Boats

The Hunter 18

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The new Hunter 18 replaces the Hunter 170, which for several years was a mainstay in Hunter’s line of small daysailers. Like the 170, the 18 can serve as both an easy-to-manage family daysailer and as a lively performance boat for those with more experience.

At a glance the two boats look quite similar, sporting open transoms, centerboards and small sprayhoods forward. On closer inspection, however, you’ll see the 18 is a tad more performance-oriented, with two feet more of waterline length (compared to just one foot more overall length), a narrower hull relative to its length and an extra 20 square feet of sail area. The 18 also includes the option of an asymmetric spinnaker flown from a retractable bowsprit and sports some hard chines just above the waterline to increase stability and improve tracking when sailing at speed.

Yet another big difference between the two is in the construction. The 170 was built out of thermoformed Luran-S plastic, which reportedly sometimes cracked in cold weather. The 18 is simply a fiberglass boat, with a balsa-cored polyester hull and deck.

I sailed hull #70 on the Matanzas River in St. Augustine, Florida, with Steve Pettengill, who serves as Hunter’s unofficial Director of Destructive Testing. Given this job description and the weather forecast (winds building to 30 knots by afternoon) I expected we’d have an exciting sail. Working together, Steve and I commissioned the boat from scratch in less than an hour. Rigging a boat that’s already been fully commissioned takes only a few minutes and can be easily managed by one person.

By the time we were on the river the wind was gusting over 20 knots. I’d have been happy sailing under full main alone, or with the jib (which furls on its own luff) and a reefed main, but instead we set out under full working sail.

Though over-canvassed, the boat handled very well. Steering was precise, and we had no trouble keeping upright by playing the main when sailing on the wind. The controls are simple, effective and easy to handle. The high boom makes it unnecessary to duck when tacking, and a substantial centerline toerail and comfortably curved cockpit coaming make it easy to push your body out quickly to windward when heeling. The only thing lacking is a centerline hiking strap to hook your feet under, but this would be easy to retrofit.

Turning downwind on a broad reach, the boat tracked like a train and hit speeds of 7.5 knots over the ground stemming about one knot of tidal current. Steve then pulled out the retractable sprit and hoisted the spinnaker and things got busy. We survived the first gybe, but then broached as I was slow steering down in the first big gust that hit us. In the next big gust after we’d gotten ourselves straightened out again, I remained firm with the helm, and then the rudder snapped.

Almost instantly, Steve was on the phone with Hunter discussing this failure. Later he learned our test boat had mistakenly been fitted with a rudder off the old 170, instead of a proper 18 rudder, which has four extra layers of laminate.

I feel I can recommend this boat highly. Handled by sane people, it would be lots of fun to just knock around in. Obviously, it’s a blast to sail in the heavy stuff as well. And rest assured, if you ever decide you want to sail it as hard as Steve, your boat will be sure to have a rudder that is up to the job.

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