Four days and three sailors add up to a very thorough test on a Leopard 46, with slightly contradictory views making for some interesting on-board conversation during a cruise in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay
The dispute over the pros and cons of the Leopard 46 began before we left the dock and it was only on the last day of our cruise that the two sides finally found common ground.
We were taking the gleaming white catamaran for a four-day test sail in its ideal waters – the islands and sandy bays of Phang-nga Bay and the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand. Gentle winds, beautiful anchorages and plenty of fresh seafood for the barbeque make this a perfect place to charter the yacht from The Moorings.
“I just love this boat,” my friend Adi gushed moments after stepping aboard Double Fantasy and throwing his bag into one of her four spacious cabins. Adi regularly charters boats with his young family, and over the next few days he would be a constant reminder of what the average family sailor really wants. We were joined by Graham, a keen offshore cruiser and racer, and, more importantly, a sailing traditionalist at heart. Graham and Adi could not have come from more opposite sailing camps if they had tried.
Stepping aboard the Leopard 46 is a trip down memory lane for me. In 2004, I spent six weeks delivering one of her smaller 40-foot sisters from Cape Town to The Moorings base in the British Virgin Islands, braving Atlantic Ocean storms in a boat designed for Caribbean cruising. Now I’ll get a chance to cruise a Leopard in the conditions it was actually designed for.
The Leopard 46 was designed by Morrelli & Melvin, designers of the record breaking racing catamaran PlayStation, and built by Robertson & Caine in South Africa. This is no racing cat, but since her introduction to cruisers four years ago, she has won many a heart with her comfort, space and styling.
The Leopard cuts an imposing figure at first glance, with high freeboards, nearly plumb bows and racy louvered windows. She sits wide and squat on the water, with her hulls flaring from a very fine entry to the wider beam above her chine to provide for her ample accommodations. She was built using composite GRP sandwich construction incorporating a vacuum-bonded balsa core.
Cruising catamarans vary on how they split the potential indoor and outdoor space on the main deck, and the Leopard has found a comfortable ratio. The cockpit is dominated by a large U-shaped dinette to port and a bench seat to starboard, creating plenty of seating and al fresco dining space while still leaving ample room to wander the deck. A small bench between the dingy davits offers additional seating to aft, and the bench can be dropped down to create a swimming platform.
“Clever idea,” Graham concedes. “It would make this a great diving boat, if only it were 20 or 30 centimetres lower. Now it’s too high for swimmers trying to exit the water.” One thing both Adi and Graham agree on is the need for lifelines at the stern. Without, the aft deck is uncomfortably exposed.
As you step through the stainless steel-framed sliding glass doors into the saloon, there’s an electrical control panel and small counter to port, with a double fridge-freezer below. To starboard is a spacious U-shaped galley with double sinks. For a boat that sleeps eight, the galley is a bit tight on cupboard space and the cupboard doors, in the galley and elsewhere, appeared flimsy compared to the rest of the construction. The galley could also do with an extra ventilation hatch above the stove. However, it’s hard to complain when a boat has ample counter space for coffee maker, microwave and dish rack, and there’s still plenty of space left over to prepare lunch.