Rugged and unsinkable, this cartopper makes a great entry-level boat for new sailors.
For a few days in mid-October, late summer and deep fall bounced hard against each other, and the friction produced something other than the crisp golden days of sailor's dreams. Last fall in Annapolis, Maryland, the confluence of seasons brought hurricane remnants, sharp cold fronts, tropical downpours and a textbook coastal nor'easter. All of this occurred during one of sailing's greatest calendar slots following the United States Sailboat Show.
Mixed in with the sexy big boats like the Swan 45 and Hinckley 70 were the smaller, simpler boats that feed the sport's entry level. I took in a solo session aboard the new Hunter Xcite. The Xcite, which checks in at 115 pounds and about $2,000, is an attractive entry-level boat for kids and novice sailors. It also has the simple and durable characteristics that make it appropriate for any sailor to keep as an auxiliary boat at a beach or lake house.
I felt a bit on the large side for the 9-foot, 11-inch Xcite, but the cockpit was wide and uncluttered. Also making things easier was the fact that the factory rep had rigged the Xcite's optional 54-square-foot Mylar Turbo sail. The boat comes standard with a 46-square-foot training sail. The Turbo adds a full batten at the top and the extra eight square feet of sail area concentrated in the head.
It must have been a sight as I folded into this little boat and carefully jibed through the Annapolis mooring field all the while ducking under the low boom to avoid the armada of shiny new powerboats as they circled and waited out their entry into their show. Despite its small size and price tag, the Xcite is not a toy. It is a real boat with standard equipment including aluminum spars, a boom vang and an adjustable outhaul. Despite carrying a full 180 pounds of sailor and another 20 pounds of personal gear, the Turbo sail loaded up nicely in the puffs and provided instant increase in boat speed as well as a nice tug on the mainsheet and on the tiller.
I had been concerned about tacking the small boat with visions of wallowing in irons after attempting to come about in a light spot and not having enough juice to swing the bow and the boat's heavy payload through the eye of the breeze. This is sometimes a problem aboard small sailboats and is often augmented by insufficient appendage forms. But I smoothly and easily tacked with only a flash of an uncomfortable moment as the boom grazed my hatted head.
Later, as I gained more confidence in my ability to stay in the cockpit and avoid a plunge in the chilly Chesapeake, I began adding a bit of roll to each tack in an effort to feel for the edges of the boat's performance potential. After a few of these hesitant maneuvers it became obvious that the Xcite's sail and centerboard were adequate and that dramatic rolls were not necessary or in keeping with the spirit of the boat.
The Xcite is the kind of tough and forgiving boat in which kids can learn, explore and, to be realistic, abuse. The hull is constructed using a patented Hunter technique called Advanced Composite Process that results in a strong and resilient hull made of thermoformed UV-protected plastic backed by a urethane foam core and lined with a mat of fiberglass.
The outer finish runs deep, so scratches are easily eliminated with sanding and buffing, without the need for professional help. The flexible and tough outer plastic skin works with the foam backing to provide a package that Hunter says provides five times the impact resistance of traditional fiberglass. The plastic is designed to absorb an impact's energy by flexing upon contact. The foam layer supports the skin and diffuses the impact. And on the innermost layer the fiberglass backing holds the structure intact. The foam layer also provides enough positive flotation to support a water-filled hull-or 200 pounds of sailor. The Xcite is "unsinkable."
This can be a mobile little boat. With its two-part mast and light weight the Xcite is easily cartopped. A kick-up centerboard and kick-up rudder are always forgiving when things go "bump" and are most appropriate for sailing off the beach. At 115 pounds, a pair of adults or a quartet of kids could easily launch and transport the boat.
The Xcite does not deliver the white-knuckled performance of a Laser, which will always be the gold standard of the wet butt, marconi-rigged genre, but its DNA is a lot closer to that of a Laser than it is to that of a tubby sailing dinghy. New sailors will be challenged. Children will be encouraged to live the heady adventures of sailing kids without the fear of breaking something expensive and fragile. And more experienced sailors will re-reconnect with the uncomplicated and alluring senses of loaded mainsheet, weighted tiller, wind in the face and the sound of sailboat through water. The Xcite succeeds in making them more accessible to the masses.