We interview new Leopard 47 owners Brioni and Iain about their catamaran search and why they chose the Leopard 47. They share their finding from 2 years of online research as well as their time living aboard so far. We talk about performance issues, layout considerations, and design flaws. Follow and support Brioni and Iain in their travels!
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Key Takeaways for the Leopard 47
- Many to choose from as it was a popular charter model in the early 2000’s. Usually quite a few to look at in the Caribbean.
- Affordable for its size compared to other newer catamarans over 40 feet in length.
- Better performing also than some of the newer more comfort focused condo-marans that might be in the price range.
- Battle-hardened reputation with thicker hulls than newer Leopards. Overbuilt with a good reputation for durability that gave them peace of mind.
- The longer length of 47 foot also means faster with the longer waterline length, so they can have more weather safety to avoid storms during longer passages.
- Rounded corners on most interior items which is seaworthy because less likely to injure someone offshore. Many newer designs have gone to mitered edges which can poke you when you get bounced around offshore.
- Lengthened sterns is much better than the Leopard 45 which is basically the same boat. The extended transoms prevent the transoms from squatting especially as cruising weight is added.
- The helm position in the cockpit is nice for talking with each other versus flybridge helms where there is a lot of separation and you have safety risk when exiting the cockpit to get to the helm.
- Great space in the cockpit with a large table for seating.
- Great ventilation in the hulls with multiple opening portholes and hatches in the cabins. Well thought out for living aboard.
Challenges of the Leopard 47
- Older charter design is more compartmentalized than might be ideal for a cruising couple. Lot of smaller areas instead of an open feel.
- Most have old electrical systems that need light fixtures converted to LEDs and upgraded solar.
- Comes factory standard with a soft top (no hard top) which limits space for solar panels and makes zipping up the mainsail difficult. Buying with a hard top is highly recommended or budgeting that into your purchase.
- Davit system has to be well thought out as not standard from charter and you have to be careful not to completely block the transom which provides a great view at anchor and has excellent space.
- Owner versions are $100k more than the charter versions which make them unaffordable for many.
- Has low bridgedeck clearance for the size and tends to slap. You get used to the noise but it can be unnerving.
- Another legacy from charter market design is that lines are not run to the cockpit, so you have to go forward for raising the main or reefing. For tacking you have to run around cockpit. Manual winches. It can be an athletic catamaran without modifications.
- Because of straight shaft engines that live under the aft berths, these beds are very high and have limited headroom when you are laying in bed. Newer saildrive Leopards allow the engines to be in the lazarettes and the beds to be a normal height to get into and sit up in.
- Cabins are athwartship and you have to climb over your partner when getting out of bed. The owner’s version has a master island berth. Some have converted berths to island but you lose even more headroom then.
- The life raft storage area is poorly designed. It lives in a large locker under the cockpit floor which is difficult to access and liferafts are very heavy. The life raft also can be accessed from the bottom in case you manage to flip the boat. This area is secured by four bolts, and it is a common issue with the slapping and slamming for these bolts to give way and you end up losing your liferaft without knowing it as you rarely open this locker. Serious safety design flaw that is often addressed by moving the liferaft elsewhere and glassing in the bottom of this locker.
Today I am with Brioni and Iain aboard their brand new, to them, Leopard 47, and they did a lot of shopping, and a lot of research, and have a lot to tell us about what brought them to this boat. So if you guys could tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you came to be aboard your new boat?
Absolutely. We decided about two or three years ago that we wanted to live on a boat and travel around. We come from Scotland, so we sold up everything that we had there and we moved out to the Caribbean.
We already kind of decided by that point which model of boat we wanted. We definitely shopped the wrong way around and decided on the boat we wanted before having ever set foot on one, which is not advisable.
We had about two and a half years, give or take, of researching online and trying to plan out, just how do you make this ridiculous idea reality? In that time, we managed to rule out a whole pile of boats we’d never seen or set foot on, and we sort of started to fall in love with the boat that we eventually managed to buy.
So we flew out to the Caribbean in August of 2020 and then we saw a few Leopard 47s on various islands. We ended up buying this one in December in USVI St. Thomas.
Why did you choose the Leopard 47 with no experience at all? What was it about that model that attracted you?
