Hunter 28

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First impressions are often lasting ones, especially when they are negative impressions like my first experience with Hunter in the early 1980's. Back then I had been hired by an unfortunate Hunter owner who had a forty footer with a grid liner that all came apart, causing some serious structural problems. At the time, Hunter had just converted to the use of grid liners (one of, if not the first to do so) and were far from perfecting the method, once again proving my point that far too many boat builders perform their experimentation in their product line, at the expense of their customers.

After much haggling we finally got that straightened out, but when you see stuff like that, you don't soon forget. Your opinion of a builder is ever afterward tainted. So we weren't too surprised to see that Hunter had finally got the grid liner right in this 1991 model. While this is unquestionably a low price boat, overall it seemed to be fairly well built and there were no problems with the framing system at all.  

The interior has a complete fiberglass liner that is well executed.  With the mast stepped on deck, there was no sign of the structural weakness in the cabin to as is so often the case with this type of boat.We were also suprised to find that there were no significant leaks inside.   The deck is bolted on a horizontal flange joint with bolts every 3", but it couldn't be determined if the joint was glassed over since nowhere in the boat could the deck joint be seen. The decks and cockpit area seemed sturdy enough and there were no stress cracks anywhere on the exterior decks, except in way of the poorly designed bow pulpit leg bases where there was considerable crazing.

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With the sole angled at 45 degrees and the standup space only 20" wide by 5' long, this is not exactly good design.

The interior layout, like most boats this size, attempts to cram too much into too small a space. Despite it's 10'6" beam, its pretty cramped inside, mainly owning to faux "aft cabin" that is just a cave behind the engine with a cushion on the floor. The cushions being vinyl over foam rubber, this might lead to a rather sleepless nights in warm weather. Like wrapping yourself in insulation. The aft cabin area cuts into the main cabin area, rendering it somewhat less than useful. In fact, judging from the pristine condition of the galley stove, icebox and other interior components, this boat looked like it had been used as a day sailor only. It was now going on its third owner in 9 years. After spending a few hours aboard her, we could understand why.

We can understand that because the sole in the head is above the turn of the bilge so that it is steeply angled and one can hardly even stand up in there. The ladies will love it since to sit on the head, you sort of have to fall down onto it because it is very low, not at normal height. Ouch! And the guys will love trying to stand up on the 45 degree angled sole.  The area is also a deep rectangle, making it very awkward to enter, altogether a terrible layout in my view. The entrance to the "aft cabin" is the same way with the steeply angled sole, causing your feet to slip every time you step on it. Add to this the fact that the aft-facing, U-shaped settee in the main cabin has a seat width that is too narrow to sit comfortably, and we think the overall layout is a flop. With a drop leaf table in the center, the only place anyone will sit is at the ends, rendering the main part of the settee rather unuseable. So the effective interior seating capacity is two. The only thing we found convenient to use was the galley area. The interior is under-scaled for anyone over about 5'6" and a trim build.

The hull-recessed swim platform is a nice feature on larger boats, but this boat is too small for it. Basically it just allows a swimmer to get aboard, but at the considerable expense of interior and cockpit space. Sacrificing two feet of space for a steeply reversing transom on a 28 footer is an unreasonable  price to pay for style in our view. One really nice feature was the bow anchor locker which is one of the few that we've seen that is well designed.

Yes, we recognize that you're not going to get perfection in a budget priced 28 footer, but you can do a lot better than this. Here we go again with the rigging going down through the deck right in the middle of the traffic pattern. Getting around the rigging is a real pain. That's because to keep the price down, they went with a 3/4 instead of full head rig, with extraordinarily light rigging with only single lowers. The uppers were only 0.20" and the lowers and wishbone backstay a mere 0.15" wire! Would you want  to sea in a boat rigged like that? Not me, no thank you. Time has made of me a believer in safety margins.  Every time a gust of wind would come up, I'd have to wonder if the rig was going to fall down. Yike!

This is one of the major problems of the so-called racer-cruiser. It is the ultimate compromise of everything that leaves you happy with nothing. You want to win races and cruise, but its poorly suited for either.

Nor will you likely appreciate the very small deck hatch that makes stowing a sail rather difficult but, then, this one had roller furling that, unfortunately, couldn't be tensioned adequately because of the lightness of the rig. Wishbone back stays are not exactly the best arrangement for roller furling gear. Going racing with roller furling? Don't think so.

Next, lets talk about cockpit design. It had the large 30" destroyer wheel, which is fine except you have to crawl over the seats to get to the helm. That's the price you pay for a large wheel in any small boat. But what really ruins this cockpit layout was the sheet winch islands which are shallow and steeply sloping outboard, with no horizontal surface. Okay, so it makes the winches more or less level when heeled. Problem is that when you're tacking, the boat is not heeled over so much, and the winches would be more level if they were mounted in the normal manner. But in addition to this, you no longer have any back support while sitting in the cockpit, so that you cannot sit on the leeward side at all without continuously hanging on for dear life when heeled over even just a bit. When I leaned back against it, it hit me right in the small of my back, making it very uncomfortable. My feeling was that the lack of any raised coamings to lean back against was just plain ridiculous. Sail boat cockpits tend to be uncomfortable anyway, but this is one of the worst I've seen.

