There’s been a proliferation of cats on the waterfront lately; not the four-legged furry kind but the two-hulled fiberglass kind that are making a mark on the cruising scene with increasing frequency, like the Leopard 48, and the Leopard 44. The Leopard 39 is the latest small kitty cruiser, and is the baby of the Leopard fleet. It’s available in the Sunsail four-cabin charter version or the Leopard three-cabin owner model.
The basic hull and deck design is identical to its predecessor, the multi-award winning Leopard 384, but the new boat benefits from quite a bit of owner and charterer feedback and has added some very functional features that got it renamed as a whole new Leopard 39.
I spoke with Gino Morrelli, intrepid racer and designer of such fast beasties as Playstation and multiple America’s Cup boats, including Stars & Stripes and the Alinghi trimaran 41. The first thing we talked about was performance—no surprise, as Morelli doesn’t believe in slow boats, and yes, there are cats out there that are dogs. The Leopard 39 was built for speed, with high-volume hulls offering improved pitch resistance and load-carrying capacity.
With a large sail area (almost 1000 square feet) and knife-like hull entries, this cat will reel off the miles. The radiused chine intersection of the hulls reduces slapping and increases interior volume while minimizing wetted surface for a better turn of speed. There are even two collision bulkheads forward in case of damage to the bows. Balanced spade rudders and Edson wire-and-chain steering provide the cat with good traction and maneuverability. The centralized sail control system that leads to winches at the helm ensures simple and comfortable control even when singlehanding.
As for speed, it is rumored that the 39 can outrace her 40-foot older sister. Polar diagrams show the Leopard 39 moving at 7.7 knots in 10 knots of wind on the beam. She picks up to 9.7 knots in 14 knots of wind at the same angle. Downwind, the best angle is 135-150 degrees on a broad reach, and in 12 knots of breeze the boat will scoot along at 8 knots or so.
Clear and uncluttered, the deck layout features walk-through access to the aft swim platform and unobstructed weather decks. The mainsail and jib sheets are led aft to two winches at the helm. The traveler is on top of the single biggest change to the design from the 384 – the hardtop that covers the entire cockpit and features solar panels aft (standard) that can save up to 20% on engine charging hours. There’s also a raised, hard bimini over the helm station.
Both of these improvements were added as a result of feedback from Leopard 46 owners who like a permanent cover they can stand on rather than a canvas top. Sail management is a snap from up here, and with the optional stack-pack, a double-purchase main halyard, and a batten slide system, sailing is practically easier than motoring. Large, elliptical windows along the coach roof sides add a sleek look and give the interior a light, airy feel with 360 degrees of visibility.
The cockpit is ideal for entertaining in the anchorage and will comfortably seat 10 for cocktails. The double-seat helm station is to starboard, and is raised. It offers excellent visibility forward and all around when docking. All controls are within easy reach. A dinghy davit with electric winch is built into the stainless support structure for the hardtop.
Twin 21-hp Yanmar diesel engines are standard, but they are upgradable to 29-hp units, both with Gori two-blade folding propellers. There is excellent access to the engines from the hulls aft, and the upgraded units provide good motoring performance. Slight extensions of the bottom step of each hull make for easy boarding and create small swim platforms of sorts.
Inside, comfort and Eurostyling are top priorities. The three-cabin owner's version features two spacious double cabins in the port hull, with the entire starboard hull dedicated to an owner's suite: a double berth in the aft cabin, a desk and seat in the middle, a large head with stall shower forward, and plenty of storage all around. The four-cabin charter version has four identical double berths, two heads with separate stall showers amidships in each hull, and two crew or kids’ quarters in the bows.
The large interior volume in the saloon provides 6’5” headroom and has a dinette that will seat eight. With numerous opening hatches and windows and a light cherry wood finish, the space is very inviting and rich. The galley to port has a single sink, a two-burner stove with oven, and lots of Corian countertop space. There’s also a serving window to the cockpit so nobody needs to be left out of the socializing.
Two easily accessible drawers serve as the reefer/freezer and are located across from the galley to starboard, below the nav station area. If there is an arrangement to criticize in this boat, it’s in this area. Not only is the fridge outside the galley, but despite the good access to the electrical panel in the nav area, the surface below is too small for charts—and there’s no way to sit down. In fact, paper navigation, research, and log-keeping will most likely be done at the saloon table. That’s not a problem for chartering, but long-distance cruising owners, even with chartplotters at the helm, may find themselves missing a good nav station at some point.
The base price FOB Capetown, South Africa, where these cats are built, is $289,000. Fully loaded with all sorts of options such as a generator, watermaker, additional water tank, air conditioning, electronics, delivery, and commissioning, is closer to $395,000.
As the entry-level boat in the line, the Leopard 39 continues to pay homage to the Morelli philosophy—a top performer, beautiful to look at, cleverly designed, unquestionably seaworthy, and ultimately comfortable. Comparable boats might be the Lagoon 380, which is well laid-out but not the fastest catamaran out there, and the 41-foot Seawind 1250.
Leopard 39s are delivered on their own bottoms from the Robertson & Caine yard in South Africa, but you’d never guess at the sea miles under their keels when they are presented stateside.
For more information on this boat or other Leopard models, visit the Leopard Catamarans website.
Zuzana Prochazka is a U.S. Coast Guard Master with 20 years of boating experience. She is technical editor for Latitudes & Attitudes and a regular contributor to MadMariner. Her work also has appeared in Santana (where she previously was editor) and the Sunday magazine of the Los Angeles Times.