PDQ 32 Review with Aurora and Dennis of S/V Serenity

We spoke with Aurora and Dennis who have a 1998 PDQ 32 named Serenity that they bought in 2017. They tell us about why they chose the PDQ 32, the strengths and weaknesses of the model, and why it has been the perfect catamaran for them. They compare the PDQ 32 to Geminis, Maine Cat 30, Seawind 1160. Please watch the interview below and read on for a transcript with additional photos to illustrate the features spoken about.

Key Takeaways of the PDQ 32

  • Inexpensive, simple learning catamaran that allows for weekend sailing with kids and longer travels as a couple
  • Light and small enough that you can manhandle at docks which lowers stress and likelihood of scratches.
  • Powered by twin 9.9 HP outboards which are inexpensive to maintain, easy to repower, and can be tilted up to gain 1 knot of speed. Wonderful simple sailing.
  • Loves going downwind and sails beautifully with asymmetrical.
  • Higher bridgedeck clearance than other similar size pocket catamarans like a Gemini 105 MC.

Challenges of the PDQ 32

  • Tall rig version and has excessive weather helm. Difficult to balance sails especially with smaller self tacking jib.
  • Unconventional looks. Their nickname for the boat is the alien bug.
  • Single lane traffic down below because of narrowness of design.
  • No dedicated shower down below. Single wet head.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to choose a PDQ as your boat?

We had a 16-foot little day sailor that we had taken around Lake Champlain and some other places, and we were looking to get a little bit larger boat that we could take the kids on and go longer than a weekend sail.

We looked around at a lot of boats, but we’ve got three kids to put through college. So we were going for a little bit of a budget boat, maybe a little bit of a learning boat. We’re looking at small catamarans like Geminis and PDQs and some others like that, and this one just came on the market in Rhode Island. We were not seriously looking when we bought it. We just happened to be visiting a friend in Rhode Island and you’re like, “let’s look at this boat,” and it just kept checking all the boxes and it just worked out.

Had you known much about the PDQ before you went aboard that one in Rhode Island? Had you narrowed down to that model?

We knew we were looking in the low 30-foot range for a catamaran, and we’d chartered Gemini, so we’d been on a similar sized boat. We’d spent a fair bit of time with Mike and Rebecca from Zero to Cruising, and had been following their blog. They were on a PDQ 32 for their exploration of the Caribbean. So we’d been following them for a couple of years and we’d even sailed with them, not on their PDQ boat, on their next boat, which was an Amel.

One of the things that struck us about our time with them, was that they were on this beautiful cruising boat, on this beautiful Amel, which is what Delos has. It’s around this beautiful cruising boat, and they talked about their PDQ 32 like it was their first born baby and they missed it constantly, and we just sort of looked at each other like, “we’re on their Delos boat, but they missed their PDQ 32 like crazy.”

Not long after that one, when we stumbled across this PDQ 32, which there’s not a lot of small catamarans in northern New England. So it’s kind of rare to find one on the hard, and we stumbled across this PDQ 32 and it really did just tick all the boxes, and we said, “let’s do it now!”

The other piece that I will add, is that ultimately, we’re part-time cruisers, so we live in New Hampshire and we sail part-time in the summer, because that’s what works well in our lives. We do ultimately have plans to go a little further than that, and spend more time on our boat, but we think that probably won’t happen until our kids are out of the house. So having this little boat was actually okay right now, even though we have, sometimes, too many teenagers on this little boat, but not for long periods of time.

When we’re ready to go a little further, it’s just fine for a couple, it’s big enough for a couple. So we thought it was a both a good boat for us for now, because of the price and because of the size, but also probably a good boat for us longer term if we decided we wanted to go further. We would be able to do it together on that boat.

That’s cool. The boat for right now is a big deal but what are some of the things that you think are the best things about her for you?

The boat is super simple. The very few systems, the sails aren’t so big that we can’t handle them, even though we don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re new! We went to sailing school in 2015. So we were new sailors when we bought her, and she wasn’t intimidating at all. Really, she’s been a good teacher for us. The boat’s not so big we can’t manhandle it off any dock, and we can get out of scrapes that we wouldn’t be able to with a 40-foot boat, so that’s been good.

