Leopard 38

Who says a cruising cat under 40 feet isn’t big enough for comfortable accommodations? A review from our June 2010 issue.

July 6, 2010
Leopard 38
The 38’s hulls are narrow where they meet the water for performance purposes but flare out to create ample interior space. Billy Black

“This is the kind of boat you can take anywhere in the world and have a comfortable home,” said one looker at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland. Indeed. All of CW’s Boat of the Year judges agreed that the Leopard 38 (the private owner’s version), and its near-sister, the Sunsail 384 (sold into the Sunsail charter fleet), are well executed and that the designers, Morrelli & Melvin, have provided a good balance between performance, accommodation, safety, and practicality.

They are available in a three- or four-cabin layout; the latter is usually sold under the Sunsail brand. The judges preferred the roomier features of the private-owner-version Leopard 38 that we tested. It devotes the entire starboard hull to the owner’s suite, which has a desk with a swing-out seat, oodles of stowage, and a head that judge Stacey Collins found to have “one of the nicest showers I’ve seen on any boat.” But no matter which version you choose, the hull flare/chine above the waterline contributes longitudinal stiffness and reserve buoyancy in the ends and adds critical interior volume while keeping hulls below the waterline narrow and easy to drive.

The cherry-finished interior is attractive without excess garnish. Cabins provide practical shelving, hanging lockers, seats, and good lighting and ventilation through fixed ports, opening ports, and hatches. The berths in both versions are quite roomy and secure. Engine noise is minimized because the engines are mounted aft and separated from the cabins by a watertight bulkhead rather than mounted under the aft bunks, as they are on some other cats.


In the bridgedeck saloon, a long settee and table seats six comfortably. The galley appears limited for gastronomes who might want more than a single sink, a double-burner stove, and minimal counter space. But it works reasonably well given the limitations of a 38-footer. And everyone will appreciate the large fridge and equally large stowage locker, which can be converted into an optional freezer.

With all this interior in a cat that’s less than 40 feet, it’s tough to keep a really sleek profile while maintaining the good bridgedeck clearance that’s crucial to mitigate bridgedeck slap. However, Morrelli & Melvin skillfully use the hull flare and the curve of the coachroof to give the topsides the appearance of minimal freeboard while providing good interior volume and adequate bridgedeck clearance.

The cat is stiff but also relatively light, thanks in part to vacuum-bagged and balsa-cored construction, giving it a light-ship displacement of 19,790 pounds. Combined with an easily managed total working sail area of 990 square feet (1,625 square feet downwind), the boat performed well. During our test sail off Annapolis in just 6 to 8 knots of wind, we recorded 5.5 knots sailing upwind and 6.5 knots while reaching. And boat speeds will certainly increase in more breeze. Twin fixed keels and spade rudders allow owners to sail in water that’s 4 feet deep or to nose the cat up on a beach, but they still allow superb maneuverability, upwind performance, and speed under sail. Under power, the twin Yanmar 21-horsepower engines produced over 7 knots at a cruising rpm of 2,700 and 8 knots at 3,600 rpm.


On deck, a crew will find good ergonomic flow. The side decks are wide and have grippy, molded-in diamond nonskid and secure toerails. The 27-inch-high double lifelines along with well-placed grabrails make it secure to go forward from the large cockpit. Lifeline gates aft make it easy to board the cat from the side, but chances are you’ll be boarding from the back since the low, cutaway sterns and easy step up to the cockpit are designed specifically for that purpose.

Judge Alvah Simon lauded the attention to safety on deck, including harness-attachment points, a life-raft locker, and a raised bridgedeck at the cabin entryway that provides an emergency barrier to any sea shipped over the stern, however unlikely. Double lifelines also stretch across the stern. Watertight bulkheads forward complement the watertight bulkheads aft. Lewmar deck hatches are well deployed for ventilation, and the aft flush-set engine hatches are nicely guttered to keep water out of the engine compartments.

A step on the mast allows sailors to ascend the cabin top. It and the cockpit roof are solid, giving crews a secure platform when it comes time to zip up the mainsail cover that’s integrated with the lazy jacks. The deck layout is elegantly simple and efficient. The sheets and traveler control lines are led through turning blocks to the helm station, which seats two. The winches are angled and installed low enough to get some muscle into them when it’s required, although the mainsheet-control winch handle may at times conflict somewhat with the starboard engine throttle. Visibility from the helm is good. The only criticism of the deck layout, which has become common on cats, is that tall people may hit their heads on the cockpit roof.


Judge Roger Hellyar-Brook praised the overall quality of the systems. It’s hard to get away from tight access to engine sides, but the engine-access hatches are big and can be safely opened with the boat under way. Battery capacity is up to modern cruising standards (360 amp-hours for the house plus two starting batteries), and the battery boxes are well secured. The anchoring system proved easy to operate and accessible, and it didn’t require opening a large hatch to reach the powered windlass. The primary hook is deployed from the bridgedeck aft of the bow. A roller on the forward beam allows you to set a second hook.

If you’re looking for a well-designed cat to put into charter or an owner-specific cat that’ll take care of you no matter where you cruise, the Leopard 38/Sunsail 384 may be just what you had in mind.

Steve Callahan is a veteran CW BOTY judge.



  • LOA 37′ 6″ (11.43 m.)
  • LWL 36′ 0″ (10.97 m.)
  • Beam 19′ 9″ (6.02 m.)
  • Draft 3′ 5″ (1.04 m.)
  • Sail Area (100%) 765 sq. ft. (71.1 sq. m.)
  • Displacement (light ship) 19,790 lb. (8,955 kg.)
  • D/L 175 SA/D 17.6
  • Water 206 gal. (780 l.)
  • Fuel 92 gal. (348 l.) Holding 29 gal. (110 l.)
  • Mast Height 62′ 0″ (18.9 m.)
  • Engines Two 21-hp. Yanmars Designer Morrelli & Melvin Sailaway Price $279,000

Sunsail Private Ownership

(877) 795-4389


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