Hunter336250Nov2Have you dreamt of shutting down your office computer, casting off your docklines and cruising to a sunny southern sea? Hunter Marine's skipper Warren Luhrs had a similar dream and left his successful boat building business in the mid-'80s to indulge in his passion for offshore racing. But as Luhrs zipped around Cape Horn on Hunter's Child during his record-breaking 80-day sail from New York to San Francisco in 1988, the good-ship Hunter Marine began to flounder in deep water.

In his absence, Luhrs' shop lost focus and began to churn out a fleet of low quality boats that had dealers fuming and customers screaming. With his company fast developing a solid reputation for low quality, a poor warranty and bad service, this absentee-skipper was left with no other option but to quit offshore racing to take back the helm of Hunter.

With his feet planted on shore, Luhrs initiated an ambitious corporate restructuring that included adding an 800 number to field customer complaints and questions, bumping his warranty from one to five years and bringing a "team" approach to his Alachua, Fla., factory.

Another significant change happened on the design front. In 1991 Luhrs lured, so to speak, Canadian designer Rob Mazza to work as his new head designer. In act one of his tenure, Mazza helped to co-ordinate the number-crunchers in the design office with the production managers and workers on the shop floor. During stage two of Hunter's re-engineering this Hamilton-born designer was handed a blank slate and asked to design a new fleet from the keel up.

The first boat to take shape in Mazza's CAD terminal was the 29.5 (see "Killing on Design", CY, May 1994) - a performance cruiser which debuted in 1993 and incorporates a unique swept-spreader rig and the highlights of an extensive customer survey commissioned following Luhr's return from ocean racing. This bold design immediately became a hit amongst legions of first-time buyers. As Mazza explains, "The 29.5 established a new look for the Hunter line-up. This design features a Lars Bergstrom rig [the man who brought the world the Windex wind-indicator], a 100% lapper jib and a full-roach mainsail. This large main is possible because the rig has no backstay. With the mast's spreaders swept back by 30 degrees, the sailplan has no need for a backstay."

Following the tremendous success of the 29.5, Hunter did the obvious - they began working on a sequel. So, Mazza booted up his computer to work on the 336, a larger, more powerful twin-cabin version of the 29.5 aimed at second-time boat buyers moving up from their first cruiser.

With these two boats sitting side by side in their slips on the Toronto waterfront, I had a sneaking suspicion that to create the 336 Mazza had simply snuck into the office late at night to enlarge the plans of the 29.5 on the photocopier! Indeed, the 29.5 and the 336 look like siblings, each with a Bergstrom swept-spreader rig, a straight sheer that rises slightly towards the bow, a distinctive circular cockpit that extends outboard to the toerail, a wraparound windshield foredeck window and a bow-to-bow rubber rub-rail.

The crew for our mid-afternoon boat test in Toronto harbour consisted of Jatis Yacht Sales' skipper Steven Black and the new owners of the 336, Lamia and Marc-Andre Charlebois. On board our chase-boat, the 29.5, was CY's Classic Boat's columnist Paul Howard. With the sails sheeted in (a full batten mainsail and a 110 per cent jib on a Profurl furler) we tacked upwind towards Toronto Island in a puffy 15-knot easterly. As the instruments were not yet installed on our test-boat, I had no exact record of how fast we were close reaching across the harbour. But when Paul hollered across to us that he was overheating the diesel in the 29.5 in an effort to keep up to us I knew we were making good time. Back at the dock he recounted that his speedo was reading 7.2 knots when he finally eased back on the throttle to save the engine.

