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Sea trial: Hunt 44

The smart design and smooth ride make it an offshore winner

I spent some time on the new Hunt 44 last summer and came away impressed for a number of reasons. This Down East express cruiser is a real machine in the best possible sense.

Its hull is superior to every other boat I’ve run, except perhaps the Hunt-designed Grand Banks Eastbays. The ride is so absurdly smooth, safe and comfortable in 3- to 5-footers at 25 knots — the boat’s full-load cruise speed — that an owner will have the latitude to use the boat with very little restriction from April through November anywhere along the East Coast. No ruined plans because your boat is a blunt-bowed scow below the waterline.

It looks like a Hunt, only tempered by softened corners and curves. And she’s practical, with 360-degree helm sightlines, tall rails, good engine-room access and a clever tender garage. Euro styling doesn’t trump common sense anywhere on this boat.

The layout forward is conventional, which is to say the builder followed a formula that works nicely in a boat-shaped living space. The master stateroom on our semicustom test boat is forward, with a bit of a twist: The owner-specified bed has an Asian-inspired, privacy-enhancing headboard aft to sleep with feet forward.

There’s also a frameless glass window directly above the berth, letting sunlight flood into the space. This is really neat because you can keep an eye on Polaris from a warm bed. The en-suite head is to port, with a separate shower with seat and an opening port light.

Aft and to starboard is the second stateroom. However, this owner opted to make the room open to the galley opposite, with a sliding faux-rice-paper-lined pocket door (a sliding bulkhead, actually) mating with a hinged door to close the space off for use as a private stateroom. The second head, also to starboard, is adjacent to the second stateroom, and you can order the boat with a door providing direct, private head access.

The galley, to port, is open to the saloon above, with the windshield dash cutaway letting in lots more sunlight and mingling the two areas for conversation and transferring food and drinks. Now for the surprise: Raise the companionway stairs, and voila! Here we find a small third stateroom with enough room for a single berth and a few storage lockers. A hatch directly overhead provides access to the saloon next to the helm seat.

The saloon is open and inviting, and its cherry joinery is much more interesting to these eyes in terms of color and variety of grain than the monochrome, straight-grained teak plywood veneer one often sees these days. You’re surrounded by glass on all sides, and overhead is a large sunroof that opens wide. There’s a screen to keep out the bugs.

To port is an L-shaped settee with a twist; the forward “L” section has a seatback that flips to forward- and aft-facing positions, and the L seat section forward raises a foot electrically to provide the copilot with a clear view of the proceedings ahead. There’s also space on the countertop under the windshield forward to serve as a chart table.

The helm is comfortably laid out with room for two large electronics displays forward of the wheel, and the Volvo IPS joystick is right where I’d put it myself ergonomically. Electric windows like the ones in your car, made in-house by the builder, provide cross-ventilation as well as direct communication with line handlers.

The engine room

The engine room is beneath the saloon, and the space would make Feadship’s or Viking’s engineers proud, with 57 inches of headroom and plenty of fluorescent lighting. The Volvo D-6 diesels are directly below the saloon on this boat, with jackshafts connecting them to the IPS pods in the stern. The jackshaft arrangement, with the engines well forward in relation to the pods, in turn provides room for the tender garage back aft, which opens directly to the water via a power transom trunk.

Despite the forward engine location, which also helps this boat come up on plane and run with minimal bow rise — itself an unexpected and pleasant anomaly for any pod-powered boat — noise levels in the saloon directly above were below 70 dBA at cruise. The common-rail Volvos are quiet to begin with, but the 6-inch-thick saloon deck-insulation sandwich and whisker-close hatch clearances really get the credit. Between the Hunt ride and the quiet, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The elevated cockpit back aft is on the same level as the saloon. You’re not going to be gaffing many stripers from the cockpit, but it’s really nice having a flush deck from transom to saloon. The high cockpit deck also provides the room for the tender garage, and there’s plenty of headroom when working around the Volvo pods. There’s a big lounge seat aft and custom cabinetry forward in the cockpit; our test boat had a refrigerator to port and a grill to starboard in stylish fiberglass cabinets.

