PDQ 36 Review with “S/V Desert Star”

This is another episode of our reviews of common cruising catamarans. We spoke with Eric and Bonnie who own a PDQ 36. They contacted us because they enjoyed our PDQ 32 interview with Aurora and Dennis and agreed to tell us about their boat, Desert Star.

Very thankful for their interest in our project and to all of you watching our videos and reading these transcripts. We welcome those who own catamarans and want to see them reviewed to please contact us to setup a Zoom call at your convenience.

Eric, do you want to start off by telling us a little bit about your background and who you are and how you came to choose a PDQ36?

Eric: Sure. I’m a semi-retired systems engineer. I’m a licensed captain. I do some boat deliveries, run a little video production company, and trying to live a semi-retired lifestyle, wintering on the boat.

To get into [why we chose] a PDQ 36, many years ago, about 2008, Bonnie and I were in search of a new boat. We had a monohull, a Hunter 31. We’re looking for our next boat. We had chartered a lot and really liked catamarans. I had moved catamarans and had sailed Hobie Cats as a kid, and a Stiletto back in the early 80s that I really loved. I like the agility, the speed, etc.

Stiletto

From there, we went searching. We want something efficient, but also something that wasn’t the center of our lives. Since we love to travel, we wanted to be able to take a boat somewhere, and then going to fly to France, South Africa, or places we wouldn’t necessarily take the boat, so we wanted something more cost effective. We were looking for smaller and cost effective, yet something that still sails nice. One of the boats that we really liked was the PDQ 36. Bonnie can elaborate a little bit on how we ran into one.

PDQ 36 Sistership Under Sail

Bonnie: We were in Solomon Islands at a yacht club party, and Eric had found this boat that he had described to me prior to the PDQ. We had been on a Gemini and seen that it was a good size that we could both handle, but the PDQ had a much better layout for our tastes. We were out in the dinghy, just strolling around, and we noticed this boat, and I was like, “is that a PDQ 36?” Eric looked over and he says, “I think it is!”

So, we did a couple laps around the boat and then Eric knocked on the boat just to see if we could talk to the owners. They came out and gave us a lot of information about the boat and how wonderful it was for them. Then we began our mission to find a PDQ 36. We found one about a week-and-a-half later on the PDQ forum, and it happened to be in Annapolis. The owners lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I think, and the name of the boat was Desert Star.

What year is your boat then? Do you know?

Eric: 1996.

Cool. Whichever one of you wants to start, what are some of your favorite aspects of the PDQ? What drew you to it?

Eric: Physically, the boat is decent enough size at 36-feet, it has enough room. It has two state rooms, basically a squeezed-in queen-size berth in each one.

PDQ 36 Layout

Personally, I like, and Bonnie has come to like, the berth being forward, which is different than the PDQ 32 , and the power cats where they’re in the stern. I get a lot more air, less need for air conditioning in my opinion. We’ve already enjoyed that.

Two heads was always convenient, but a single head was fine. This head specifically came in slightly different customizations. Instead of having a third stateroom, this one actually had a workshop and storage room, so it actually had a little workbench to work on. That was it for me, I didn’t need much more than that.

Other things [I like] about the PDQ 36 is that it sails well. I mean, it’s a catamaran, so it doesn’t point incredibly well, but with a barber hauler it’ll go 40-degrees in, and move as fast as our Hunter 31 did. Not awesome, but it was fine. In a run, especially with the asymmetrical on it, it’s just an incredible boat. It just takes off and goes.

That’s great. Bonnie, do you have any favorite aspects that are different?

Bonnie: Having two full cabins is very helpful. You can actually have someone else on the boat with you, and they have their own space to spread out and have a little privacy.

Two heads would definitely be better, but for a boat with the ability to hold four comfortably, six if you really squeeze them in, the single head can be a little challenging, but we manage just fine.

The deck of the boat is very easy to navigate. There’s not too much that you have to step over. The tripping hazards are very easy if you’re underway. You can easily get from the bow to the cockpit very safely and easily.

If you’re taller, this might not be the best boat for you because when you first come in, the inside headroom is kind of short. We’re shorter people anyway, so it’s perfect for us.

