Beneteau has a far better reputation for quality construction and sailing performance than Hunter, although the old Hunters from the mid-eighties, and the brand new ones are superior to any from the period in between. That Hunter may be real flashy looking at the boat show, but down the road when repairs are needed they are a nightmare. For many years it seemed Hunter focused on interior volume and lots of cockpit drink holders rather than sailing ability. Some Beneteau's also tend to go for interior volume but the "First" line are more performance oriented, and they still have good interior layouts. I believe the 36.7 is built in the States as are some other models, the 36.7 is an awesome performing boat with a PHRF rating of around 72. It's not my money we are spending here, but I would seriously look at any of the J Boats, well made, fast, good practical layouts, lots of one design fleets, and good resale value.
I wouldent recomend a Hunter. Ive seen several in my marina from late 90's to earily 2000's with fairly serious stress cracks in the deaks. I have also read a few boat inspector reviews of Hunters that didnt say much for the quality or construction of these boats. I pesonaly have had two Catalinas a 27 and a 30. both were good boats, sailed nicley and no major problems and no stress cracks. I would recomend that you look into some of the new Catalinas in your size range.
Check out the late 80's Ericson 28 or 32. Also look at the Cal 28 or 33. Both are very fine sailing and cruising boats that were well built. The Catalina 30 tall rig is a fine boat too. I brought home a lot of silver with ours.
My father actually has a Catalina 34 for sale that is in pristine condition. In the last 7 years he has cruised around Lake Ontario a number of times. A few of those times he was solo.
In 2004 he took the boat down the Oswego River to the Erie Canal west to Buffalo. He then solo sailed to Toledo, back through the Welland Canal to Toronto, and then back to Rochester. The boat performed beautifully for him.
The boat was launched last week and is located at the Pultneyville Yacht Club, about 15 miles east of Rochester. Contact me off the Forum if you are interested in more details.
I'm curious. If you are a novice sailor, why are you buying such a large boat first time out? Just pulling a 34 footer out of the water is an expensive proposition. From experience, I can tell you that sometimes bigger ain't better. You should give some thought to sailing on some other folks boats (different sizes/different types) and go for what you are most comfortable with... and one you can resell when you move larger or smaller.
Thanks for your replies everyone. To answer one question, why a bigger boat? Well first of all I don't consider the 31 to 38 foot range to be all that big, more of a mid-size boat. Secondly me and my girlfriend will be living on it for extended periods of time so a little more room would be nice. Thirdly we are considering doing extended cruises along the coast and a bigger boat seems safer in coastal waters.
I looked at the Catalinas and they seem pretty well built, the 375 won boat of the year from one of the top magazines.