the foredeck. One thing I didn’t like was the strip of angled ports running from about the mast step aft. These look good and provide lots of light below, but I kept inadvertently stepping on them and getting tripped up. Something about the angle, especially when the boat was heeled, made my foot just naturally want to fall on them.
The hull of the 50AC is comprised of a fiberglass-balsa sandwich above the waterline and solid fiberglass below. The layup includes a modified polyester/epoxy mix and a layer of vinylester throughout to prevent blisters. The deck is also a fiberglass-balsa sandwich. As is the case with much of the Hunter line, the layup below the waterline includes Kevlar from the stem to the keel stump to provide extra strength should you ever collide with a submerged object.
The hull-deck joint is through-bolted and glued with 3M 5200 adhesive on an outward-turning flange encased in a sturdy rubrail—another Hunter trademark. The hull includes a structural grid to help carry keel and rig loads, and the boat has a surprisingly deep sump, so water that finds its way in won’t immediately slosh up over the cabin sole.
The rig is aluminum and a long double-anchor roller/bowsprit is standard. Weighing anchor with a sprit is crucial aboard a boat like the 50AC, which doesn’t have much bow overhang. Otherwise, the hook inevitably bangs up the stem. One thing I really like about the 50AC is that all through-hulls are located in the same place, so you can check them quickly and easily in the event of an emergency.
Plenty of room is what you’d expect aboard a 50-foot Hunter, and plenty of room is what you get aboard the 50AC. Over the years, Hunter has continually improved the quality of its joinery work, and the varnished cherry belowdecks on the 50AC is impressive, especially given the boat’s affordable price point.
The spacious saloon is comfortable and well lit, thanks to those same portlights that I found irritating when I was on deck. Like all Hunter keelboats, the 50AC includes an abundance of hatches in the interest of good ventilation.
Two basic layouts are available—a standard three-stateroom layout, or a four-stateroom layout with twin double cabins up in the bow. A layout with a combination workbench and office can also be specified. The galley is excellent, with plenty of counter space, including an island counter alongside the companionway that is great for bracing yourself when cooking or cleaning underway. Although the tubular stainless steel fiddles will keep big stuff from ending up on the cabin sole, they may not contain smaller stuff, like eating utensils.
With its high topsides—the price for all that room below—I wondered how the 50AC would maneuver at slow speed. The answer: fine, thanks. Near the end of our test sail, I spent a few minutes doing loops in reverse, then shuttling forward and backward with the wind on the beam. The boat responded beautifully. A bow thruster is one option I suspect pretty much everyone will choose, but it won’t be necessary most of the time. We didn’t use it at all making the dock back in the marina. At speed, the boat easily did just over 10 knots at 3,400rpm. (The test boat was equipped with an optional 110hp Yanmar, as opposed to the standard 75hp engine.) Throttling back to 2,500rpm, we still did 9 knots. We did 7.5 knots at 2,000rpm.
The Hunter 50AC is easy to sail, provides excellent performance, is well built and has the systems, deck layout and accommodations needed to take good care of its crew. Sounds like a heck of a cruising boat to me.
LOA 49ft 11in
LWL 43ft 10in
BEAM 14ft 9in
DRAFT 7ft (std), 5ft 6ft (shoal)
BALLAST 11,216lb (std), 12,500lb (shoal)
SAIL AREA 1,161ft2 (furling mainsail, blade jib)
FUEL/WATER/WASTE (GAL) 150/200/52
ENGINE 75hp Yanmar
DESIGNER Glenn Henderson
BUILDER Hunter Marine Corp., Alachua, FL
PRICE $369,990 (standard boat)
Ballast Ratio 34 % (std)
Sail Area-Displacement Ratio 18
Displacement-Length Ratio 173