I know it’s ridiculous. It’s spending way too much time online and reading far too many blogs and reviews, is a good start to explain that.
Actually, what it turned out was, we were trying to get a balance. An awful lot of the boats we were looking at were in the newer range. A, we couldn’t really afford them, it’s usually a good roadblock to anything like that. B, we were finding a lot of the newer, certainly post-2010 or 2008 boats, they were all being designed more as houses on the water. You know, the comedy line is the floating condo, and we were looking for something that could take on some higher seas, go a little bit faster, and point better to wind.
Iain: But I actually have a bit more of a mono background, and there was no way on earth Brioni was being convinced.
Brioni: No, the first idea was let’s go and live on a boat, and I said, “No! I hate boats!” So we ruled out monohulls quite quickly.
We just kind of gradually narrowed the criteria down. Starting off with, it has to be a catamaran. Then deciding what we wanted to do with it, to narrow down each of the feature set until we found Leopards, and then we found the Leopard 47. They are kind of battle-hardened boats, and we can talk about it later. They have a bit of legacy about them, which is good. They’re big thick hulls, they’re really sturdy boats, before things started to get more slimmed down and more cost effective. We liked the idea of going for something a little bit older, because we knew if it’s had repairs, it would have been hopefully done well. If it has made it this far, hopefully it can make it a bit further with us at the helm.
It’s been a boat used in charter a lot, so there’s a lot of space for just two of us. But in choosing the 47, it’s got 47-foot on the water line, which just means it’s that bit faster. So if there is bad weather, we can get out of it a little bit more quickly, and it just makes it that much safer as well.
What would you say is the best thing about the Leopard 47? I know you talked about some of the specific overall attributes, but physically on your boat, what are the some of the things you love?
There’s quite a few things that we kind of played with. Again, to do with the generation designs, the older Leopards don’t have the big open plan formats that a lot of the newer catamarans on the market have, where they can be almost cavernous. So it’s almost a bit more compartmentalized but still big and spacious.
We’re here in the saloon, I can easily see into the galley, I could call down into any of the cabins very easily, but the galley is a U-shaped galley.
The saloon table here, is a V-shaped, so then we could sit within it. In higher seas, we can kind of work our way across the cabin space. You’re never kind of rolling around, waiting to fall into a wall. Part of that too is, all the surfaces, all corners are rounded, so if you are in big seas, you’re not getting stabbed and poked in the side, which is a big bonus for us as well, when we’re out and about.
It is mainly to do with the layout, and how we can use the space. Even outside in the cockpit, you’ve got a large table that you can have a lot of people sitting around, but you’ve got other seating on the other side.
The helm, although raised, it’s not separated, so a lot of the charter boats would have a space where you can sit at the helm and almost be in a completely separate space away from the guests and have that distance.
But actually with just two of us on board, most of the time we don’t want it separated. That’s not so safe and it’s not so fun to be isolated like that. A lot of it is just the use of space and how it suits us and what we want to do with it.
Makes sense. Are there any things you’ve found since you’ve moved aboard? I know you’ve only been aboard a month, but are there things that aren’t quite what you wanted?
Definitely. There’s a few things we have noticed. It’s an older boat. This boat was launched before LED became a thing, for a start. So all the lights in this boat are filament bulbs or even fluorescent tubes in the heads, so we’re having to slowly work our way through replacing every light fitting with LED, just to save the electricity.
Obviously, anyone who’s been on a boat knows that everything is about power, and to that end, we’re also currently renovating the power systems within the boat. We have no solar panels on board, so we’re relying quite a lot on our generator. Fingers crossed in the next few weeks or so, we’re fixing that. We have quite a lot of solar arriving. We’ve got about 1400 watts of solar to try and squeeze onto our hard top, and then we’re also converting to lithium as well. The batteries are old AGMs. They’ve certainly had a life, and maybe not the best looked after, so we’re trying to overhaul all those electrical systems in the boat.
There’s a few things that you can tell were designed for the charter market, so now we’re just having to modernize it a little bit, or make it more suitable for cruising. As standard, it doesn’t come from the factory with a hard top. We spent some time on a Leopard 47, which only had a soft top, and it’s just really impractical to work out how to work on the boom, so we were very thankful when this one had it.