We’ve made quite a bit of adjustments to the galley, so the galley’s a lot more functional. I love to cook, so a bigger galley would be nice, but we’ve made it work really well. I’ve snuck into his workshop a little bit with some things. I’m sure he hasn’t noticed, so we won’t tell him, but it’s quite spacious for the size of the boat that it is, and two people can easily handle it.

Sounds cool. You guys are sailing at six months out of the year, is there a specific cruising ground that you think the boat’s really well designed for, or would you take it just about anywhere?

Eric: I, and some friends, jokingly say that the Canadians purpose-build it just to go to the Bahamas and back. It can go offshore on the East Coast. It could do anything in the ICW. We almost never look at the depth gauge, and it’s super easy to handle the outboard engines. The PDQ 36 has some shortcomings which we could cover later if you want, but they’re also super easy to maintain the boat.

Sailing it with a leeward engine, down and running at half-throttle, points better than a six-foot center board ever would. It charges the battery slightly, and it’s easy and it uses a quart or more more fuel an hour, not much. It’s very very pleasant. Not heavy, so Bonnie can grab the dock and pull the boat in, if she needs to.

It’s better than a trawler. You’d have to go to a pretty big trawler to have two state rooms, and it’s got so much more stability. It’s good for the coastal cruising. I’ve heard people cross the Atlantic with it, and I just messaged a guy who actually had it shipped around. It never occurred to me, but because they’re shorter than a container, you can actually pay less money to have them shipped all over the world. In which case, you could just go pick it up in Fiji, or Tonga, or something like that, and save the ocean voyage, because there’s not a lot of storage room for that.

Some that have made it around the world, they’re a pretty well built boat, but I think it’s a more Spartan existence to sail around the world with it, but quite doable. Tell me about sailing. How did she do in all kinds of different weather? You talked about pointing ability and using engine to help you motor sail a little bit, but what about when the wind’s stronger? Have you been out in bad weather?

Eric: Oh yes. We got hit by a microburst once and blew out the sails, and actually jammed two turn buckles in the force of the wind. It was really strong, was enough to blow out the sails, not enough to take down the rigging, or flip the boat. But the boat handled surprisingly well for the situation. I had never experienced it. We were already in 40-knot gusts and then it felt like a Mack Truck passing you when you’re walking on the sidewalk, that burst of wind on top of the already 40-knot winds. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the exact wind was, because I wasn’t looking. I was looking up to the hard top and just saw the main sail explode. But it did, and that happens, so we’ve had it in that. That was early on when we had the boat, too.

S/V Desert Star in Bad Weather

We came in the inlet at Albemarle Sound there.There was, I want to say, eight-foot seas, or close to it, very very windy, very short chop. I was a little nervous, but the boat handled incredibly well. Behind us were some acquaintances in a Hunter 41, and their mast was literally going horizon to horizon because coming in the inlet versus the wind there. We were tossed a lot, but not horribly. As soon as we came into the calm side, Bonnie came up with two bowls of lobster ravioli she had purchased in Charleston, and two glasses of wine, and said, “oh, it’s a bit choppy!” That’s one of my favorite stories, but it’s been through a lot.

PDQ 36 Sistership Sailing

It loves rollers, slow rollers. It doesn’t really seem to care the size, or whether they’re on the side. It hates a line of fishing boats coming through. On Beaufort, they call them the line of lawyers, where a whole bunch of power boats are coming through at the same time. All big fishing boats don’t care about their wake. Then she bounces side to side, and it’s probably the worst way to take the waves, especially short chop, boat wakes like that.

How do you find motoring if it’s really choppy? Do you have any trouble with the outboards in those situations?

Eric: We’ve not had trouble with the outboards in chop. We did when we first bought the boat. It had Yamaha 9.9s, which is the standard engine for it. We would go up the Susquehanna against the current, and when the tide’s going out and you don’t make a lot of time on that, or getting through Charleston, you don’t make a lot of time.

We upgraded to Honda 15’s in 2014, and it’s 50-percent more horsepower for a total expense of six thousand dollars. The boat is incredible. It loves the engines. You can push whole speed against all types of currents and wind. Just running down to Chesapeake against the wind, you don’t even think about anymore, you just drive. That’s been really nice.