She’s powered by outboards, which is a little weird. So two 9.9 HP outboards, which is what a lot of people have on their dinghy, is what powers our boat. But a lot of people have those 9.9’s on their dinghy, that’s where most people see him, that’s what powers our catamaran are two of those.

One of my favorite things is that you can lift him up and we gain a knot of speed. Pretty much every time we lift up those motors, get them out of the water. We have no props in the water all the time, so we don’t have growth on our props. When we have to repower, and we’ve now half repowered, it’s not that big a deal to lift an outboard out of this boat and get a new one. It’s just not that big a deal, so I really love that about her.

So what about criticisms or things that you think could be changed to make her better? You found anything like that?

We’ve had problem with the sail balance a bit. Our boat especially, I think they put on a larger mast in an effort to put on more sail area, but that meant that the boat really wants to go to weather, especially with the self-tacking jib that it came with.

The self tacking jib is lovely for single-handing, just so easy to sail, but she just didn’t sail really well with the jib on. We did get a Genoa, and it sails much better, obviously in low wind, and it’s better balance. Aurora’s making a main sail right now, which has been fun. We made our asymmetrical spinnaker last last year, so that was fun. We’ve gotten into a lot of sewing for boats in our time, which is a big surprise to me, because I have to say, I was anti-sewing. I didn’t sew and now I make sails.

I guess the sails aren’t so huge, you could probably fit them in your home.

Not flat! But you can make a sail in our house. We’re hoping the new main sail helps with the sail balance too. The other thing I would just say, is that this boat does not have conventional looks. When we pull into a harbor, people go, “where’s your boat?” We go, “Oh! We have the alien bug!” They are cute but they look really strange. We’re in Rhode Island, where there are all these beautiful wooden boats, with classic lines. Often, we pull into an anchorage and I’m like, I can’t even believe they let us in here, because we don’t look like we belong. But the America’s Cup boats are pulling up, going right by us, and we’re like, “what do they think about our boat?” It does look kind of funny.

I will say the design, every square inch of this boat has been well thought out. Even though it’s a really small boat, it’s so functional. I think the only thing that is hard for me about it is, there’s only single lane traffic in the boat. Everything is narrow, and two people can’t pass in any place. It’s not an island bed, you’re climbing over your partner. Those kinds of things of being on a small catamaran. We don’t have a separate shower, although I prefer my showers outside anyway. So that’s not so bad. It’s a small space, but it is very very well designed. So it doesn’t feel dysfunctional in any way. It just is not large.

Why don’t we pop into the interior then? Tell us a little bit about how you use it for your family and go through that a little bit. Where’s the galley and how does that work for you?

It’s galley down. The galley is down in the port hull, which I wasn’t sure how I would feel about that, but I actually love it. It’s really lovely. It’s easy for cooking underway, because it’s just really comfortable. It’s narrow enough that you can brace yourself really easily if it’s a little boisterous out. The galley is very, very functional. It has two cabins, both are in the aft, so they are fairly comfortable. There’s one head, which, if you have too many teenagers on the boat, it can be a bit of a challenge.

PDQ 32 Layout

Often, when we have too many teenagers, those are the moments that we choose to spend a night or two on a dock, so we get some extra toilets and showers and stuff. We have two cabins, and then sometimes when we have a lot of people on board, the salon table lowers down and it converts into a oversized king-size bed. We have put three teenagers there.

The other thing we do that’s kind of funny when we have too many teenagers is, we will pitch a tent on the forward trampoline, because the trampoline is just the right size for about a four person tent. So we have been known to pitch a tent on our trampoline and send teenagers up to sleep on the back.

That’s fantastic. Maya had a lot of sleepovers on our nets, but because we’re in the tropics, she didn’t need the tent. But I think the tent sounds fantastic, it sounds like a lot of fun. Are you able to sit everybody at the table and all that kind of thing works?

Yeah, it easily sits six. Six comfortably, eight a little cozy.

