Leopard was an early adopter of the power catamaran concept and it’s experience clearly shows in its flagship 51PC, writes Kevin Green.
Dealers are always happy with popular models so with hull number 100 launched the Leopard 51PC is a well proven boat with four already in Australia since its 2015 inception. Along with the smaller sibling the 43PC these boats represent the South African builder’s offering for both the recreational and the charter markets. The hallmark of the entire range, that includes the competent Leopard 45 sailing cat I took out last year, is a sturdy build designed to survive the rigours of charterers and cavalier owners alike. The other attractions for the 51PC in particular are seriously powerful V8 motors built into the dedicated hull; that can have four large cabins plus an enormous flybridge. These were a few of the reasons the owner of our Sydney based review boat found for choosing the 51PC after looking closely at the other two market leaders, Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot.
Loads of living space
Three levels of living space plus cockpits fore and aft means you could invite your local footie team for a barbecue and still have room for the opposition as well. Towering over proceedings is the huge flybridge that extends to the aft of the 51PC. Climbing up here via the wide and gently inclined stairway from safely inside the aft cockpit brings me to a covered area with lounge that seats eight, along with wet bar. It includes an electric plate and there’s an optional ice maker and fridge. Offset to port at the front is the steering console, with a lip ahead that is a sunbathing platform and also shades the forepart of the saloon and front cockpit. Sturdy railings all round, including on the wet bar are welcome while the tall fibreglass bimini makes it a weatherproof perch and clears can be added if you don’t mind the windage.
At the console a double bench with reversible back works for both navigation and at rest. The dashboard is dominated by Raymarine instrumentation which includes the Axiom9 plotter, autopilot and VHF radio. Throttle controls are twin electronic levers and includes high and low power levels for close manoeuvring. To the right of the hydraulic steering wheel is the Yanmar display showing fuel burn and temperature. A Fusion system supplies the zonal entertainment throughout the cavernous 51PC.
Apartment like living is revealed when you enter the saloon thanks to the 7.64m beam creating a vast space to relax, cook and navigate in. The galley adjoins the aft deck so ideal for serving the outside diners while at the front is the navigation station and lounge offset to the right. Versatility is feature of these boats and demonstrated well on the 51PC with the U-shaped saloon benches that lower to become a day bed. My only gripe was all the sharp edges on the laminated woodwork, a similar problem I encountered on the 43PC.
The optional throttle on the navigation station avoids a trek to the flybridge so a good idea. Also the Raymarine phone app can give you navigation anywhere on the boat and the wireless remote will control the autopilot. The L-shaped configuration of the galley allows several cooks to use the three burner stove/oven with deep double sinks ñ the latter a most useful feature. Perishables are in twin Vitrifrigo refrigeration drawers on the starboard side with cupboard space all around. Also here is the extensive switch board (shore power, DC, batteries, pumps and optional generator controls (not fitted).
Stepping down into the starboard hull brings me to the owner’s suite. Closed-off by a sliding door, there’s a crawl-in double berth (1.47m x 2.0m) aft, office table/vanity midships and large bathroom forward. The shaft drive layout dictates that the engines are beneath each aft bunk and are accessed by an electrically powered motor that lifts the bed base; so underway this could disturb the sleeper. Nice touches in the owner’s berth include adjustable reading lights, a spacious hanging locker and most importantly, plenty headroom. The aft facing windows is another good feature that the skipper particularly will enjoy. A moveable stool at the vanity ensures the floor space is kept clear. Quality features abound such as sturdy fittings and a high standard of joinery throughout. The owner’s bathroom is spacious with shower cubicle separated by a perspex door and electric saltwater head. Portside, the layout has two bathrooms central and berths fore and aft. The forward berth contains an inner second bunk, ideal for a child while aft is a substantial crawl-in double; and with plenty volume to avoid stuffiness. Other features include ample lockers, bookshelves all around, and storage under the forward berth. Ventilation is good throughout with Lewmar hatches topside, electric fans and opening portlights. Both 3-cabin and 4-cabin versions have space in the fore peaks to take additional single berths or heads.
