In February 2015, I had the chance to get out on the new Marlow Hunter 37. The good folks at Specialty Yachts took me out for an enjoyable spin on English Bay once the fog cleared and just enough breeze magically appeared. It turned into a beautiful February sail on the Salish Sea.
We stepped onto the boat when it was rafted up, blocking a good view of the hard-chined boat in profile, so the first things I noticed were some of the things that are characteristic of all new Marlow Hunters: the mélange of rigging woven through the swept-back spreaders of the B&R rig, and the stainless arch over the helm station. Those spreaders are swept a full 30° aft, and with diagonal shrouds between the spreaders, it allows the rig plenty of strength to sail without a backstay. I said, “Even offshore?” The response was, “oh yeah.” That big stainless arch over the cockpit basically serves two purposes. First and foremost, it allows end-of-boom sheeting with all of your mainsheet and traveler tackle out of the cockpit. Secondarily, it provides very stable framework for a canvas bimini, and indeed, most Marlow Hunters would be set-up with that covering. I noted the bright red
color of the hull, and learned the Marlow Hunter has been pioneering some new gelcoat technology that makes colors that vibrant possible and, since it’s not paint, buffable. Together with the broker, Julian, we explored the boat inside and out. We stepped onto the very large, hinging swim step. He demonstrated the rack-and-pinion Selden in-mast furling system, which worked like a charm. All the deck gear was easily accessible, and it was obvious that a lot of thought had been given to keeping the cockpit area clean, open, and free of the usual mess.
Heading down the companionway, my first impressions of the interior were that it was very spacious, with a lot of natural light, and that the galley had a lot of counter space. As we poked around, I began to develop the opinion that this would be a very solid contender for best liveaboard in this size and category. Oodles of headroom, the compression post for the mast being in the v-berth leaving the main salon feeling very open, ample storage in nicely sized cabinet compartments in both berths, and a front-opening
fridge and freezer – all contributed to this impression. The aft cabin, with a queen-sized bed oriented athwartships makes for a bed a real human would actually be comfortable stretching out in, though I imagine that some would wind up feeling claustrophobic with the way the ceiling drops (under the cockpit sole) giving only a few feet of clearance over the bed where your legs would be. The private access to the head and shower from the aft cabin is a nice touch. There’s no two-ways around the fact that this is a spacious and thoughtfully designed interior for a 37’ boat.
Julian pulled up a couple floor-boards. First, he wanted to show me how deep the bilge was, and it was extremely deep. To him, this was a perk, prevention against floating floorboards if you take in a bit of water in big seas. This was a fair point, but to me, I was a little worried about the volume of water that the bilge could retain, what could grow in there, and how difficult it might be to clean the arm-deep cavity. Secondly, he pointed out the quality and depth of the floorboards themselves as an indicator of how stoutly built the boat was. It was at this point that Julian mentioned the displacement. The Marlow Hunter 37’s displacement of well over 18,000 lbs. is at least 3000 lbs. more than most of the boats that would normally be considered in the same category. My interest piqued. I tend to be the first person to raise my hand for a ride on a light displacement speed-machine. However, in a cruising boat, as this is, I’m not so opposed to weight. With yacht design, there are always trade-offs. But, based on the build of the boat, and the way it sails, it’s my opinion that the weight of this boat serves its desired purpose. And, the idea of this boat being overbuilt, well let’s just say that goes against a few of my preconceptions about the Hunters of old. Combining that displacement with generous tankage of 50 gallons of fuel and 80 gallons of fresh water, I began to feel that Marlow Hunter is aiming at the offshore market.
We cast off our lines, pulled in the fenders, and the 40-horse pushed the boat along at an easy 7.6 knots at only 2400 RPM. I went down below to assess engine noise, and despite its obvious efficiency, I’ve been around quieter, smoother-running diesels. Under the bridge we went, sizing up the small patches of carpet in the slowly building northerly. We unfurled both sails, bearing away to the south, and started trying to make the boat go in a meager couple of knots. It was slow going as we broad reached, but the boat was moving, even in the super light breeze. We turned upwind, and the sails powered right up, and I noticed what would become one of my favorite things about sailing the boat. The Marlow Hunter 37 has a hard chine running from midships to a boxy angle in the transom. The boat really wants to heel over enough to get that chine in the water, giving you the full length of the waterline, arriving at 5°-7° of heel with the sense of locking in that secondary stability, and in doing so, giving you some really nice feel in the helm, even in light air. As the breeze picked up a bit later in the afternoon, I still felt that the boat wanted to find that ideal angle of heel on the hard chine and stay there, even in a puff.