Plus, this design has also created a steeply sloping deck section in way of the winch island that about wants to break your ankle when you step on it. With a Bimini top, getting in and out of the cockpit is something of a Houdini trick as it is on most boats. But constantly climbing over the lifelines because there is no life line gate there didn't improve my disposition much. The owner had to install a small aluminum step on the outside of the rail just to climb aboard. By saving a few dollars, you get to risk slipping and falling on your face.

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A winged, bulbous keel? Ought to be fun trying to get unstuck when you  run aground in this one. Especially in mud. The bottom of the thing is shaped like a giant suction cup. A winged keel made of cast lead? Wow, what a great idea! Oh, well, maybe you'll have fun hammering it back in shape every time you run aground. Does that oddly shaped hunk of lead reduce resistance and makes it go faster, too? Not likely. But it certainly had the effect of making her unusually tender. You notice that the moment you step aboard.   Heading around a sharp bend in the river under power, the boat heeled over at least 20 degrees, which I thought was ridiculous. It may stiffen up under sail, but with a complete lack of wind, we didn't get to find out.  Fads are cool, until you find out that's all it is.

Unfortunately, there were other problems that continue to prove the point that very low cost usually translates to very big problems. It was not until she was hauled that we could understand why this boat sells at such a low price. The fiberglass content of the hull is about as little as it could be without falling apart. The hull bottom was so thin that it  frightened me. In just about any place there wasn't a frame, you could push in the bottom with your thumb. Tapping on it with a hammer, it would vibrate. In the unsupported aft quarters, it dimpled as easily as an oil can. Granted, there were no signs of immanent structural failure, or even stress cracks on the bottom. But everything I saw on this boat suggested that it hadn't been used much,  so I doubt that the hull has ever been seriously stressed.

Some people don't think that a weak hull on a boat is much to be concerned about. The attitude is that as long as it doesn't fail under normal conditions, then its okay. My view on that is that people who hold that attitude have never been out to sea in a storm. I've sail raced all over North American, and I've seen my share of hull failures, including some that have cost lives. In one case, a knock down with the spinnaker up resulted in the deck pulling right off the hull. In another, the hull side caved in when hit by a wave broadside. And these boats were built far better than the Hunter 28. Of course, many people rationalize by saying that they only go sailing on nice days. Okay, its you're life. But add to this the fact that this very thin bottom was badly blistered and you have plenty of reasons to take a pass on the Hunter 28.

The list grows a bit longer when we discuss the large soft spots found in the rudder, but we have no idea what's going on there, just that its getting a little mushy. We might surmise that like a lot of rudders, its just some fiberglass laid over a foam core, as a lot of cheap rudders are.  We can add to the long list of Yanmar diesels with flubber engine mounts that are so soft and loose that the engine does the Watusi when you start it up. An engine that won't hold still and oscillates by as much as 1/2" is going to cause damage to the drive system sooner or later. Start with rapidly wearing cutlass bearings and packing glands and graduate eventually to transmission damage.

There are no gauges for the engine, and the control panel is down near the bottom of the cockpit where you can easily reach it by bending over in a space where there's not enough room to bend over. Why builders continue to place the engine controls in locations like this just beyond me. I guess the scuppers will never get plugged up and that electrical stuff will never get wet. At the bottom of the cockpit. The plastic throttle level on the steering pedestal felt like it was going to break off in my hand, it bent so much. Then there is a   plastic fuel tank  held in place with packaging straps and steel clips that will rust and fall apart as soon as they get wet a few times. The boat comes with a Mayfair bilge pump that is smaller than most coffee cups, and the single, small  12 volt automotive battery is sure to keep it running for a long time. Of course, small boats never get big leaks, so why worry?  This is getting kind of sad, isn't it?

Anyone who peruses the various sailing publications these days can't help but notice the inordinate number of boats that are either breaking apart or being dismasted, as well as the increasing number of fatalities. Instead of using the word dismasted, which implies the connotation of some external force as the cause of the dismasting, perhaps I should just say "masts falling down." Far too many of these dismastings ARE simply a matter of ultralight rigs toppling over because the designer pushed the safety margin to the limits, or beyond. Its not the weather conditions that were the cause; no, its hot shot design that pushes the bounds of sensibility. Far too many rudders and keels are falling off, deck joints separating and hulls splitting open. The average weekend sailor, lacking much heavy weather experience, has no idea of the terror he may be in for when he makes the mistake of venturing far from shore in what is nothing more than a day sailor. Those of you who get ideas about "bluewater voyaging" in a bargain boat like this would do well to reconsider that the ocean remains a dangerous place.

This could have been a nice, well-made boat. Parts of it are, but the builder didn't have his priorities straight. If all you're going to do is sail around the pond on balmy days, its probably fine for that. A serious deep water sailor she's not.  This is a price boat, and there's altogether too much that you don't get for what you don't pay, for any serious sailor to take the Hunter 28 seriously. There's a good reason why first impressions should be taken seriously, too. What you don't pay for up front will surely be heavily loaded on the back end. Count on it.

If  you wonder why people are leaving sailing like the plague just arrived, possibly this boat offers some reasons. There are too many just like it.

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Posted August 1, 1998

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