Leopard 47 • From South Africa, the new Leopard 47 cruising cat offers sumptuous accommodations combined with fine sailing characteristics and on-the-level cruising
Cruising with three other couples that we did not know well was a first for us. My wife Rosie and I were in the British Virgin Islands aboard a new Moorings 4700/Leopard 47 as co-hosts of the first annual MedSail conference—lectures for doctors in the mornings, sailing and diving in the afternoons—for a week in January. The 50 conferees were all sailing aboard crewed, identical Moorings 4500/Leopard 45s, but as hosts, we rated the larger cat.
On the evening we and the three other couples arrived from the four corners of North America, we chose our cabins, stowed away our stuff and then gathered in the huge aft cockpit under the full width Bimini for a few celebratory rums. This was to be a week of some work—four of us were lecturing—and a lot of good humor and play. It also was to be the first time any of us had cruised on a production catamaran.
To state the most obvious first reaction to the Leopard 47 we were aboard, we were at once amazed at how huge the boat was and how large and private were the double cabins. Eight of us moved about the cockpit and main saloon stowing our gear and humping boxes of supplies without being conscious of bumping into each other or getting in each other’s way.
In our private cabins, we found ample stowage space for all the clothes and other equipment we had brought along and a private head with more stowage space and a shower. As we unpacked, we remarked that we could not hear any of the others aboard except for the occasional peal of laughter. This comfortable, convenient cabin was to be our home for the next seven days and it already felt like home.
The MedSail cruise was staged in the peaceful waters of the B.V.I. Although January can be blustery as the Christmas Winds descend on the Caribbean, we found only breezes of 15 knots or less and flat seas. The sun shone, the breeze was fair and gentle, and the islands lovely. This was hardly work.
The Leopard line of cruising cats that are sold as private boats or into The Moorings charter fleets are built in South Africa by Robertson & Caine, who have had their own boat building firm since 1991. Originally builders of high-tech composite racing boats, R&C formed an alliance with The Moorings in 1995 and in the next four years delivered more than 100 cruising cats from 38 to 62 feet to charter bases around the world.
It is worth noting that all of the boats were delivered across the South Atlantic or Indian Ocean on their own bottoms.
In 2000, The Moorings and R&C formed a new venture to launch the catamarans into the private ownership market under the Leopard banner. The boats are now being sold by an entity called The Moorings Private Sales, which is headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
The difference between the charter boats and those in the Leopard line lies mainly in the various cabin layouts available and the equipment and option packages that can be put onto the new boats. Additionally, the Leopard line has been upgraded with a slightly higher degree of interior detailing that makes the boats feel more like home. The boat we sailed in the B.V.I. was a charter version, but essentially the same as a standard Leopard 47.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
The modern cruising cats that have been developed for charter fleets and liveaboard cruisers are a far cry from the multihulls of a generation ago. The evolution of lightweight composite construction techniques and the empirical knowledge gained through the ongoing development of racing cats for the European Grand Prix circuit, has led to a generation of cats that is both very comfortable and reasonably fast.
Several key issues dictate the design solutions that Leopard came up with for their line of cats and for the 47. Although the risk of a capsize in a cruising cat, particularly those over 40 feet, is extremely small, stability and sail power have to be balanced conservatively to ensure that the boats don’t become inverted. Multi-hull sailors enjoy pointing out that even if they do flip, their boats will remain buoyant and safe while their monohull, lead-mine friends in the same circumstances could see their vessels sink to the bottom.
Cats have incredibly high initial stability numbers, which is why they sail flat. Yet the stability curves for cats drop off precipitously once the windward hull leaves the water and begins to rise. A part of the problem once the windward hull is flying is that the wind and waves apply pressure directly to the broad bridge deck between the hulls that magnifies the pivoting force.
The solution adopted by R&C and most other designers of cruising cats is to give the boats enough displacement to keep both hulls in the water and reduce sail area. The net effect on the design becomes a reduction of top end performance in exchange for the widest possible safety margin. This approach also endows the boats with a soft and fairly quiet ride through chop and head seas. Additionally, on the 47 and other boats in the line, the main traveler runs along a stern arch the full width of the boat; in breezy conditions, the traveler car can be trimmed to leeward, which depowers the mainsail and sharply reduces the heeling moment on the hulls.
