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H170 versus H18 experience

mark2

.
Dec 10, 2012
52
Hunter 18 Raleigh
Hi all, as someone that has now owned and spent time with both the H170 and H18 I thought I would write up my impressions if anyone is interested in how these two similar boats compare. If you are looking to buy one or the other, this might give you some guidance. (Note that the H18.5 is not the same as the H18).

We purchased our H170 (used) and sailed it for about 8 years, mostly on Falls lake near Raleigh NC. We did the usual maintenance (replaced both sails when they wore out, etc), and we also became quite expert in repair of the ACP plastic hull. Cracking of the plastic hull is legendary on these boats. Living in NC the boat was not exposed to extreme cold temperatures, but did suffer from some minor (non-structural) cracks in the deck and forward interior surfaces. Pretty much every year we would go around and fix new cracks that showed up (always on the inside, the outer hull never showed any cracks).

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It also suffered from delamination of the plastic from the structural foam under the deck resulting in flexing of the deck (a “soft” feel when walking on it). That flexing eventually causes more cracks along the edges of the walkway, especially near the center of the boat. We undertook to cut holes in the deck and inject 2-part structural foam into the voids. It was a lot of messy work, but it gave us several more years with a good firm deck.

We were content to continue repairing the ACP problems indefinitely, until we bought a house at the NC coast and wanted to sail the waterways around the barrier islands. Due to the shallow waters and channels it became essential have a motor on the boat, but the motor mount suffered from the same delamination issues as the rest of the deck and was not secure enough to support a motor. There are other discussion threads here from owners that have torn out and rebuilt the motor mount deck area, but we decided we had spent enough time on repairs and it was time to sell the H170 and buy another boat more suitable for our new sailing environment.

We really loved the H170, our kids (and dog) spent many years on it, and the open transom design was so great for dropping anchor and taking a swim on a hot day. So it was natural we would take a look at the H18 and see if it would make a good replacement since it was about the same size and similar design. It was very hard to find a used H18 (and cost of a new one was out of our price range). I spent a long time scouring the internet, finally finding one at a NY yacht sales yard. We had only a few photos to make a decision, but since the seller was a certified and reputable boat dealer, we took a chance and bought it without laying eyes on it. We had it transported to NC (uship.com) for about $800.

It did not take long to realize the H18 we bought was a “hybrid” combination of a H170 and H18. It has been discussed here and other places that Hunter replaced some of the cracked H170 hulls with H18 hulls to satisfy disgruntled customers. But the replacement hulls were fitted with the old H170 sails. This H18 had an H170 serial number, H170 sails, and a mixed bag of rigging. The Seldon mast was from the H18 design, but the boom and sails were H170 – which meant they were smaller than the sails designed for the boat. The boat was a bit of a mess with rigging that just did not work.
After consulting with the folks here at hunter.sailboatowners.com, we decided we wanted a properly rigged and outfitted H18 so we bit the money bullet and bought a new boom, main sail, spreaders, jib furler, and standing rigging. Turns out the mast had been modified a bit so we could not use the H18 spreaders and standing rigging, so we had to make do with what we had.

In the end, we have almost a normally fitted H18. We sold the H170 and have been sailing the H18 for 2 years now, including in the NC coastal waters.

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The following are our observations about the H18 after having spent many years with the H170. (Spoiler alert: we love the H18 even better than the H170).

Sailing

I really expected no big difference in the sailing experience. The H170 and H18 are almost the same size and design. I fully expected them to sail about the same, but I was wrong. The H18 is (IMHO) significantly better sailing and handling than the H170. Much of that I think comes from the hull shape and weight – the H18 is far more stable and does not heel nearly as much in stronger winds. It has better tiller control and less weather helm in high winds. In our experience, sailing the H170 in winds over 15mph was an exercise in boat control and even hiked out, spilling air would be required in any gust or wind change. We never put the H170 over, but had to avoid sailing on days with gusts of 20 or more. The H18 is easily controlled and stable in 20mph winds. At the coast we have sailed in 25mph winds gusting over 30 without reefing. It was work, but doable. We could never had done that in the H170.

