David Harding reports on the Hunter Ranger 245, which later became the Channel 245

Back in 2012, I went for a spin on the Hunter Channel 245 – a robust and chunky little cruiser that punched above her weight in lots of ways.

Here was a boat with a hull length of just 23ft (7m) that offered up to six berths, an enclosed heads, a separate aft cabin, a chart table (often not found on much larger boats these days), full standing headroom for a six-footer, a respectable galley, an inboard engine, a choice of fin or twin keels and, despite so much accommodation, a remarkably good sailing performance.

What’s more, she met the requirements for Category B under the RCD (Recreational Craft Directive).

While it might be debatable just what a boat’s RCD classification actually means in practical terms, Category B signifies that it’s deemed to be an offshore cruiser. In the case of the Hunter, this status is backed up by qualities that undoubtedly do mean something, such as her impressive AVS (Angle of Vanishing Stability) of 140° with either keel configuration.

The Hunter Ranger 245. Photo: David Harding

There was a lot to like about this spirited little ship back in 1996 when she had just been launched as the Ranger 245. Andrew Simpson, PBO’s associate editor at the time and not one to lavish praise on a boat unless it was well earned, concluded his test in 1997 with the words ‘a cracking little winner if ever I saw one.’

And a cracking little winner she still was 15 years later when, having been out of production for a while, she returned as the Channel 245 with a new builder and a new look.

Ranging freely

The Ranger was designed by the late David Thomas as part of a new range of Hunters introduced in the mid 1990s. Until then, Hunter had been best known for race boats and performance cruisers, many of the latter being modified versions of the former.

For example, the enormously successful One Design Sonata that I tested in 1997 became the twin-keeled Duette, then the Horizon 23 (tested in 2005) and Horizon 232.

Similarly, the Horizon 26, 27, 272 and 273 were based on the hull of the Delta 25 (tested in 2003) and the Horizon 30 was a stretched Impala 28.

Hunters and Thomas were past masters at creating fast but unextreme designs that acquitted themselves well on the race course before adapting equally well to life in the cruising lane, often having been given extended sterns, raised decks and higher coachroofs.

Come the 1990s, however, designer and builder were conscious that times were a’changing. The cruising market was much bigger than the racing market and there was a limit to how many cruising comforts could be squeezed into a slim racy hull.

The new generation of cruising sailors wanted more space and plusher surroundings. Heaters and hot running water were considered almost essential.

Performance still mattered but, even 25 years ago, it was clear that the market for the true cruiser/racer was shrinking.

Hunter’s new range bypassed the racing phase, being designed from the outset as pure cruisers. The Ranger 245 followed her big sister, the Ranger 265 and, although extraordinarily roomy for her length, she was considered by some Hunter aficionados to be a little sportier than the 265.

‘My 245 was terrific!’, said one, who later moved up to a Channel 31. ‘It’s a bionic boat, especially upwind in a bit of breeze.’

What’s the difference between Ranger and Channel models?

Most 245s you see will be of the Ranger persuasion. Early models had a single long window each side in the coachroof, whereas later ones can be distinguished by their three smaller windows.

When the Hunter name was bought by the Select Yacht Group in Cornwall in the early 2000s, some of the designs lay fallow for several years and only the odd 245 was built before the moulds were bought by Lauren Marine in Southampton.

And it was with Lauren Marine that I tested the Ranger in her new guise as the Channel 245. After all, the Ranger 265 had become the Channel 27 some years earlier (I tested it in 2004) and this change with the 245 restored some consistency in the nomenclature.

Giving her the ‘Channel’ look were the new windows (two each side this time) in the coachroof.

Otherwise she was fundamentally the same boat, and the one I tested had been bought by an owner for whom a boat like this was ideally suited. He wanted a cruiser that was small, robust, roomy and capable. So many 23-footers today are shallow-hulled weekenders more in the style of a big dinghy, whereas the 245 is very much a small yacht. Finding the qualities offered by the 245 in another boat would normally mean buying something appreciably longer, heavier, deeper in the draught, more demanding to sail and more expensive to run. You could buy something older for the seakeeping qualities and rugged construction, but it would almost certainly be smaller down below and quite possibly in need of more work.

When it comes to handling under sail, earlier designs will also be less likely to have a self-tacking jib. Self-tackers were seen on Hunters before they became fashionable among the big Continental builders and they were undoubtedly an attraction to many owners. Of course a self-tacker on a boat of this length will leave the sail area/displacement ratio on the low side for performance in light airs, though I found on my first outing that the 245 slipped along surprisingly well in a zephyr. That was on flat water; the challenge would be in light airs and a chop.

This was one of the first production cruisers of her era to sport a pronounced chine. Photo: David Harding

One way to keep moving would be to fly a lightweight Code 0-style sail on a furler, and indeed Hunter used to offer a ‘scooper’ for just that reason. Alternatively you could fit tracks on the side decks for an overlapping genoa. Not seen on many 245s, it will make an appreciable difference to all-round performance.

Apart from the self-tacker, another way in which the 245 was ahead of the pack was in sporting chines running aft to the transom. Thomas used them to improve form stability, directional stability and water-flow around the stern. ‘They tell the water where to go’, he used to say.

Chines will inevitably play more of a role as the boat starts to heel in a fresher breeze, as we had on my second outing.

Whatever difference they make, there’s no doubt that the little Hunter does sail very nicely for a chunky boat. We clocked 4.5 knots upwind, pointing respectably high, and hit 6.5 knots under asymmetric spinnaker.

Given her modest sail area and 40% ballast ratio, we weren’t exactly pushing her in 12-15 knots of wind and, as you would hope she exhibited no wayward tendencies. In fact I found her nicely responsive and rewarding to sail for a boat of this nature. Andrew Simpson’s earlier test had been on an altogether brisker day, and he commented on the need to be prepared to dump the mainsheet in the gusts to stay on track.

