Hunter HC-Fifty Review

Issue: June 2001

The Atlantic was angry this day – not! In fact a kitten lapping a bowl of milk would make bigger waves than were present on this ill-reputed ocean. Adding to the irony was the fact I was aboard the HC-Fifty, a fleet-footed bluewater wild child built by Hunter for a select long-distance cruising market.

With me were Steve Pettengill, America’s most successful BOC yachtsman, and naval architect Glen Henderson, no slouch as a sailor himself. So we had everything going for us except wind, which was blowing a paltry 3 knots. In desperation we set a big – and I mean big – reaching genoa off the bowsprit, and achieved around three knots of boatspeed. But in a water-ballasted thoroughbred with the potential to unravel speed bursts of 20 knots it felt like an Indy racer stuck behind the pace car.

The HC-Fifty is an interesting boat nonetheless. That it even exists is interesting, for it’s unlikely that any other production yacht maker in the world would’ve had to courage to go out on such a limb. A labour of love for Warren Luhrs and Pettengill, the 50-footer evolved from the ground-breaking BOC 60 Hunter’s Child. Many of the innovations subsequently found in Hunter’s boats, such as the backstay-less B&R rig, were trialed and proven by Hunter’s Child over long and arduous short-handed passages.

Hunter calls the HC-Fifty a long-distance express cruiser, giving it every chance to live up to its performance orientation by building it light and smart. It’s what the owners do afterwards, like specifying Corian benchtops and generators, that makes you cringe.

“You sure you want one of these boats ?” a frustrated Pettengill said to one customer as the weight tally mounted.

The hull is more load-sensitive than the current breed of Open 60s, being much slimmer. It also has fully rounded sections that allow for a continuous shape above and below the waterline – because the wetted surface doesn’t alter with the angle of heel, the tendency to broach or experience weather helm is minimised. A light but strong structure is achieved through the use of advanced materials (including kevlar) and vacuum bagging. This is done in the R&D division of Hunter, given the limited numbers and higher-tech laminate. The internal grid structure is simplified because the mast base doesn’t actually touch the deck; rather, it is suspended half an inch (12mm) above its step by a tripod support base. The forward strut protrudes through the deck to brace against the for’ard bulkhead at the foot of the double vee berth.

Pettengill is not a fan of moving parts so the bowsprit is fixed, as is the vang. The latter is allowable because the loose-footed clew can be eased to depower the roachy main. There is no traveller either; in its place is a twin pulley system forming a bridle. To keep weight out of the bow the windlass is positioned near the mast, with a teflon strip running along the deck to stop the anchor chain from scratching. The chain then tails down a tube to stow in a sump above the keel.

With the bow space freed up, a light-air headsail with hanks can be accommodated in a locker adjacent to the forestay, saving you dragging it out from below. The rig is essentially a “staysail sloop” as opposed to a cutter, with the powerful main providing much of the drive and an easily-handled headsail being mounted on a Profurl furler. There is no backstay or runners, with heavily swept spreaders and reverse diagonals providing the necessary pre-bend.

All control lines lead aft along the sidedecks to a cluster of clutches and Harken 56 self-tailing winches (including an electric winch for the main halyard). The reacher is handled by Harken 53s that are recessed into the coaming. The cockpit is eminently workable for a small crew. The seats are slatted, with the liferaft stowed beneath the port-side bench, and there’s a secure little nook beneath the fixed dodger to keep the crew safe and dry (Hunter calls it a “steering cuddy”).

Thanks to water-ballast (1226kg either side) there is no need to stack the rails with human bodies. This is supplemented by 2767kg of lead in the keel, but the standard keel draws a mere 6ft (1.83m) – Florida and the Caribbean is littered with shoals. True bluewater sailors should specify the 8ft (2.44m) option and simply anchor a few extra metres from the shore. Speaking of which, stern anchor lockers are built into the transom, making them easy to deploy.

The cleverness extends down below. You know you’re on a proper seagoing yacht when the first things you see are a workbench/tool cabinet and a gimballed nav station side by side. The latter can be pinned at any angle up to 20″ and has a cut-out panel in the chart table to secure the laptop. Immediately opposite is the guest bathroom, convenient to the cockpit for day use. The layout can be arranged to accommodate a washer/dryer.

The galley is situated adjacent to the main bulkhead and is “G-shaped” to allow the cook to wedge in. It has a double sink, triple-burner gas stove and oven, microwave and refrigerator with separate freezer. A watermaker is standard equipment to ease the weight burden of drinking supplies. Completing the social centre of the boat is a five-seat dinette, opposite the galley.

Accommodation for six is split between two somewhat compact quarter seaberths and the owner’s stateroom in the bow, which also has an ensuite with walk-in shower. A small whinge – the pillows would fall off the head of the bed! The finish is a spartan white to keep the interior bright and light but there’s enough colour and trim to stop it looking overly sterile. Headroom is bountiful (1.98m) and Hunter don’t scrimp on the opening hatches.

Powering the boat in the absence of wind is a 40hp Yanmar saildrive, but only after flying 20 hours to Florida would you experience airs as light as we did. My brief stint elicited little information on the helm traits, but as every other aspect of the HC-Fifty is so well planned and executed I’d be surprised if the sailing ability was anything but truly exceptional.

The cost is $US450,000 so sadly there’ll be little change out of $1 million once duties, GST and transport costs are added. Then again, the boat will be water-ready in Florida, so your Caribbean escape and a dash across the Pacific awaits …

Story by Mark Rothfield