A well-built nimble-sailing cruising cat designed for families not charter companies
I recently spent a week in the postcard perfect, pastel-splashed village of Hopetown in the Abacos, and it drove me crazy. We rented a house, thinking it would be relaxing, but it just wasn't my cup of rum. After an hour or so sitting on the beach, I would invariably slink away to the town dock and enviously watch the boats come and go. One afternoon as I was lamenting my landlubbing existence, a PDQ 36 cruising cat came gliding through the narrow channel and picked up a mooring in the congested harbor under sail. Although I later learned that electrical problems had rendered the boat's engines useless, it didn't diminish the superb seamanship of the crew and the nimble performance cat.
PDQ Yachts was formed for the express purpose of building cruising cats. The Canadian company set up shop in the old Whitby Boat Works facility in Whitby, Ontario, and tapped into the local skilled labor force. A few years ago the company moved into a new nearby state-of-the-art production facility, but it continues to laminate in the Whitby Boat Works building. Its first boat, a stylish but slightly stubby 34-foot cat, was launched in 1989. The boat debuted successfully at the Annapolis show, and PDQ has ridden the cruising cat wave ever since. In 1991 the hulls were extended to accommodate stern steps, creating the PDQ 36. Designed by Alan Slater, the 36 has been consistently updated through the years and is still in production today. The current model is the PDQ 36 Capella. Overall, around 100 PDQ 36s have been built, making it one of the most successful cruising catamarans manufactured in North America. This article will focus on the older, pre-Capella models, which can occasionally be purchased for $150,000 or less, a solid value in the high-priced cruising catamaran field.
Few sailors are ambivalent about cruising cats-you either like them or you don't-and a new generation of sailors openly wonder why anyone would buy a monohull. Despite a two-tiered cabintrunk, the PDQ is handsome in profile, partially due to clever styling with a cove stripe and portlights on the cabintrunk deflecting your eye from the high freeboard that is a feature of most cruising cats.
Performance and safety ratios used for monohulls also apply to cats. With a displacement of 8,000 pounds, the PDQ 36 has a displacement-to-length ratio of around 90, which varies slightly with the model but clearly accounts for its lively performance. (Racing cats usually fall between 50 and 80, while heavier cruisers fall between 100 and 120.) Naturally beam-to-length ratio is a common measurement used to compare cats. According to multihull designer Chris White, a simple rule of thumb is that the overall beam should be half the waterline length for the right mix of stability and performance. The PDQ 36 is right on the mark with a beam of 18 feet, 3 inches and an LWL of 34 feet, 4 inches for a ratio of just over .5.
"The PDQ 36 is one of my favorite models," said John Sykes of 2Hulls, a Ft. Lauderdale brokerage specializing in multihulls. "It sails better than most comparably sized cats and holds up well."
Most PDQ 36s on the used market are masthead sloops, with a sail area of 490 square feet. (A sporty fractional version was offered but few if any sold.) The U-shaped hulls have stub keels that improve upwind performance, although the overall draft is still just 2 feet, 10 inches. The bridgedeck clearance is adequate. On the foredeck, the PDQ 36 has two tramps and a partial bridgedeck. The interior arrangement has two doubles forward, a single head and a saloon.
"The PDQ 36 is an owner's boat," Sykes said. "It wasn't designed for the charter trade, as a result they don't linger on the market."
The PDQ 36 construction scantlings reflect the serious cruising intent of the design and a commitment to quality by the builder. The hulls are solid fiberglass below the waterline and cored with Klegacell or Corecell foam above. Vacuum bagging is used to ensure uniform resin flow. Cruising cats need to be as light as is practical, but they have to be strong enough to withstand the stress caused by two hulls. In many ways, multihulls are more of an engineering challenge than building a ballasted monohull. The decks are also foam cored, except in areas where high-load fittings are attached. Those areas are solid fiberglass. The glass is triaxial knitted fabric, and epoxy or vinylester resin is used exclusively throughout the laminating process.
The hull and deck are joined on an outward flange with 3M 5200 adhesive and stainless fasteners. The keels, which are NACA foils, are secondary bondings and won't breach the watertight integrity of the hulls should they sustain damage from a collision or grounding. They are also designed and built to support the weight of the boat when it is hauled or careened.
Although some sailors swear by centerboards or daggerboards for better upwind performance, the fixed keels on the PDQ make more sense in a cruising boat. Centerboards are engineering nightmares, and besides, a stub keel will generate lift to weather if it's the right shape. The small rudders, which are also foil shaped, are mounted on small skegs on the long-range cruiser models.
What to look for
The PDQ 36 has been consistently upgraded and improved, consequently, there are model changes to be aware of. In 1990-91 the original PDQ 34 was stretched to 36 feet, which improved the overall look of the boat significantly. In 1994 the MK II Classic and Mark II LRC came on the market. The primary difference was that the Long Range Cruiser came with inboard 18- or 27-horsepower diesel saildrive engines instead of outboards. Other changes in the Mark II LRC included increased tankage, beefier standing rigging and safety bars at the mast. The Mark III, introduced in 1998, continued with the Classic and LRC distinctions. The most noteworthy feature of the Mark III was the popular optional hard-top bimini. Later on, the mainsheet traveler was moved to the top of the hard-top.
Whatever model you choose, be sure the surveyor checks the deck for signs of leakage and subsequent delamination. If the boat you are looking at is 10 years old, carefully inspect the standing rigging. Beyond that, I haven't identified many specific problems to watch for with used PDQ 36s for two reasons: The boats are very well made, and they are, for the most part, quite young, especially by Used Boat Notebook standards.
