Boat Review: Leopard 45

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An unconventional design that works well both underway and at anchor

An unconventional design that works well both underway and at anchor

The new Leopard 45 (also available as the Moorings 4500) evolved from the 2012 Leopard 44 with a number of features that make it an even better platform for charter and cruising. Traditionalists will question the large forward cockpit layout for offshore voyaging, but owners have logged thousands of safe sea miles in similar boats, so it’s a proven design.

DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION

Veteran South African boatbuilder Robertson & Caine builds substantial boats, so you will find no shortcuts or questionable practices in the Leopard line. The basic construction, auxiliary systems and powerplant installations are all top grade.

Layup is conventional fiberglass and even hidden areas are finished smoothly. Everything fits together precisely, from molded parts to interior joinery. Engine access is good and common maintenance points are easy to reach.

ON DECK

The foredeck of recent Leopard designs is a bit controversial. Conventional wisdom says that multihulls are sensitive to weight in the ends, especially forward, and that the foredeck should be open, not solid, to allow large waves to pass easily. Staring at a huge foredeck lounge on the Leopard 45 seems to contradict that notion. Not only that, but there’s even more weight forward on the 45, with the water tanks and a generator mounted below a solid deck ahead of the forward cockpit. Videos of the boat underway appear to show the leeward bow plowing through the waves when reaching in moderate conditions.

During my test sail I talked with designer Alex Simonis about this. Simonis is one of the top multihull designers in the world, and he knows his stuff. He has also driven the Leopard 45 hard in the waters off Cape Town and no water came up onto the foredeck. Our test boat had followed the tradewind route from South Africa to the Caribbean as part of its delivery from the factory, and then sailed to Annapolis without incident.

Simonis explained that while the hull entry is fine, the hulls flare rapidly above the chine to provide plenty of reserve buoyancy to raise the bows as they enter a wave. This combination gives good speed in wave-piercing mode while keeping the foredeck well clear of heavier seas. He said he also designed the Leopard line with ample bridgedeck clearance and a subtle hull configuration that takes the bow wave smoothly between the hulls. Makes sense to me. Again, it’s hard to argue with a boat that just made it on its hulls from the south Atlantic.

The rig is modern but not extreme. The square-top mainsail drops easily into a boom bag for furling, and an average person can reach the boom easily over its entire length, thanks to the big hard top deck. The hard top also houses a bank of neatly installed solar panels.

A roller-furling genoa, which can be sheeted close for optimum windward performance, a gennaker on its own furler and a double-sheeted main complete the sailplan. Everything but the gennaker furler leads neatly to electric winches at the helm station, which features the best line tail bag I have seen. The tachometers are also up on the main dash where the skipper can read them easily. Bravo!

I like the simple, sturdy dinghy storage and launching system. With big, low transoms and the positioning of the dinghy, going ashore or for a swim will be simple.

02-saloon-4

ACCOMMODATIONS

The interior and cockpit plan is where the Leopard 45 truly shines. Truth is, even voyaging vessels spend most of their time in port. After all, that’s the destination. And once there this boat turns into a veritable gorgeous shoreside apartment.

Our test boat featured the three-cabin layout, with the entire starboard hull dedicated to a long, lovely suite. The port hull had two comfortable sleeping cabins, each with its own head and shower. A tiny forepeak berth in the port hull will be a favorite hideaway for children.

At main deck level, everything is open, bright and pretty. The forward cockpit—really more of a front porch—can be either a quiet private space in port or the best seat in the house underway. Go back through a heavy sliding door to the main saloon, and you are in a living/dining area second to none.

The galley is forward, and there’s a basic chart table to port, but all the actual boathandling is done outside at the helm station, leaving this as pure living space. That said, you could steer from inside or from the forward cockpit with a remote on the autopilot.

The aft cockpit is huge and will surely be the place where all the sailors from nearby boats congregate for sundowner parties. The traffic flow pattern throughout the living spaces is outstanding.

One thing I did miss was having better grab points in the saloon. The cushions could also be a bit more comfortable, and the seats are proportioned for tall people, not small women. Throughout, the decor is simple and attractive.

UNDER SAIL

Motoring out of Annapolis on a beautiful October day, we were greeted by—nothing. Not a ghost of air stirred the Chesapeake anywhere in sight, hardly conditions that would show the boat in its best light as we ghosted about off the U.S. Naval Academy.

So we talked sailing.

I noted that voyaging logs generally showed that cruising catamarans on passages average approximately the predicted displacement hull speed for their given waterline lengths. Simonis smiled and explained that he (and probably others) optimize their hull shapes for the displacement hull speed. This includes a slight indentation in the amidships hull contour to facilitate wave passage at that speed.

As an example, the calculated displacement hull speed for the Leopard 45 is just over 8 knots. While the boat will certainly exceed that in bursts, this is probably a reasonable average speed to expect on something like a tradewinds passage.

UNDER POWER

The Leopard 45 behaves as a big cat should under power. With engines purring quietly at 2,400 rpm, it slipped along at 7.3 knots. Full throttle takes it up nearly to hull speed.

Close maneuvers were also perfect, with a turning circle of about one boatlength, a pirouette in its own water with engines running in opposite directions and precise stopping and backing. Docking is simple and predictable.

CONCLUSION

Not traditional, not a charter barge and not a racer, the Leopard 45 is a perfect fit for the cruising or chartering sailor who wants to make easy passages and have a luxurious waterfront apartment to live in while in port.

robertsonandcaine.com

leopardcatamarans.com

em-l45-sailplan

    LOA 45ft 

    LWL 42ft 11in

    Beam 24ft 2in

    Draft 4ft 11in

    Displacement 31,967lb

    Engine 2x 45hp Yanmar

    Fuel (GAL) 185

    Water (GAL) 206

    Sail Area 1288ft2 (100% FT)

    Ratio SA/D RATIO 20 D/L RATIO 181

    Designer Simonis & Voogt

    Builder Robertson & Caine, Cape Town, South Africa

    U.S. Distributor Leopard Catamarans, Dania Beach, FL

    AIR DRAFT 70ft

    Price at time of publication $555,000 (sailaway)

NB&G 2017

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