The Hunt deep-vee revolutionized powerboat design, but there’s so much more to this storied company and the man who started it all back in the 1930s
Thick fog swept in fast, reducing visibility to zero. Charles Raymond Hunt II, 16, stood at the helm of a 32-foot sloop rolling in the swells of Rhode Island Sound and wondered what to do next.
As the skipper, he was in charge of the boat, a demo O’Day 32 on loan from his father, “Sham” Hunt, an executive at Bangor Punta Corp., which owned O’Day Corp., Cal Yachts, Luhrs Boats, Starcraft and many other companies. If anything happened to the O’Day, both Hunts would be in more than just plain old pea soup.
Hunt and two 15-year-old friends were en route from Point Judith, R.I., to Block Island. The boat was brand-new and no electronics had been installed except a depth sounder with a transducer not yet mounted. The year was 1976, long before GPS and chart plotters. Hunt II figured that if he could get soundings, it would help his dead reckoning. “We used duct tape to attach the transducer to a mop handle, and it worked, to a point,” Hunt says with a laugh. “We thought we were pretty clever.”
After spending the night anchored in 90 feet off what they later figured out was Montauk (N.Y.) Point, the intrepid crew made it to Block Island. “That was my first real adventure,” Hunt II says. “My dad was incredibly trusting to let me take that boat out, but we were all sailors in my family. That’s just how I grew up.”
It’s safe to say boats run in the Hunt family’s blood. Ray Hunt II, 52, is the director of manufacturing and engineering at Hunt Yachts (www.huntyachts.com), builder of a wide range of high-performance RIBs, center consoles, day cruisers, coastal cruisers, coupes and express sedans to 68 feet. The company’s two most popular models are the 25-foot Harrier, with a base price of $161,000, and the 29-foot Surfhunter, with a base price of $269,200. Its 44-footer, which is on the cover of this magazine, won the 2012 AIM Marine Group Editor’s Choice Award for Best Down East from 35 to 45 feet.
The boats are designed by C. Raymond Hunt Associates (www.huntdesigns.com), a naval architecture company based in New Bedford, Mass. Hunt II’s grandfather, C. Raymond Hunt, founded the firm in 1961 with John Deknatel. In the late 1990s the company teamed with Concordia Co. to build its own designs, forming what eventually became Hunt Yachts, which is based in Portsmouth, R.I.
Sailboats and powerboats
It’s a bit of a twisty path, tracing how Hunt Yachts came to be what it is today. The story goes back far beyond the establishment of the nation’s first boatbuilder operated by naval architects in the late 1990s and a naval architecture studio that got started in the early ’60s. It goes back to the days of the Great Depression and the dawn of C. Raymond Hunt’s career as a naval architect that ultimately led to his invention of the deep-vee hull, a design that forever changed high-performance powerboats for the better.
At age 24, after a brief stint under naval architect Frank Paine, Hunt formed Concordia Co. in 1932 with his friend Waldo Howland. Hunt designed the now classic Concordia yawl, which the company introduced in 1938-1939. In the same period it also launched the ballasted fin keel International 110, a racing sloop that was totally radical at the time. An avid sailor, Hunt was no stranger to racing, having won the Sears Cup twice before he turned 18. He later competed aboard the J Class yacht Yankee.
Ironically, Hunt’s greatest achievement had nothing to do with sailing. It was the deep-vee. The breakthrough hull resulted from a series of designs for “Huntform” lobster boats in the 1940s and recreational powerboats in the ’50s. He also was instrumental in perfecting an innovative trihull design for the 13-foot Boston Whaler introduced at the New York Boat Show in 1958.
Hunt was constantly tweaking hull shapes to improve speed and performance, realizing that traditional planing hulls with sharp bows and flat sterns lacked stability and ran hard in any kind of sea. They were tough to handle in following seas, tended to pound in a chop and were difficult to control in tight turns. He knew there had to be a better way to go fast under power, and he was determined to figure out how.
“My grandfather studied nature first,” Hunt II says. “By studying and understanding nature and having a good sense of the effects of the water on a hull, he came up with the concepts behind the deep-vee. His ideas didn’t come from formal study; they came from his gut.”
Hunt built the world’s first wooden deep-vee hull in 1958. The 23-foot boat was used as a tender during an America’s Cup summer, turning heads in Newport, R.I. Proud of his accomplishment and not thinking of the business implications, Hunt provided drawings of the hull for publication in a boating magazine. He thought little of it at the time, but that decision eventually cost him the opportunity to patent his design. Under patent law, he had only one year to file after publication of the drawings. Two years later, when his deep-vee hull created a stir in boating circles, it was too late.
