Size matters—and when you’re working with small spaces, creativity matters even more. The Leopard 40 feels like a much larger catamaran, because its South African builder, Robertson and Caine, incorporated owner and charter company feedback to optimize spaces aboard.
Design & Construction
It’s easy to build big. Functionality and comfort come from having lots of space to work with, but when the tableau shrinks, it’s a clever designer who can still make it work. Naval architects Simonis Voogd have created hulls with increased volume for better cabin space below and leveraged the forward cockpit concept found on the 40’s 44ft and 48ft siblings.
The bows are bluff to maximize waterline length, which both boosts performance and increases interior volume, the blunt transoms make it easy to board from a dock, and the cockpit sole is on the same level as the saloon sole so the two two living spaces flow together without interruption. The build process, refined over more than 1,000 boats, features vacuum-infused laminates with cored hull and deck. Keels are fixed for simplicity and strength. The sailplan is simple—a smallish genoa and a large, fully-battened mainsail set on an aluminum Z-Spars mast. Continuous double-ended German-style sheeting easily controls the Ullman mainsail.
The Leopard 40 has copied its larger sisters and incorporates a full door that opens forward from the interior. Unlike her big sisters, however, there is not really a dedicated cockpit up forward, but rather what Leopard calls “the cocoon” to starboard, which has sizable under-deck storage and houses the optional genset. Topped by cushions, it makes a nice lounge when the aft cockpit is too sunny for cocktails. The helm to starboard is integrated into the cabinhouse and is well organized. A Raymarine chartplotter and instruments are mounted at a good viewing angle, both engine gauges are handy, the Fusion stereo control is at your fingertips, and there is a small shelf with fiddles for stashing personal items.
All lines are led to eight rope clutches that control every sailing function. It looks great at the dock, but all those lines create a bit of a snake’s nest when underway. There is a sheet bin built in, but an additional bag wouldn’t hurt. A Lewmar electric winch helps in raising the large main. When turning the handle on the second manual winch your knuckles barely clear the throttle controls. The entire area is very compact, especially if multiple people are in the mix, but the helm pod is only a few steps from the cockpit, so the driver is never far from the boat’s social hub.
In a quest to eliminate canvas, Leopard also provides a targa hardtop to shield the helm. This is very practical, though the cutout overhead for viewing the sail could be larger. The steps just ahead that provide access to the cabintop are angled and difficult to maneuver, especially with wet feet. It’s best to hang on to that hardtop when ascending. Otherwise, there are good handholds along the entire cabintop that will provide safe passage fore and aft. On deck, it’s good to see high lifelines that will actually help keep crew aboard.
As on most cats, accommodations really start in the cockpit, where crew congregate to enjoy the indoor/outdoor lifestyle. A dinette to port will seat eight close friends or a half-dozen acquaintances. The aft-most seat has a backrest that hinges forward so it’s possible to sit and enjoy the scene behind the boat as well. A dinghy-davit system that lowers to the waterline is standard.
A comfortable lounge is to starboard at the foot of the helm station, and a sliding door and window open up the saloon. The cockpit and inside dining settees are back to back, so two people can sit and face opposite directions but still carry on a conversation when the window is open. This is possible because Leopard moved the galley to the forward starboard corner of the saloon and shifted the settee aft and to port. It’s a departure from typical cat layouts, but it works.
Right by the sliding door aft is a two-drawer fridge and freezer that is easily accessed from the cockpit as well. This harks back to the Leopard 38 of 2009, which was an early adopter of drawer refrigeration; it’s now making its way onto boats of all sizes and designs, and does make finding items inside much easier. The galley has a single sink, an Eno cooktop and lots of storage drawers. The expansive window offers what may be the best view any dishwashing crew could hope to enjoy, but it does not open. Instead, the forward door brings in lots of air and funnels it through the interior and aft to the cockpit. A tiny desk just to port of the door is more for personal business than navigation, but there are USB sockets for personal-accessory charging and storage for cruising guides.
The charter layout has four cabins and two heads. The owner version (shown above) puts the master suite in the starboard hull with an ample aft berth, a good long desk with a vanity in the middle and a well-proportioned head with a large shower stall forward. Small spaces in the bows could be used either as crew bunks or for fender storage. The interior of our test boat had an ash-colored textured laminate finish, which appeared to be quite durable.
We didn’t do the boat any favors by packing 14 people aboard for the test sail. Despite the chaos of over-population and a moment when we actually grounded the boat in Miami’s Government Cut, it was a good way to assess how well this small boat can handle a large crowd. There was space for everyone, and in the boisterous conditions of the day, we still managed to sail at 8.3 knots in 16 knots of breeze at a 70-degree apparent wind angle. With the wind on the beam we moved at 8.5 knots, and we dropped to 5.9 knots at a 120-degree AWA in the choppy 4ft seas in the outside channel.
The twin 29hp Yanmar saildrive diesels propel the boat at a 7 knot cruising speed and at 8.4 knots flat out in still water. The engine compartments are tight and the Racor fuel filters, which are mounted outboard in each space, look especially difficult to reach. But with the wheel all the way over one direction or the other (depending which hull you’re in), the tie-rod mechanism is pushed out of the way and should offer a bit more access to the engines. There is a fuel-transfer system aboard that may add a bit of complexity, but tankage is good with 95 gallons of diesel and 206 gallons of water.
The compact Leopard 40 packs in almost all the amenities of a cat 10ft longer, but keeps the space at the dock and the demands on the wallet fairly reasonable. For around $450,000, a couple can sail away with just about every option except the genset, and since 40 percent of Leopards go into private ownership, there will be a number of sailors who will find this cat fits the bill—and very nicely at that.