And storage?

We have no problem with storage, there’s a massive amount. Probably too much storage for weight. Like other catamarans, if you filled up all your storage, you would be really really slow. There’s lots of storage under the beds, and there’s adequate cabinets. Some of the cabinets are quite small, but it all works. There’s a lot of storage underneath the salon area. The storage is perfectly adequate for what we do. I don’t know how we’ll feel about it if we’re living on it full-time. We live in a pretty good-sized house right now, so it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment. But for what we’re doing, a couple weeks at a time, it’s perfect.

Tell us a little bit about sailing then. How does she sail and what are her favorite conditions?

She loves going downwind, wing on wing with an asym up. She loves going downwind like lots of catamarans, but she’s pretty comfortable in all directions. With the Genoa on, she points better than she did with the jib, which is nice.

We’re kind of fair weather sailors, which is great for a boat like this. This is not a boat to sail through hurricanes, so we haven’t sailed in really really boisterous conditions, but we’ve been in some ways in chop, and she does well. I think compared to boats of her size, like the Gemini that we sail on, we have much higher bridgedeck clearance, we have much better shaped hulls. You don’t feel like you’re pushing through the water. The 16-foot beam is really nice. I can’t imagine a boat the same size sailing any better.

PDQ 32 Bridgedeck Clearance

So you’ve been in light winds, moderate winds. You haven’t been into bigger winds at all to see how she does in heavier weather?

We avoid those.

Fair, so do I. Totally, totally agree.

We’ve occasionally had higher winds here and there. They’re by surprise for short periods of time, generally short distances. She’s always been fine. I mean there’s three reefing points, it’s on a furling jib. You can put out just a scrap ahead sail. She’s easy to get the sail really way down, to make her more comfortable and in higher winds. But those are not our chosen conditions for sailing.

That’s a good call. How about motoring? How’s the speed under motor and maneuverability?

With both motors, you can easily get five knots, maybe six if you redlined it. But a lot of times, we’ll just put one motor down and do three and a half knots if we’re not in a rush. We get about a half gallon per hour, per motor, so we can go for a while. We go pretty far on not much, and we usually fill the tank maybe twice a year, and we sail as much as we can. Also, we do really love to sail, so we motor some.

We’re Rhode Island sailors, so the farthest we’ve gone, so far, is Nantucket. We’re doing day hops here and there, and although we’ll go for a few weeks at a time, we’re hopping 30 miles, 40 miles, maybe 50 miles every once in a while, in a day. We’re not going really long distances.

Like around here. And those are nice distances that you can do within a day, and get in and enjoy the sunset. I think a lot of what it’s about. How about getting in and out of docks, and that maneuverability and that visibility? Do you have any issues there?

No, the engines are far enough apart that we can spin the boat pretty easily. The design of the helm and the visibility is kind of unique. A lot of catamarans have the salon between the helm and the front of the boat. With this boat, there’s a sliding hat, like the roof opens. It’s like a convertible car, so there really isn’t anything between you and what’s in the front of the boat, and the helm’s raised just a little bit so you can easily see over everything that the cabin has. I think you can see all four corners of the boat, just about, from the helm. The two engines really do give excellent maneuverability.

The only time when you maybe don’t always feel it, is in a lot of current, because 9.9 outboard are still 9.9’s. In a lot of currents sometimes, you sort of feel like, “am I a little under powered here?” But we’ve had no trouble docking her at all. I mean, she has a 16-foot beam, so you know it doesn’t fit everywhere, but she’s not hard to dock.

That’s cool. So the future of the boat, do you have any projects that you’re working on, or anything that you think needs changing aside from the sails that you’ve already done? Is there anything else?

Always. We put in lithium batteries and did a big solar project for it, and that has just made the boat such a joy to not have to have a generator, to never plug into shore power.

That’s been great, and in fact we can even run a little air conditioner. We can run that off the batteries now, so it’s pretty awesome. That was a great improvement. Other than that, we’ve done all the canvas, and we’ll have all all new sails this year.

What year was she? I forgot to ask you that.