I called this boat a machine in part for its ability to run nonchalantly in heavy weather but also because of its cutter-like practicality. The side decks are wide and flat, and the bow rails are 31 inches high, made of 1.25-inch polished stainless, and supported by closely spaced stanchions, making them unyielding to the hand. Cockpit rails are a fortress-like 36 inches high and blind-bolted, the work of metal artisans.

A rocker switch near the grill controls the hood for the tender garage, which makes launch and recovery a non-event while eliminating both the potential for rogue wave damage to the dinghy and visual clutter. It takes up interior volume, but it’s an intelligent trade-off. In general, you don’t get the feeling that things are crammed aboard this boat, which makes it more relaxing.

 

The ride

Our test ride was a revelation for the reasons hinted at earlier; it’s just astonishingly smooth if you are used to the majority of the brands that Hunt competes against. The short, steep 30-inch chop on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay produced a barely discernible flutter underfoot at 28 knots. I have been on a number of 45- to 60-footers that pound relentlessly in a 12-inch chop at 25 knots; shame on those builders for presenting such inept and limiting designs to an unwitting public.

Back to the Hunt. She slid up and over the hump with no fuss at all. No doubt, the forward placement of the engines is partially responsible for this uneventful transition to plane, which is unusual because pod power’s horizontal thrust and the engines’ usual position well aft tend to send the bow skyward.

The boat heels just right for the turn rate, what Volvo calls a “true turn.” Just like riding a bike or flying in an airplane, you feel centrifugal force in a turn directly downward through your feet rather than sideways.

Back at the dock, the IPS joystick performed as advertised, working the boat into a tight slip with grace and certitude. There is little challenge to docking one of these boats, with IPS taking the fun out of boat handling.

Led by David Chang, Global Yachts — the yard that builds the larger Hunt models in Taiwan — loves a challenge. It could build almost anything made of metal, composites or wood that goes on a boat if asked, and whatever it makes probably would work better than anything you can buy off the shelf.

The yacht’s fittings are a marvel. The railing stanchion bases are machined from solid stainless-steel billets because castings can contain contaminants that bleed rust. The varnished-teak cap rail has S-joints with blind fasteners for a clean appearance and fewer gaps and splits over time.

When Hunt Yachts president Peter Van Lancker told Chang, in his colorfully unambiguous way, that the original stainless-steel sliding cockpit doors left a lot to be desired, the next hull came with a Global-made door with a far smoother mechanism and multiple position stops. Same with the vertical sliding saloon windows, made in-house by Global, which also makes some of the finest props in the world in terms of efficiency and smoothness. It’s good to see that Yankee ingenuity is alive and well in Taiwan.

People who have owned six or eight high-end boats may appreciate a Hunt the most because we can only judge well and truly by close comparison. Although she’s a pretty picture at the dock, the Hunt 44 is most at home well offshore — gentle on the bones, quiet, predictable, ruly. Be sure to run other boats first; you’ll feel that much better about buying the Hunt.

Did you know?

The Hunt 44 has won several awards, including the 2012 AIM Marine Group Editor's Choice Award for Best Down East (35-45 feet) and best New Powerboat at the 2012 Newport International Boat Show.

SPECIFICATIONS

LOA: 45 feet, 10 inches

BEAM: 14 feet, 6 inches

DISPLACEMENT: 35,000 pounds (half load)

TANKAGE: 450 gallons fuel, 120 gallons water, 40 gallons waste

POWER: 2 x 600-hp Cummins with Mercury Zeus pod drives (Volvo Penta 435-hp IPS600 pods also available)

SPEED: 29 knots top, 25 knots cruise

PRICE: $1.35 million

CONTACT: Hunt Yachts, Portsmouth, R.I. (401) 324-4201.

www.huntyachts.com

 

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April 2013 issue

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