Although the cockpit is certainly spacious, it is deep and has a feeling of security not always found on cruising cats. The wheel is mounted on the bulkhead to starboard. Older boats employed a push-pull steering system, similar to those on outboard powerboats. Newer boats have the better pull-pull system. There is good visibility from the raised helmsman seat, although it is hard to see forward from any other spot in the cockpit. Chances are good that the boat will have a large bimini, which makes it very difficult to see the mainsail but is an absolute necessity for sailing in the tropics. The companionway door is smoked acrylic and difficult to secure in a blow.
The mainsheet traveler spans the cockpit on an aft bridgedeck, and the primary sheet winches are within reach on the aft section of the cabintrunk. Halyards are usually routed aft to the forward end of the cockpit. Most PDQ 36s will be equipped with Spinlock rope clutches, Harken roller furling on the forestay and Lewmar winches. The deck-stepped spar is by Isomat.
The side decks are quite narrow, which means that you will likely step on top of the trunk when going forward. Just keep an eye out for the boom. The forward bridgedeck is small. Small storage lockers are located forward in each hull. The trampoline sections are well supported and are a great place to hang out under sail. The nonskid surface is excellent, typical of the fine glass work throughout the boat. Handrails are stainless steel. There are also plenty of Lewmar deck hatches for terrific ventilation.
"The interior plan is one of the PDQ 36's most appealing features," Sykes said, "primarily because of what it doesn't have." While you will certainly find PDQs available for charter, the boat was conceived as a cruiser and not as a tax deduction. It doesn't have four double cabins with en suite heads. It does have a practical arrangement that is well suited for extended cruising.
The saloon features a large table with comfortable wraparound settees and unobstructed visibility. I have made four offshore round trips between Florida and New England in a similar cruising cat, and one of the things I liked best was being able to duck inside while on watch without losing visibility. Three steps carry you down into each hull. The starboard side features a full-sized chart table amidships and a large molded head compartment with a separate shower aft. The port hull houses the galley, which usually includes a two-burner stove and oven, double sinks and a generous amount of counter space. Monohull sailors are always struck by the lack of fiddles.
Aft to port is an optional cabin that was designed to the individual owner's needs. You may find a double with over and under bunks, a workroom, an office or even a miniature dive shop complete with compressor and tanks. Most PDQ 36 Classics simply have another sleeping cabin while most LRC models are more creative. The two double sleeping cabins are forward, side by side on the bridgedeck. I prefer fore-and-aft bunks on any boat. These spacious cabins include queen berths with overhead deck hatches and large hanging lockers. The interior finish is practical and workmanlike. PDQ is more concerned with making sure there is access to almost any part of the hull than with elegant teak joinerwork, an admirable trait.
The primary difference between the Classic and LRC models is that the latter features inboard diesels while the former has outboards. Although Sykes said that some customers prefer the simplicity of outboards, most would opt for inboards if available. The outboard arrangement is clever. The engines, usually 9.9-horsepower four-stroke Yamaha or Honda models are mounted in lockers below the cockpit seats. They provide plenty of push and can be tilted up when not in use, eliminating all drag. Another advantage is that they can be removed and hauled into the shop for servicing, and while they are heavy to heft, saving the expense of having a mechanic come to the boat might make it worth the effort.
The diesels are usually either 18-horsepower two-cylinder Yanmars or 27-horsepower Volvos. Saildrives do create drag and eventually become maintenance issues with the lower units submerged continuously; however, the advantages of a diesel are worth it. Although outboards are much better than they used to be, they are not as reliable or rugged as a small diesel. Also, with a diesel you can throw on an efficient alternator. The Volvo 27 comes standard with a 55-amp alternator, allowing you to be able to carry and charge larger batteries and use a host of 12-volt gadgets and gizmos, from water pumps to autopilots. The port-side engine is accessed through the aft cabin, and you reach the starboard engine through a hatch in the cockpit.
Cruising cats are a permanent part of the sailing landscape, and no longer have to defend their existence with outlandish claims of performance. They sail great off the wind, adequately upwind, and best of all, they don't heel. They will not keep up with cruising monohulls when hard on the wind, but will be 25 to 50 percent faster off the wind. Within that framework there are a lot of variations, and by all accounts the PDQ 36 performs very well. "The sea trial always clinches the deal," Sykes said. "The PDQ 36 simply outperforms most of its competitors."
Chester White, who owns an 11-year-old 36, noted that he likes the blend of solid performance, flat sailing and shallow draft. A well-equipped PDQ 36 makes the annual offshore passage from New England to Antigua every November and ties up near the Hylas 49 that I deliver along the same route each year. That can be a tough sail, and a boat has to be prepared for serious weather.
Most PDQ 36s will come with a full-batten main, a roller-furling genoa and a cruising chute. Boats set up for bluewater cruising will likely have a storm jib as well. The mast is certainly not towering, but one of the advantages of cruising cats is that good performance is available without the need for a lot of sail area. The loads are rarely excessive, even in a blow. And while double digits are certainly common when reaching in a stiff breeze, the PDQ 36 is really more of an all-around 7- to 8-knot boat, which, incidentally, is great going for a 36-foot cruising boat.
The PDQ 36 is an intriguing cruising option. It offers good performance, spacious deck and interior layouts, shoal draft and flat sailing. It is solidly constructed and holds its value on the used market. In fact, it can be difficult to find used boats. Designed as a family cruiser instead of a charter boat, the PDQ 36 has proven itself as an offshore sailer. It may be expensive, but when measured against a comparable monohull, which needs to be 10 feet longer to have comparable accommodations, the value becomes obvious.