Also the Davit system, there’s a lot of people that have adapted them for whatever they think works. There’s some really odd adaptations. One of the things we really like about the transom is that you’ve got this big wide open space, and the view is nice and open, so you can enjoy wherever you are. But as soon as you lift your dinghy onto the Davits, it cuts off that space and you’ve got to crawl underneath.
Again, we’re having to think about how we changed that over, and what suits us for making use of the space a little bit more. Actually on that point about the boom that you mentioned, when we were on the soft top version. The Leopard 47 has a Bimini over the cockpit by standard. We have a hard top now, but when it’s a Bimini format, you actually find yourself walking along the sail bag to zip up your stack pack. It’s death defying, it really is very scary, particularly in less flat water, and you’re having to hold on to the lazy jacks and work your way across. If anyone’s out there considering a Leopard 47, the same sort of era, then the hardtop is invaluable, if only for that safety standard.
You talked a little bit about this. The 2005 version, it wasn’t designed to be a charter boat. Do you know of the 47s? Are there a variety of different models that people should be aware of, or are they all kind of the same and vary from year to year?
They’re pretty much the same within the 47 family. You do get an owner’s version. This version is the charter model, which is four cabins, four heads. The owner’s version had one hull converted, and we were very tempted with that in the beginning, but it’s about a hundred thousand dollars more, so that quickly put a stop to that plan.
The other thing that’s really interesting, is that the 47 is really similar to the 45. Basically, the whole internal layout is the same. The footprint is the same, but you just lose two feet on the back, sugar scoops. The table is a different shape in the saloon. Rather than having a sort of squinty wall in the galley it is straightened, but other than that, the space is the same. The internal volumes of the saloon/galley area and the cockpit are identical, so it’s really odd. It’s as if they took the exact same design and cut the back sugar scoops in half, and made steeper steps, so to shorten your water line.
Interestingly, in our research, we did find, and there’ll be 45 owners out there who will kill me for saying things like this, but we did find that a lot of 45 owners adapt retrofit extended sugar scoops to try and push the back off that little bit further, to make the longer water line. But also, because in charter, it’s absolutely fine. You’ve not got a lot, you’ve got four suitcases or eight suitcases on board. In cruising, obviously as many people may be aware, you start adding more living comforts to the boat, and that makes the back of the boat, the transom bit, heavier. On the 45s, reportedly, that pushes those sugar scoops a little bit underwater, underway. On the 47, we will drain the the bottom step, and that’s before we started loading up the boat.
The 45 is definitely a lovely boat, exactly the same volume inside. You could renovate all sorts of ways, but having seen so many owners who have been fiberglassing extensions on the back of their boat, we thought we’d just cut it short and jump straight to 47.
Having seen that the 45 was exactly the same, we then knew of the 46 model, and thought that must be really similar as well, and it’s completely not. So that model came into being from 2008 onwards, and it’s completely changed. The layout is completely different. The helm is raised and put above, the table in the cockpit is a completely different shape. It has sail drives, so the beds are lower. Everything about the boat is actually from a completely different vantage point, design-wise.
The only other thing to mention, because they you asked the question, is that the Leopard 47 goes by a few different names as well. It’s the 47, and 4700 I think is the other one it goes by. That was what it was called when it was in the Moorings Fleet. If you see them when you’re searching, it’s the same boat. But they’re ultimately exactly the same. I did come across somebody who labeled their boat a 47 XL, and it turned out that was a 45 and they glued on some extensions and turned it into 47.
That’s funny, it should be a 45 XL. Tell us about sailing the boat. What have you discovered so far? How does she do? I’ll give you all the questions at once, what’s the perfect cruising ground for her?
She is a fast boat for sure. Obviously the longer water line, you’re gonna get a bit more speed, but we’ve averaged between nine and ten knots on almost every crossing we’ve done, and that’s comfortable as well. We can have conversations casually across the cockpit with that. It’s a very dry cockpit, it should be mentioned. We’ve had a couple of waves in big big seas, three-meter waves, that kind of thing. In 12-foot seas, then we might see the odd splash come in. Our top speed so far, I think we’ve hit 15.7 knots.
