South African catamaran builder Robertson and Caine and veteran multihull designers Morrelli & Melvin teamed up once again to produce the new Leopard 44, which is also available for charter as the Sunsail 444. The builder’s longtime role as the supplier of catamarans to both Sunsail and The Moorings means that the build team has extensive owner and charterer feedback when it comes time to launch a new model. The result has been cats that are easy and fun to sail, ruggedly built to avoid downtime when in charter, and relatively affordable (view the complete photo gallery here).
In those respects, the new 44-footer should fit right into the fleet. The most distinguishing feature on this catamaran is the cabin top that extends forward, past the saloon, to shade a forward-facing cockpit located just aft of the trampoline on the bow. While we were motoring north from Miami to Fort Lauderdale one evening last winter after the boat show, this cockpit was the place to be as the sun set. The view was tremendous and the breeze refreshing as we skipped along with a crowd aboard at a little better than 6 knots at 2,600 rpm. Throttling up to 3,200 rpm, we added another half a knot. Two 29-horsepower Yanmar diesels are mounted facing backward, well aft in each hull, with saildrives forward of them; under way, this reduces noise levels in the aft cabins.
Earlier, with the boat under sail, I’d found it simple to maneuver, with all controls, including the halyards, leading back to winches at the raised helm to starboard. There, the skipper sits just about at bimini level under a hard dodger; an overhead port provides a view of the main. In 13 knots of breeze and open-water waves, we made 6.5 knots while sailing closehauled, tacking through about 110 degrees.
A Sunsail representative quipped that the boat was designed with the Caribbean and its steady easterly trades in mind. One can enjoy sunrise and breakfast around a small table in the forward cockpit, leave the watertight door open as a steady breeze blows through the saloon all day, and then enjoy sunset in the large shaded cockpit astern, with dinner around a table that should seat eight with ease.
Access from the dinghy or when swimming has been simplified via transom platforms that extend slightly past the side hulls, conveniently located handrails, and just a single step leading to the bridgedeck. Once you’re aboard, wide decks make for easy movement fore and aft, and the bimini’s overhangs provide sure handholds.
The boat I tested was a private owner’s version, with the accommodations for the captain and mate taking up the entire starboard hull. A queen berth is aft, with a sitting area amidships and a head with separate shower in the bow, behind a watertight bulkhead. To port, double berths with en suite heads are fore and aft, with a child’s berth far forward. That same layout is mirrored to starboard in the four-cabin Sunsail 444.
Hulls are constructed using isophthalic gelcoat and vinylester resin to resist osmosis. Balsa coring in the hulls and deck reduces weight and adds strength and stiffness. Hard chines and hulls that flare above the waterline provide both performance and increased interior volume. There’s plenty of the latter—and it’s well appointed, to boot. The doors fore and aft in the saloon, plus opening hatches, let in lots of light and ventilation. The interior decor is a blend of cherry laminates with white panels and light-colored upholstery. The up-style galley—with the storage and kit one would expect for a boat this size—is located aft to port and includes a two-drawer fridge and freezer and Corian counters. An optional generator is located forward, in a cockpit locker.
Overall, there was much to like about this latest offering from Robertson and Caine, and if I were a betting man, I’d wager that the concept of a cockpit forward might just set a trend for tropics-bound cats in the future.