Off on a charter vacation, friends want to party together, couples may seek out nooks of their own and families will cherish a place for the kids to romp while the folks enjoy their chill time. Some like to sunbathe, others prefer shade. The skipper could be an old salt or a recent grad of a learn-to-sail program who needs a hand pulling the strings. Some come for the sailing, others for the revelry. And no one, I repeat, no one wants to get stuck in the smallest cabin, with a shared head.
What’s a designer to do?
In the case of the new Leopard 45 catamaran, which made its North American debut last fall at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, naval architect Alex Simonis carefully considered the design brief put together by the single largest buyer of sailboats on the planet — the parent company of Sunsail, The Moorings and Leopard Catamarans brands — and then he stretched the design envelope to create what CW’s Boat of the Year judges named Best Charter Boat for 2017.
South Africa’s Robertson and Caine is the sole supplier of catamarans for Travelopia Marine, formerly TUI Marine. Charter versions of their boats (four heads, four cabins) are sold into The Moorings and Sunsail fleets worldwide. The remaining 45 percent of the company’s annual output goes to Leopard owners, who overwhelmingly opt for a three-cabin, three-head layout, with the owners suite occupying an entire hull.
The first things I noticed when I stepped aboard the 45 were the views. From the stern, you look through the entire boat, thanks to a wall of clear polycarbonate at the forward end of the saloon that includes a watertight doorway leading to a second cockpit on the foredeck. Overhead, you see plenty of sky through a large port in the coachroof; to either side, well, you guessed it, you’re surrounded by windows. In the cabins below, long ports in the hull and opening hatches overhead let the light — and sights — pour in too.
“They’ve really opened up the structure,” noted BOTY judge Tim Murphy when helping to choose a contest winner.
To do so, Simonis replaced fore and aft structural bulkheads on the bridgedeck with a latticework of fiberglass and stainless steel. This allowed him not only to replace solid panels with windows but also move the mast aft, creating a better-balanced sail plan. The payoff is improved performance and easier sailhandling.
Speaking of sailing, the Leopard scooted right along in 10 knots of breeze. We saw 6.1 knots closehauled and 7.7 knots when we bore off to a reach. The helmsman steers from a raised platform to starboard in the cockpit. There’s a bench there where a couple can sit comfortably, and thanks to a series of blocks and clutches, all sail control lines are led to a pair of electric winches on the cabin top, just forward of the wheel. Working sails consist of a square-top main and a slightly overlapping genoa. The Leopard version of the 45 that we sailed also carried a screecher set on a continuous-line furler tacked down on a sprit.
All of Robertson and Caine’s boats — current production also includes the Leopard 40, 48 and 58, along with related charter brands — have balsa-cored hulls and decks, with solid fiberglass anywhere hardware is mounted. The builder has begun to infuse smaller parts, so look for the use of that technology to expand. Hulls have fine entry points and are relatively narrow below the waterline for performance, then flare to provide room to roam in the cabins.
A fitted-out Leopard 45 sells for about $580,000, depending on options and toys. Ready to go, with charter kit, in The Moorings’ yacht-ownership program, the price is similar.
Summing up his dockside visit and our sea trials, Murphy noted, “The experience really is a beautiful thing, to be able to be in that aft space on a boat and see so much of the world. I think they’ve done a really nice job in 45 feet of providing different spaces.”
I agree wholeheartedly.
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Mark Pillsbury is Cruising World’s Editor.