Ample accommodations, fuel efficiency and simple maneuvering make this cat a good option for new boaters.
Over the course of any given year, I test maybe two dozen boats, both power and sail. Most of the tests last less than a day, and I usually wonder what it would be like to own that particular boat and deal with it on a full-time basis. That’s why I welcomed the chance to use the new Leopard 43 power catamaran for a full week and test the adage that a monohull is only half a boat. That the test was in the British Virgin Islands in December had just secondary appeal — and yes, I’m sticking with that.
The Moorings in Tortola is probably the most efficient large-scale charter operation I’ve ever seen. Sharing the docks with its sister company, Sunsail, the place hums with activity as boats are turned around in a matter of hours in what is the busiest charter destination in the world. Our Moorings 433 (a Leopard 43 power cat with three cabins) was barely four months old and registered in Cannes to French owners. Because our boat, Rubis, had the owner’s layout with the master stateroom along the entire starboard hull, we got the complete ownership experience, as if we were full-time cruisers retired to the tropics.
The Leopard 43 replaces Robertson and Caine’s previous Leopard 39 and follows the launch of the South African builder’s 51-footer. Offering nearly 30 percent more interior volume than the model it succeeds, the 43 is a Simonis Voogd design that reaches similar speeds to the 51 but with more than 200 fewer horsepower. Some of this efficiency comes from the stepped hulls. They are narrow at the waterline for better hydrodynamics but flare out with a hard chine to create interior volume for the cabins. That chine also cleaves water and keeps the decks drier.
Catamaran design trends have led to more vertical windows, and the 43 is no exception. Not only are the sides nearly perpendicular to the deck but so is the forward windshield. This gives the Leopard 43 a distinctive profile and a face one can spot from a distance, and despite the expanse of dark glass forward, it’s a pretty good-looking cat.
Hands down, the best argument for a catamaran is comfort. (Well, except for the fun of driving one, but more on that later.) A 43-foot catamaran has roughly the room of a 55-foot monohull, and Rubis felt like a tennis court. Leopard recently flipped the layout of its interiors, so the salon has moved aft but faces forward, as does the galley in the forward starboard corner. A large door leads to the forward cockpit, and when it is open it airs out the boat faster than any hatch or port ever could. I noticed it also helped us develop new traffic patterns aboard as we cut through the salon when moving from the flybridge or aft cockpit to the foredeck.
The port corner holds a small navigation station, which is little more than a desk really. I found it to be a great place to stash all the charts and cruising guides, and it became the charging station for phones and cameras, because there were several USB plugs there. Leopard offers an option here to add engine gears with an autopilot to create an additional interior helm. We didn’t have that, nor did we miss it.
There was plenty of room for stores in numerous drawers, under the settees and below the cabin sole. We filled up barely a quarter of it. Two Isotherm refrigeration drawers were ridiculously easy to access and could keep ice cream solid, although their stainless steel faces were fingerprint magnets.
The panel over the drawers was large and well laid out. There is an option for a Raymarine digital switching interface here, but The Moorings keeps things simple; instead, we had three rows of switches for everything including the genset start. Backlit labels made it easy to check, even in the dark.
The sliding aft door opened to starboard and the window between the salon and the cockpit settees slid to port. With the door and window open, there was very little division between the exterior and interior, and that made for a lovely feel and easy movement. The cockpit seats six to eight people around the table with a half-chaise lounge to starboard. Normally, this is the gathering place on a catamaran, but we tended to congregate upstairs on the flybridge.
A standard feature, the Leopard 43 flybridge is nearly the size of the one on the builder’s 51-footer. In fact, the cocktail table in the port corner is shared by both models in production. A galley module is aft, and we had a sink and Kenyon electric grill where, one night, we made a great fish dinner. There is an option to add a refrigerator and/or an ice-maker for perfectly self-contained parties that never need to leave the flybridge.
The helm was forward and to starboard with a double bench seat and a well-angled dash that held twin Raymarine screens. We mostly kept one display on a chart and the other as a systems screen that reported on fuel, water, batteries, rpm and so on. The autopilot instrument was directly behind the wheel and the Fusion stereo interface was down and to the left, leaving the Raymarine VHF radio to be mounted on the side. I would appreciate a more efficient layout of the electronics where both the driver and her companion could monitor and reach everything more easily.
The whole flybridge is covered by a hardtop that provides an attach point for a complete canvas enclosure and will hold a number of solar panels on top. It’s nice that this hardtop comes standard, but when we were bouncing in waves, the fiberglass creaked and was a bit distracting until we got used to it.