Another of my outings with the 245 was with David Pugh and Ben Meakins when we borrowed one of Southampton Solent University’s two Ranger 245s (which, incidentally, have overlapping genoas) for a feature on broaching. When we pressed her too hard in a bit of breeze, she broached. Most boats will, especially when they have generous beam and a transom-hung rudder. You have to learn when to throttle back.

Practical handling

Knowing when and how much to ease off in a breeze is something that comes from experience with your boat. But are there any other issues with the 245? Some, inevitably. One or two relate to my personal preferences; others have been echoed elsewhere.

I like rudders with enough balance to give a finger-light helm, and David Thomas’s rudders usually felt to me as though they could have done with a little more balance. It’s a subjective issue and I had discussions with him about various aspects of rudder design.

Then there’s the lack of space between the cockpit coamings and the guardwires: if you sit on the coamings when the boat’s heeled, you can’t incline your torso beyond the vertical before you hit the guardwires. This means you’re continually fighting gravity to stop yourself falling inboard. Even some of Thomas’s racier designs like the Impala are similar in this respect.

Since most 245 owners will probably sit in the cockpit, that’s unlikely to be an issue. Nonetheless, they might still find the mainsheet block’s attachment point, on the cockpit sole, too low for easy release of the sheet. I would rather have it raised on a turret, both for convenience and for a more efficient sheeting angle. At least one owner has had this done. It would be nice to move it further forward, too, so you can reach it when helming from the forward end of the cockpit. As a bonus, that would leave more space between the sheet and the tiller that you can squeeze through when tacking.

The deep cockpit has high coamings, but space between the tiller and mainsheet is tight. Photo: David Harding

Some people have expressed reservations about the challenge of reaching the lines led from the mast to the winches and clutches on the aft end of the coachroof when you’re at the helm. That’s the same with many boats, and at least with one of this size nothing can be that far away.

When you have to leave the cockpit and move forward, you will find the side decks on the narrow side and a few areas without non-slip that are best avoided in the wet. Similarly, you might choose to avoid stepping on the two windows (not fitted to every boat) and the opening hatch on the forward end of the coachroof.

Helping keep your feet on the deck is the raised moulded toerail, interspersed with flat mounting points for the stanchions. A plastic rubbing strake caps the joint where the deck moulding meets the hull.

There’s precious little timber (some early boats had wooden grabrails on the coachroof) and nothing remotely complicated.

Deck hardware is secured with bolts that can be reached from the inside without major surgery.

In keeping with the theme of simplicity and ruggedness is the hull’s solid laminate. If you have a twin-keeler, particularly if it lives on a drying mooring, strength in the bottom of the hull is rather important. In this case, as is the Hunter tradition, the solid laminate extends all the way up the topsides.

Most Ranger 245s have the twin fins, as Hunter liked to call them, and inboard engines too. The budget option was an outboard in a well in the port cockpit locker that allowed it to be lifted clear of the water.

Having an inboard (typically a 10hp Yanmar 1GM10) made life easier, moved the engine’s weight forward and down and gave you an enormous cockpit locker to boot.

Down below

There are boats that are like the Tardis below decks – and then there’s the Ranger/Channel 245. The interior is welcoming and well-appointed as well as spacious, boasting generous quantities of timber trim. It’s also light and airy, thanks to the combination of an open-plan layout and plenty of window area.

A plush and extremely roomy interior for a boat of this length, complete with a workable galley and even a chart table. Photo: David Harding

You know you’re in a big little boat as soon as you reach the bottom of the companionway steps, because you have full standing headroom unless you’re over 6ft 1in (1.85m) tall. An enclosed heads compartment is to port (it’s perhaps a tad cosy for those with big bones) and a peninsular galley to starboard. A useful handhold is incorporated in the raised fiddle on the galley’s nicely rounded inboard end. On the forward side of the heads bulkhead is a small chart table with stowage beneath.

The interior to either side and immediately forward of the companionway is formed by a tray moulding, which makes sense given that this is where you’re most likely to be dripping in wet waterproofs. Further forward and away from the principal ‘drip zones’ the 245 is remarkably plush for a boat of this size, with carpeted hullsides and a vinyl headlining.

Flanking the saloon table on the compression post are a pair of settee berths that extend into trotter boxes running beneath the raised V-berth in the bow. All are over 6ft (1.83m) in length, even though the pointy forward end of the V-berth shortens its effective length if two people are competing for foot-space.

And then there’s the aft cabin, abaft the galley, which is a separate den despite not actually having (or, arguably, needing) a door. Few people would choose to sleep six on a boat of this size for any time but the settees in the saloon are needed anyway and it’s nice to have a choice of where to lay your head.

In terms of finish, there’s not too much to complain about even allowing for the fact that margins on boats of this size don’t allow builders to spend hours refining the joinery to the nth degree. On the whole it’s functional at worst and pretty tidy at best. Hunter continued to offer part-complete boats long after other builders, so be mindful of this: standards will inevitably vary, though some may be very good indeed. On a 245 that was built in Cornwall during the Select Yachts era, you might even find a Crabber-style finish with white tongue-and-groove woodwork edged by varnished timber trim.

PBO’s verdict

If you want a boat of this size that’s roomy, capable of handling wind and waves, available with twin keels and young enough in all probability not to need a lot of work (though they’re not immune to the odd hull blister), the Ranger/Channel 245 has little competition. Some of what might be seen as her flaws, such the mainsheet position, can be changed. Most others are an almost inevitable consequence of trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. All too often, this sort of squeezing simply doesn’t work. In the case of the Hunter it works remarkably well.