Which was not actually crazy. We didn’t realize we were going at that speed. We were just hanging out and chatting, and well, “Oh look!” It was actually, “Oh look! Should we be reefing?” Generally, under 1500 RPM, she’ll do six, seven knots, depending on currents. She’s fast, though she’s quite slender hulls, so that’s one of the big benefits. It’s very low to the water as well, so it does mean that whenever we sail anywhere, there is a lot of hull slaps. The whole boat will kind of judder a little bit, which the first time I heard it. I was like “Oh my goodness, the hull’s falling off! The boat’s falling apart! It’s all over!” But that is normal apparently, so it’s just a little thing to get used to. It’s a noise, but all catamarans get it. The Leopard 47, in particular, is a lot lower to the water, which I like the look of, but you do get that.
That hull slap is, for a lot of people, a deal breaker. Tell us about living with it, and whether or not it is a deal breaker. Do you just adapt, or is it really the big problem people seem to think it is?
That’s a great question. Again, in two and a half years of researching online, we were dreading this terrible idea of the hull slap. It was, “Oh, we’ll get a boat that is 16-feet at the water and avoid it.” Until you find a 17-foot wave and then you have the same problem. From my point of view anyway, it’s not nearly as big a deal breaker as I was expecting.
There’s definitely some getting used to. For example, in the cabins if you’re going to bed at night, we’ve had one or two times where we’ve had wind coming from the stern. The nature of the sugar scoops on the Leopard 47 is they actually curve slightly up, almost like an oyster catcher. So that swell can get underneath and cause a little bit of kind of gargling slap, I suppose is the best descriptive word I’ve used, which you’ll hear from from the bed, if you’re in the stern cabins. Underway, the slap is definitely juddering, but it’s not uncomfortable. As soon as you expect it, you just kind of tune it out.
On our crossings, we usually sleep up here. This table drops and forms a daybed, so we’re not down in the hulls anyway. It’s not conversation-interrupting, it’s very noticeable, but I certainly don’t see it as a problem. For me, not a reason to not get this boat, which I was nervous about before. It’s actually quite a nice one. In some ways, I find it reassuring because it becomes a bit of an indicator, in the same way that you’re looking for tails on a mainsail to let you know if you’ve got your sail trim right. If you hear that slap, it means there was quite a big wave just went by, and maybe you should consider your sail plan slightly. It’s a little extra auditory cue in some ways, but it’s not like we’re doing this every three seconds, there’s another big bang. It’s every couple of minutes, every half-hour on the seas.
Thank you, that’s that’s really interesting to know. We lived on a catamaran and sailed around the world, but we had a higher bridgedeck clearance, so didn’t get the slap, but we did definitely get sounds against the hulls. We were in a fast noisy boat so we learned to use earplugs in certain types of weather, and you adapt to what your boat does because you do.
We were in a Lagoon 470, a similar length of the boat similar age, but the Lagoon release instead of a Leopard, and it’s a very similar thing. A much higher clearance, much higher bridgedeck. When we were down in the cabins, particularly underway, you hear that rushing water going past, and it was almost like the slaps, instead of being underneath, were coming onto the internal sides of the hulls.
Exactly, that was sort of our experience as well. They would hit into the corner a little bit too. You sound like you’ve been a bit ahead of the weather, so how is she for reefing and all that sort of thing? Is it easy to handle short-handed, or single-handed? Do you manage?
Yes. We’re still getting there with little tweaks and setups that we want to do with where the lines run to and things at the moment. We’re all manual winches. To lift the main, you have to go up to the mast, and things like that. I’m just going to say it now. Our reefing points are all mast fit at the moment. In order to reef, we have to move forward. In time, and with some savings, maybe we’ll re-rig the boat and put some running rigging back to the helm.
It’s definitely manageable, we know people who single-hand this boat all the time, so it can be done. But in the bigger and heavier seas, probably less preferable, simply because you’re having to leave the helm on auto helm, and I can do that, but it’s uncomfortable for some people. The other thing is native rigging, if you like, the running rigging set up with a port and starboard winch. So in tacking your Genoa sheet, you’re going to be running across the cockpit, basically, which is wonderfully athletic. It’s very fun to leap between the benches.
