Leopard 39 Review and Common Problems

Leopard began their sailing catamaran line-up with a respectable 45-foot catamaran in 1997. Then, seeing a ripe opportunity in the charter industry, they next moved to the Leopard 38 in 1998.

In 2010, Leopard announced the 39 model and proceeded to build 126 hulls of that size through 2015. Crafted from the same hull molds as the Leopard 38, the Leopard 39’s main upgrades include the full hardtop over the cockpit and a raised helm station, also covered with a hardtop. It’s little wonder that the Leopard 39 won the ‘Sail Best Boats 2010’ Cruising Multihull award.

Robertson and Caine’s contribution to the catamaran market cannot be understated. In early 2012, Leopard launched their 1,000th Leopard Catamaran and to date, have launched over 1800 catamarans.


Designed by Morelli & Melvin to replace the Leopard 38, the Leopard 39 is widely used by world cruisers as well as the Sunsail and Moorings charter companies. Offered in an owner’s version with the entire starboard hull dedicated to owner comfort, and the charter version with 4 ample cabins for friends and family.

Here’s what you can expect from a typical Leopard 39:

  1. Near 360-Degree Views from Salon and Cockpit. With the removal of the louvered portlights of the Leopard 38 and the addition of large, vertical windows and hatches forward, captain and crew can see far more than before without having to climb into the helm seat.
  2. Standard Hard Top over Cockpit and Raised Helm. An improvement on prior models, every Leopard 39 comes with an integrated hard top to protect from sun and weather. There are also plenty of surfaces to mount full enclosures for privacy or simply protection of inclement weather.
  3. Swiftness on the Water. It’s been said that the Leopard 39 can outpace her 40’ older sister. Polar diagrams show the Leopard 39 making 7.7 knots in 10 knots of wind on the beam. In 14 knots of wind, she increases to 9.7 knots with winds at the same angle. Heading downwind, she performs best at 135-150 degrees on a broad reach. In 12 knots of wind the vessel will move at over 8 knots.
  4. Spacious, Warm Interiors. With 6’5” of headroom in the salon and galley and 360-degree views, no one can complain of “boat cave syndrome” on the Leopard 39. She feels particularly rich with warm wood appointments. As with all of the Leopard models, there is plenty of storage for clothes, provisions, and water toys.

Many Leopard 39 owners extoll her virtues as the perfect size catamaran for couples, small families, or those with extended families who like to visit when moored in exotic places. Her combination of speed, comfort, and ease of sailing contributes to this assessment.

According to John and Rena of SV Delios, “We looked at catamarans in the 38 to 42 feet size range for three years and when it comes to sailing characteristics, livability, and value, nothing even comes close to the Leopard 39. We love the very efficient and functional layout of the Leopard 39…She’s easier to sail and faster than our monohull of the same length. She’s very comfortable to live aboard. She’s ICW friendly. And, she’s easy and less expensive to maintain than other catamarans her size.”

The Leopard 39 is rigged for short-crew handling. With the halyards led to the mast and most other lines led back to the helm station, single-handing may be possible with skill and a system worked out. She also offers ample, flat side decks for ease of movement in rough seas.

What to Watch Out For

Like all Leopard sailing cats, the Leopard 39 is balsa cored, which opens the door to core rot and delamination, especially in vessels used in charter where impacts are high and maintenance is not a top priority.

The Leopard 39 comes stock with twin 21-horsepower Yanmar diesel engines, coupled with an SD20 sail drive. Given the weight of this vessel, some may feel the 21-horsepower engines are insufficient.

There is also an option for twin 29-horsepower Yanmar diesels, coupled with either SD20 or SD50 sail drives. More than a few users have complained about the cone clutches in the SD50s, so be aware of that potential issue if your boat comes with SD50 sail drives. With all sail drives though, vigilant maintenance is the key to long life.

From a comfort standpoint, one drawback to the Leopard 39 is the head size. They tend to be small, especially on the 4-cabin version. Some owners have also complained that the doors didn’t close properly, whether due to poor workmanship or catamaran flex. This can be an issue for guests wishing for a modicum of privacy.

Comfort may also be compromised in confused or rough seas on the nose, as you will experience hobby-horsing and some deck slamming on occasion.

The engines are accessible through hatches near the sugar scoops, making them easier to remove when the time comes. However, maintenance will require a significant amount of boat yoga.

The Bottom Line

A reliable vessel with well-thought out interior spaces, the Leopard 39 can take you across oceans in relative comfort for a cat of her size. Use caution, particularly when considering a former charter catamaran, by ensuring you assess hull and deck integrity. While core rot and delamination is not a death sentence, it is costly to remedy, so leave room in the refit budget if you think it will be an issue with your boat.

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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