Part of that good feeling in the helm was the angle of heel, but the other was what I consider to be a very well designed sail plan. The mast is set quite far forward (that’s what keeps the compression post forward of the main salon down below), allocating a lot of the power to a big mainsail with a comparatively low-aspect. High-aspect rigs are all the rage, and are generally considered to offer higher performance, but here’s the good part about that big, long boom: most of these boats are sold with in-mast furling mainsails, which are notoriously flat. I found that the longer foot length allowed for more manipulation of the sail shape – that extra cloth let us create a nice draft pocket in the flatter-cut sail. The other nice thing about the forward set mast is that the boat is designed to sail with a non-overlapping masthead-rigged jib, conversely making the jib design more high-aspect. The sail plan is indicative of the departure from the small-main/big-genoa sail plans of even fairly recent production designs. The sail area is also generous, at 841 square feet, and helps offset the boat’s significant heft.
All in all, the boat sailed much better than I expected for a heavy production cruiser – I’ve spent plenty of light air days on boats of a similar design pedigree where you really can’t move in less than a solid 8 knots of breeze. In our fairly light conditions, we were always able to move along at a couple of knots. If we got breeze in the 5-6 knot range we were able to break the 4-knot barrier when close reaching. Just before heading in, we had the boat doing better than 5.5 knots in what we estimated was 8 knots true – not too shabby for such a heavy cruiser. I attribute this performance to us just being amazing sailors….just kidding, I’d really attribute it to the generous sail plan and a LOT of effective waterline accessed immediately on almost any point of sail.
The boat is certainly well set-up for short-handed sailing, and would be a top choice for folks who like to single-hand. The jib winches are right next to the helm station, and the mainsheet and traveler controls are located on the portside-interior of the arch, which can be reached easily while still keeping a hand on the wheel. Regardless of our point of sail, I appreciated the mechanical advantage and purchase of the mainsail controls, thanks to its end-of-boom sheeting. We didn’t put either the mainsheet or the traveler on a winch, and it’s possible you might be shortening sail before you get to the amount of load where you’d need to. The mainsheet does double end, with the other end joining the cleanly-run lines coming back to the cockpit right to the cabin top winches, where a crew member might also be adjusting outhaul and cunningham, or reefing.
Downwind sailing is the big question mark. In the light stuff, most boats, including the Marlow Hunter 37, are pretty underwhelming below a beam reach. PNW sailors would likely want to get outfitted with a cruising kite, since the jib is such a small percentage of the sail plan. The spreader angle of 30° aft is a little concern, as it might be difficult to let your main out all the way without the sail and the boom plastered against your shrouds. One thing I did notice in light air downwind sailing is that the mainsheet being above your head worried me a little. In those conditions where the breeze doesn’t keep your sail out, or in choppy seas where your boom is bouncing all over the place, I thought the slacked mainsheet might droop down right to neck level. But, since most boats will install a bimini over the arch, that would negate the issue. Julian also pointed out that traveling all the way down would reduce the amount of mainsheet you have to let out, and that any drooping would be outside the cockpit.
There are a number of pretty cool design features that weren’t necessarily evident during our sail test, but are worth noting. The biggest, to me, is that Marlow Hunter has changed their core material for all the 2015 model 37s. There are 2014s out there with the traditional balsa core. The new, techy core (apparently developed by NASA) is called Nida-Core, and is stronger and water-resistant. In the case of the MH37, it’s paired with Kevlar in the lay-up. Marlow Hunter is also utilizing what they call “bow-hollow” in their hull shape. This is supposed to cut down on hobby-horsing in chop by reducing buoyancy and helping the boat slice through the waves, while also improving the motion by moving the bow wave further aft.
After a great day getting to know the boat, I see the Marlow Hunter 37 as a comfortable boat, with a very thoughtful design inside and out, and impressive sailing performance, especially considering it’s comparatively heavy displacement. I also think the boat seems to indicate new priorities at Marlow Hunter, and though time will tell, I’d say they’re off to a very successful start.