A wonderful lounging place was the sunpad just forward of the flybridge and suspended over the front cockpit. Two can sun themselves here in dry comfort even when motoring (downwind) at 12 knots. A stainless steel grabrail around the perimeter of the pad provides good handholds, and there are cupholders at the head that can also keep bottles of sunscreen and sunglasses. I estimate we spent 80 percent of our waking hours on the flybridge, either driving, sunning, sipping cocktails or having dinner.
The Leopard 43 comes with three or four cabins and two heads. In the regular charter version, the hulls are identical with forward and aft cabins that share an amidships head and a stall shower. With our owner’s version, I marveled at the amount of room dedicated to the master suite. The forward head had a very large shower with an acrylic door (a washer/dryer is optional in the bow compartment) and an electric saltwater head. The large sink was oriented sideways with plenty of room to wash up or rinse bathing suits without splashing water everywhere. Amidships was a doublewide vanity, a three-drawer dresser and two lockers. Only if I lived aboard would I have any hope of filling up all that space.
We accessed the bilge pumps via the corridor floorboards, which made them easy to check. A bit different than on most cats, the engines were located under the aft berths rather than in the transoms. Surprisingly, they were quiet, with little vibration even at 15 knots. They were accessible via the electrically actuated beds that rise up, mattress and all.
Moving around was easy both inside and out. The sidedecks were very wide and a stainless steel rail ran along the entire perimeter. The wide bow had a solid deck across the entire beam. It was easy to traverse from side to side quickly, and I could bend over the railing and secure myself with my hips, so I used two hands to put lines on cleats. The rail also provided a great place to tie up our two standup paddleboards, which got a workout during the week.
The windlass was hidden below an opening panel on the centerline of the bow. This locker was nice because it kept the chain and any mud off the deck and also housed the handheld remote and the hook for the pre-configured bridle. One complaint here is that the Lewmar windlass seemed a bit light for the duty of hauling 150 feet of chain and a 40-pound anchor. It slipped often and I had to flip the brake down more than once to keep the chain from running out. Another small complaint was the undersized winch that hauled up the dinghy on davits in the aft cockpit. It would trip the breaker a half-dozen times in the process of raising the dinghy and tended to get an override on the drum.
We crisscrossed the islands like kids on a playground. We took the paddleboards out in the morning in St. John, snorkeled the wreck of the Rhone near Salt Island in the afternoon and sipped Painkillers at Trellis Bay in the evening, because we traveled at 20 knots and beat everyone to each anchorage. Mostly we kept our speed at a leisurely 12 to 15 knots where we burned 10 to 15 gph. Our Moorings 433 was equipped with fuel-sipping twin Yanmar 220 hp diesels. (Note: That’s about half the horsepower of most 40-somethings, because unlike monohulls, cats aren’t dragging a heavy keel through the water and can operate with smaller engines.) Our weeklong run burned only 105 gallons (tankage is 264 gallons) of fuel, and we weren’t trying to be frugal.
Our test boat topped out at 3650 rpm, just kissing 20 knots. That’s when I noticed that The Moorings keeps the engines governed down, so that was only an 80 percent load. Indeed, Leopard notes that the top speed is 23 to 24 knots, which is probably not what most charter clients should be doing anyway.
The small wheel on the flybridge was stiff and reminiscent of driving riverboats. It was OK to use at speed when the turns were large and arcing. By contrast, slow maneuvering with the twin engines and four-bladed props set nearly 20 feet apart was light and easy. With the wheel centered, just a touch on the engines made that cat dance. No side thrusters or pod drives needed. I did most maneuvering, including snuggling into a tight spot at the company fuel dock, using just one engine at a time.
Communication between the helmsman and the foredeck crew was excellent because we could see and hear each other clearly. We didn’t need to raise our voice when driving up to a mooring or dropping the hook. Furthermore, moving around on the wide and solid forward deck was a breeze, so crew could put mooring lines on in a hurry even when it was blowing 20 knots. The Leopard 43 is the easiest boat I’ve ever run, and I’ve probably tested upwards of 200 boats over the years.
Better with Two
It may be a challenge to find a place to berth a catamaran, and haulouts and hull polishing may take on different considerations and magnitude. But if you value ample accommodations and fuel efficiency and love the idea of truly mastering docking and maneuvering a boat with complete confidence in less than a day, you owe it to yourself to check out this Leopard power cat. You can try before you buy by chartering a Moorings 433 at one of a dozen exotic locations that offer power charters. At the very least you’ll get a great tropical vacation and maybe, just maybe, you may become a two-hull disciple yourself and finally own a “whole” boat.