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Leopards are normally solitary hunters, but the Leopard brand of big African cats has paired up to pursue Australian game. Lookalikes from coach house top to waterline, the Leopard twins can be specified with power or sail as their primary propulsion. ALAN WHITING explains after spending a couple of nights aboard…

Leopard 46 & 47

The editor's brief was concise: "You're going to Hammo for Race Week, so head up there a few days early and do an appraisal on a pair of Leopard cats - one's power and the other's sail." Some Trade-a-Boat assignments are tough, but we live with it.

So that's how my better half Keryn and I came to be sitting in the spacious cockpit of a Sunsail-operated Leopard 46, in the company of Leopard's Australian agent, David Flynn, and his Bundaberg-based sidekick, Wayne Richards. Beside us, in the Sunsail berths, was the powercat version of the same boat, the Leopard 47.

"The Leopard concept is pretty simple," said David Flynn. "The aim is to produce sail and power versions of the same craft, using as many common components as possible, without sacrificing the performance of either type."

That's a simple enough aim, but it's a tall order for boat designers and builders to fill.

Leopard Cat construction is carried out by Robertson & Caine, South Africa's largest export-boatbuilding company. This builder used to specialise in high-performance sailing craft, but switched 10 years ago to the production of sailing and power catamarans. R&C has struck a deal with the Moorings and Sunsail Group to produce charter vessels for their global boat-hire businesses and sells similar or differently optioned boats to private buyers (see breakout box).




R&C cats are built employing the most advanced composite GRP sandwich construction incorporating a vacuum bonded balsa core, providing high compression and impact resistance. The hull and lower bridgedeck structure are moulded as a unit; the bulkheads are glassed in place; then the monocoque deck and coach house moulding is lowered into place. This circumferential hull-deck join is bonded, through-bolted and tabbed to the structural bulkheads.

Both Leopard versions share major structures, but there are obvious above-deck differences: the bimini on the sailing version has a starboard-side cutout for the steering station and on the powercat it's surmounted by a wide flybridge. The foredeck of the sailing version has the expected trampoline section, but the powercat has a solid infill, to keep spray off the coach house.

Below the waterline the sailing version has sacrificial, mid-hull, bolt-on keels that increase its draft and provide lateral resistance. A laminated ridge projects from each hull bottom and the fork-topped keels are through-bolted horizontally to this ridge. The powercat doesn't have these keels, but has stubby skegs, set aft to protect the props. Powercat aft hull sections are hollowed in shape to recess the shafts slightly, and reduce their angularity. These aft hull changes extend the length of the powercat by 700mm.

Both cat types have broad access steps on each transom and the only jarring note is an obstructive portside swim ladder that looks like an afterthought. Why not a sliding, recessed type?

Leopard's design neatly solves the problem of streamlining the coach house, without incurring too much of the sun's heat. The coach house roof has an 'eyebrow' moulding and two louvres are fitted between the A-pillars, below the brow. Vision from inside the saloon is barely affected, but the sun's rays are effectively blocked. Ventilation is via high-set opening ports and the bonus is a set of wide steps from the deck to the roof. Brilliant.




The cockpits, saloons and cabins of the Leopard 46 and 47 are almost identical. Cockpit differences are at the starboard forward corners, where the sailing version has a high-set steering station, with bimini top and clears, and stair access from the cockpit sole, or from the side deck. The powercat has a spiral FRP staircase to the flybridge, with lipped treads that make a slip less likely.

Below decks the powercat has forward-set engines, below lift-up island bed bases in the aft cabins and the sailing version has rear-set engines, behind the aft cabin bulkheads.

The cockpit features a U-shaped dinette to port and a lounge to starboard, with additional seating between the davits. This unique centre seat doubles as a diving platform when it's lowered. Two can sit comfortably at the sailing version's steering station and eight won't be crowded on the powercat's flybridge.

Stainless steel framed sliding glass doors open into the saloon, where there's a double fridge-freezer unit to port, surmounted by a large electrical control panel. To starboard is a U-shaped galley, with stove top, oven, microwave and double sink. The only downside of the galley fittings was cupboard door hinges that seemed a tad weak, especially for charter work.

The dinette is offset slightly, allowing for a chart table/desk and generous shelf space. Although not fitted to these charter vessels, remote autopilot control and instrument repeaters can be mounted at the chart table. Staircases from the saloon lead to the hulls, which can be laid out in three-cabin or four-cabin styles.




The charter boats we evaluated were four-cabin types, with en suite bathrooms for each cabin. A bonus with this layout is a kid's bunk, in the port bow section, accessible through a small door in the forward bulkhead, at the foot of the double bed. The starboard bow is fitted with lift-up pipe cot and a head, intended for crew on skippered charters. Access to this bunk is via the forward deck hatch. A possible alternative use for this cabin is a 'brig' for unruly passengers!

