- The day was horrible, with 20-knot winds, but the XRS was superb.
- You can’t help but drive this boat hard, which is made all the easier by the incredibly smooth ride.
- Hunton have always been about performance and perfection, which is why in 19 years only 22 RS43s and 10 XRS43s have been built.
- Build quality aside, what makes these boats such a good buy is their exclusivity and limited production run …
- All owners’ clubs thrive on their self-conceived concept of exclusivity, but few achieve it like Hunton.
In this performance-themed issue it seemed only right to feature a performance thoroughbred from one of the most exclusive yards in the UK. Greg Copp gives us the low-down …
The RS43 and the later XRS43 are built on a successful race pedigree that stretches back to 1984, and both forms are still two of the most exciting powerboats to drive.
The man behind what would become one of the most iconic luxury high-performance offshore powerboats was Jeff Hunton. Jeff, like many of his creed at the time, turned his passion for powerboat racing into a business. In the Round Britain Race of 1984, his two boats – a 27- and 28-footer – wiped the floor in the cruiser class. Subsequently the Gazelle 28 was born, and Hunton Powerboats were well and truly on the map. Bigger boats soon followed, and in 1990 the launch of the flagship Gazelle 42 set a new benchmark for high-performance seakeeping.
This rakish deep-vee 40-knot boat was initially powered by big-block petrol engines, until advances in diesel technology brought sterndriven diesel power to the bigger sports boat. In 1998, Hunton’s flagship Gazelle 42 was replaced by the Gazelle RS 43. It had the same hull, but its topside design embraced the style revolution that discarded angular lines in favour of sweeping curves, rounded windscreens and indulgent comfort.
The first boats were offered with either twin sterndriven 260hp Volvo KAD44s or 285hp KAD300s. Not surprisingly, everyone chose the KAD300 as it pushed the Gazelle to 39/40 knots. However, the KAD300 was shortly replaced by common-rail injected 350hp and 370hp Volvo D6s on DPH drives, pushing the boat to around 45 knots. There were a few 50-knot 440hp MerCruiser petrol-powered boats built and even a 70-knot Gazelle with 662hp Mercury Racing engines, but the biggest rival to the Volvo D6 was the 315hp Yanmar 6LP. This 4.2L engine was thinner than the 5.5L D6, so was offered in triple as well as double configurations. With triple Yanmars driving through MerCruiser Bravo 1 sterndrives, this boat could reach over 50 knots. True to the highly bespoke nature of the boat, there was also a boat fitted with triple 350hp Cummins QSB engines on Arneson surface drives, and a boat with twin 480hp Cummins QSBs on NTX sterndrives.
In 2008, the Gazelle XRS43 arrived, though by now the Gazelle part of the name was pretty much forgotten. Carbon-reinforced, it was slightly lighter, stronger and had a twin-stepped hull with the same underwater lines. Twin 480hp Yanmar 6LY3s with ASD8 surface drives were now an option that pushed this boat past the 55-knot barrier. Alternatively you could have the more sensible twin 370hp Yanmar 8LV-370Z sterndrive option or the well-proven 370hp D6.
In 1998, the Gazelle RS43 was streets ahead in terms of style – and it needed to be, when you considered what you were getting behind the scenes and what it cost. To the boat’s credit, it has remained barely unchanged over the years, especially under the water, as this boat’s vital statistics are the foundation of its success. Its transom deadrise angle is 24°, sharpening to 30° amidships before closing to a razor-sharp 45° in the bow section. Factor in its skinny 10ft 10in (3.3m) beam, 7.5-tonne displacement (RS – dry) and the fact that it is laid up with over 15kg/m² of glass along its keel, and you have a sports boat built to its theoretical best.
The first Hunton 43 that I drove was on a trip out with Jeff Hunton in an XRS43 powered by twin 480hp Yanmars, driving through Arneson surface drives. The day was horrible, with 20-knot winds, but the XRS was superb. Like any surface-driven boat, the initial bite is not like that produced by sterndrives, but once you are up and going, the seemingly unrelenting power delivery is addictive. You can’t help but drive this boat hard, which is made all the easier by the incredibly smooth ride. Both the XRS and the RS are very easy boats to drive, thanks to a near-perfect poise. With a sterndriven XRS or RS there is little need to trim the legs up at speed, unless you are running downwind in a big sea, and then only a small amount is required.
The XRS was not the first rakish 7-tonne sports boat that I had driven, but it was – and still is – the most impressive. Life starts at 40 with this boat, as once you cross this barrier, its perfectly balanced hull still turns and cuts in a reassuring and effortless manner, which keeps you on the power. The contrast is that when you drop back down to 30 knots, everything suddenly feels very slow. Its deadrise angle aft of amidships is very sharp at 30°. Often boats of this ilk still retain their flatter transom deadrise angle at this point. This pays dividends as this section of the hull has its work cut out when driven hard in rough weather, and this is evident in the upwind ride.
There is plenty of focus on the cockpit and the driving position. The double-helm position has flip-up bolster seats, which hold you snugly in position, though there is no chart table, so any navigation up top will have to be done electronically. The driving position is great standing, but I am told very tall people find it a little cramped sitting, though at 6ft I had no issues with it. Later boats had a taller windscreen, which does not impair its sleek looks, but obviously makes life a little drier. There was a hardtop Gazelle available from 2006, though I have never seen one.
Foredeck access for a sports cruiser is very good and the RS has fairly tall guard rails, though for contemporary sporting appearances the XRS tapers its guard rails down to deck level at the bow. Engine access is very good for twin-engine installations, and actually not that bad with triple engines, all things considered.
