Sorry to weigh in so late here, but I just saw the thread. We have a Tustin-built '88 45MY with twin Cats (375hp). She is hull #6 and we live on her pretty much full-time. Although the rudders do LOOK small to me compared to the displacement trawlers I am more used to, I have never found this to be an issue. We typically cruise at about 11-12 knots and the boat responds to the helm very nicely.
We also added a real door to the saloon entrance and - like others have said - we can't believe Californian sold boats with the sliding "tombstone"! Of course, since many of these boats were trucked cross-country with the hardtop and flybridge installed later, I am sure it simplified things somewhat. Still, the sliders are a nightmare to use and I am guessing that is why Carver did away with them on most, if not all, of the NC-built boats.
The P.O. removed the small swim platform and replaced it with a TNT dinghy lift. We LOVE this as, not only is it the easiest possible storage solution for our dinghy (11.5' RIB with 25hp Suzuki), but it also allows us to enjoy a large "beach" when at anchor; Just put the lift down until it is underwater a few inches and recline with your favorite beverage.
As far as dogs, our 35-pound Puggle lives aboard with us and has absolutely no problem negotiating the Marquipt Sea Stairs or any of the inside stairs. I do suggest purchasing some "sticky" carpet pads for the stairs heading to the galley as he feels much more confident than on the slippery teak. Of course, we have to lift him up onto the flybridge and up off the swim platform to the aft deck.
Finally, our aft deck is air-conditioned - and in South Florida, this is a LIFE SAVER. Like many we spend most evenings sitting there watching TV, reading, entertaining, etc. and without AC, this would not be possible from June through October!
Great boat - especially for the money!
"Before you criticize someone, you should first walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you DO criticize them, you'll be a mile away and you'll have their shoes." Stephen Wright.