Cats Out Of The Cradle

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Although there are many new boats coming on the cruising scene these days, the majority are built to appeal to the upper end of our big boat market. Among these new craft are the cruising power catamarans, long awaited by an patient crowd of cruising folks.

It is refreshing to see one of these new boat aimed towards the smaller end of the scale-a cat developed for those on a budget, just getting started, or having simpler needs. And the fact that it's a cat makes it all the more interesting.

PDQ Yachts has been building cruising boats for over a decade, but up to now the Whitby, Ontario, company has been splashing sailboats, specifically the popular PDQ 36 and PDQ 32. Simon Slater started it all when he decided to build a practical, multihull cruiser, and his company has developed a loyal following of owners around the world.

A couple of years ago, it became clear the world might be ready for a multihull power cat, so the PDQ team undertook a design project that, several evolutions later, offers the world a pretty nice alternative for those interested in cruising under power on a smaller boat. The PDQ 32 is that boat.

Based on the hull form of the sailing PDQ 32, this power cat is not simply a sailboat sans mast, but a completely new boat beyond the hull mold. I'm told the sailboat had a hull shape suitable for this kind of inboard diesel installation, so it was a natural choice for PDQ to test the market's readiness for such a boat without the expense of complete new tooling.

It has always bothered me that many catamarans intentionally take advantage of their enormous footprint by providing charter service accommodations. Four staterooms spaced far apart, each with ensuite head and shower, palatial seating for 12, yet only offering minimal range and provision space. Since charters typically only last a week or so and cover short distances, that's no surprise, but it's not exactly the ticket for a couple planning extended cruising.

So it is nice to see a power cat suited more for a couple with occasional guests.

Nice Looking Boat

The major multihull bugaboo has always been, in my opinion, a balancing act between accommodations and aesthetics. Some boats offer maximum accommodations, yet result in an unusual-looking craft.

But the folks in Ontario got it right with the PDQ 32. The look is different, yet somehow familiar. From our office at Horn Point in Annapolis, we watched the 32-footer travel up and down Chesapeake Bay during demonstration rides around boat show season. From the side profile, the boat almost has a Grand Banks look to it, at least in my mind. The plumb bow, angle of the windows, and shape of the house have a GB quality as seen from a distance. Yet the cat produced almost no wake as it ran across the bay at 12 knots.

As I approached the boat for the first time, I could immediately see the PDQ 32 really isn't a big boat as compared to the larger cruisers surrounding it at the docks. Not too long, not too wide. In fact, the boat is not intimidating in any way, quite a departure from larger multihulls that seem to go on forever.

I predict the PDQ 32 will be a real hit for firsttime boat owners for this reason. It has a friendly air about it.

As I stepped aboard, I noticed 30-inch-high lifelines ringing the boat. The use of lifelines, rather than welded stainless steel railing, is an element carried over from the sailboat line. Despite my years as a sailor, I now much prefer solid handrails over plastic-covered wire. There were no handrails on the side of the house for use when walking on the side decks, but I'm told they will be added on future boats.

Side decks are a minimum of 28 inches wide, and the relative lack of hardware makes for uncluttered decks around the boat-a characteristic of catamarans.

Twin bows are five feet above the water, and the wide, fiberglass foredeck is broken only by four tinted, opening hatches. The PDQ's anchor roller is centerline, three feet back from the leading edge of the bridgedeck. It is seven feet from this edge to the three large windows in the house.

The fiberglass decks give slightly as one walks around the boat, showing PDQ's efforts to minimize unnecessary weight in the boat. Make no mistake here, this boat is not intended to make long offshore passages to Tahiti while on a circumnavigation. The boat's windows are too large for that, and the boat hasn't the range for such fantasy passagemaking to begin with.

But that's okay, as the point of the PDQ 32 is roughly the opposite of such offshore voyaging. Beachability, stability while cruising coastal and inland waterways, and comfortable, economical, and realistic cruising under power. That is what this boat is about.

The stern of each hull has a three-step ladder up from the water, making for user-friendly access from the water or dinghy. Anchored out in the Bahamas or Mexico, this boat will really shine as a home afloat.

A nine-foot bench is mounted integral to the stern rail, and PDQ Yachts' Rory McGuinness told me a dinghy davit is in the works to make it easy to manage the cat's tender.