I was thinking, you’re young and fit, and in the end, it’s fun to sail as opposed to have everything sort of easy.
I hear you. Again, there’s a couple of tricks we’re learning on that front, regarding running lines across the winches. We’re playing around at the moment, with having the port side jib sheet back, once around that winch, across the front of the cockpit, around that winch, and whoever’s on helm can just let that out, while the other person is hauling in the the furler, and things like that. It’s not the prettiest. but we’re working out ways to make it work.
Pretty fun. She sails well in heavy weather. How have you done in light winds? All good there, or what are you learning?
She’s light, she’s not high out the water, and she’s nimble. We haven’t really sailed in light winds that much, because they’ve been so consistent here in the Caribbean. We’re currently sitting in about 30, 35 knots at anchor. That kind of weather could last for a while. On the days where it’s been particularly quiet, say less sun and lots of wind, we will probably still be pulling around five knots, six knots at best, which I’m more than happy with, in terms of our performance.
You’ll know being a catamaran, you kind of got that play-off between using your main, because it’s nice and stable, versus your Genoa. Like many cats, the Leopard doesn’t have a back stay of any sort. Your back stay is your topping lift and your traveler pretty much, so we often will try and main it where we can, rather than using the Genoa. Just because it makes me feel like we’re doing something smart, I don’t know if we are. We’re not sailors.
Tell us about inside. How is it? How’s the comfort? How’s the headroom? How does it work for the two of you?
The head room is generally very good. We are also a little bit short, we’re about 5′ 8″, but we certainly aren’t aware of any kind of headroom issues. The biggest drawback for me about this model, is the height of the beds.
One of the biggest factors in ruling out other catamarans, was that we didn’t want sail drives. We wanted something that was easier to maintain, and all we’ve heard about sail drives is problems. That helped us to land on this model, but that means that the engines are under the beds, and the beds are quite high.
So in all four cabins, you’re climbing up onto the beds, which just reduces your headroom a little bit. It makes it feel slightly less of a home, and slightly more like I’m doing something different, or I’m staying somewhere unique. For me, that was one of the biggest drawbacks.
Iain: I’m a guy, I don’t notice, I just fall asleep. Like you say, the greatest drawback is slightly less headroom in the bed space, but the greatest benefit’s that shaft drive-based system.
For people who’ve been on monohulls versus other cats, probably to give an estimation, the headroom in the stern cabins and it’s not too different in the forwards, probably double a coffin berth of a monohull, maybe three-feet off the bed to the roof.
Then lots of ventilation, that’s another thing we really like about it. We’ve got a hatch above every bed, and at least one, if not two, port lights in every cabin, another port light and hatch in the heads. We’re the four-cabin, four-head version, as Brioni said. That’s certainly a big part of it for us, is all that ventilation sort of helps that space.
The heads themselves are, I think, slightly larger than we’ve seen on other catamarans. They’re still very much, it’s a head on a boat, it’s a wet-room style, but you’re not completely crammed in there. There’s enough space in the cabin to move around, there’s lots of storage in clever places, so the hulls, generally, are quite well designed and thought out.
There’s an interesting tweak as well. Typical with lots of cats, we’re trying to work out where things are. If anyone watching this is like me they looked at maps, floor plans of these boats, and frantically tried to work out where things actually lived in the 47 both the fuel tanks are actually midship, and kind of over the top of the keels. What that creates, is actually a staircase effect. So you’ve got from the saloon and galley area, you actually take one step down onto a gangway, and then you’ve got three steps down stern or forward, to take you into the front.
So it gives you a little extra level of isolation between the different cabin spaces. It’s surprisingly quiet and easy going, the stern cabins are obviously a bit noisier with the engines going, and the generator in our boat. We have one in starboard aft, so it’s a little bit behind the cabin, but you’ll definitely hear it when it’s going, as well. Forward cabin, we stayed in for a little while, on another Leopard 47. The ventilation is wonderful, you can open the top hatch and get air blasted all night.
I should mention, being an older boat, all the cabins are not island berths. Again this is a deal-breaker for some people I know. We weren’t so fussed about it, but you are having one person climbing over the other person in terms of using the beds, because they change orientation, but they’re side off. We had grand plans that whichever cabin we chose, we would rotate the bed so that we weren’t having to climb over the other person, but then we actually saw another Leopard 47 that had done that and thought, actually, you lose so much headroom. We thought, let’s just keep it as it is, and keep the original design and we’ll just work with that. The guy who designed this did something right.
