By Roger Marshall
Hunter 320: Thirty-two-footer on Steroids
Hunter's 320 is big on room and comforts
At first glance, the Hunter 320 looks like a normal 32-footer on steroids. It is a big, bulky boat made seemingly even larger by the rounded cockpit and transom step. But walk below and you immediately lose the feeling of bulk. The interior is huge and plush. Beam is carried well aft, giving a transverse doubled berth under the cockpit. The boat has every attribute that you would want in a 32-footer and then some.
Hunter Marine does extensive research into what its customers want, and this boat is the fourth or fifth generation to come from the feedback collected by Hunter’s sales team. Most Hunter owners tend to sail from one marina to another during the day, and either anchor or moor up for the night. Consequently, the boat has some features that you simply would not see on a boat designed to go to sea in strong winds and lumpy seas. Many Hunter owners use their boats as a second home, and when the winds blow up, they just enjoy the marina. With these thoughts in mind, the 320 fills the bill admirably.
The cockpit is huge and has its own table. I assume this is because Hunter owners often eat in the cockpit. With the slightly rounded cockpit shape, getting past the table is quite easy. An interesting feature is the helmsman’s seat. It folds down to form a step into the cockpit. If you board from the stern, you step on the underside of the substantial cockpit seat and then on the cockpit sole before going into the cockpit proper. Under way the step lifts up and becomes the helmsman’s seat — a neat idea but one that requires some dexterity and strength. The seat/step is heavy and should not be lowered by a child. It might also help if the seat/step had a line or chain on it to make it easy to lift from the cockpit. Another nice feature as you step onto the boat is the freshwater shower unit that is carefully hidden to port of the helm seat. There is also a hatch over the aft bunks. A seat covers this hatch and allows it to be partially ajar. Rather than making the hatch part of the seat, Hunter has made the seat flush and sloped the hatch under it.
Below deck the boat shows a lot of varnished woodwork. Close inspection reveals that the wood is all marine-grade plywood with teak or mahogany trim. All furniture is manufactured off the boat and installed before the deck is put on. Corners are fairly sharp, with miter joints rather than the carefully rounded corners seen on boats intended for offshore cruising. I wondered how long it would be before the miters open up in the humid boating environment. The headliner is a molded pan fitted to the underside of the deck. It makes the overhead easy to keep clean. It is attractively colored in a light buff, and with the recessed lights, it gives the interior a very nice finished look. But I wasn’t sure how access is gained to the underside of any deck gear if a repair is required. Headroom in the cabin is a full 6 foot 3 inches and in some places an inch more.
The cabin sole boards are screwed down except for a few lifting panels that give access to the bilge sump at the top of the keel. A small electric bilge pump resides in the sump. Engine-water intakes are under the transverse berth located under the cockpit. Access to the hull of the boat is relatively easy under the bunk, but in the main cabin area there seemed to be areas that were impossible to reach once the hull liner had been installed.
Walking though the interior shows a double-V berth forward. One berth is full size, but the other has a drop-in cushion. I could not find a backing board for the cushion and tried it without one. The cushion did not support any weight, so I assume there is a backing board somewhere. A bulkhead with a louvered door panel divides the V-berth from the main saloon. I assume the louvered door is to get ventilation into the V-berth area or for Mom to check on the kids when both bunks are in use.
The table in the main cabin is fitted to the mast support tube and has a single drop leaf. According to the brochure, the table drops to form a double berth. By my count that means that seven people could sleep aboard at any time. Of course, you’d have to find places for their gear and clothes. In my experience that means the gear clogs the aisles until everybody gets up.
When the leaf is raised, people sitting on both sides of the cabin can use the table. Both settees are over 6 feet long so there is plenty of room for seven to enjoy dinner. The galley has a Corian counter top with a Force 10 two-burner stove and oven. Twin sinks are inset into the countertop and fed by a 50-gallon freshwater tank. Above the sinks is a crockery shelf with cups, plates and glasses nicely stowed for smooth-water sailing. Again, the mitered corners on this shelf looked a little dangerous to my eye, but I am used to boats that go offshore for days at a time, and this boat is not intended for that. You would want to stow the glassware more securely if you are going to bang around in lumpy seas. The icebox/freezer looks to be quite huge. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my tape measure so I couldn’t measure it, but it certainly look large enough to hold enough food for a week-long cruise. Above the stove is a small microwave. It is about the size of a 12-volt unit rather than a larger 110-volt. However, there are 110-volt outlets all over the boat and an AC/DC switch panel. I assume that the microwave is used only when the boat is connected to shore power.