Though the internals are largely bespoke, the basic design with the RS is along the traditional lines of an owner’s cabin in the forepeak and a twin-berth cabin under the cockpit sole. The XRS, however, has an open-plan cabin, which works well for couples – especially as you get a bigger living area and separate shower and heads compartments. Also, with the XRS there is no second cabin. In comparison, the RS has a proper forward cabin, separate from the main cabin and not simply a double bed screened off, as is often the case with large sports boats. Unusually, the heads is located forward, just aft of the owner’s cabin on the hull centre line, enabling full standing headroom in the shower, which is an achievement given the boat’s relatively low profile.
The guest cabin under the cockpit is often a selling point for this boat, as many 43 owners graduate from the XRS37, which has no such luxury. Accessed on the port side, there is 5ft 9in inside the doorway and 18in over the bed. It is hardly the Savoy, but low-slung boats like this rarely have a second cabin.
Hunton have always been about performance and perfection, which is why in 19 years only 22 RS43s and 10 XRS43s have been built. This explains the prices they still fetch and why there are still quite a few Gazelle owners (42 and 43) who have owned their boats from new. All owners’ clubs thrive on their self-conceived concept of exclusivity, but few achieve it like Hunton.
Build period: 1998 to present
Designer: Jeff Hunton
Hull type: Deep-vee planing
Transom deadrise angle: 24 degrees
RCD category: B for 8
Current values: From £100,000 to £300,000
Length overall: RS: 42ft 07in (13.00m); XRS: 43ft 01in (13.06m)
Beam: 10ft 10in (3.3m)
Draught: 3ft 02in (0.97m)
Displacement: 7.5 tonnes (RS – light)
Fuel capacity: 204 gal (910 litres)
Water capacity: 50 gal (222 litres)
Cruising range: Approx. 350 miles with a 20% reserve at 30 knots (Volvo D6s)
Points to consider
This boat has one of the widest ranges of engine choices of any sports cruiser built, and considering the limited production run, this means that there are hardly two boats the same. If you exclude the handful of petrol-powered boats and the few 350hp and 480hp diesel Cummins-powered craft, then the remainder fall into two camps: Volvo and Yanmar. The Volvo option is the most common and started with mechanically injected 285hp KAD300s on duo-prop sterndrives. The common-rail injected 350hp, and then the 370hp Volvo D6, which followed the KAD300, are the most popular and fuel-efficient power options. Boats powered by the mechanically injected 315hp Yanmar 6LP engine on MerCruiser Bravo 1 sterndrives will fetch slightly lower prices, though these tough older-generation engines rightly have their fans. They do tend to smoke when cold, but this is the nature of the beast. Both makes of engine have a good reputation for reliability, so what needs to be considered is service history, and how they still perform, bearing in mind that they are likely to have had ‘spirited use’.
These boats have held their value well, even over two decades. Build quality aside, what makes these boats such a good buy is their exclusivity and limited production run, which keeps second-hand prices up.
Build quality/fit & finish
Hunton’s build and finish is of a very high standard, reflected in the price when new. Do not expect to easily find user abuse, and do not shy from buying an older boat, as age has less bearing on these boats than you would expect.
These boats are inevitably fitted with stainless props and in many cases stainless tie bars. This accentuates galvanic corrosion of the aluminium sterndrive; consequently, from 2005, Hunton fitted galvanic isolators. Boats fitted with triple MerCruiser drives had Latham external hydraulic steering fitted, which can suffer corrosion if left for long periods afloat.
The Volvo D6 will cost around £650 to service, with the KAD300 being slightly cheaper to maintain. The cost of spares has never been a Volvo strong point, either in the UK or overseas, however availability and the abundance of service agents are very good in both the UK and Europe. If you find a Yanmar-powered boat, the cost will be much the same, though they do not have such an appetite for anodes, and their MerCruiser sterndrives do not suffer from corrosion quite as badly as Volvo drives.
Boats with common-rail injected D6s will return a healthy 2mpg or more at 30–35 knots. The mechanically injected Volvo KAD44s/KAD300s and Yanmar 6LPA-STZPs by their nature will not be so efficient, but will not be far off in comparison. However you look at it, the efficient Hunton hull will always be relatively frugal, no matter what the engine.
2009 Price: £199,950 (inc. VAT)
Powered by twin 370hp Volvo D6s, this is the highest-spec RS43 built by the Hunton yard and has an extensive service history. Being a 2009 model, it has the stainless steel radar arch, and a higher windscreen with wiper. Fitted with air con, heating, inverter, water maker, upgraded hi-fi, stern mooring cameras, upgraded TV, Wi-Fi station, auto helm as well as bow and stern thrusters, this boat wants for nothing. She has had two owners, and although dry-stacked at the moment, has been copper-coated.
I don’t find structural defects in the Hunton XRS43, unless she has been dropped in the yard or driven fast into something hard.
In normal use, even when driven at speed, she slices into the seas and will put up with far more discomfort than her crew can. This is very much down to her slender deep-vee lines, and her structural design and build. The hull is moulded with a PVC core above the chine, which provides a lightweight, strong and stiff section, and below the chines there are plenty of internally bonded frames and longitudinals. The internal tray moulding also forms part of the structure. My only beef is that not all the spaces below cabin sole level are accessible.
The fit-out and engineering are also to a very good standard, and the finish is beautiful. However, beware. Because the Hunton XRS43 is so fast and exciting to drive, I find that she does tend to attract the occasional devil-may-care adrenalin junkie who may not lavish the care and maintenance on her that she deserves. If you are looking to buy a used XRS43, then my advice is to buy from an owner who has loved and cared for her, and is parting only because they have been seduced by another model.
Jim Pritchard BSc CEng MRINA MIIMS