Pearson vs Whitby
Yes, stepping away from a ''center cockpit only'' criterion will allow you to consider many more designs, with some of them perhaps matching more of your other criteria than the c/c designs, within your budget. But I find that, psycologically speaking, folks often zero in on the c/c issue as a ''must have'' rather than including it in their ''Top Ten'' list of features and then judging each available, affordable boat comparably. (The whole c/c preference issue is full of opinion, pro & con. We do extended cruising, where we find many disadvantages to a c/c design - after owning & cruising offshore in both - but this isn''t how most folks use their boats).
Yes, the 424 has a 2nd, main cabin companionway/ladder - it''s one of the most functional features of the boat IMO but we recognize that many are turned off by it because they see it so rarely. Imagine servicing the engine or other aux. items(under the aft companionway) - how does the crew exit the cabin? When pulled into a slip, would you like 2 ways vs. only 1 to minimize exiting/entry between finger pier & boat, depending on whether you''re bow in or stern in? (When weekending, this is less important; when living aboard or long-term cruising, it''s amazing how much easier this makes things). When transfering provisions from the dink to the boat, what''s easier - passing them straight down a companionway next to the galley, or first to an aft cockpit, then forward? (In this case, it makes a 424 as easy to work with as a c/c design). With guests, wouldn''t it be nice for folks in both the forward and after berthing compartments to have equal access to the galley, head and to go topsides, without passing thru the other crews'' sleeping cabin?
IOE the downsides of the mid-companionway are 1) source of water dribbling into the boat thru the hatch when offshore in rough weather (we''ve found ways to eliminate this but it takes a little effort intially), and 2) it''s non-functional offshore (this isn''t a disadvantage, just a non-advantage). But as I said, it''s become an acquired taste for us while initially appearing strange or surprising to others.