Hunton XRS43 owner’s upgrade: Creating the perfect performance cruiser

Inspired by a story in last October’s MBY, Nigel Meek set out to create his own perfect performance cruiser by refitting a Hunton XRS43

My boating career started with racing sailing dinghies in the Solent. It was a natural progression from there to windsurfing and I whiled away many happy weekends blasting around the Solent on a variety of ever smaller, faster boards.

Then came the children, bless them. Sadly, the ethos of windsurfing (stop everything, the wind has started to blow) is more or less the exact opposite of trying to bring up a young family and it wasn’t long before the windsurfing gear was hung up and a year later sold to raise cash.

When I hit my early thirties, work was going well and I decided to buy a brand new Four Winns sportsboat. I’d never really expected to move from sail to power but with our busy family oriented life, it worked fabulously. Dry stacks weren’t around back then, so it was kept in the water at Ocean Village marina.

We had some fabulous times on that boat and after a while we upgraded to a Sunseeker Portofino 37. It cost a small fortune to run so after a couple of years we got rid of it and entered the world of RIBs, starting with a 7.5m before upsizing to an 8.5m. We kept it on a dry stack on the Hamble and the flexibility this gave us suited our busy lifestyle, allowing us to ‘RIB around the Solent’ for many happy years.

However, last year at the age 54 and coupled with my wife’s bad back, I began to look around for a more comfortable option. The trouble was I didn’t want a flybridge or even a sportscruiser, I enjoyed the exhilaration of helming a RIB too much to swap it for a comfortable but boring 30-knot cruiser. I also wanted a boat of around 9 to 10m long to flatten out the sometimes choppy Solent. So I spent some time trawling the internet wondering which way to go.

Inspiration strikes

Then I happened on an article in MBY which followed the story of a reader who couldn’t afford the new boat he wanted so spent the money instead on refurbishing a secondhand Sunseeker Superhawk 50.

It got me thinking. Funnily enough I had a friend who years ago had a Sunseeker Thunderhawk. It was a great boat with big petrol engines – utterly mad but so much fun!

So I started looking at some slightly older secondhand boats as well. Then it struck me, I had seen a few Hunton XRS43s around and even had the good fortune to have been on one a few years previously.

This seemed to be the best fit. For me it was a true modern classic. Compared to the Hunton, even the Superhawk looked rather dated. So I started my search. The more I looked, the more I wanted one. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to see a way of taking it to an even higher level.

I was strongly recommended to speak to Hunton guru Martin Payne. He used to be the MD of Hunton and still keeps track of where most of his boats have gone.

Speaking to Martin it soon became clear that finding the right boat wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d hoped. It seems that Huntons are rather more sought after than I’d realised, even with Martin helping to extract a boat for me from an existing owner.

Whilst Martin was churning opportunities, I also looked at alternative options in case we drew a blank. I went to last year’s Cannes boat show to see the debut of the new Princess R35 foiling sportsboat but it really didn’t ‘float my boat’.

The driving position felt more cruiser than sportsboat, the accommodation was very tight down below and in my opinion it lacked a bit of soul… whatever that means!

Cannes was still a great show with countless open day boats and fast weekenders but nothing that made me change my mind about a Hunton – it just ticked all my boxes. The show also helped me with ideas for how I wanted my Hunton to look.

Some of the boats on display had lovely modern finishes that would be perfect for my refurbishment plans. So on my return to England, I tried to remain patient while Martin pursued various leads.

Eventually Martin found me a potential seller. The boat had been registered in 2012 and had spent the intervening years in Monaco. I flew down there with a friend who had once owned a Hunton. The boat was in a pretty poor state cosmetically but was structurally and mechanically very sound.

I made an offer close to the suggested price. We haggled a bit before settling on pretty much what the owner wanted. He really didn’t want to sell it but he hadn’t been using it enough and I think it broke his heart to see it in the state it had got into.

He must have been struggling to part with it as even after agreeing the deal, he changed his mind about selling it. All my plans of commissioning a survey, repatriating it to the UK, finding suitable dry storage and making arrangements for the refit went into freefall.

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To be honest I got so fed up that I came close to giving up entirely. Martin, however, was really quite exceptional and late last year he assured me that the seller was back on board for good. I flew down with a surveyor and two mechanics before he could change his mind. The boat was given the thumbs up with everyone doing their best to look past the cosmetics and the deal was on.

I had a stressful few days when my bank transfer to Monaco left my account but took nearly a week to clear the other end, but the minute the funds were received, I had a skipper take the boat to Arie De Boom’s servicing facility in France. They proved to be exemplary with a great attitude – I can’t recommend them enough.

Chris Bugler of Bugler Transport Ltd was contracted to bring the boat back to the UK by road. At about the same time I was introduced to a guy called Julian Willmott, who runs GRP Boat Repairs Ltd and Wahoo RIBs.