Pounding and pitching when sailing to windward is a characteristic of some lightweight cats. The ride can be uncomfortable enough to deprive the crew of rest while offshore. In moderate displacement designs, such as the Leopard 47, this is less of a problem. But, the heavy slap of waves on the bottom of the bridge deck under the saloon floor, can be disconcerting. On the 47, this tendency is mitigated by the three longitudinal ribs that run beneath the main saloon; these add strength to the hull and tend to disperse the wave as it meets the hull.
Cats in general and cruising cats in particular are not known for their ability to sail close to the wind or tack easily. Wide sheeting angles, low inertia and windage in the hulls all contribute to the characteristic. Yet, on most modern cats, the 47 in particular, the builders have brought the sheeting angles in tight to eke the highest sailing angle possible. Because the 47 is moderately heavy, it will carry its way through the eye of the wind and with the genoa backed slightly will fall off quickly to be trimmed on the new tack.
The Leopard 47 that we sailed in the B.V.I. was built to high production boat standards. The hulls and deck moldings were very fair and the contours of the deck, cockpit and cabin house had been artfully designed and well executed. The interior joinery and fiberglass moldings all fit together tightly, doors and drawers were sturdy and well hung, and the ports were all well sealed and conveniently placed.
With a 56-horsepower Yanmar in each hull and a Westerbeke generator mounted forward of the starboard engine, the boat has ample horsepower for high-speed motoring and enough generating capacity to run a small village. The engine rooms are spare but well laid so that routine maintenance can be performed without much hassle.
The rudders are hung well aft on short skegs. Since the boat has been designed to dry out on its own bottom (or run aground without damaging the hulls and rudders) the rudders are small barn door sections well protected by the skegs.
Unlike cats designed for higher performance values, the Leopard 47 and sister ships are fitted with shallow replaceable keels on both hulls to enhance lift while sailing to windward and to protect the hulls from groundings. For this second purpose, the design works well as the keels on the 47 we sailed sported several scars from reef-crunching encounters yet no damage to the hulls.
Having now built more than 200 cruising cats, R&C has perfected its production assembly lines and incorporated in later models all that has been learned from hard use crossing oceans and in the charter fleets. The result is a boat that is tough, attractive, well engineered, seaworthy and easy to sail.
For most of us old-school mono-hull sailors, cruising cats are still somewhat akin to alien space ships that look and behave entirely differently from our tippy sloops and ketches. And space ships is what they are, since one of the single greatest benefits of cats is the huge amount of living space spread out through the two hulls, main saloon and galley, and the afterdeck.
Aboard the Leopard 47s designed for private ownership, two basic versions are offered, one with four cabins (similar to the charter version) and one with three sleeping cabins and an office; the starboard hull is essentially the owner’s private suite. In both versions, each cabin comes with its own en suite head.
The large afterdeck is the boat’s back porch where eight people may lounge comfortably or sit to a meal around the table. Storage is provided under the seats so that snorkeling and deck gear can be kept handy but out of sight. The steering station lies to starboard and is elevated so the helmsman can see over the top of the cabin. Perched in the comfy captain’s chair at the controls and under the protection of the cockpit-wide hardtop Bimini, the helmsman has good visibility while being well protected from the environment.
The main saloon has the feel of a modern, efficiency apartment with great waterfront views. The dinette is an unusual oval shape that will seat four adults easily. The
table drops down to form a double berth—which we found useful on two of our seven nights when we had five couples sleeping aboard.
The U-shaped galley has plenty of counter space, ample storage lockers and a huge refrigerator freezer. Preparing meals for parties of 10 or more was no more of a problem aboard than it would be at home, and the view through the huge cabin windows was always better.
The sleeping cabins, as noted above, are large, airy and comfortable. The berths are nearly seven feet long and wide enough for two large people to sleep comfortably. Hatches over the berths provide cooling breezes on tropical nights and easy access to the foredeck.
With eight or 10 of us aboard, each of us was able to find the privacy or society we wanted and there were times—during afternoon siesta, for example—when you had to go looking for someone to talk to.