Light wind performance seems about the same, the larger sail area makes up for a heavier boat. It does (subjectively) seem to me that the H18 points better (e.g. can run closer to the wind). No big deal unless you are racing or struggling to make the dock on your current tack…

Trailering

The H18 weighs almost twice as much as the H170 (836 lbs versus 478 lbs) but it is still quite easy to get on an off the trailer. We found that if you don’t come out of the water with the boat exactly centered on the bunks, you can lift-and-shift the stern to straighten it out without a huge effort, just like we did with the H170.

Rigging

Rigging and setup are almost identical to the H170. But I think Hunter blew it with the H18 mast step. The H170 has a beautifully simple and easy mast stepping feature – literally slide the base of the mast into the step and stand it up. The H18 has a fussy pin and clip that you have to remove (and don’t drop them!), get the mast positioned just-so, then put the pin back in and clip in place. Then you can stand up the mast. I have no idea why they did not keep the H170 mast step feature that was so much simpler and fool proof.

The mast and boom both have internal rigging lines, unlike the H170 where all the lines were external. The boom we purchased also included everything needed for reefing (which we rarely use). The boom has a slide track on the underside for mounting any needed hardware. This is a great feature to adjust the position of the boom vang and to add a sail management system (like the “Sail Jockey – Model 700” which I highly recommend).

Cup holders

So my wife almost refused to buy the H18 because for some inexplicable reason, Hunter choose to leave off the cup holders that were such a great feature of the H170. You cannot keep a cup or beverage can anywhere without it spilling over. We added stainless steel recessed cup holders with drain lines (just like the H170). I’ll give details of that project in another post.

Access ports

On the H170 it was impossible to inspect the interior of the hull because there were no access ports. The H18 has 3 access ports, one in the bow compartment and one below each seat bench. This is a great improvement for inspecting the hull interior and removing water than cannot be drained out the back (see drain plug below). They were also handy when installing recessed cup holders into the bench seats.

They could also be used for storage of small items if you had a way to secure them (otherwise they would slide around in the hull). We have not done that.

Textured surfaces

The H170 is completely smooth plastic on all surfaces including seat bench tops and the deck. Anti-slip tape is used to prevent slipping on the smooth deck, but the tape always gets dirty and is hard to clean.

The H18 has many of the key surfaces textured to provide grip and remove the need for anti-slip tape. It looks and performs much better, and the texture on the high hike-out surfaces is also a nice touch.

Rudder clamp

OK, I cannot really figure this one out. The H18 rudder has a screw clamp in addition to the 2 pull ropes for raising and lowering the rudder. The pull ropes did not work all that well on the H170, and they are no better on the H18. It takes a lot of force to raise the rudder out of the water, and the rope is under so much tension in the jam cleat it can be almost impossible to release. I really dislike this method of raising and lowering the rudder (on both boats), I wish Hunter had come up with a better design.

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But what is the purpose of this clamping knob on the H18? It is impossible to tighten enough to hold the rudder up, and there is already the rope system for that. It is also tricky to get to on the water because you have to lean way out the back to get a grip on the clamp handles (there is one on each side). If anyone knows what this is for, I would like to know… (and no, the user manual does not show it or mention it).

Above-the-water-line drain plug

So this is a good and bad thing. The drain plug on the H170 is right at or slightly below the waterline. We had to deal with some leaks there on several occasions. The H18 moved the plug to above the rub rail and well above the waterline. The down side is that it is even more useless for draining water from the hull. Even with the boat tipped back on the trailer you cannot get all the water out because the plug is too high. On several occasions we have used sponges and sopped water out from the access ports under the seat benches. A tedious and time consuming task.

Hull Material

This of course is the huge material difference between these boats. The H170 is a plastic-skinned hull with a core of fiberglass and structural foam. It is lightweight and resists impact damage better than fiberglass, and in many cases, it is easier to repair. But it is subject to the plastic skin developing cracks that get worse with time if not repaired and the plastic skin can delaminate (separate from) the foam core. Our boat had both problems.
The H18 is a traditional fiberglass construction, with foam floatation in some areas. This makes the H18 about 2 times heavier than the H170. Like other fiberglass boats it is stable over time and not subject to random cracks or failures. Fiberglass repair techniques are well known. I’ll take the heavier, maintenance free H18 any time.

