BOAT TEST: LEOPARD 38 SAILING CATAMARAN
It’s said a leopard never changes its spots, but here’s a charter-version of South Africa’s popular Leopard 38 catamaran. ALLAN WHITING reports from sunny Queensland
If you charter a newish catamaran from the Moorings and Sunsail just anywhere in the world it's most likely the craft will be a Leopard. That's because Robertson and Caine, South Africa's largest export-boatbuilding company, has done a deal to produce charter vessels for the Group's global boat-hire businesses. Of course, the company is more than happy to sell similar or differently optioned boats to private buyers.
Our test Leopard 38 was a rebadged Sunsail 384 - specifically built for the company's charter business and was Hamilton Island bound - when we checked it out on Moreton Bay, Qld, in the company of Leopard's local Australian agent, David Flynn.
The Leopard 38 is obviously derived from the 46, which I was impressed with in a previous test betwixt these pages, but there's a slightly jarring stylistic note in the absence of the 46's distinctive coach house front window louvres fitted between the A-pillars.
In the bigger sister ship, the louvres neatly solve the problem of streamlining the look of the coach house without incurring too much of the sun's heat, while also providing convenient steps to the coach house roof. The 38 has vertical forward windows in the cabin, without louvres. Put them on, I say - they'd make the boat look much better, and they're useful.
On the plus side, the 38 has much better boarding platforms than the 46, easier to access dockside and from the water.
With 1.6m less beam than the 46, the Leopard 38 obviously doesn't have the same degree of elbow room, although the four-cabin layout has double beds, with a couple of kid's bunks right in the bows. The 38's beds are snug, without the island designs in the 46.
Instead of a head and shower for each cabin there is a head and shower in each hull. Also missing is the 46's fifth head in the starboard bow cabin, intended for a liveaboard skipper on crewed charters.
The Leopard 38, like the 46, has a U-shaped galley and dinette, albeit on a smaller scale. There's no room in the 38's saloon for the 46's dedicated chart table.
These comparisons may make the 38 sound like a compromise design, but it's anything but. Eight adults and two kids will find ample living and sleeping room. In the three-cabin owner's layout, the port hull is identical to the charter version, but the starboard hull has a large living area and a huge forward head and separate shower.
A large electrical control panel sits above a double-door fridge unit that can work as a freezer if required. The saloon is airy and force-fed by twin fans - air-con optional, of course - and features easily removable ceiling panels that simply Velcro-fix in place.
The 38 cockpit is spacious, with seating for eight around the table and a huge coolbox with lid. This moulding doubles as a seat, with a swinging backrest that allows it to be oriented forward or aft.
On the 46, the cockpit roof is an extension of the saloon roof, but on the 38 the cockpit roof section is stepped up slightly. The latter has tender davits - powered no less - but not the integrated lowering swim platform that's fitted to the 46.
The steering station is well designed, with access steps from the cockpit to a two-place padded bench behind the wheel. All controls and instruments are arrayed within easy view and reach of the helmsperson.
The new Leopard 38 is built with the latest resin-infusion techniques, using balsa-cored hull and deck laminates, E-glass stitched fabric and isophthalic resins, with NPG gelcoat. The hull and lower bridgedeck structure is moulded as a unit; the bulkheads are glassed in place; then the monocoque deck and coach house moulding is lowered into position. This circumferential hull-deck join is bonded, through-bolted and tabbed to the structural bulkheads.
Below the waterline are sacrificial, mid-hull, bolt-on keels that increase 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 Leopard 38 sports a raked mast that's rigged differently from the 46's. Single, swept-back spreaders have upper and lower diamonds, and aft-angled cap shrouds lead to chainplates. A telescopic vang supports the boom, which is aft-sheeted to a roof-top traveller that runs almost full width and bolts to sturdy roof-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 roof. Rope bags on the bulkhead keep sheet tails tidy.
A fully-battened, roached mainsail is standard and a square-topped design is optional. The twin engines are situated well aft, on top of saildrive legs and access is through deck hatches: sealed in respect of the Sunsail donks to keep over-anxious 'helping hands' away from the mechanicals.
The test boat was fitted with twin 70W solar panels mounted on the cockpit roof and a 240V battery charger. House batteries are three AGMs, engine start is by two AGMs, and a large foredeck bin has space for a generator.
POWER AND SAIL
Slipping away from the Moreton Bay marina berth could hardly have been easier thanks to the Sunsail-spec 38's twin 29hp engines and fixed two-blade props. Ample grunt, a good grip on the water forward and astern, plus the cat-advantage of props spaced some five metres apart made for easy manoeuvring in tight spaces.
Once clear of the channel we headed upwind in an almost deserted Moreton Bay and hoisted the fully battened mainsail. The Leopard's mainsail bag sits on a low-slung boom and is easily unzipped from the saloon and cockpit stepped-height roofs. It's one of the few sailbags that can be opened by leaning over it, in contrast to the usual tippy-toe operation.