Flybridge

A six-step ladder leads up to the boat's upper helm area. Given its central location above the boxy cat, visibility in all directions is outstanding. It is a boat that won't need curb feelers, or headphoned crew handling blind spots for the skipper. This superior visibility, combined with the incredible maneuverability afforded by the widely-spaced propellers, will do much to ease the stress of docking an otherwise light boat.

A double helm seat is standard, and there is enough room for a couple of folding chairs on this upper deck, for relaxing with a view at anchor, underneath a bimini top that tropical cruisers will no doubt install.

Inside The 32

Entry into the boat is via a 22-inch-wide by 53- inch-tall sliding door, angled inward to match the slope of the house. This door needs some sort of weather protection, as a steady rain will dampen the interior every time the door is opened. It's clearly an opportunity for your favorite canvas shop.

Stepping inside the boat, rather than stepping below (as traditionalists will no doubt comment), there is an initial, visual burst of open space, common in most catamarans. But it is remarkable for a boat only 32 feet long.

The inside helm is located just inside on the starboard side of the saloon. Another double seat provides comfortable seating while driving the boat at her cruise speed of 10 knots (with standard engines). Headroom is almost 6' 3" at the helm, and there is a curved, L-shaped settee opposite the helm on the port side.

Visibility from inside the PDQ is very good, and the view from the helm has few blind spots. This boat came with optional Yanmar diesels, rated at 75 hp, for a cruise speed of 14 knots. I doubt the skipper will outrun his or her visibility from this station.

The twin sets of engine instruments take up much of the helm console, making the PDQ 32 a good candidate for integrated electronics that share display real estate. Kobelt engine controls are standard, as is Hynautic hydraulic steering.

A cabinet behind the helm is a good place to store binoculars, handheld radios, flashlights, and other necessities that should be within easy reach.

An Interior That Flows

The deckhouse is 11 feet wide and extends to the forward windows. Two steps down from the helm/settee, but still a part of the saloon, is the dining area, with seven-foot headroom around a large U-shaped dinette.

The long seats of the dinette measure 6' 6" long, good for stretching out, and the fixed table has fold-out leaves to make the table either usable, or out of the way. I like the layout, as I prefer a solid table to a convertible high/low table-an example of PDQ not making this into a charter-like mega-sleeper.

The fiberglass nonskid of the deck mold may be a departure for those accustomed to teak and holly treatment, but it is practical, reasonable, and follows the multihull credo that less is more. Excess weight is no friend to a catamaran, sail or power.

The three forward windows all have windshield wipers, and the large center window opens. The aft saloon windows are sliders, as well, so good ventilation should be possible if a breeze blows through the anchorage.

Sitting at the dinette, I could see how PDQ and other cat builders are opening the public's eyes to the power catamaran concept. This is definitely a room with a view.

Major storage lockers are found under each settee cushion.

Two teak steps bring you down to the galley, located in the port hull. With more than 6' 2" of headroom, the galley measures 5' 6" long, with a two-burner propane stove top (no oven), many pantry shelves and drawers, and even a fold-down cutting board.

A 12-volt, Coolmatic fridge (manufactured in Europe by Waeco) is mounted eye-level on the forward end of the galley-very civilized.

The double galley sinks have small counters on either side, and a Whirlpool microwave completes the appliance list. Who needs more?

There is more than adequate useable space for pots, pans, cups, plates, and provisions. Two opening ports provide both ventilation and light in the galley, which is open above eye level into the center dining area. The cook can take part in social activity, or stay focused on producing a feast.

Staterooms

Aft of the galley, through a door, is one of the boat's two staterooms. They are matching cabins on the PDQ 32, each with a wide berth that extends from the hull toward the centerline, under the aft deck.

A large opening hatch, at the head of each berth, gives a great view of the stern, and adds light, ventilation, as well as minimizing any feeling of being closed in.

Under way, these staterooms are a great place to watch the world go by. And at anchor, I know Boomer, our golden retriever, would be continually walking in and out of the hatch in her never-ending game of "walkabout."

While both staterooms are somewhat cramped for elbow room, there's no reason to hang around in this space beyond sleeping. Besides, there are lots of other places to lounge. It's all part of the small catamaran experience.

A wide seat at the foot of each berth serves several functions. It is a place to sit down to get dressed, acts as a step up to the berth, and lifts for access into each engine space for routine fluid checks. Under-mattress access to the engines and running gear is not quite so handy, so PDQ gives owners this easy access for daily checks.

