The Leopard 44 introduces the forward cockpit concept to a mid-range production cruising cat – the only to do so – and offers plenty of simple but practical pleasures as well.
The Leopard 44 was introduced last year to considerable acclaim, largely for the addition of a forward lounge area, with access via a forward door in the main bridge deck. To date, it’s the only production catamaran in the cruising market that offers such a feature.
At first glance, you might wonder why such a feature would be added to a boat that only leaves the skipper isolated as guests gather in the forward area. But when you add in the fact that the Leopard 44 is seemingly meant to be cruised without a helmsman, it all starts to make more sense. “You can just set the autopilot on, and then it’s margaritas all the way to the Philippines,” says Yvan Emieu, Leopard’s ebullient sales manager for Asia. Maybe not quite all the way, but his statement nicely catches the aim of this Leopard Catamaran.
Leopard Catamarans, built in South Africa by Robertson and Caine, a yard with 30 years’ experience building sailing yachts, have become known for their practical sense and simple layout. Much of that practicality stems from the dual use that Leopards have as one of the mainstays of the huge charter fleets based around the world, both for The Moorings and for Sunsail. All this charter experience has resulted in plenty of feedback that Leopard is able to use in its designs.
Our test boat was sailed on its own hulls from Cape Town, South Africa to Hong Kong by a delivery crew of three. If you wondered about the 44’s passagemaking bonafides, there is probably the best proof you’ll get. Much of the philosophy behind the 44 can be found in the storage and access elements. Owner/operators can easily get to all the mechanical and engineering elements via panels that fit snugly in place, yet are easily removed and replaced.
At a pinch, the 44 can sleep up to eight people, with a master cabin in the starboard aft hull, two twins in the port hull, and, by dropping the dining table in the main saloon, in the bridgedeck. For longer range cruising, it’s more likely to find favour with a family of four, or a small group of mates.
The helm station
The raised helm station comes with all lines aft, yielding total control of the boat to just one person. Twin electric winches, whose on/off switches are foot activated, let the helm control either halyard or headsail sheets. The main is operated by a system of twin mainsheets, which attached to the boom separately, yield good control, though a bit of extra manoeuvring is required. Simply set the windward main at the angle desired, then you can use the leeward main to tension the boom and, if the wind angle is not too deep, even control sail shape to some extent.
The usual array of controls and readouts is kept very simple. The really interesting item was the Raymarine autopilot system, which suits the cruising/party sailor. From this push-button device, the helmsman can adjust the direction of the boat by either one-degree and ten-degree increments – just push the ten-degree button twice and get a 20-degree course adjustment. Tacking can be accomplished by punching in a 110-degree course correction. As the boat automatically turns, the helmsman is free to adjust the sheets.
The layout takes a little getting used to, but once done, tacking becomes a simple one-man job. The auto-pilot can be set to a course based on GPS headings, or it can be adjusted to wind angles. If, for instance, you want the boat to stay on a beam reach, simply set the auto-pilot to keep a constant wind angle and you’re done.
The net effect of this is that the helmsman, who is amply protected by a fixed hard top with tinted window for viewing the main, need only get the boat trimmed up for a lengthy journey, and from then on, can join the guests, leaving the autopilot to do the work.
Inside the 44
Stepping on board, one of the first things you notice is the single step up along the hull to the aft deck area. The aft deck itself is on one level only, which means that access from the social area to the davit crane is unimpeded. The crane itself lowers by means of a push button, allowing the tender to be taken up easily. Two metal safety lines can be detached off the back end, opening the aft deck up completely for diving while the boat is at anchor.
The aft deck area is a simple affair, with semi-circular seating around a sizeable table, located on the port side. To starboard, there is more seating. Underneath all these settees is more storage space. Comfy seating makes this the place to be for enjoying a drink and listening to music at some beautiful anchorage.
Sliding doors open up to the main bridgedeck saloon, a bright and spacious place that’s well ventilated, thanks to the forward watertight door and the hatches built into the forward windows. A galley to port faces towards the aft deck, letting the ‘chef’ stay close to the action. The galley has plenty of features to recommend it, including large storage for frozen or fresh goods. The sinks are big, the counter top work spaces are large, and there’s even a handy dry sink that lets users put dirty dishes in and hose them off, rather than struggle to clean them manually. To starboard, there is the entire electrics control panel, including sound system and VHF radio.
Descending to the starboard hull, there is a fine seating area that can be used for some downtime away from the action. At the rear lies the master cabin with a nice hull window for light, while forward there is the owner’s bathroom. On the portside hull, our demo boat had cabins forward and aft, with matching ensuites. Both the portside cabins could be used as twins or as a single double bed, depending on guest list. Cherry Wood panelling and black Corian countertops give a touch of style, while still leaving plenty of room for personal items and soft furnishings.
Heading forward from the main saloon, one enters the lovely little forward cockpit area. This area, which comfortably seats four, is sheltered by an extension of the saloon roof, so that a morning coffee or a sundowner cocktail becomes a distinct pleasure. A table pops up or can be quickly removed, as needed. Though there is no dedicated access forward from the front cockpit, it’s no great shakes to jump from the cockpit to the trampoline. Leopard put a bit of thought into this space, and included a large drain, plus making the door watertight in case of inclement weather.
Sailing the 44
After clearing out of Hong Kong Marina and heading to Port Shelter, we got the sails up and then it was my turn to have a go at the helm. With light wind conditions (averaging about 8-9 knots), we had to trim carefully. Yvan remarked that the boat really needs winds about 15 knots or so to get going. Despite this, we were still able to get a few good turns of speed happening.
The 44’s hulls are built with Leopard’s standard formation of a large chine above the waterline, with the aim of decreasing wetted surface area while increasing interior volume. The hulls are fitted with skegs (which can be removed and replaced in the event of damage or grounding) that also help with directional stability. This feature shone nicely when went close hauled and still managed over four knots in ten knots of breeze.
Off the wind and with sails trimmed up, the speed got to 5.5 knots in just over nine knots of breeze. Not bad at all for a comfy cruising boat.
Handling the 44 takes a bit of practice, as with most yachts. Yvan, who’s had several turns on the 44, was able to manoeuvre the yacht with ease, passing through several tacks with little difficulty on his own. There was not much in the way of waves for us to try that day, but there’s every reason to think that the 44 would be a comfortable ride to the Philippines and back.
The demo boat on our test sail is available for viewing to interested Hong Kong buyers, if it isn’t snapped up in the meantime. All options in, the 44 comes in around US$600,000, a price comparable to Lagoons of a similar size. It’s those options that lets owner and guests enjoy the 44 for all its worth so you may as well consider that the set price.
In Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Singapore: www.sgboating.com
Technical Specifications – Leopard 44
Displacement: 12,615 kg
Mast height: 20.45m
Water capacity: 780 lts
Fuel capacity: 700 lts
Sail area: 123 sq.m
Engines x 2 (Yanmar Diesel)