While many prefer the looks and potential speed of performance catamarans, in reality the majority of sailors do not actually want to cruise particularly fast. This is the wind-down time they’ve looked forward to – why rush it? Space is king. These production cats rely on a formula of maximum deck and accommodation space for the length and money, and, in terms of a holiday platform or for all-round family cruising contentment, are seriously hard to beat.

The market is dominated by Lagoon, Fountaine Pajot and Leopard, who have order books that read like cricket scores. But companies like Bali and Bavaria/Nautitech are also becoming increasingly popular as they bring a more open and exterior focused layout.

Just launched: Leopard 50

Leopard 50 Exterior

In its guise as the ‘own brand’ catamaran of Sunsail and the Moorings, Leopard has been extraordinarily successful. The Cape Town yard of Robertson and Caine has turned out over 1,500 catamarans 
and almost all of them have been sailed to their new homes around the globe – a phenomenal calling card, when you think about all those South Atlantic miles.

The new 50 replaces the popular 48, updating it with a host of features that have proved popular in the smaller models. From the outside, the boat has been restyled rather than redesigned. The topsides have been jazzed up with a stripe of smoked glass that conceals bigger portlights. The coachroof 
is more angular and square. This has the advantage of increasing the window area in the saloon, including 
a full-length skylight.

Leopard makes a point of putting the table and seating at the back of the saloon and the galley at the front. The logic is to connect indoor and outdoor social spaces – something that is enhanced by the sliding door and windows at the aft end. This leaves enough space for another unique feature among its series catamarans: a weathertight door out of the front of the saloon into the forward cockpit.

Leopold 50 sitting area
But the real ace in the Leopard 50’s feature list is the option of having a true flybridge on the hardtop over the cockpit. This comes complete with a lounge area, table and sunbed plus further choices for speakers and a shade awning. This adds weight high up and raises the boom, so for those in search of better sailing performance, there is also a classic hardtop version, the 50P.

The ‘lounge’ version can still manage 40° off the true wind, and the polars predict a top speed of just over 12 knots. The key difference for the market over the 48 is its ability to offer five cabins with crew quarters, allowing four cabins to be sold.

The other key changes have taken place “under the bonnet”, as naval architect Alexander Simonis of Simonis Voogd puts it. Carbon-infused ring frames have been used to make the boat stiffer in key areas, making the more open-plan layout possible without adding too much weight. It is a technique that was successfully pioneered on larger racing cats.

First impressions

The European press launch for the Leopard 50 hinted at the phenomenal space this new model offers. At one time I counted 31 people on the aft deck, most sitting comfortably!

And it was the space that continued to amaze me as I walked through the boat. Not so much the colossal volume in the hulls – that’s almost expected in today’s family/charter cats – but more the amount of social space there is on deck and the separation between these areas. There is room enough for one family to chill in the forward cockpit, for example, another on the flybridge, one in the saloon and a fourth in the aft cockpit!

At the same time, I appreciate how Simonis Voogd has retained the stepped hulls to keep a narrow entry but beam above the waterline. Launched into the unforgiving waters off Cape Town, these cats are still expected to sail to weather. Visibility from the single helm station will be an issue – indeed forward-and aft-facing cameras are fitted to aid berthing manoeuvres.

The standard level of fit-out and finish also looked good. Some 17 boats were sold in first three days of the Miami Boat Show, half of which are destined for The Moorings charter fleets.

At a glance…

LOA: 50ft 6in (15.39m)
Beam: 26ft 5in (8.05m)
Draught: 5ft 3in (1.60m)
Displacement: 20.6 tonnes
Price: €539,000
Contact: Leopard Catamarans

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