History / Background
South African boat builders Robertson and Caine have built over 2,000 catamarans over the last three decades. The Leopard 44 results from another successful collaboration with American catamaran designers Morrelli & Melvin. The goal was a solid, affordable mid-sized catamaran capable of blue water sailing and good for the charter market. Multiple awards and the boat’s enduring popularity show how well they hit the target.
The Leopard 44 starts with a hull construction of vacuum-bagged balsa cored e-glass with vinylester resin. This makes for a light, strong and blister resistant foundation to bond the fiberglass liner. The interior layout is open, to make a galley and living area combination which keeps the cooks in the mix with everyone. The common area living plan feels open, and social and light, like a casual dining room
and open kitchen plan in a house.
They built two versions of the boat—a three cabin, three head Owner’s Version, and a charter version with four cabins and heads, branded as the Sunsail 444.
Talking with the owners of a Leopard 44 on a mooring, I couldn’t miss the attention to quiet and comfort. The whole time we chatted, the generator was charging the batteries. I only knew because they were monitoring the charge progress, I couldn’t hear or feel any vibration or noise from the generator.
First built in the 2010, Leopard produced from 2010 through 2016, with 185 boats built. Ex-charter four cabin models are easier to find on the secondary market.
The forward cockpit on the 44 is the innovation that drew eyes to this boat. The forward cockpit on the boat does so much more than give more place to sit. It puts you in the breeze the way an aft cockpit can’t, but still keeps you out of the sun. Sitting at anchor in the tropics, this would be the best place for sundowners every night. Even the slightest breeze would dissipate the last of the day’s heat as you watch the sun set.
The other important thing the forward cockpit does is open the boat up for through breezes you can never get in monohulls or a cat without a similar cockpit. In the tropics, comfort is all about getting air moving through the boat. With any kind of light breeze opening both fore and aft cockpit doors, the airflow is fantastic. Many cruisers don’t like to use their ovens in tropical conditions, but with this kind of ventilation pizza may be back on the menu.
The construction of that forward door is impressive. The 12mm Perspex has three heavy duty dogs to hold it shut, and up-close it looks more like a great big hatch than a cabin door. Given the risk of taking water over the bows, this safe construction is a big comfort. The cockpit itself has raised edges to keep water out and oversized drains to quickly drain anything that comes in during heavy weather sailing.
Raised Navigation Center
One of the must-have features for the Leopard owner I spoke with was the raised navigation center on the starboard side of the boat. The visibility from up there was near total. At first, it felt a little isolated. But looking around, it’s clear a lot of thought went into setting this workspace up for easy and comfortable handling the boat from one place.
All the sail controls lead back to clutch blocks in the navigation center. One crew member can handle almost all the cat’s functions from a single seat. A hard dodger over the space and removable isinglass panels guaranteed good comfort in almost all conditions.
Standing at the helm on the starboard side, I could see the bow on the port hull, with a good 360-degree view around the boat. My preference would always be to dock on a starboard tie-up with this layout, but if I had to come on for a port tie-up, the visibility is good enough to keep me from touching the dock before I intend to.
The only line handling that requires a little help is furling the headsail, since the furling line needs to be hauled in as you tension the sheets. But with practice, even that could be a one-person job.
The living spaces on the Leopard 44 are well thought out for groups of adults or for family cruising. With three distinct areas to “hang out” – the aft covered cockpit, the front cockpit, and the saloon – there are plenty of places to both gather for meals and drinks, or to separate for boat schooling and work. Open the cabin doors and you’ve got an enormous open-air living room, close them and you’ve got separate spaces for different activities. Either of the tables in the saloon or aft cockpit will seat six to eight people.
In the hulls, the owner’s side has good sleeping and storage space, a comfortable standing shower, storage, a desk/workspace, and a day couch. On the boat I toured, the owners didn’t use the couch much; they were thinking of ways to turn the space into storage, with additional padded sleeping space on top if needed.
It’s hard to picture feeling crowded on this boat, even with six adults or a family with several children.
The Leopard 44 is designed to sail, and reports very good numbers on most points of sail. While most cruising cat like this don’t point into the wind like monohulls, they make up for it with better sailing speeds a little more off the wind.
The standard dual twenty-nine horsepower standard engines carry it along on an easy 6-7 knots, the optional thirty-nine horsepower upgrade has no problem cruising at eight knots. The larger engines are a better choice for passage making and blue water cruising, where you may want the extra punch for waves and chop.
This boat is a solid mid-sized cat for family cruising and is easy to sail with a couple.