By Jack Hornor
Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
There is something to be said for a "cruising" sailboat that can cruise down the highway at 60 mph. If sailors were to sit down and add up the cost of hauling, launching, slip rental and maintenance for keeping a small cruiser at a marina, trailer boating gains more appeal.
The Hunter 260 was introduced with the 1995 model year and remained in production through 2004. It offers accommodations not typically found on trailerable sailboats - a small galley, enclosed head and sleeping accommodations for six people, assuming four are small children. To package all this and still keep weight to a level that can be towed by most full-sized automobiles and SUVs, Hunter uses a water ballast system rather than fixed ballast. Length overall of the 260 is 26' 3", beam is 9', draft is 1' 9" with the centerboard fully raised and 6' even with it lowered; weight, with no ballast and no gear, is an even 3,000 lbs.
The hull is a solid fiberglass laminate, decks are balsa and fiberglass composite and fiberglass liners are used for interior components, structural support and rigidity. The 260 is intended for use in near coastal and protected waters and construction is suitable for this service. The most notable, and potentially serious, problems with 260s have been rudders splitting at the seam and outboard motor mounts distorting under load. From all reports, Hunter has done a good job devising a one-person system for raising and lowering the mast that works well.
In order to maximize interior accommodations, Hunter's design team has extended the deck house to the full width of the hull, eliminating any side decks. This makes it necessary to climb up and over the cabin in order to get to the foredeck. There are no handholds on the cabin top and only a single lifeline. On the foredeck there is a good-sized anchor locker and fiberglass deck hatch. The cockpit is large and comfortable and open at the stern for easy boarding as well as quick access to the outboard rudder and motor. Hunter offers wheel steering as an option and a surprising number of buyers have opted for this even though it takes up valuable cockpit space.
The main cabin features very comfortable accommodations for a 26-footer - with 5' 7" standing head room. There is a U-shaped dinette on centerline which seats four adults comfortably and converts to a double berth. To the port side aft, there is an enclosed head with porta-poti and wash basin. The galley is opposite and has a single-burner butane stove, small sink and storage space for an Igloo ice chest. Forward of the dinette there is a V-berth suitable for one or two small children. An athwartship double berth is beneath the cockpit although very limited overhead clearance will limit the use of this berth to children or a single adult. There is decent storage below both settees in the main cabin and below the forward berth.
Auxiliary power is provided by an outboard engine mounted on a bracket at the starboard stern. Most owners seem to choose 8- or 9.9-hp motors, either of which will provide adequate power under most conditions. Due to the tendency of outboard motors to pop out of the water in choppy conditions, extra long shaft models are a must to help mitigate this occurrence.
The 260 has lots of freeboard and very little draft with the centerboard and rudder raised. Optional cockpit controls for shift and throttle and Hunter's "EZ steer" option, which connects the outboard motor so that it turns when the rudder is turned, are also a definite plus for ease of docking or maneuvering in tight spaces.
The 260 has a relatively modest sail area displacement ratio of 17.5 even using Hunter's specified 320-sq. ft. sail area, which likely includes the full area of the 110% genoa and mainsail including the roach. The 260 is no sport boat, but performance is good particularly in light to moderate wind. In conditions over 15 knots, I think it's fair to say she is a bit tender with a disturbing tendency to round up in a gust. This is not unusual or unexpected for a boat of this type and the trick to maintaining control is to reef early.
One other potential handling problem is the tendency of the kick-up rudder downhaul to come loose at the most inopportune moment allowing the rudder raise and resulting in loss of control. The rudder can be fixed, with a pin in the down position but this increases the likelihood of damaging the rudder by grounding in shallow water.
While the Hunter 260 may have a few shortcomings, her strengths certainly outweigh them. If you're looking for maximum accommodations and reasonable value in a trailerable boat, the Hunter 260 fits the bill.
Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.