On deck, the entire aft cockpit is sheltered by the flybridge and the elongated hulls create bathing platforms on both quarters. Underfoot, PVC teak-like decking gripped my deck shoes ñ but I’m not sure how heat resistant this may be as our test day was cool. Leopard’s trademark electric davits allow for easy retrieval and launching of the dinghy. For outside dining in the aft cockpit there’s the U-shaped bench with fibreglass table plus another bench to starboard; and swinging backrests give access to lockers The sliding doors allows food to be quickly passed out from the adjoining galley. Forward in the saloon is a sturdy door leading to the bow cockpit, which is a signature Leopard feature intended to fully utilise all deck space safely. Here the waist deep cockpit has large scuppers and seating to enjoy the thrill of speed safely or for privacy at anchor; and off course gives quick access from the foredeck and surrounding lockers.
Deck fixtures are substantial all around including sensible midships cleats and cabin top grab rails. Other good features include corner seats integrated into the forward stanchions and flush hatches which leaves the foredeck clear for sunbathing and relaxing.
Dedicated hull design
The Simonis-Voogd design is very similar to their previous work with the company so continues with the tall narrow hulls, optimised to reduce drag, especially at the fine bows where there is fairly high bridge deck clearance to reduce wave friction. The build includes crash bulkheads plus a thick layup with foam core and monolithic fibreglass in key places.
The spade rudders are far aft, behind the propellers to maximise control and the shafts can be accessed for emergency steering.
Since these power cats are displacement craft, reducing drag while supporting a load is a challenge and unlike monos they are too narrow to respond to trim tabs. Simonis’s solution was to trim the hull by keeping weight inboard with the shaft driven engines and reduce drag and down-force further by encasing them in tunnels. Above the waterline a pronounced hard chine gives more beam and runs from the bow to stern, set off with rectangular portlights that are a wee bit small.
As mentioned, main engine access is via the aft cabins bed top but there is also a hatch for front access here as well (to belts and the impeller) while all filters are handily at the front. Optional power for running large white goods can come from a generator located in the foredeck hatch.
On the water
Easing 20 tons of high windage power cat off the dock with a stiff breeze can be stressful, but dealer David Flynn did it with aplomb. “The owner is thinking of having an after-market tunnel thruster fitted,” he said as I took the helm in clear water. However, top catamaran skippers would be more than happy with these outboard located propellers for handling this vast acreage of floating fibreglass, especially combined with the low power Troll mode on the sensitive electric throttles.
Pushing down the throttles quickly sped up my views of Sydney Harbour as the Yanmars quietly powered up, so it was hard to believe we were doing nearly 20 knots. (If the hull had been totally clean we’d be doing even more).
The only real indication of speed was the windage over the front, so I’d be inclined to fit a visor, as found on many power cats. At this top speed our consumption showed about 82 lph which would take us about 310 nm with 10% spare, but slowing down to a more economical 15 knots would add another 100 nm range. Searching for some bumps on a smooth sea had me chasing my wake which caused little consternation or spray on the decks of the 51, so I headed for the wharves at Cockatoo Island for some slow handling.
With the 15 knot wind on my side I easily went astern towards the dock, using small nudges on the throttles (in Troll mode) and left the rudders centred. Then with, throttles fore and aft we spun around on our length and accelerated quickly, with no pronounced rise in the bows, as we headed for home. My conclusion is the 51PC is a strong contender in the competitive power catamaran market.
- Boat Design Name: Leopard 51PC
- Year Launched: 2018
- Builder: Leopard Catamarans
- Designer: Simonis Voogd
- LOA: 15.54m
- Beam: 7.64m
- Displ (Dry): 18500 kg.
- Engine Make: 2 x Yanmar 8LV 370
- Max Speed: 28 knots
- Construction: GRP
- Fuel Cap: 1500 litres
- Water Cap: 780 litres
- Engine Make: 2 x 300hp Volvo Penta
- Drive Train: Shaft
- Generator: Optional
- Thrusters: Optional
- Anchor Winch: Lewmar
- MFD: Raymarine
- Entertainment: Fusion
- Priced From: $NZ 1.395,000