A three-cabin, owner's version boat retains the aft starboard bed, but has a larger, forward bathroom, with separate shower and house-style toilet. In between is a lounge, buffet and study module.

We spent two nights aboard the Leopards and found them both very comfortable. Having an en suite for each cabin is the way to go if you're chartering for a week with four couples.




The lines of the Leopard 46 were drawn with sailing performance primarily in mind and then modified for power operation. That's probably the right way to do it, because boats we've sailed that were essentially designed as power boats, with some sailing ability, have proved to be disappointing under canvas alone.

The Leopard cats were penned by world-renowned designers Morrelli & Melvin, who have designed a wide range of racing, cruising and commercial yachts. Their designs have won the America's Cup, numerous world and European championships, around-the-world and transatlantic records, and multiple industry awards.

The Leopard 46 sailing cat sports a raked mast that's not as rigidly rigged as most cats. Single, swept-back spreaders have upper and lower diamonds, the aft-angled cap and lower shrouds lead to chainplates. The forestay is tacked to a triangulated-support cross beam and fitted with headsail furler. A telescopic vang supports the boom, which is aft-sheeted to a bimini-top traveller that runs almost full width and bolts to the sturdy bimini support posts. Mainsheet and jib sheets lead to the steering station and the boat is pre-rigged for a screacher, with turning blocks fitted to the bimini. Rope bags on the bulkhead keep sheet tails tidy.

The twin engines are situated well aft, on top of saildrive legs and access is through deck hatches: sealed in the case of the Sunsail donks, to keep over-anxious 'helping hands' away from the mechanicals.

As with most cats the Leopard 46 was a cinch to manoeuvre out of the tight Sunsail berths at Hamilton Island, playing the throttle levers against each other. Vision on the starboardside from the helm position was excellent, but the offset steering position meant it was necessary to have a portside assistant in the tight bits. The offset winch position also means that while starboard jib sheeting is straightforward, the port sheet turns through two right angles.

The boat powered out into Dent Passage and then we turned upwind to make sail. A single-block halyard halves the load on the winch, but it was still hard work for Wayne at the mast, because the fully-battened, 'roachy' main is generous in size. (The trick, we're told, is to run the halyard around the mast winch and down to the anchor windlass, but I doubt that's part of the Sunsail pre-charter briefing). With the main up and Wayne enjoying a much-deserved beer the headsail rolled out quickly and we killed the engines.

Charter cats are notorious for being slugs, but the Leopard 46 is different. With only 10kts of breeze on hand the fat cat reached at seven-plus knots and could be balanced nicely by playing the sheets.

On the wind, the Leopard continued to surprise, maintaining speed while pointing about five degrees worse than you'd expect from a monohull. Unlike most big cruising cats the Leopard didn't make much leeway, even in the strong Dent Passage current. Tacking is the nemesis of many cats, but the 46 steered happily through the wind, provided the helmsman bore away slightly before the tack, to build up speed and took a generous arc. Port jib sheeting is heavier than starboard, so rapid tacks aren't on the menu anyway.

The Leopard 46 proved to be a most rewarding cat to sail. I've chartered previous Sunsail cats and didn't enjoy the sailing experience at all, but I'd happily spend a week on the 46.

After a few hours playing around in the magnificent Whitsunday waters it was time to get the gear off and return to Hammo. The jib reeled in as quickly as it came out and the main proved much easier to drop than to hoist. We appreciated the hardtop bimini when flaking the main into its bag and zipping up, unlike the nervous experience with part soft-top biminis.




With the 46 and the 47 moored side-by-side the similarities are obvious, but in isolation they don't look like compromise designs and that must have been difficult to achieve. For instance, the flybridge on the 47 doesn't look like a tacked-on afterthought and the solid foredeck is also well integrated. The sailing version has two-strand wire life-rails, but the 47 has unitised tubular rails and stanchions, with mid-set wires.

The power difference between the 46 and the 47 becomes obvious as soon as the twin engines are lit: the test 47's twin Volvo D4 225s emitting a definite growl once we were clear of the marina. However, they were docile while manoeuvring, with excellent throttle control. From the flybridge, vision of all four corners is ideal for easy positioning: handy, given the 47's increased windage.

Powercats obviously don't have the satisfying cornering heel of a monohull, but the upside is a stable ride that takes a fair amount of chop to upset. In the reef-protected waters around the Whitsundays the 47 sat flat nearly all the time - handy for the champagne drinkers.

We reckon the Leopard 47 could make a fishing charter platform, if the davits were deleted from the specification, because the helmsman is clear of the action, yet can see what's going on below and the rear deck is free of clutter.

The Sunsail charter fleet top speed is restricted by a bar across the throttle quadrant that limits maximum speed to 10kts. With the bar removed temporarily the Leopard 47 felt very comfortable at 3000rpm and 16kts, with the downside of this brisk performance being a combined fuel usage of 63lt/h. WOT speed is 22kts, but you don't want to look at the fuel-flow meters then! Dropped back to a governed 10kts, the two-engine consumption figure dropped to a much more respectable 21lt/h.