Centerboard

The H18 centerboard is similar in design to the H170 although it is larger (I think), and it has a different pivot mechanism. The H170 centerboard is easy to remove with a single screw. We have not attempted to remove the H18 centerboard yet so we have no experience with that.
The H18 uses similar centerboard flaps on the bottom of the slot as the H170 (a pair of plastic/cloth flaps that cover the bottom of the centerboard slot). I never did really understand what those flaps are supposed to do, and they are prone to deterioration. We removed them from our H170 and will probably do the same on the H18 as they are beginning to fray and rot.

Projects

Two H18 improvement projects are underway on our boat this year. One is to add stainless steel recessed cup holders into the bench seats, with drains down to the deck (same as the H170). The second is to add a depth-finder for shallow water sailing, a necessity in NC coastal waters. I’ll detail those projects in a separate post.

Summary

Based on our years of sailing both of these boats, if you are looking for a great family boat either the H170 or H18 is a good choice. It seems used H170s are more available than H18s, so that alone might determine what you can do. But if you find an H18 at a reasonable price I would recommend it over the H170 even if you pay more for it. If you want to sail in high wind conditions or competitively, then the H18 is a far better choice.
 
Jan 1, 2006
5,960
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
You would do a great favor to post this on the owners resources page on this website. If you don't know how please ask forum moderators to help.
 
Feb 21, 2019
26
Catalina 30 TR 3571 Cocoa, FL
Mark2,
I can't comment on the 170 but I can speak to the Hunter 18 as a current owner. Some additional Hunter 18 comments:
Sailing ability - Definitely agree on stability and solid performance in heavier air (also have never used the main reefing system) and that even in with significant chop the boat remains a surprisingly dry ride. It also has a relatively large and very clean cockpit with little "hanging out there" to inflict those annoying "boat bites", a real plus when teaching kids and grand kids to sail. I'd also add that prospective buyers should consider the available asymmetrical spinnaker / retractable sprit pole option if they want to spice things up off the wind. The boat's competitive downside is there's no Portsmouth rating (yet) for the H-18 and if you start with the 170 rating and adjust for extra waterline, sail area, and the spin package (if you have one) its hard pressed to run its calculated rating number (IMO). Definitely a fun, clean, and easy boat to sail particularly with the spin package.
Access ports - Mine came with insert bags that you can put light items in however I wouldn't trust them not to pull thru and drop down into the hull with heavy items.
Rudder Pivot Bolt - Quick way to take rudder to side plate play out even while sailing. While this is pretty much a set and forget adjustment speaking from experience do take it apart occasionally and spray lube on where the bolt and nut meet the aluminum plate. Let it go to long and the Al. corrosion will freeze things up to where the plastic handles will deform around the nut when trying to loosen and become useless.
Drain plug - Understand the placement issue but mine stays bone dry under all conditions. There shouldn't be any routine water intrusion, sounds like a leak repair opportunity.
Centerboard - Flaps are intended to help reduce water turbulence in the trunk and water from occasionally sloshing out the top under certain conditions. I just trimmed the fray on mine off with a hot knife. I have not tried to yet but suspect the board has to be partially if not most of the way down to get necessary clearance to hoist it out of the trunk which requires the boat off the trailer.

The 18 is a bit pricy but a great family boat that's fun to sail, thanks for the comparative walkthrough!
 

mark2

.
Dec 10, 2012
52
Hunter 18 Raleigh
@CurtisC thanks for the reminder on the spinnaker kit, that is an important point. Ours did not come with a kit and with our casual sailing style I don't think we will spend the money on adding it.

On the drain plug issue, we don't have a leak but we got water in the hull several times in the course of installing recessed cup holders in the bench seats. After installing the holders (but before we got the drains put in) we took the boat for a week at the coast. It got rained on a few times which put some water into the hull the via the cup holders. I had to sop out about 2 gallons that could not be drained out the back.

Centerboard flaps - good idea to trim up what we have. Not sure we will bother to replace them ($180 plus a lot of work under the boat).
 

mark2

.
Dec 10, 2012
52
Hunter 18 Raleigh
@shemandr I looked at the owner resource pages, but not sure where this would be appropriate. The "Owner Reviews" are form-based question/answer on specific topics. "Owner Mods" is free-form but this is not about making mods. I could make a PDF and put in the "Downloads" section along with the owner manuals, not sure if that makes sense.

There is almost no owner resources for the H18 (even the boat specs are empty). I can at least add some of that boilerplate anyway. The owners manual is there (although it almost useless, and some of it was copied from the H170 and not updated correctly).