Hunter Marine—now known as Marlow Hunter—celebrated its 40th birthday and a recent change in ownership by introducing its latest mid-size cruising boat, the new Hunter 40, in something of a hurry last fall. The rush from design to production took all of eight weeks, and hull #1 made it to Annapolis just in time for a “splashy” debut at the 2012 U.S. Sailboat Show. You might be concerned that a boat conceived so quickly would not quite be ready for prime time. But in fact, the Hunter 40 is so well designed and finished and sailed so well during our tests after the show that our Best Boats judges gave it the nod in the hotly contested Cruising Monohull category.
Below the waterline the Hunter 40’s handlaid hull is solid polyester laminate with vinylester in the outer layers and NPG gelcoat to resist osmotic blistering. Above the waterline, the hull is cored with end-grain balsa. Kevlar is added to the laminate in forward areas of the hull from the keel up. The deck is also balsa-cored, with solid laminate under all hardware.
The boat’s design and appearance reflects trends seen in Hunter’s recent models and features a low-profile coachroof, a dramatic port window accent and a near-plumb bow. In some drawings I’ve seen, I thought the boat looked rather awkward, but in the flesh I found it to be striking and attractive.
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I found the cockpit both comfortable and functional. High coamings provide good back support behind the bench seats, the fixed cockpit table is very easy to move around when the leaves are folded down, and access between the twin helm stations to the immense fold-down transom is superb. There are also two very comfortable quarter seats incorporated into the corners of the stern pulpit.
The mainsheet arch overhead keeps the cockpit free of clutter while also enhancing functionality. The double-ended mainsheet running off the arch can be handled from either the coachroof to starboard or from the port-side helm station. All jibsheet and traveler controls can be reached from the helms. On our test boat the arch incorporated a hard targa top that looks pretty nifty and provides some permanent shelter from the elements as well as a location for solar panels. I did bang my head twice on the targa’s leading edge while stepping down into the cockpit from the side deck, but that’s all it took for me to learn to duck a bit when making this transition.
The downside to the cockpit on our test boat was that storage space was limited. There was one shallow locker under a bench seat and a lazarette aft that could only be accessed when the fold-down transom was raised. Reportedly, however, storage here will be improved on future boats.
I tested the two-stateroom version of the boat, which features a generous aft stateroom with a large island double berth under the cockpit and an almost equally large double stateroom forward. Both of these have en-suite heads with segregated shower stalls. Vertical clearance in the aft stateroom was a bit limited on our test boat, but, again, I’m told by Marlow Hunter that this will be improved on future boats. There is also a three-stateroom layout with smaller twin double cabins aft.
Moving forward into the saloon, I found both the bench seat to port and the outer limb of the dinette settee to starboard were long enough to serve as comfortable sea berths. Though the nav station was a bit too small to impress a traditionalist, the galley had plenty of counter space to keep an ambitious cook happy. There is also lots of storage space in the galley, though the two sinks and the double-burner stove may strike some as a bit under-sized. Finish quality throughout the interior is good for a mass-produced boat.
What most impressed me about the Hunter 40 was its sailing ability. Though our test boat was saddled with an in-mast furling mainsail (albeit with vertical battens) and a shoal-draft keel, it performed surprisingly well. Sailing on the wind, it was fully powered up at a 35-degree apparent wind angle, making just under 7 knots in 12 knots of apparent wind. Pinching we still maintained 5.8 knots, at apparent angles ranging between 20 to 25 degrees.
As we bore away, the Hunter 40 accelerated nicely, hitting 8.6 knots at a 60-degree apparent wind angle, then slumping a bit to 7.3 knots as we fell on to a flat reach in 10 knots of true wind. Turned further downwind, our speed dropped to 5.6 knots when sailing at a 120-degree apparent wind angle. To heat things up at deeper angles, the Hunter 40 can be equipped with a removable bowsprit for flying gennakers and A-sails. If you are at all interested in performance, this would be advisable, as the boat’s foretriangle is rather small, and the standard 110 percent headsail, though perfectly efficient, does have limited area.
Sailing at speed I found the boat tracked well, with good form stability, thanks to a nice hard chine in the hull. The boat did not gripe when well heeled and was easily controlled. Helm response was very good, though the steering action on our boat felt a little bit bumpy. I assume this could be corrected with some simple cable adjustments.
Our test boat was generously powered with a 54hp Yanmar diesel engine. Turning just 2,000 rpm she made 7.9 knots in relatively flat water with neutral current. When I goosed her up to standard cruising revs at 2,200 rpm, speed increased to 8.2 knots. With the throttle down all the way, the engine turned 2,900 rpm and the boat made 9.2 knots. The boat turned within a single boat-length and was easily controlled when backing down. The standard two-blade propeller did take a while to bite when changing direction.
Engine access below is acceptable. There is access on three sides, and though the space is a bit tight and the engine (which turns a saildrive) is mounted backward, all the vital parts are within reach.
- Good sailing performance
- Easy to sail singlehanded
- Comfortable cockpit and accommodations
- Undersized sinks and stove
- Limited cockpit storage
The Hunter 40 is pretty much all you could ever ask for in a modern mass-production cruising boat. She is attractive, affordable, comfortable and sails exceedingly well. Order this boat with a standard full-batten mainsail and a deep keel, and you will likely find your self giving many racer-cruisers a serious run for their money.