The base engines for the Leopard 47 are twin Cummins 150s that provide a theoretical top speed of 18kts at 2800rpm, with a claimed combined fuel figure of 62lt/h. At 10.6kts this pair should sip fuel at a combined 24lt/h. The top-shelf engine pair is Volvo D4s, rated at 260hp each. This power package provides a theoretical 18.5kts at 3000rpm, with a combined fuel figure of 68.5lt/h.

The Leopard powercat's engine access could hardly be easier: lift each aft cabin island bed base on its fully-supporting gas struts and there's the engine, sitting in a queen-sized tub, with ample working room for routine tasks.

Having lived with both Leopard cats over a couple of days, we came away very impressed with the pair. Interestingly, Leopard quotes pricing ex-Cape Town, South Africa, in US dollars. Nearly all Leopards travel to their destinations on their own bottoms. We'd happily charter the Sunsail-spec'd boats and the owners' versions look ideal for extended cruising that involves carrying visitors for some periods.




Specifications- Leopard 46 sailing catamaran








Sony sound system; Raymarine E80 chartplotter with tridata, autopilot, GPS, VHF; 220V shorepower pack; battery charger, additional AGM house battery; ventilation fans in saloon and cabins; 9kVa genset; helm station enclosure; barbecue; side window shade covers; cockpit cushions; cockpit stools; davits; and boom cover




$US551,465 (3-cabin version from $US561,180)




Material: Composite GRP sandwich construction
Type: Catamaran
Length overall: 14.13m
Waterline length: 13.6m
Beam: 7.57m
Draft: 1.35m




Berths: 4 double cabins plus two single berths (charter version), 3 cabins (owner's version)
Fuel: 700lt
Water: 780lt
Holding tanks: 170lt




Sail area: 134m² (total)




Make: 2 x Yanmar
Type: Diesel saildrive
Rated HP: 40; 54 (optional)




Leopard Catamarans,
Level 30 AMP Place,
10 Eagle Street,
Brisbane, Qld, 4000
Bundaberg Office,
Port Marina Drive,
Bundaberg, QLD, 4670

Phone: 1300 661 321        




Specifications- Leopard 47 power catamaran








Volvo D4 225 engines; Sony sound system; Raymarine E80 chartplotter with tridata, autopilot, GPS, VHF; 220V shorepower pack; battery charger, additional AGM house battery; ventilation fans in saloon and cabins; 9kVa genset; flybridge enclosure; barbecue; side window shade covers; cockpit cushions; cockpit stools; and davits.




$US578,370 (3-cabin version from $US582,685)




Material: Resin infused balsa FRP laminate hulls and deck
Type: Catamaran
Length overall: 14.42m
Waterline length: 14.38m
Beam: 7.57m
Draft: 0.95m




Berths: 4 double cabins plus two single berths (charter version), 3 cabins (owner's version)
Fuel: 1200lt
Water: 1210lt
Holding tanks: 170lt




Make: 2 x Cummins
Type: Diesel shaft drive
Rated HP: 150; Optional Volvo D4 225 or 260




Leopard Catamarans,
Level 30 AMP Place,
10 Eagle Street,
Brisbane, Qld, 4000
Bundaberg Office,
Port Marina Drive,
Bundaberg, Qld, 4670

Phone: 1300 661 321        





Sunsail is part of the giant TUI Travel organisation, which employs more than 50,000 people in 180 countries. Yacht chartering is only one part of this vast travel empire.

The Moorings/Sunsail business is the world's largest yacht charter operation and the group's purchasing power has enabled it to guarantee boat manufacturers' constant levels of business. Leopard Catamarans, the group's preferred multihull craft supplier, has sold some 350 vessels to Moorings/Sunsail. Jeanneau is another prominent maker that supplies large numbers of yachts to the group. Boats in these charter fleets are branded 'Moorings' or 'Sunsail' and have specified equipment levels.

The latest Sunsail order on the Robertson and Caine factory is for 30 new Sunsail 384s, which are being delivered progressively to Sunsail bases throughout Asia and the Caribbean this summer and to the Mediterranean next autumn.

The Sunsail 384 has been produced exclusively for Sunsail, with a four double-cabin, two-head layout and an additional forepeak berth. In something of a departure from the larger-Leopard designs the 384 has vertical front windscreens to enlarge the saloon area and preserve headroom.  Environmental considerations are also central to the design, with solar panels installed on the bimini hardtop to improve fuel consumption by an estimated 20 per cent and to extend the lifespan of the house batteries.

We'll have a Sunsail 384 appraisal as soon as possible after the new boats arrive at Hamilton Island. 

Find Leopard boats for sale.


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