Standard power is provided by a pair of Westerbeke three-cylinder, 40-hp diesels. Talk about miserly fuel consumption! Yet cruise speed is still 9/10 knots.

An optional engine package offers twin Yanmar four-cylinder, 55-hp engines, and there is an additional package of twin Yanmar 75-hp engines for a cruise speed of 14 knots.

The larger engines come with an additional 70-gallon fuel tank to augment standard fuel capacity of 100 gallons.

Still More To See

Moving back over the dining area to the starboard hull, I found myself in the hull area opposite the port hull galley. PDQ uses this space on its sailboat for a slide-out chart table and communications, but it has not quite decided what to do on the power cat. For now, a seat is molded into the outboard side of the hull, and there is space to store flat charts in an opening on the inboard side of the hull, no doubt carried over from the sailboat. Beyond that, it is just a simple passageway separating the starboard aft stateroom from the boat's head, located forward in the hull.

The full headroom head is a fiberglass molded structure for easy cleaning, measuring five feet long from entry door to the forward bulkhead. The compartment includes a platform for the Jabsco marine toilet, a vanity with sink, a recessed compartment for a handheld shower, and there's even a fold-up seat. There is one opening port in the head.

(The vanity's metal mirror and medicine cabinet is mounted too low over the sink, and I doubt even many women can see themselves while standing at the sink. Perhaps there's an installation restriction, but it is something I would have to relocate for my use.)

As I envisioned the process of taking a shower at 10 knots, it occurred to me I hadn't been anywhere on the boat underneath those four large Bomar hatches on the foredeck. Hmmm. Better go topside and check it out.

I soon found myself staring down into four caverns, two in the bows, and two in the bridgedeck structure. The four areas are left for storage, or simply left empty for improved multihull performance. Two propane tanks were mounted in the port deck compartment, and the bow lockers could easily hold folding chairs, and anything that can fit through the hatches.

But filling these areas means you haven't been listening about weight concerns on a multihull, especially in the ends of a cat.

Under Way

We took the PDQ 32 out for a spin, and I can report the boat is stable, doesn't seem to mind the bumpy wake of a passing yacht, and turns in a pretty tight circle. We didn't go far, so I can only speculate how the cat would handle the variety of sea conditions one encounters while cruising.

A light boat such as this can't possibly have as much sound deadening as, say, a Fleming 55 for running at cruising speed, but it is an acceptable tradeoff for couples who are gunkholing, not passagemaking. And moving around the boat under way did not involve gymnastics. It is a pleasant experience.

For what she is intended, the PDQ 32 will be a good choice. But for whom exactly is this boat intended? I asked Rory McGuinness.

Seems the company has a good idea of its market, and believe the boat will be perfect for retiring couples who have time on their side. People who want to spend long periods of time aboard the boat, but not necessarily cashing in house and home to live aboard full-time permanently. People on a fixed budget will appreciate the economy and low maintenance of the 32-footer, and enjoy the benefits of smaller size while also appreciating the open space and airy feeling that is central to the power catamaran concept.

Rory added that the boat will also be a good platform for entertaining, and be perfect for the Bahamas, the ICW, and the Great Circle Route.

I'd say PDQ knows its market precisely.

Do I have any nits about the boat? Actually, I do.

A few years ago, I sailed aboard a French sailing cat, and there was an inboard hatch in my cabin, which opened into the sheltered space under the deck between the hulls. I clearly remember lying in my bunk one rainy morning with this eye-level hatch open.

I was soon in a trance-like state of mind as I watch little fish swim in circles in the protecting shadow under the deck, oblivious of everything outside the protected, crystal cool waters.

It was a moment of total, spiritual rapture. I guess I just assumed all cats came with a hatch into this wonderland. But I could find none aboard the PDQ 32.

The Final Word

The PDQ 32 is a real world entry in the power cruising game, and offers an affordable, shallow draft, stable platform for those wishing for extended cruising capability. The look of the boat will no doubt cause a lot of dock gawking wherever it goes, but that should help break the ice with the locals-all for a base price under USD$195,000.

The boat is still evolving, and it's no surprise that some of her specs will continue to change. But low maintenance will remain a constant, as will ease of handling by a retired couple. Even if the couple is new to our lifestyle.

PDQ's new breed of cat is one of those interesting new boats hitting our waterways. While some may fly in the face of tradition, these craft do explore the outer edges of the cruising under power envelope.

And that's a good thing, don't you think?

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