When I met him for the first time he was so enthusiastic about the project and how good a job he was going to do , I couldn’t say no! Julian arranged dry storage at Endeavour Quay in Gosport and on 12 February 2019 my boat duly arrived on the back of a Bugler low loader exactly as promised. Work on the refit started soon after with Vortec Marine contracted to do the bulk of the work and specialists brought in to help where needed.

Cosmetic surgery

Mechanically, we knew the boat was in good condition but Signature Marine was tasked with bringing the drivetrain back to factory condition. The only major piece of work was removing both sterndrives and cleaning off the antifouling. They also replaced all the dials and switches on the dashboard, serviced the generator and aircon, and cleaned and checked the engines – even though they’d been serviced just before purchase.

Cosmetically there was much more work to do. She had recently been antifouled but it had been badly applied over a number of previous poor applications – on sea trial we reckoned it had lost circa 10 knots. As the boat had gone straight into dry storage we weren’t able to shot-blast the hull, so although more pricey, she was scraped clean and a new coating applied.

The cockpit and interior were stripped completely bare until nothing was left except for the original factory mouldings. The plan had been to wrap the entire hull in vinyl but Julian badgered me to paint it instead. Before I agreed to it, Julian took a closer look at the original black gel coat and gave a trial section a vigorous polish.

It came up remarkably well thanks to the quality of the original moulding, so with much relief we decided to carry out localised repairs and then polish the topsides. Chris Ashley from Nanotech Marine did the work then sealed it with a ceramic coating to bring out its glossy black finish. For the deck, however, I was keen to have a complete change of colour.

There was a particular metallic smoky grey I was looking for and once I’d found the precise mix reference, the long and intensive respray process was carried out by Desty Marine. It was a massive job but the end result blew me away. We slightly altered the paint line, bringing it down to the rubbing strake and around the transom, which together with the new colour totally changed the look of the boat.

We also altered the colour of the helm pod from blue to gloss black with a carbon fibre inlay.  The original claret coloured cockpit upholstery was faded and stained in places and even the rounded shape of the cushions and bolsters looked rather dated so Power Boat Services replaced the whole lot with more modern-looking white and grey cushions.

It may not be hugely practical but the sharper lines and contrasting colours look superb against the new hull colour. We even had the Hunton logo embroidered into the helm seat headrests.

Finishing touches

The budget had taken quite a hit from the repaint but on the positive side my original concerns about the state of the teak proved unfounded and with a good sanding and a few small localised repairs, it soon looked as good as new again.

To be fair to the previous owner, the cabin was in quite good condition, however, with all the work going on up top it seemed a shame not to refresh the interior too. Again, I was keen to update the look so in the end the only area I left unaltered was the headlining, which was still in good nick and worked well with my proposed new colour scheme.

This involved relining the alcantara side panels, wrapping all the existing teak joinery in a smart grey finish, new carpet to match and of course a new mattress and upholstery throughout. We also replaced some of the cheaper details such as the aircon vents and porthole blinds with smarter looking alternatives, as well as installing a high-performance heater and new smoked glass doors for the master control panel.

Just over four months after entering the workshop in February my ‘new’ boat was finally wheeled out again on 21st June. Sea trials confirmed that she comfortably hit 45 knots and the ride was every bit as astonishing as I hoped it would be. My smile stretched from ear to ear!

My wife and I brought her back to her new home at Premier’s Swanwick Marina on the Hamble, where she was admired by everyone we met. We couldn’t wait to fuel her up and blast down the Solent, ending up in Lymington for our first night on board. Again the attention she got was almost embarrassing and a testament to what a great design Jeff Hunton created.

From my perspective, I think he got everything right with the possible exception of the colour choices.

Worth the wait

I’m overjoyed with the end result, she’s an awesome performance boat with an amazingly capable hull and lines to die for. My plan is to keep her here for a season and then head back down to the Med for many years of fabulous day boating and long lazy lunches that occasionally drift into overnight stays when the Rosé slips down a little too well!

It hasn’t been a cheap exercise. Setting aside the actual purchase price of the boat, the surveyor, flights and transport costs back to the UK cost around £15,000. I was fortunate that the engines had just been serviced but sorting out the sterndrives and other mechanical improvements added another £15,000 while the refurbishment itself along with new covers and bimini came in at around £150,000.

Where does this leave me? Well a similarly specified brand new boat with a passerelle, air con, generator etc from Princess or Sunseeker would cost around £800k. The much anticipated but not yet in production new Hunton 45 is rumoured to be circa £1m while the Aston Martin AM37 is well north of £1.7 million.

Including the purchase price, my boat came in at less than £400,000 and to all intents and purposes it looks and feels like a brand new boat. And you know what, I love it so much I’d still choose it over all the other boats mentioned, irrespective of cost.

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