Clients often debate about which of the production catamaran brands to purchase. Is there a significant difference between a Fountain-Pajot, Lagoon, and Leopard? After an 11 day delivery of a Leopard 46 from Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena, Colombia and a delivery of a Lagoon 440 in March from Fort Lauderdale to Annapolis, in many respects the Leopard out classed the Lagoon including performance, durability, and comfort. My colleague and super star sailor Kevin Bray lauded the Leopard throughout the delivery. “After working on this boat for 3 months and now sailing her, I can honestly say I like this Leopard 46 design, and there are not a lot of boats that I can say that about,” shared Kevin. In a few areas, I give the edge to Lagoon. Read on to see which.
John Robertson and the late Jerry Caine founded the manufacturer Robertson & Caine in 1991 in Cape Town, South Africa. Initially, the business involved custom mono-hull sailing yacht building. The 70ft maxi, Broomstick, won the Cape to Rio International Yacht Race in 1993 and impressed international racing enthusiasts. This interest enabled the company to be awarded the licence to manufacture the Mumm 36 racer designed by Bruce Farr and attracted the interest of the yacht charter company Tui Marine.
Since 1994 the South African yard has enjoyed a relationship with Tui Marine, owner of charter companies Moorings and Sunsail. R&C has supplied more than 800 Leopard catamarans to Tui Marine. The Leopard historical range includes 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, and 62-foot models by naval architects Gino Morrelli and Pete Melvin or Alexander Simonis and Maarten Voogd. Today, Robertson & Caine is South Africa’s largest boat-building exporter launching on average three boats a week. Cruising World recently awarded their new Leopard 44, their 2012 cruising boat of the year.
In the same way Lagoons are easily identified by their vertical saloon windows, Leopards have distinct steps in front of their windows for deck manoeuvrability. The 46 is sexy to my eye with her aggressive, possibly feline side windows. These windows are paired with the typical fine bows, trampoline centerline forward, and sugar scoop sterns aft. Large, industrial dingy davits leave you feeling safe on the high seas with your tender tightly secured. The helm positioning is like the Lagoon 420 instead of the 440, offset portside. This provides more security though I enjoyed the high positioned, flybridge of the 440 while in close quarters or docking.
Underneath the bridgedeck has above average clearance for offshore performance. There is an escape hatch centerline just below the entranceway. The keels are sacrificial and secured via large diameter horizontal keel bolts. These bolts corrode but are easily maintained if you check on them after each haul. The Yanmar saildrives stick through the bottom next and help Robertson & Caine maximize interior space. Spade rudders are aftmost.
Construction and What To Look For
I heard a story about Moorings whose US sales office is at Harbortown next door to our office here in Dania Beach, Florida. Originally they chartered in the Caribbean both Lagoon and Leopard catamarans. But they found that the Lagoons did not hold up and that the higher quality build of the Leopards maximised their profits. From my comparison in every respect, Leopard makes the choice towards higher quality materials, more sophisticated techniques, or more robust engineering. One thing to look at are the edges on the laminated cabinetry. More often than not Leopard finished out the edges to prevent water intrusion while Lagoon rarely does. It is these kind of small yet important things on yachts that differentiates quality which can withstand the many years of cruising abuse.
On deck the Leopard 46 features watertight compartments port and starboard for storage. Aft of the trampoline is the windlass, water tankage, sail storage, and generator compartments. The generator in its sound proof shield aboard the yacht I delivered was incredibly quiet. For security at the mast, I love Robertson & Caine’s semicircle support on the mast. Like granny bars this helps you stay on the boat in rough conditions offshore. It also is a step to help climb the mast and a rack to coil and tie the bitter end of halyard lines to. The distinctive and functional Leopard glass steps allow you to easily mount the rooftop. While anchored at Staniel Cay, I ignored the “Do Not Dive From Platform” sign and had great fun launching myself from 15-feet in the air and swan diving in between the davits into the beautiful, azure Bahamian waters.
The cockpit aboard the Leopard 46 is incredible and illustrates why people love catamarans. While on a mono-hull you would spend your time cramped in a long narrow cockpit, here you can luxuriously lay out in an incredible number of ergonomic spots. We dined, navigated, and fished from the cockpit. In the Caribbean, we were rarely inside except to sleep, navigate from the nav station, or cook. The stern swim platforms provide easy access to the water and a place to cleanly gut fish.
One feature Lagoon has over Leopard is a lighter interior. While the Leopard is open and light, Lagoon takes this to another level with the vertical, uninhibited windows. Leopard has those steps which block light and visibility from the interior. The woodwork is lighter on Lagoons as well which often draws a quiet preference from clients.
Catamaran layouts are mostly the same these days. Sure some cats have galleys down, but by and large especially on larger cats, the galley up arrangement is standard. I sailed to Colombia aboard the owner version of the Leopard 46 where the starboard hull has a large master head forward and light and airy master berth aft. This owner suite makes a big difference for clients who are dislike the dark, closed in feel of the 2 head, 2 stateroom charter hull.
One of my biggest complaints during my earlier delivery of the Lagoon 440 to Annapolis was the low and uncomfortable nav station seat. I was pleased to experience on the Leopard a proper height and ergonomical seat with multiple seating options, likewise for the exterior helm. It did not hurt that the Leopard owner had made some savvy upholstery decisions to heighten the comfort factor.
The engines are Volvo D55, Yanmar 4JH3E, or Yanmar’s latest saildrives, the 54HP Yanmar 4JH4’s. Our 4JH4 ran smoothly throughout our trip. The only catch was an unusual buzzing sound. We finally figured out that this happened when when boat speed outpaced engine speed. The saildrives were telling us “what the hell are you doing? Either ramp up the RPM’s or turn me off.” We motored at 7 to 8 knots at 2,000 RPM’s burning about .9 gal/hour of diesel.
I prefer the Leopard’s engine room arrangement. While overlaying the engine rooms on Lagoons are plywood laminated levels, the Leopard has open compartments with a single removable glass board across. Storage for gerry cans is available behind the engines. This space fits 3 easy and maybe a fourth can. We had a little trouble with a leaky gas jug which would have been dangerous if the compartment was not so well ventilated.
During the delivery I had some of the best catamaran sailing ever I have experienced. The smooth motion and minimal slapping even in 10-foot seas and a line squall was the best takeaway from the delivery. Through the windward passage and most of the Caribbean passage, we had 10 to 20 knots of north east wind and following seas. When light we put up the gennaker for a day and a half and made 6 to 7 knots in 5 to 15 knots downwind. As the wind picked up, we put out the jib and main and made 7 or even 8 knots consistently. Our last night in somewhat squally conditions we hit a very unsafe 12 knots before blowing the jib. Upwind we could sail at a reasonable clip of 6 knots up to 60 degrees off apparent wind. Otherwise as we were in delivery mode, we kicked on the iron genny, blew the sails, and motored at 7+ knots.
The premier you pay for a Leopard versus a Lagoon is justified, and for offshore sailing, I would recommend the Leopard. The softer offshore performance, high quality materials, and navigation station comfort give the Leopard my edge. The Lagoon has better interior space, visibility, and airiness. Expect to pay around $600k versus $500k for a late model Leopard 46 compared to an equivalent Lagoon 440.