They seem to actually be more fuel efficient, in my perception. I can’t say I have a fuel meter on it, and have watched it closely, but they’ve been nice. Now with the EFI engines, that don’t care about ethanol and fuel, that are out, our next engines in a few years, I’ll happily upgrade again and go to new engines.

Sailing ICW to Charleston Video

Bonnie: Can I say something about the engines?

Yes, please!

Bonnie: The outboard engines, without having the diesel engines on the boat, you don’t have that smell of the diesel engines in the boat. So a 20-some-year-old boat smells very good, very new, not like the old diesel boats that’s been marinating in the boat for years. It smells very fresh, and clean.

It really contributes to livability, the smell of it. Especially if you’re a cook, because you don’t want engine smell going in with all your food. While I’m talking to you, why don’t you talk about the livability of the boat? You said a few things, but how do you find it for just general day-to-day life, and are there things that you have changed? You talked about changing the galley a bit, what other things have you looked at?

Bonnie: We put in a convection oven. It’s a caterer size, so it’s a quarter convection oven. It’s actually where the life jacket locker was, because I think an oven is more important than life jackets, personally. There’s other places those can go, so Eric moved the life jackets to another location, and we put an oven in there. When you’re standing in the galley, the steps are not in your way, and you can easily get to the door of the oven, open it up while you’re still in the galley.

Then we put in an induction, two-burner cooktop. We’ve got an ice maker, we have a microwave. We had the two round sinks that were very small, and very difficult to wash big things in, so we had a custom rectangle sink built, that’s actually got an angled bottom, so it gets really deep at the drain. You can wash anything in that sink now. We got a better faucet so we have better pressure, and it’s a little higher. We’ve not done anything with the fridge yet, which is probably one of my biggest complaints about the boat right now, because it’s original and it doesn’t always function properly. So that’s on the list to figure that out. I would love to put a bigger fridge in this, easier to get to. But other than that, the changes we’ve made to the to the galley are very helpful for cooking easily.

Right, and the rest of the boat, you talk about having guests now and again, so how does that work? Does it get too crowded? Are you able to pass each other?

Bonnie: Well, it depends. If you’re in the galley, you actually have to kind of turn sideways to pass each other, but it’s just the guest cabin, so people don’t tend to spend all their time in the cabin. It’s really the cockpit and the deck of the boat that most people are lounging around. It’s usually someone coming into their cabin to get sunscreen, or sunglasses, or a hat, so it’s not an issue, considering the value of the boat and how easy it is to manage with two people. So far, everybody that’s been on the boat with us have not been very handy with sailing, so we’re doing everything ourselves still, which is good.

It sounds like she handles short-handed, no problems whatsoever.

Bonnie: Oh yes, very easily. Eric single hands all the time, so he can come into marinas for gas, he can dock by himself without any issues.

Cool. Do you guys have any plans for further customizations or modifications on the boat, or are you pretty happy with how you’ve got her now? Other than the fridge.

Eric: We’re in the midst of upgrading the flooring. The way the floors are built, which is simply put, Bondo down to fiberglass. The moisture gets in there, and after 20 years, there’s been some rot. We took off the bridgedeck. We actually reinforced it, not that it needed it, but just felt like it because it’s a big bouncy area when you get the slapping. Made it about an inch thicker with NidaCore, and then put a synthetic floor. We really like that.

Refit showing bridgedeck work starting at 30 second mark

We can’t quite use the same thing on each hull, so we’re trying to find something more identical, but it’s more of a vinyl top. I cut out all the rotting spots and fared that and filled them up, so we’re on a search there.

We did go, by the way, to lithium batteries. There’s a key advantage to boats without boards to have lithium. One is that so your outboards only charge. Each output puts out maybe, eight Amps? So you can’t have a big alternator that throws 60 or 100 Amps into it. Between that and the solar, it’s enough to bring them back, but also, a Honda 2000 will bring back the batteries just fine. I took out the battery boxes. I was able to fit two 300 Amp hour lithium batteries in there, and still have half the space available for dry goods storage. I put an artificial floor over it, never have to check it. We had wet-cell golf cart batteries that we bought, would use, and even though it had the airtight seals and the vent for sulfur dioxide, it never really worked great. You could smell that in the boat as well. Went to lithium, that’s gone.

