Leopard 42 Review

The Leopard 42 emerged in 2001 to replace the Leopard 45. Designed by Alex Simonis, the L42 extended the lines of the Leopard 38 and offered a 3-cabin, 3-head model and a 4-cabin, 4-head model. Approximately 50 Leopard 42s were made before being replaced by the Leopard 43 in 2004.

Despite its heritage of award-winning catamarans, the Leopard 42 won no awards. However, the L42 is still highly sought-after by cruisers worldwide. Let’s look at why.


Since Leopard announced their next iteration of the Leopard 42 in July 2020, we’ll talk first about the original model and then provide a few words on the updated version.

  1. Spacious Living Spaces. Like its predecessors, the Leopard 42 offers spacious accommodations disproportionate to their size. The cockpit on the L42 is quite large, accommodating more than 17 people on one lucky cruiser’s birthday off the Magnetic Islands, Australia.
  2. Skeg-Hung Rudders. These are practically unheard of on catamarans these days and with the added protection they offer, it’s hard to imagine why that’s the case. Leopard pairs these with a direct, shaft driven transmission which, for cruisers especially, eliminates the need for frequent haul outs to service a sail drive.
  3. Flared Hulls and Hard Chines. Though it has relatively low bridgedeck clearance, the L42 reduces the incidence of slamming with a hull design that is narrow at the bow to cut through the water, and flared astern for added buoyancy (and storage). Combine that with a hard outer chine that pushes water away from the boat and you’ve got a recipe for a more comfortable ride in rough conditions.
  4. Watertight Crash Compartments. In models not utilizing the most forward compartments for crew, the L42 cats come with watertight crash compartments to maintain the integrity of the rest of the vessel if an impact occurs.

The early model Leopard 42s are powered by 40-horsepower Yanmar diesels to get you moving through the doldrums or ahead of bad weather. Accessible via hatches just forward of the sugarscoops, there is adequate room for repairs and maintenance. While many vessels of this vintage have been updated, you may still see remnants of the well-marked wires, hoses, and seacocks from the factory.

Inside, even the tallest crew member will enjoy over 6-feet of clearance in the salon and cabins. Galley and settee are forward, with a top-loading fridge located aft in the salon. When this item fails, many cruisers replace with forward-opening drawer units. The settee can seem a bit crowded, so most larger gatherings will occur in the cockpit.

In the owner’s version, the starboard hull is dedicated to owner comfort, with a queen size bed aft, private sitting quarters amidships, and a large head forward. The port hull contains two cabins and two (smallish) heads, with the forward cabin boasting an island bed. In the 4-cabin version, both forward cabins contain island beds.

Compared to earlier models, the L42 davit system has been improved, allowing users to lift dinghy’s higher in rough seas and reducing bulk.

What’s new in 2020?

Leopard announced in July 2020, the launch of an updated Leopard 42, designed by Naval Architects, Simonis & Voogd. This vessel is a huge departure from the early model, with modern finishes, an open salon plan with galley forward and a pass-through door leading to a forward cockpit area and the ample trampolines. Designers created padded sun beds to cover the forward cockpit as well. Some additional changes you’ll find include:

  • Flush hatches
  • Raised Helm + upper deck seating
  • Fridge under helm stairs
  • All line handling from helm, not cockpit
  • Forward facing nav station up in salon
  • Forward facing galley w/ pull out fridge/freezer
  • 360-degree views
  • Island beds
  • Yanmar 45HP Diesel engine with saildrive
  • Headroom 6’4” in cabins, 6’7” in salon
  • Bridgedeck clearance 2 ft 6 in

The view is definitely an improvement on the new model, as the layout of the old L42 made it near impossible to see anything unless you were at the helm or forward of the cabin. One has to wonder whether the raise helm was an improvement (at least for serious cruisers), given the amount of stairs to navigate and the higher center of effort that comes with it.

What to Watch Out For

The earlier model L42 catamarans are reliable and comfortable, but they are aging. If you find yourself looking at one that was previously in charter, you may find yourself having to repower, re-rig, and generally update some of the more hard-used features of the boat.

In addition, because these boats are balsa-cored, you may find your new boat with varying degrees of water intrusion into the hull and deck. Prior to purchase, look for signs of delimination, and, if it’s the boat you absolutely want, budget for surprises.

Overall, the Leopard 42 has great space for larger cruising families and is set up for double-handing, or single-handing for the experienced sailor.

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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