Leaving the Sailing Specialities (Mystic’s Hunter dealer) dock, we powered down the Mystic River on a nice fall day. Under power the 18-horsepower, two-cylinder Yanmar engine pushes the boat along at a reasonable speed, albeit with a little vibration. Range should be fairly good with the 28-gallon fuel tank. The engine needed a little goosing when we first started, as it hadn’t been run in while and ran raggedly at around 600 rpms, but as soon as it warmed up, it ran properly. The boat motors well and makes a speed of 2.6 knots at 1500 rpms, 3.5 at 2000, 4.4 at 2400 and 5.6 at 3000. All my readings were made by my GPS and may vary slightly over actual speeds as the tide was running very slightly against us.
We emerged from the Mystic River into Fishers Island Sound and set sail. Hoisting the mainsail is really easy as it comes with lazyjacks and Hunter’s canvas sail-cover storage pack. The most difficulty I had was unzipping the end of the sail cover, which extended over the Bimini top. I’m over 6 feet tall, and I could barely reach the end of the sail cover. Frankly, I don’t like Bimini tops, but they are becoming more popular, and many boats come with them. On the Hunter, the main sheet is on a radar arch over the top of the cockpit, and the Bimini is part of the arch making it difficult to see the mainsail from the helm. I also tried to raise the forward part of the Bimini, but found that it fouled the mainsheet and the underside of the main boom. So we put it back in place and left it. On the bright sunny day we could use the shelter. However, I did like the coaming wells in which the mainsheet or stray lines are stowed. But the finish around the coaming wells could have done with a little more attention.
The 110-percent jib is roller furled to sheets on the cabin top. Plus, all the mast supports are kept well clear of the walkways, making it very easy to go forward. I’m not a fan of the Bergstrom-Ridder rig that Hunter uses. To my eye, it is overly complex for a relatively simple cruising boat, but it certainly seems to perform well.
On the trial boat the primary winches are the same winches that are used to tension halyards, so care must be taken to make sure that halyards and the main sheet are locked off before the jib can be trimmed in properly. There are extra winch-base locations on the cockpit coaming for larger primaries if desired. If I were to own this boat, I would have the primaries installed instead of relying on lock-offs.
The boat moves along well under sail. During our sail the wind gradually increased giving us the opportunity to feel the boat under a range of conditions. When we first started out to windward, the wind speed was about 5 knots apparent and boat speed was 3.4 knots. At 7 knots of apparent wind we got up to 5.8 knots of boat speed. As the wind increased I thought the boat was a little tender. I checked the wind speed, and the breeze was more than 10 knots and actually gusted to 14 knots. In 14 knots of wind the waves slowed the boat considerably, and we only made 4.4 to 4.6 knots according to my GPS. Fourteen knots seemed a little too much breeze for this boat, and we rolled up some of the headsail. We sailed for a short time to get a feel for the boat, but the breeze kept building so we finally rolled up the headsail and cruised back to the harbor under main alone. In the 14- to 16-knot wind the boat handled easily under mainsail and cruised effortlessly along at 5.5 to 6 knots.
Cleanup is easy on this boat. The mainsail drops into the lazyjacks and is zipped into its covers in about five minutes. If two people were to do the job, it would probably take about three minutes. Most of my time was taken up trying to reach the end of the zipper. The headsail is simply rolled up and cleated off. We powered back upriver, having enjoyed a pleasant afternoon cruise in a boat designed for a small family to enjoy the world of sailing and exploring. The final indignity was that I put the 4-foot-by-4-inch draft boat aground as I attempted to back it into the slip. At the bottom of a moon low tide I swung away from the slip and onto a mud bank in the stiff breeze. Jeff Marshall of Sailing Specialities had to come out and tow us off — an ignominious ending to a perfect fall cruise.
The numbers show that the boat should be a reasonable performer. The displacement length ratio is 168, which is about right for a production cruising boat. The sail-area-to-displacement ratio is a low 16.56. I would suppose this is because the bulbed keel is relatively shallow at 4.4 feet, although the ballast ratio is 37 percent, which is about where I would expect it to be on this style of boat. In all, this is a boat that fulfills its function easily and capably but not one that you would sail long distances offshore in. The boat comes across as a good coastal cruiser that can carry a family and a few friends from port to port.
|Sail Area||540 sq ft|