A two-fall halyard and headboard block made easy work of the hoist and we didn't feel the need for a powered halyard winch, unlike the Leopard 46 that certainly could benefit from one. With the breeze in the 10 to 15-knot range, we referred to the Leopard sail chart on the saloon wall and tucked in a mainsail reef as we hoisted. The chart allows full overlapping genoa size in that wind-speed range and we were soon romping along on a tight reach at more than 7kts.
The helm had excellent feel, tugging at the wheel when the main was over-trimmed and returning to light-weather helm when all was in order.
The stubby 384 had a slightly sharper motion than the 46 and hobby-horsed more through the chop, but high freeboard kept the deck relatively dry and we could sail with the cabin windscreens open.
Cats aren't famous for windward performance, but I'd been impressed by the Leopard 46 when we checked it out at Hamilton Island last year, so I was keen to see how the smaller 384 behaved. Like its big brother the 384 went upwind at around 40 degrees and tacked happily, without losing much way.
Leopard has obviously put a lot of thought into the design of the walkthrough helm station. The cockpit roof is open above the station, but a fabric panel zips in place to provide weather and sun protection. This panel is double thickness, with a zipper-action choice of opaque or clear covering. Simple but clever.
The genoa furling line, sheets, mainsheet and traveller lines all run to the helm station, so singlehanded sailing was easy. Sunsail's spec' is for manual two-speed sheet winches that work fine, given the inevitable friction that's caused by the right angles that the main and port jib sheets must run through, en route to the starboard side of the boat.
But all said and done, the Leopard 38 lapped up Moreton Bay's azure waters and doubtless will make a fabulous floating home for charterers and cruising sailors here and abroad in many seasons to come.
The Leopard 38 is aimed at the charter market and at budget-conscious private buyers. Although cheaper than the Leopard 46, it still comes with a choice of three or four-cabin layouts. Cost savings come from provision of only two heads, instead of the 46's four, no separate chart table in the saloon, and a smaller rig and engines.
Gino Morelli on the Leopard 38
Morrelli & Melvin's Gino Morelli generously took time out of his busy 33rd America's Cup schedule to give TAB readers some insight into the design team's thought processes when they sketched out the new Leopard 38. (Incidentally, he spent much of his time in Valencia on the Morrelli & Melvin designed Water Wizards powercat that chased the speedy AC multihulls, carrying film crews).
"For the 38 we wanted to maintain some of the 'family' lines of the Leopard 40-46-footers," Gino Morrelli told me.
"The 38 is slightly more angular if you look closely: the front windows are a change to the more vertical style to decrease 'hot house' effects."
Morrelli & Melvin concentrated on access and liveability with the design of the 38:
"We pulled the outboard topside forward a bit at the transom to allow crew to board easily from a side-moored floating dock," said Gino Morrelli. "We created a small foot ledge so people don't have an awkward step over.
"We also raised many deck and step edges with slightly raised bevels, to give toes a cue that they're close to an edge.
"Non-skid treatment is also taken closer to most step edges, to reduce the chance of slipping - especially at night when people might not see edges so clearly - just a little touch."
On the question of handling at sea, I suggested to Gino Morrelli that the 38 was more lively and hobby-horsed in choppy water more than the 46 had done. His reply was refreshingly honest:
"It's true that in the same seastate it will hobby-horse more, but I guess all shorter boats might - damn physics!"
Specifications -LEOPARD 38 SAILING CATAMARAN
When you pull 2.7m length out of a 14.1m design there's a risk that the end product won't be all that flash, but renowned multihull designers Morrelli & Melvin have done a great job of retaining the Leopard 46's DNA in a shortened version. Sure, the resulting Leopard 38 is stubbier and cheekier, but its looks and performance aren't overly compromised in a layout that preserves full saloon and below-deck headroom.
PRICE AS TESTED
Shorepower kit, battery charger, solar panels, shorepower air-conditioning, ventilation fans in all cabins, two hot-water tanks, additional water tank, VHF radio, CD player with MP3 jack, autopilot, chartplotter, tridata instruments, engine upgrade, head power-flush, and transom shower
MATERIAL: Resin infused balsa FRP laminate hulls and deck
LENGTH OVERALL: 11.43m
WATERLINE LENGTH: 11.00m
BERTHS: 4 double cabins plus two single berths (charter version); 3 cabins (owner's version)
HOLDING TANKS: 100lt
SAIL AREA: 92m2 (total)
MAKE: 2 x Yanmar
TYPE: Diesel saildrive
RATED HP (EACH): 19; 29 (optional)
Level 30 AMP Place,
10 Eagle Street,
Brisbane, Qld, 4000
Port Marina Drive,
Port of Bundaberg, Qld, 4670
Phone: 1300 661 321
Leopard Catamarans should kick some goals with this Tardis-like, roomy yet compact performer. On our next trip to Hammo we're planning to do a four-couple charter on a Sunsail 384, to enjoy its ease of sailing and lounging qualities after the hard yakka of Hamilton Island Race Week. Should be fun!
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