We recently sold the 1986 Hunter 23 that we had owned for over five years in order to move up to a larger boat. We sailed the Hunter heavily for three seasons on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, FL and two seasons on the Chesapeake, at Solomons, MD. The boat was kept in the water year round except for the winters in Maryland, when it was stored on the trailer
The Hunter 23 is a twenty three-foot sloop, which weighs about 2450 lbs empty. It has an eight-foot beam and a mast height of about thirty-three feet. The boat has a fixed wing keel which draws about 2’3”. This model was produced from approximately 1985 to 1992. It evolved from the Hunter 22 and was replaced by the 23.5 in the Hunter line up. To the best of my knowledge, the boats varied very little by the year produced with the exception that the earliest boats had an un-ballasted swing keel which deployed below the fixed wing keel.
Due to the large rig and shallow wing keel, the Hunter 23 is definitely not a heavy air boat. It will not carry a 155% genny with winds above 10 kts and with a working jib, it is time to reef when the winds exceed 15 kts. When overpowered, the boat rapidly heels resulting in a significant weather helm. I found that reefing early always made the ride more pleasant and the boat easier to handle while not really hurting boat speed. I occasionally sailed the boat under reefed main alone in winds up to 30 kts. The boat handled fine but was unable to make much progress to windward into chop. Under those conditions, the boat could be tacked with little problem. Once during a long race, we (along with 200 other boats) were caught in a squall line with 50 kt gusts. Luckily, we were on a run and I had plenty of rail meat on board so we handled it just fine. OBTW, eight boats sank that day.
The Hunter really shines in light winds. I found myself sailing on many light wind days when most people stayed at the dock. Due to the wing keel, the boat will not point as high as some, but moves very nicely when cracked off of the wind a bit. I found the 155% with a wisker pole to be a great alternative to having a spinnaker. The very large rudder gives good steerage and the ability to tack when you are barely moving. In direct racing conditions with less than 8 kts of wind, I found the H23 to be faster than the C22, H23.5 and H260.
Overall, I found the H23 to be very easy to handle under motor around the dock. The large rudder provides excellent steerage even when the boat’s movement is barely perceptible. In tight spots, the outboard can also be turned to further decrease the boat’s turning radius. When this is done, keen attention must be paid in order to prevent the propeller from striking the rudder. One issue with docking is that since the rudder is not balanced, you have to keep the tiller firmly in hand while backing the boat.
My boat was equipped with a Honda 7.5 which was capable of pushing the boat at over 7 kts. I know that some will dispute this since the H23’s theoretical hull speed is only 5.2 kts, but I had the opportunity to measure this over four 30+ mile trips under motor. The 7.5 was great for pushing the boat into wind & waves, but it was probably more power than really needed. Four HP should be adequate under most circumstances. If you are racing and weight is more important, you can probably get away with even less.
The interior of the H23 consists of a v-berth forward and port/starboard settee amidships. The v-berth is large enough for one short adult or two children. The starboard settee extends back under the cockpit which gives it a total length of around ten feet. The port settee is only around five feet long, making it too short for many adults. If more sleeping area is needed, the entire passageway can be converted by inserting the floorboards vertically into slots and using the seatbacks as cushions. This converts the entire cabin into a single bed. The cabin only has about 4 ft standing headroom.
The porta-potti is located under the starboard v-berth. It has sufficient headroom for a sitting adult, but not enough for an adult male to use easily while standing. The v-berth and head are separated from the main cabin by a bulkhead on the starboard side of the boat and a curtain to port. I believe that the curtain was replaced with a door on later models of the H23. The galley is rather minimal and consists of only a small sink and a single burner alcohol stove. They are mounted on a slide which pulls forward from under the port cockpit seat and takes up approximately 2 ft of the port settee. The table is mounted on the bulkhead just aft of the head and in front of the starboard settee. It folds down next to the bulkhead when not in use. Adequate storage is located throughout the cabin under both settees and the v-berth.
The only ventilation available to the cabin is through the forward hatch and the companionway.
My H23 was equipped with the original factory trailer with a single axle and no brakes. I always considered this setup marginal because the total weight of the boat and trailer alone approached the 3000# maximum allowed by most states for brakeless trailers. With the addition of motor, sails and gear, this rig surely exceeded 3000#. I found my full sized 4WD Chevrolet pick up with a 5.7L to be more than adequate for towing, both in terms of power and stopping ability. I would consider a mid-sized SUV (such as an Explorer) to be the minimum recommended tug due to lack of brakes on the trailer. A tongue extension on the trailer made launching and retrieval a snap without having to back the truck into the water.
The 1986 H23 had two fundamental design flaws that made stepping the mast quite a chore. First, when the mast was in position to be stepped (with the base pinned to the step and the back supported by a crutch attached to the rudder mounts), the mast’s center of gravity was located aft of the crutch. This meant that a constant downward force had to be applied to the mast base while pinning/unpinning to the step. Secondly, the geometry of the mast step and cabin top was such that the mast could contact the cabin top and cause damage when lowering the mast. Because of the length/weight of the mast combined with the flaws mentioned above, I quickly discovered that my wife was not strong enough to help me safely position the mast for stepping. Once in position to be stepped, raising and lowering the mast was easy with the use of a gin pole.
I generally found that with the assistance of one adult male, I could go from the highway to the water in about two hours. For that reason, I would not recommend a H23 for anybody planning to take their boat home every night after sailing.
I generally found the construction quality of the boat to be fair but there are some things to watch out for. Since the keel is made of iron, it requires solid routine maintenance if sailed in salt water. Also, I have heard of some boats leaking and/or cracking around the keel bolts, which can easily be seen under the floorboard in the cabin. Another place to watch closely is the transom in the area of the rudder mounts. With the lower mount is at water level, a leak could result in damage to the transom core. Like most inexpensive production boats of that era, the rather thin gelcoat will develop small cracks over time
One overall design flaw with the boat is that the battery storage and water tank are both located in the port lazerette. Since the motor mount is also on the port side, the boat tends to sit down by the port stern. Careful attention to how the boat is loaded can partially offset this problem.
When we bought the H23, we were looking for an inexpensive, trailerable sailboat that would be primarily used for daysailing in protected waters. In that respect, the boat met or exceeded all of our expectations. In fact, the only reason that we sold it is that our sailing needs had evolved towards weekend cruising vice daysailing (we replaced it with a Nimble 25 Arctic). The bottom line is that it was the right boat for us during that period, and we really enjoyed it.