A large dinette dominates the rest of the saloon, with a small navigation station to starboard. Staircases on either side of the saloon lead to the hulls, which can be built with three or four cabins, each with ensuite head. The cabins are extremely comfortable, with plenty of short and long-term storage options, light and ventilation. The heads are roomy, with showers that run hot and strong.
We were only one hour out of Ao Po Grand Marina when we flagged down a fisherman to buy his catch of the day. We sketch out our plans for the week as we sit at anchor that afternoon, fish on the barbeque and drinks in hand. We were planning to go ashore for dinner each night, but now Graham is getting a taste for onboard entertaining.
“I wish we’d brought our own steaks for dinner each night,” Graham says, surveying open galley, outdoor seating and ample space. “This is the perfect setup for cooking onboard.”
When the sliding doors are open the saloon and aft deck become one seamless space, ideal for swimming, snorkeling and dining at anchor. Part of the galley counter folds out when the doors are open, further enhancing this effect.
“All this space is fantastic for the kids,” Adi says, turning around on the aft deck with his arms spread wide. “Bloody dangerous at sea,” Graham growls back. But the decks, saloon and other open areas on the boat do have a number of handholds to help make up for the open spaces.
There is a lot of natural light available throughout the boat due to the plentiful and well-placed hatches and portals. All those windows could be a problem in the hot tropical sun, but the boat’s forward saloon windows have sporty louvers that double as steps to the cabin roof. The forward windows also have several small portals that create efficient air circulation, and all of the portals come with screens and blinds to keep the cabins cool.
Despite the postcard scenery along the Thai coast we find ourselves muttering and cursing for lack of wind, relying instead on the twin Yanmar 40-horsepower engines. Although they keep the boat moving at six knots at about 1800rpm, the sound and vibration gave the impression we were underpowered. However, opening up the throttles to close to 3000 rpm showed that she still had plenty of power left in store.
It is not until our third day out that we finally get to sail the Leopard. With eight knots of breeze on the beam we were soon doing a very comfortable six knots as we he
aded out into the Andaman Sea.
The helm station is on a raised platform to starboard, with a small fridge tucked underneath to keep the day’s beverages cold. The helm bench, covered by a hard bimini, is wide enough for three people, which makes driving a social activity.
“I can’t see the sails from the helm,” Graham says, craning his neck around the bimini before finally asking me to walk forward to check on our trim. “But the shade sure is nice, isn’t it?” counters Adi, his feet propped up on the helm station. It’s midday in the tropics, but much of the aft deck is comfortably in the shade.
Mainsheet and jib sheets are led aft to the helm station, which makes good sense. However, with two winches, two sets of clutches and the helm in such close quarters, the area can get crowded during tacks or sail manoeuvres. The trimming winches, as well as the winches on the mast for hoisting sails, are in awkward positions and are uncomfortable to use. Ideally one, or both, of the trimming winches should be electric (Electric winches are optional on the Leopard 46). We were also surprised at how heavy and cumbersome the main was during the hoist, a problem that could probably be solved by higher quality slides or a doubled halyard system.
The helm lacked responsiveness due to the small size of the rudders and extensive linkages between helm and rudder, but she did not make as much leeway as one might have expected, making for relatively good upwind performance. The keel obviously provides decent directional stability, but has another interesting feature. It is attached to the hull by steel fasteners, but is not built into the hull. There is an additional laminate layer where the keel meets the hull above the join on the inside. This means that the keel can be damaged without damaging the rest of the hull in the event of being grounded.
We have 15 to 18 knots of wind on our final day as we raise anchor to sail from Koh Racha Yai back to The Moorings base. We pinch the boat as high into the wind as she’ll go, but she still maintains a steady 7 knots, and as soon as we crack off the wind a few degrees she quickly speeds up to 8 or 9 knots.
“She won’t point any higher,” Graham grumbles as he fid
dles with the sheets and helm. “But look how stable she is!” crows Adi, as he stands in the middle of the saloon. We reef the mainsail as the pressure increases. This turns into a cumbersome job even with experienced hands on board, once again indicating a need to improve overall sail handling.
The wind has kicked up one to two metre seas, yet the boat remains so stable and comfortable that I forget to put the dishes away as we set off for Phuket Island. While the conditions would produce a rowdy and wet ride on most monohulls, we feel extremely secure and dry aboard the Leopard as we speed towards home.
The Leopard is a well-built production boat with a clear market in mind: coastal cruisers. Families looking for some fun on the water will find her comfortable and accommodating.
As we pull into the Marina I look at Graham, the toughest critic onboard, and ask him for a verdict. “I’d charter it any day if I had a group of friends who wanted to come cruising in Thailand,” he answers.
My thoughts exactly.
With special thanks to The Moorings, Thailand