“I’m a very nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. I’m very detail-oriented,” Hunt II says. “I focus on the small pieces and parts, and I’m always conscious about how all those pieces go together. My grandfather was a thinker on a grand scale. He wasn’t interested in the details. He was always thinking outside the box.”
Dick Bertram saw Hunt’s 23-foot tender perform well in nasty conditions near Newport and promptly ordered a 31-foot version, which he called Moppie. He entered it in the 160-mile Miami-Nassau Race in 1960, and the boat set a course record. Like the tender, Moppie’s hull form featured 24 degrees of deadrise; a rounded, bell-shaped vee; and lifting strakes to promote planing and reduce spray.
Bertram was quick to note the inherent stability of Hunt’s hull in rough water at high speeds, and the enhanced tracking and turning ability. The boat was simply more comfortable and easier to handle, all major pluses Bertram knew would appeal to the burgeoning powerboat market as fiberglass construction was getting real traction in the early 1960s. Bertram based the enormously popular Bertram 31 on Moppie’s design, and without patent protection, other boatbuilders copied Hunt’s hull.
“Hunt’s deep-vee hull marked a paradigm shift,” says Peter Van Lancker, president and CEO of Hunt Yachts. “There was a clear difference between the deep-vee hull form and everything that preceded it. It still remains the hull shape of choice in the industry.”
Grady-White, Boston Whaler, Alden, Pearson, Hinckley, Palmer Johnson, Lyman Morse, Chris-Craft, Garwood and many other builders incorporated Hunt’s deep-vee into their boats and, as Van Lancker says, most of the leading builders today still do.
Hunt, who died in 1978 at age 70, lacks the name recognition of the famous Herreshoff clan, but among high-performance powerboat enthusiasts he’s considered the father of the form. “To me he was just my granddad, but I knew he was pretty remarkable. You could tell just by being around him,” Hunt II says, recalling times he spent with his grandfather.
The family trade
In his later years, Hunt spent much of his time at the family farmhouse in Tilton, N.H., a spacious home more than two centuries old set on 26 acres. “When I knew him best, my grandfather was studying trees, tree rings, the growth of trees, all the nature that was around him,” Hunt II says. “We spent a lot of time in the woods together. Wherever he was he seemed to be able to tune in to nature in a way that’s very unusual. He’d see things in nature that no one else saw. He was always curious about everything.”
Although Hunt II has always loved sailing, just like his grandfather and father, he originally planned to teach after graduating from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., in 1983. “I thought I’d do something a little different. You can see how that worked out,” he says.
Hunt II tried teaching for a few years, but eventually he found himself drawn to boatbuilding. He landed a job at Concordia Custom Yachts in South Dartmouth, Mass., an offshoot of Concordia Co., which seemed fitting. In a sense, Hunt II had come home. He learned the boatbuilding business from the ground up at Concordia Custom Yachts. “I was building high-end composite racing machines from Kevlar, epoxy and carbon fiber. I learned a lot about the technology of composite building,” he says.
When C. Raymond Hunt Associates hooked up with Concordia Co. to build boats of its own design, Hunt II joined the new enterprise, the forerunner of the present-day Hunt Yachts. “In the early days I did a lot of boatbuilding,” Hunt II says. “I’d be out there with the guys on the floor, and slowly that transitioned as we developed more product to doing more manufacturing engineering.”
Van Lancker joined the company in 2000 after working for such companies as Boston Whaler and Outboard Marine Corp. “I’d hired C. Raymond Hunt Associates to do design work for me from way back,” Van Lancker says. “I was their customer from a design point of view and the relationship just continued.”
In the early days of Hunt Yachts, Van Lancker worked to streamline the manufacturing side of the business, then moved on to do the same thing with sales. Today Hunt Yachts continues to thrive, turning out high-end performance boats in keeping with Hunt tradition.
“I always remember my grandfather talking to me about maple seed pods,” Hunt II says. “He was fascinated that nature could create a seed pod that flew like a helicopter.”
Hunt II laughs and recalls how his grandfather would hold the brown oblong wing up to the light and examine it for a long moment.
“He’d look at the veins and say the pod would make an interesting structure for a sail. He’d see the simplicity in nature and extract lessons from it for his designs. He was an interesting man that way.”
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April 2013 issue