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Hunter 260

1999 May 7

A modern trailer-sailer with big boat features

Gone are the days when trailerable sailboats were Spartan, uncomfortable and sailed sideways rather than to windward. The Hunter 260 is one of a new breed of trailerable cruisers that mixes sparkling performance with a comfortable interior. It's a perfect boat for a small family with many activities vying for limited vacation timeÑa growing trend that manufacturers like Hunter have responded to with boats that are easy to trailer, quick to rig and easy to sail. A boat that can cruise at 65 down the highway, arrive at pristine cruising grounds miles from home and then get you home after a long weekend is a valuable commodity. The Hunter 260 is such a boat.

The 260 is available in two primary configurations. The standard version has a swing centerboard that draws 6 feet when lowered and has a water ballast system that makes it ideal for towing by allowing you to add 2,000 pounds of displacement after launching. The displacement without the water ballast is 3,000 pounds, which is well within the towing capacity of most full-size cars and SUVs. The optional fixed-keel version has a bulb wing keel and a shoal draft of 3 feet, 6 inches.

It was an ideal day for sailing off Santa Barbara, California, with an 8-knot sea breeze. (The boat was photographed at Colorado's Lake Dillon in the pouring rain.) I stepped aboard, in a modern-day equivalent of the pier-head jump, just as the owner was leaving the dock. An 8-horsepower Mariner outboard on a stern bracket carried us out of the harbor in short order, the wheel steering providing excellent fingertip control. At sea, we raised the full-batten main and standard, 110-percent jib using halyards that led neatly back to the cockpit. The boat accelerated and tracked well to windward in a light chop. It heeled quickly, then steadied and sailed as stiff as a post. The 260 is not exceptionally close-winded, but crack her off a couple of points and she gets you there in fine style.

I turned her onto a reach and she romped along at about 5 knots as we sat back and enjoyed the view. The boat was reliable in stays and steady downwind. Its nearly 9-foot beam added stability in the prevailing moderate conditions.

The 260 comes with a jiffy reefing system that can be handled from the large companionway. To go forward while sailing, you have to clamber over the high cabinhouseÑinevitable in a trailerable 26-footer that has a spacious interior. I would like to have seen some grabrails on the cabintop, but they could be easily fitted if desired. Otherwise, the deck layout was well thought out, with a spacious cockpit, contoured benches and optional built-in seats in the stern pulpit for taking in the view.

The boat is available with tiller steering complete with extension, or you can opt for a wheel. I would choose the tiller, although the wheel installation is excellent. The walk-through stern boasts a short, hinged swimming ladder and a convenient platform for securing the kick-up rudder.

The fractional rig with its support struts is mounted in an easy-to-use tabernacle on deck. By the time I cadged a ride, the owner had already stepped the mast, but he raved about the ingenious hinge system and the ease of rigging the boat. A deep well in the foredeck keeps both anchor and rode out of the way until needed, and a convenient bow roller is close to handÑnice touches in a trailer boat of this size.

These days amenities on a trailer boat include an enclosed head and a full galley. Hunter is famous for its interior design and has gussied up the 260 with all the comforts of home. With the exception of the head compartment with sink, vanity and Porta Potti, the interior is open. The starboard side galley comes with a small sink, manual water system and butane stove. An insulated cooler located in a built-in locker serves as an icebox. The overall effect is attractive and airy, with a nice finish and well-chosen colors creating a welcoming space below.

A huge U-shaped dinette surrounds the cabin table, which converts into a double berth in the fixed-keel boat. There are three opening ports and large windows that provide light and ventilation. A V-berth in the bow has curtains for some privacy. The main double berth is aft. There is plenty of space for a couple or a family with two young children, although more than four adults would probably feel like a crowd after a few days. The list of standard features goes on and on: full electrical system, hanging wet locker, recessed fuel tank locker in the cockpit, well-thought-out dish storage in the galley and positive flotation. The inventory even includes PFDs, a fire extinguisher and US Sailing's Keel Boat Manual. An inboard Yanmar 9-horsepower diesel is optional for the fixed-keel boat. Hunter believes that a complete cruising package makes sense for most customers and saves money as well.

The 260 is designed with a specific market in mind: younger sailing families, many of them owning a larger cruising boat for the first time. Hunter has taken great care to make the 260's appeal as wide as possible with a balance of reasonable sailing performance and a comprehensive range of live-aboard features usually found on much larger boats. This well-designed trailer boat represents state-of-the-art thinking in this segment of the marketplace.