That’s cool. So after all the research and being aboard for a bit, is it the right boat? Do you have boat envy for other boats or want to swap it, or where are you at?
Really interesting. A lot of people talk about how when they bought their boat, as soon as they stepped on board they had this wonderful kind of halo moment, and they fell in love and they knew it was the right boat for them. I thought, “Oh no, I didn’t have that.” And yet, I thought back to the first time we stepped on board at Leopard 47, and it wasn’t this one, and everything that we had hoped for, and all the reasons we had chosen that model were all proven in the existence and our experience of it.
So I thought actually I’ve fallen in love with the model of the Leopard 47. It wasn’t this boat specifically, but I think all of the reasons that we wanted this boat. We’ve come on board, we’ve lived on various Leopard 47s for almost six months now, and we’re so happy with all of our choices. We’ve proven ourselves correct in what we were looking for, which is a relief. Absolutely.
There’s definitely some elements where we’re, I wouldn’t say in denial, but there’s places where we’re going, “Oh well I didn’t expect that,” but I guess that’s okay. We’ve mentioned some of those things, just realizing the height of the bed, it’s kind of at your shoulder level, almost, in terms of height and things like that. It’s recognizing those things that we couldn’t have ever told from a photo.
I think you’re right, we’re very happy with the choice we’ve made, and I’m very much looking forward to sailing her for quite some time. Of course, if you’re asking me if I’m looking at any other boats, it’s hard not to. They’re all over the place. You want to keep your eyes open. I would say that a lot of the boats that people seem to run towards, I’m not so tempted by it. There’s a lot of temptation for the boats to have flybridges and everything else, and I’ve not quite gone that way. I do like to look at the new Balance, the 52, and obviously we could never afford it. I’d have to sell all my lungs and kidneys and it would never happen, but it does look very beautiful. We spoke to somebody who actually brought one over on a delivery, and they were saying they had intended to surf across the equator behind the boat, but the boat was too fast. So that tells me it must be pretty good. That’s kind of the only one on my radar. I’m not so interested in Gunboats and things. If you want to sort of lust after boats you can’t afford, the Balance is probably the one that I’m most interested in.
To finish up, is there anything I didn’t ask you? Is there anything you’d want people to know about the 47 that we didn’t cover?
Good question. You know what? There’s all sorts of things you’re going to discover along the way, should you get yourselves on board one. Generally speaking, the only other thing we didn’t discuss, is a recent bug bear for us, which I’m very happy to share because it helps other people out. That is one design flaw, that we’re convinced is a flaw, and it’s to do with the life raft.
So the life raft in the Leopard 47 is actually stored under a hatch in the cockpit. It’s right in the middle of the cockpit, a big floor panel that you lift open on hinges, and some people may have heard of this, or read about it.
But the way it’s accessed is either from above, or if you’re really adventurous, and you manage to capsize the Leopard, that’d be impressive. If you manage to capsize your boat, it also has a removable panel on the underside, held in by four wing nuts, basically four bolts.
Due to that hull slap we were talking about, and the amount of pressure going on under there, and it seems to be quite a common problem, and we’ve just been affected by it, whereby the bolts will actually shear.
So we arrived after our last crossing, which was St. Thomas to St. Martin, and we’d had some fairly rough weather on the way. The next morning you were jumping in, and you came out to let me know that we almost lost our life raft. It was just hanging at a very odd angle with all of the weight of the life raft pushing down. I don’t know how the whole thing didn’t just drop out. I mean, we wouldn’t have known if it just dropped out in the middle of the sea. Sometime we would come to use it and open up the hatch, and it’s just not there.
It’s not designed well because we tried to lift it out and you must be relying on adrenaline to be able to do that, it certainly needed two people. So a lot of people have either glassed that in, so that it’s not accessible from underneath, and then moved the life raft to create storage on the outside somewhere so that it’s just easily accessible, whichever way up your boat is. So that’s fixed, but we’re in exploration phase right now. We’ll keep you posted.