We did almost $60,000 in upgrades at a boat, including better battery monitoring system, and such. In the beginning, we’d look at it and learn it, and now 600 Amp hours of battery, I never look. It can run the air conditioner on, it could run pretty much everything. Once I got over the novelty of doing that with the inverter, I just fire up the Honda generator. I have two Honda 2200s now, so I put them in parallel. We can have heater, air conditioning, we can have hot water, Bonnie can do anything in the galley, and we’re charging the batteries, and that’s plenty of power. That’s convenient.

New cockpit enclosure

You’ve covered a lot, what did we miss? What would you want people who are looking at PDQs to know?

Eric: She’s wonderfully stable at anchor, even though she’s about 18-feet, 3-inches wide. We have friends that had a Lagoon 40, and we can sit next to them at anchor and choppy seas, and they don’t rock any more than we do, as we bounce between boats and experience it. They have much more room, but it’s the same things, just spread over a bigger area.

Of course you’re forced, in a PDQ, to have the galley down, but that’s kind of handy in choppy weather. Not always the best if you want to look around while you’re cooking, especially if you’re single-handing, or something. I have to make sandwiches in advance. But it’s just a general easy boat.

PDQs, in general were built, even the power cats, that you can fix things. It’s a siphon water, so you don’t worry about a leak causing the tank to empty if the tank gets old, or feeding gets damaged. The water pump is at the lowest point in the boat, so when you disconnect the water, it basically drains the entire system practically dry. Just a few seconds with a wet dry-vac ensures that there’s no water in the system to freeze, if you have a deep freeze. Electrical chassis for plumbing, etc, very easy. It took me a weekend to upgrade the whole boat to PEX plumbing and that’s been great. They had a continuous hot water system on the boat that was 120 Volt. It was weak, it didn’t really get the water that warm, and you had to really be plugged in, or have both generators just dedicated to running that thing. We went to a regular two-and-a-half gallon hot water heater, and we have a nice easy showers and it stays hot for a while, so it’s fine. That’s kind of it.

It’s a good size boat, it’s comfortable, it’s easy, it’s smooth enough sailing. She sails nicely, can easily get it at hull speed in most conditions. It has a short mast so we don’t think about bridges, we don’t think about shallow water. We joke about that we spend half our time on the intercoastal waterway facing backwards, yelling at boats following us not to follow us, because I cut every channel marker, or I never worry about it. We bumped the bottom a few times, like, “Oh well!” The engines aren’t anywhere near where the bottom of the keels are, so you just back up, go around, and keep going. Of course, I wouldn’t do that if there were rocks or something.

Sailing through fog

Good tip. Bonnie, did you have anything you wanted to add?

Bonnie: He pretty much covered everything. The boat is very modifiable. If you are looking at one, and you see that there’s not enough storage, or the sinks are too small, or just space, you can easily modify it to be a much more efficient boat for your needs.

That sounds good. My final question is, if you could trade her for any boat, is there a boat that you trade her for, or would you keep her?

Eric: For me, I think for the most part, I’d keep her. Because if I went to something else, it would be an Outremer, or actually an old 1990s Robertson and Caine design would be cool. But now, quadruply complicated the world, I actually really like how simple the boat is.

Outremer 45

If it’s one of those things where if I had a ton of money, okay maybe. If I had in-between money, would I go to a Lagoon 38 or a Fontaine-Pajot? The answer is no, definitely not. I would rather ship this boat somewhere in the world if I want to get the boat there, than buy a boat that I go to. Either you have engines inside the living space, or sail drives that you have to constantly maintain. There’s so many more complications in the systems and in power utilization, that I don’t think it’s worth that jump, but that’s just me.

Now, I get to hear Bonnie.

Bonnie: I just wanted to make sure I had the name right. I would actually like a Majestic catamaran. Those are my dream boats. I love those catamarans and I like how customizable they are. The company is just so wonderful to work with, so that would be my upgrade.

Royale Cape Majestic 570

Fair enough, the boat you lust after.

Eric: Just keep that extra million.

Exactly.

Bonnie: Every year at the boat show, my mission is to find the Majestic catamaran just to go say hi, and check out the new boat.

That’s pretty cool. Well, thank you both so much, this has been really fantastic.

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.

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