Leopard 38 Review and Common Problems

Leopard didn’t start small, but rather, began their sailing catamaran line-up with a 45-foot catamaran in 1997 before moving to the Leopard 38 in 1998. All total, they built 124 Leopard 38s.

The Leopard 38 (also branded as the Sunsail 384), was designed by Morrelli & Melvin, who have designed some of the fastest multihulls to glide across an ocean. No stranger to design awards, M&M’s Leopard 38 designs won the Cruising World 2010 Boat of the Year in two categories: 

  • Best Multihull Cruiser of the Year, and 
  • Best Import Boat of the Year

That same year, they won SAIL Magazine’s 2010 Best Boat” in the Cruising Multihull Category.

So, what features make these vessels so desirable? Let’s check it out.


Though designed by individuals with a fetish for performance, the Leopard 38 falls closer to the comfort side of the spectrum. However, she will sail better than some of her other production catamaran competitors. Here’s what potential cruisers can look forward to on the Leopard 38:

  1. Stiff & Light Design. The Leopard 38 is built using vacuum-bag, balsa-cored construction techniques, resulting in a strong, yet lighter vessel than a solid fiberglass model. Below the waterline you will find solid laminate.
  2. Warm Interior Appointments. Unlike many catamarans that have a more sterile interior, Leopard catamarans utilize rich wood finishes throughout the vessel, giving it a more traditional, almost-monohull feel.
  3. Plenty of Storage. Though originally built with the charter market in mind, the Leopard 38 boasts ample storage throughout. Cruisers will enjoy plenty of room to store provisions and water toys.
  4. Roomy Deck & Cockpit. While the interior living areas may seem a bit crowded, the designers made up for that with a large cockpit perfect for lounging or enjoying a meal with new friends from the anchorage. The side decks are flat and wide enough to move with minimal obstacles in a sea state. And of course, the large trampoline provides plenty of space for sundowners or dolphin watching.

General layouts include a 4-cabin and 3-cabin owner’s version. Both feature a u-shaped galley-up. Depending on the model year, you will find the galley either forward and adjacent to the settee area, or aft with a pass-thru window to the cockpit. Taller owners and crew can enjoy over 6’ of headroom inside.

Earlier models (pre-2005) are built with skeg-hung rudders, which provide additional protection against impact with underwater objects. These models also come with traditional shaft drives, as opposed to the more modern trend towards sail drives. Direct drives are easier to maintain and do not require frequent haul-outs for service, potentially reducing overall cost of ownership.

Powered by twin Yanmar 30-horsepower diesel engines, located aft near the sugar scoops, owners can generally find parts readily available for repairs. This size engine is sufficient to power a vessel of this size up to 7 knots all-out to avoid weather.

Under sail, the Leopard 38 can achieve speeds over 8 knots in the right conditions with a fully-battened mainsail and furling jib. Leopard outfitted the main with a 2:1 purchase for ease of hoisting. The main halyards and reefing control lines a located at the mast, while remaining sail controls are run to dual winches at the helm station. With enough skill, the Leopard 38 can be single-handed under its stock configuration.

Things to Watch Out For

Like any boat, there are trade-offs. What struck me the most about the earlier Leopard 38 design was the inability to truly see your surroundings anywhere in the cockpit other than at the helm station. While the louvered windows do provide steps to the coach roof and shade for the salon, you can’t really see enough to be able to relax in the cockpit while on watch.

If you’re purchasing a Leopard 38 on the secondary market, you will be lucky to find one that has not been subjected to charterers. Common issues you may see include:

  • Significantly cracked gelcoat
  • Broken bilge tabs
  • Loose stanchions
  • Worn out engine components
  • Tired rigging
  • Water intrusion

This last one can be significant given the balsa core, which contrary to popular belief, can retain and transmit water. Given enough time and neglect, rot can set in, leaving you with expensive repairs or worse, failure of a critical system, like the rigging.

In older Leopard 38 models, the salon and galley are located side-by-side, making things a little cramped in that area. While it’s true that most of catamaran life is spent lounging out on the trampolines or in the cockpit, there are the occasional foul weather days when the desire to remain indoors is strong. For anyone other than a couple, passengers may opt to hang out in their cabins than in the common areas.

Newer models have removed the louvered portlights, pushed the salon forward and moved the galley aft. This created a more expansive seating area and allowed for a galley with more interaction with the cockpit for passage of food and beverages.

While the Leopard may sail better than similarly-sized competing production catamarans, don’t expect to sail closer to the wind than 60 degrees, especially if you’ve taken advantage of that ample storage. She’s built for comfort over performance. However, her high-volume hulls offer improved pitch resistance to temper rough or confused seas.

The Bottom Line

Leopards have a great reputation for comfort and reliability. Just about every one of them has crossed an ocean to meet its owner, and many have circumnavigated. Like any vessel, ensure a comprehensive survey of all systems before purchase to locate any lapses or delays in maintenance.

River B

By River B

River is a licensed USCG Captain with a lifetime of experience on the water. From the San Francisco Bay to the South Pacific, blue water to clear water, he’s sailed a wide variety of catamarans and crawled around in the bilges of more than he can count. You can follow his misadventures at www.tilted.life.

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