Our performance in the day's conditions quickly erased any prior doubts I had held about the 336's unconventional rig and sailplan. In fact, by the end of our sail Bergstrom's elegant tapered, fractional spar was amongst my favorite features of the boat. Without a backstay I hypothesized that in 20-knots apparent the forestay would be sagging like a wet noodle. To my surprise however, the furler's extrusions were deflected by no more than a few inches. "Lars from Mars", as he is called by his fellow designers for his unorthodox sail innovations, has built a rig that simplifies tacking, gybing and sail-handling by placing most of the 336's horsepower in a large, efficient full batten main. In this configuration the headsail can be downsized - which made trimming the jib a lot easier on my back coming out of a tack. But just as every rig design involves some form of compromise, the Hunter's rig has a few worth mentioning. The first is that it is impossible to fully ease the mainsail when sailing downwind because of the swept spreaders which, quite simply, get in the way. As such, I found it tough to make the mainsail look pretty when we were running wing-on-wing. The solution to this problem may be to equip the 336 with gennaker and to "tack" down wind on angles that will keep the main off the rig. There is also the issue of chafe at the spreader tips, but this problem was addressed on our test-boat by two sets of well-placed spreader patches. I had two other minor concerns with the Bergstrom rig. For one, the intermediate shrouds are discontinuous which means that an owner - or preferably the lightest crew member - will have to be hoisted up to the first set of spreaders to tune the rig. Discontinuous rigging makes more sense on an all-out racing boat where low windage and weight are a priority, not on a cruiser where the object is not to tweak the rig at the dock but to get out on the water. My second concern is that the Bergstrom rig requires a lot of tension to tune properly. This is not a problem structurally as the 336 has received the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Plan Approval, a strict series of regulations concerning deck and hull structure, chainplates, bulkheads and bonding. It might mean, however, that to properly tune the stick Hunter may need to include a long-handle monkey wrench in its Cruise Pac -- an extensive list of standard equipment that includes an anchor, fire extinguishers, life jackets and even a copy of Chapman's Piloting.

On the water the 336 tacked smoothly and re-accelerated quickly on its new heading. The 336 feels amply canvassed and has a Sail Area to Displacement Ratio of 17.5. With a SA/D of 16.5, the CS 36 Traditional has a fair amount less power relative to its weight than the Hunter. As such, I expect the 336 will be a decent light air performer even with its 110 per cent lapper. The 336's light air ability, an important consideration for light air sailors will be boosted by its massive, mega-roach main - a sail that would also look at home on a conventional sloop five or six feet longer.

With the breeze at nearly 15 or 16 knots I was starting to experience some weather helm which would suggest that at around 18 knots of true breeze the 336 will be overpowered with its maxi-roach main. Fortunately, the reefs are set up with a smooth single line reefing system that leads underneath the bridgedeck for adjustment from the cockpit.

When it was time to pack up we furled the headsail and dropped the main into a set of lazy-jacks. It occurred to me, as I was tugging on the mainsail luff to bring it down to the boom, that a Harken or Antal low-friction batten traveller system on the 336's main would make life a lot easier for short-handed sailing. Batcars are a essential luxury on such a big fully battened sail and should be an option at the very least.

Other highlights of our harbour jaunt include lounging in twin stern rail seats that offer a new vantage point when cruising. The cockpit itself is roomy, comfortable, ergonometrically designed and extends outboard to the toe rail. This last feature gives this area a circular hot-tub shape - an aesthetic that will take me some time to get used to. I did, however, admire the design of the halyard locker, positioned in front of the companionway, which tidied the halyards and kept them off cockpit floor.

Back at the quay, we put the 336 through its paces under power. And although I vacated the steering pedestal as we careened towards the dock (I left the piloting up to Steve - after all the new owners were on board), I noticed that the boat was easy to back into its slip even in a nasty cross-wind.

Down below the 336 has a airy and open two cabin layout. The Hunter is, as Lamia Charlebois observed, like a "condo" -- perfect for entertaining or enjoying a sit-down meal with two other couples. There are so many opening windows and hatches (11 in total) that I felt for a moment, albeit brief, that I was inside a solarium and not a cabin. As such the salon -- area is bright and accented by hand-rubbed teak and handsome ash sealed with a clear vanish. The wrap-around galley is also well thought out. The sink, for example includes twin, deep basins, and incorporates dual cutting boards. The icebox includes a clever hydralic assist to hold up the lid as you search for that final cold refreshment on the bottom.

Based on my tour and test of the 336, I am confident that Luhrs' restructuring of Hunter Marine is paying off. Rob Mazza's 336 design re-establishes Hunter as a manufacturer that offers a good-quality boat at a good price. With the Florida plant producing a 336 a day Hunter Marine has returned to its former position as the number one sailboat maker in North America. By emphasizing value, quality and by listening to what its customers want in a cruiser, Hunter has produced a weekend winner.

Specifications

LOA            33 ft. 6in.

LWL            28 ft. 7 in.

Beam             11 ft. 8 in.

Draft (bulb wing)            4 ft. 6 in.

Displacement             11,300 lbs.

Headroom             6 ft. 4 in.

Sail Area            575 sq. ft.

Fuel capacity            113 L

Water capacity            303 L

 

 

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