Leopard 48: Two Cockpits Are Better Than One
Lots of outside cockpit space and catamaran sailing performance mark the Leopard 48 as a top pick for recreation or charter.
January 14, 2013
The new Robertson & Caine Leopard 48 is a cruising catamaran that strongly resembles designer Gino Morrelli’s award-winning Leopard 44 (introduced last year), right down to the twin cockpits. It was built to replace the popular 46 for both private ownership as well as for charter use by The Moorings. Created in partnership with naval architect Alex Simonis, this is the first Leopard in many years not drawn by Morrelli—even though you might not guess, by looking.
Twin cockpits is a unique concept that grew on me after I experienced it on the sistership. There’s a spacious aft cockpit with a large U-shaped dinette to port and a lounge to starboard. But when swinging on the hook in the tropics, where the trades blow from the east and the sun beats down in the late afternoon from the west, the aft cockpit is not an ideal place to enjoy a cocktail. That’s where the shade of the forward cockpit comes in handy. The 48 has a watertight door that leads from the interior to a smaller cockpit forward, with bench seating and twin drop down tables. It’s a great place to get away from the afternoon sun or the rest of the crowd during the day. The 48 improved on this concept by adding steps up to the forward deck and an overhead hatch in the hardtop that slides back so you can ascend without ducking or banging your head. To reach the bows, you no longer have to go from the interior, through the aft cockpit, up to the deck and around. You can get to the front of the boat in a jiffy.
The hardtop is enormous as it is one continuous platform that incorporates the hard “Biminis” of both cockpits as well as the cabintop of the entire saloon and galley. There are steps up to it from the side decks, although maneuvering them on a bumpy day with spray all around might be a challenge. The genoa tracks, mainsheet attach points, and solar panels all share this vast expanse of rooftop and it is only interrupted by the cutout on starboard for the raised helm station, which has its own mini-hardtop.
The helm offers 360 degree visibility and exceptional control even for a single-hander. All lines are led aft to two winches on either side of the dash. All sails can be handled from here and engine controls and extensive optional electronics are within easy reach as well. Access is via the aft cockpit steps or the starboard side deck and the seat is ample enough so that two can keep the helmsperson company under way.
Like its smaller sister, the 48 has evolved from user feedback so there is an emphasis on the practical. A full beam aft traverse on the same level as the cockpit deck allows people to move from one side of the boat to the other without ever disrupting the occupants of the aft cockpit. From here, you can operate the unique dinghy davit that was developed for previous models. This articulating davit hinges out to set the dinghy onto the water well aft of the transoms and then lifts the tender up high and out of the way. The boarding platforms are long, high, and broad, so they’re easy to manage from the water or from a dock. The single strange thing on this aft end of the boat is the lifeline gates, which cut each aft corner of the boat at an angle. It seems there should be a better attachment point that would run the wires with a more fair lead between the aft and side railings.
The interior layout is fairly standard with a choice of three or four cabins but the execution is better than on most production catamarans. I’ve heard too many people describe cats as white plastic tubs, utilitarian and stark, and without much character. Not so the Lepoard 48, which has Austrian walnut laminate flooring, cherry laminate cabinetry, and real wood trim. The effect is rich and luxurious.
In the three-cabin version, the entire starboard hull is dedicated to a private owner’s suite with a large island berth aft, a sofa amidships, and a large head forward with a stall shower and a locker for an optional washer/dryer. Two developments that I really like on this model include the sofa and the bed. The sofa can be replaced with an optional stowage unit which seems to me infinitely more useful than a couch, which will be a catch-all for everything from the latest purchases to dirty laundry. Also, the bed is walk-around and more easily accessed than on most production cats. This island berth concept and ensuite heads, each with separate stall shower, is carried through to the four cabin charter version. I also really appreciate the large hull ports that let you quickly eyeball the boat’s location at night without having to leave your berth. Stowage on the Leopard 48 is exceptional with no space overlooked, so whether accommodating a large group on charter or a couple on a bluewater voyage, there isn’t much this boat won’t be able to carry.
The common areas are well laid out with a large saloon and a galley on the same level. The U-shaped settee to starboard is surrounded by windows, so light and ventilation are good. The galley has Corian countertops and stainless-steel appliances including two-drawer Vitifrigo refrigeration. A raised bar at one end of the countertop and a separate prep station above the fridge make sure multiple cooks can work together with nobody left out of the social hub during meal preparation. Headroom is good throughout with 6’5” everywhere in the saloon.
Call me old fashioned, but one thing I really like is the dedicated, forward-facing nav station located to port of the door leading to the forward cockpit. Interior real estate is at a premium, especially on charter boats, and with sophisticated chartplotters most people don’t miss a true nav station, so they’ve been disappearing in recent years. But I like to have a separate space for charts, cruising guides, navigation instruments and the like, where they won’t need to share space with the day’s ripening fruit or someone’s drink left carelessly unattended.
Robertson and Caine has built over 1,000 cats to date and is the exclusive cat provider for The Moorings and Sunsail charter operations. They build tough boats that can withstand heavy charter use but are also aesthetically pleasing for private owners. The boats sail well too and with over 1,500 square feet of sail area, the 48 should see speeds of 10-12 knots on a beam reach in 15 knots of wind and 9-10 knots under power depending on conditions.
The Leopard 48 builds on all the good ideas that won the 44 accolades last year. With its improvements and a few more feet to work with, the 48 will likely be quite successful as well.
Other Choices: The Catana 47 places much more emphasis on speed, while the Lagoon 440 leans more towards comfort and open interior spaces.
For more information, visit Leopard Catamarans.
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