Critics often call cruising cats of this style “floating condos.” In a sense that is true, because of the comfort level and space the boats provide. But the comment also implies that the boats are less than stellar performers, a fact that we soon discovered was far from the truth.
If you are not accustomed to handling a 47-foot boat with 24 feet of beam, then stepping up to the controls to exit from a tight marina has a certain excitement about it. But with twin engines and positive steering control through the twin rudders, the 47 handles in crowded
quarters very easily, since it will spin in place with the one engine in forward and the other in reverse. Once you get the hang of handling the boat, you can just about make it walk sideways. With both engines in forward, the 47 motors at an easy seven knots and will chug along at over eight if you so desire.
The full-batten, high roach main-sail weighs over 100 pounds, so cranking it up requires a well-coordinated effort by the mast crew. We were impressed by the quality of the sail on a charter boat—built by Quantum Sails of South Africa. Once raised and set, you could immediately feel its power as the big cat transformed the 15 knots of breeze into forward motion. With the genoa rolled out, the big boat fairly skipped along on a close reach as we departed Road Town Harbour.
The sensation of speed can be lost on you as you sail along flat and well protected in the huge cockpit. You look over the stern and see the wakes from the hulls flattening out and small rooster tails building and you know something is happening. Look at the speedo or GPS and the hunch is confirmed; it’s blowing 15 knots and you are sailing quite happily at eight and half knots. Not bad.
During our week in the B.V.I., we sailed everywhere and saw a range of conditions from breezes under 15 knots to a squall of 25 knots or so. We never had to reef and found that we could make an acceptable six to eight knots in any condition.
Upwind, the 47 will tack through about 100 degrees as it does not like to be pinched too close to the wind. Sailing a little free, the boat close reaches nicely and because of its speed advantage, keeps up pretty well with fin-keel production monohulls of the same size.
The anchoring system on the 47 we sailed was simplicity itself, as it should be on a charter boat. The chain locker is located directly forward of the mast and the anchor deploys between the two hulls where it hangs on a heavy nylon bridle. We anchored every night and never had a problem. Setting a second anchor in stormy conditions would be possible but a second bridle would need to be rigged and the windlass set up to accommodate two rodes.
The Leopard 47 is a modern but nicely conservative cruising boat that is fun to sail and responds markedly to adjustments in sail trim. We match raced another 47 during the week and found that careful trim and helming made a huge difference.
The Leopard 47 has many appealing qualities, not the least being that it offers such an amazing living platform for your time on the water. During the MedSail conference, we often staged afternoon seminars on the foredeck of the 47, fitting 20 or 30 people fairly easily forward of the mast. For gregarious cruisers, the boat is a perfect party platform.
For extended cruising and living aboard, the 47 provides her crew with plenty of room to swing a cat and ample storage for self-sufficient voyaging. A couple can handle the boat easily on their own, yet the boat can accommodate two or three more couples when having guests aboard or during longer passages.
As a voyaging boat, the 47 has already proven to be a passagemaker on the trip from Cape Town to the Caribbean. Given its conservative design and enhanced stability, the boat will stand up to strong breezes and unpleasant seas as well as any production monohull—although new cat sailors will have to learn catamaran-specific techniques for handling the boat in bad weather.
Designed from the start to be a tropical cruiser, the 47 fits that bill very well. But in our estimation, the boat also works well as a mid-latitude cruiser for those who are looking for a boat to wander about the North Atlantic and Europe or venture off to the Pacific. You will do so in comfort and style and will always be able to put your coffee mug down on the dinette table no matter which direction the wind is blowing.
The four-cabin version offers four equally comfortable and spacious cabins, each with an en suite head
LOA 46’10” (14.7 m.)
LWL 41’10” (12.9. m.)
Beam 24’3” (7.5 m.)
Draft 4’4” (1.3 m.)
Displacement 22,420 lbs. (10,190 kg.)
Sail Area 1,334 sq. ft. (120 sq. m.)
Mast Height 70’4” (21.6 m.)
Auxiliaries Yanmar 56-h.p. (2)
Fuel 158 gals. (600 ltr.)
Water 211 gals. (800 ltr.)
Price $469,000 (fully equipped)
The Moorings Private Sales
2160 SE 17th St.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316