She’s a 1998. Kind of older, right? So there’s constantly projects. I’ve gotten into sewing, so I think there’s going to be some new cushions coming, maybe next winter. We’ll see. That kind of work. With the big hardtop doing the dodger all the way around, we knew one of those that worked for us was just a huge project that was awesome. Every time we unzip those windows we’re like, “Yes! This is the best thing ever!”

That’s cool, yeah.

We’ve done a stack pack, we made our own stack pack. All those things have have made her really lovable. We don’t have any really big projects on the horizon right now. We’ve done all our big ones. Now, we’re just waiting to see what breaks next.

That’s fair. So here’s the tricky question. If you were going to swap her for another boat what would you swap her for, if anything?

We chartered a Maine Cat 30 in the Abacos, and it’s kind of a similar boat, but a little more sporty, and with a daggerboard. So the performance was a little bit over. Also a little lighter, very lightly loaded.

Maine Cat 30

It doesn’t have all the teenagers aboard!

I would look at a Maine Cat 38 probably. You like Seawinds, right? I really do like Seawinds, although I’ve never sailed one. I have always had a thing for Seawind 1160 Lights, which again, have the outboard engines that you can lift up.

I’m really curious about potentially going electric, potentially on one side. So half electric. I’ve thought a lot about that, and that’s part of why the outboard motors are a little more appealing to me. Once we get there, once we really think we’ve got the right batteries, and the right electric motors, we could easily swap out for one electric, and sort of do that as a little bit of a test. We’ve had great experience with our Torqeedo on our dinghy. We’re just like, “no oil changes, super easy maintenance, just goes every time.” We love it.

If people are looking at a PDQ 32, what tips would you offer? What would you have to say?

I don’t know, other than enjoy it.

Are they are all pretty much the same?

The 32s are very similar. I think there is a long-range cruising version that has inboard. There’s also a 36 that is very quite similar, but a little bit bigger, and they have a lot of overlapping features. It’s a lovely boat if you want a catamaran that’s around a hundred thousand dollars, instead of three, four times that. And you’re ready to have a smaller boat that is very very functional, well-designed, but also older. They’re all at this point, I think, 20-years old, almost. They stopped making them almost 20 years ago, well more than 10, 15 years ago, so they’re all a little older.

You’re gonna have those regular upkeep things that you need to pay attention to, but it’s a lovely boat, especially for relatively new sailors. We knew we wanted a catamaran, and four years ago we would not have been able to buy a Leopard 47. We’ve really fallen in love with this little boat. We still get on it, and I mean every single time we sail it, we have this moment. We’re like, “this is just the right boat for us right now, just the right boat for us,” which is a lovely feeling to have about your boat.

Leopard 47

Oh, for sure, yeah. I think love gets you through an awful lot of boat repairs, and projects, and stuff, and enjoying them. Well, thank you so much for spending the time talking to us about your PDQ 32.

Thank you for having us.

By Diane Selkirk

I love to travel and have spent the past seven years sailing with my family aboard our 40 Woods Meander catamaran - traveling from B.C.'s north coast, to the west coast of the US, Mexico, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and on to St Helena, South America, the Caribbean and Central America.

6 replies on “PDQ 32 Review with Aurora and Dennis of S/V Serenity”

Thank you! Means a lot to us to get this feedback. I see you have a media production company and own a PDQ36, so it sounds like your feedback really means a lot! We are looking to cover PDQ 36 if you are available or know someone who would be interested in being featured. Contact us if so.

I am in the process of downsizing to a PDQ 36. It is my retirement boat, after sixteen years of owning and captaining a Leopard 45 in charter in the BVI. I will have more thoughts on downsizing (instead of upsizing!) in a few months. I am also an ASA instructor, so I look forward to figuring out any differences in boat handling, other than the size, etc.

I have the tall mast and found the original main sail tended to have too much belly even with outhaul as far as it would go. I replaced the main with a loose footed laminate radial by North Sails and I don’t really have trouble getting balance. When winds get up over 15 knots it does balance better with the first reef in.

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