Here are a few observations based on what my wife and I saw at the 2013 US Sailboat Show in Annapolis
Take these observations with a grain of salt
and in context, as they're offered by someone who has never owned a sailboat and has only sailed a few times. These are really observations from "first time" prospective boat buyers and will only be useful for people who haven't seen the boats in person and/or who don't have a lot of sailing experience. Also, these observations are are mostly based on the "flow" and appearance rather than sailing or maintenance
qualities, because the "flow" and appearance are something novices can more readily relate to. So really this is a fairly superficial review, but I'm offering it in case I mention something that is important to someone else.
Overall, the Leopard
44 seems solid. The fore cockpit
is great--my wife really loved being out on it on our test sail. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the newer L44s have the sliding fore cockpit
roof present on last year's L48. This sliding roof allows easier access to the foredecks from the fore cockpit.
The aft cockpit is also nice, though it has huge expanses of white fiberglass
. The Helia 44 has a teak
cockpit dinner table, which makes the Leopard's look a bit cheap
by comparison. There is a coaming (right word?) between the aft cockpit and the salon
, and the sliding glass doors on the Leopard
44 between the salon
and the aft cockpit were pretty industrial looking. I assume this is for strength, but it also reduced the feeling of openness (compared to the Helia 44). Our sales rep said this was an option on the L44, though I didn't see it on the option list--we'd love to have an extra fridge in the aft cockpit.
My wife really disliked the galley
layout in the Leopard 44. There are little shelves over most of the counter space, which reduces the counter working area. Also, the counters seem narrow. My wife works a certain way in the kitchen, and the Leopard layout happens to be the opposite of the way she works. She did like the double SS sink.
The salon in the Leopard 44 was nice. We liked the seating and the salon dining table. The one nitpick from my wife was that she didn't like the very thick black frames around the opening port hatches in the fore windows. Opening the door to the fore cockpit provided wonderful ventilation through the salon, even in light (7 knot) breezes.
I think I'd miss having navigation
station in the salon. I figure they had to do away with this because of the fore cockpit. On our test sail, the delivery captain
had his laptop
computer "nav station" in the owner's hull
, which seems like a pain. I wouldn't want to go downstairs to check the laptop
then back upstairs to look out the windows.
The owners hull is nice. My wife much preferred the couch option instead of the built-out lockers with chart table (which we saw on the L48). Her mind might change after cruising for a while, but she could visualize herself escaping to the sofa and closing the owner's hull sliding door for privacy and space. The owner's hull head
was nice enough, but not quite as nice as the Helia 44.
The guest hull was fine. The fore cabin
feels a bit tight. The aft cabins are well lit, but Leopard hasn't yet introduced large ports
on the transom stairs like many other catamaran
At first we thought the helm
station was much better integrated with the cockpit on the Helia 44, but after our test sail on the L44 we found the helm
station perfectly well integrated. The helm station seemed very comfortable and the instruments/controls well placed (this is from a novice
The Helia 44's cockpit feels like a place to throw wonderful parties. I think part of it is the teak
dining table, and part is the generous size and seating. I don't know if the Helia's aft cockpit is actually bigger than the L44s, but it feels bigger. The drinks fridge in the cockpit is nice.
My wife absolutely loved the galley
in the Helia 44. She really liked the u-shape of the galley, which offered tons of storage
space and counter space. The fit and finish of the galley seemed better than the L44. I'm not exactly sure why, they both seem to use veneers and Corian, but the Helia somehow just looked better.
We loved the salon in the Helia 44. It looks great. I read elsewhere about the danger
of bumps and scrapes from squared off edges, and the easy wear and tear on veneered squared edges, but when the boat is brand new it looks great. My wife really liked the salon seating, and the expanse of windows. FP cheated a bit and the standard option is a coffee table, and we think we'd need an indoor dining table. I'll bet the dining table makes the salon feel a bit less open and expansive. One of the best features of the salon is the connection and "flow" to the aft cockpit. It truly is awesome, and I think somewhat innovative. There is no "coaming" to step over, and the single
sliding glass door elegantly opens up the galley and salon to the cockpit for one big entertaining area.
I liked having the Nav Station in the salon--it seems like this would be a nice place to stand watch during bad weather
. However, I was a bit worried that the Nav Station was at a 45 degree angle from the boat, I feel like I'd be continually craning my neck to look forward, which seems uncomfortable. Note that this is just me imaging what I'd be doing on a long passage
, I have no experience to say it would be true.
The owner's hull seemed incredibly luxurious. The layout is almost the same (or the same) as the L44, but there are a couple of things that stand out. First, the tigers-eye veneer looks great. Second, the owner's cabin
has virtually no bulkhead, so the berth area is completely open to the full width of the hull without a "wall" between the berth and the lockers. This really pleased my wife who can be a bit claustrophobic. Also, both aft berths had great ports
that looked out over the transom stairs to the wake. The Gunboat (well out of our price
range) had this as well and I think it is a great feature. One drawback is that the companionway
in the Helia 44's hulls feels narrower than the L44. It may not be narrower, but to both my wife and I it felt narrower. The head
in the owners hull is very modern and very fancy, with a bowl sink and great mirrors and fittings. It felt like a very modern condo.
Like the L44, the guest hull was fine. The heads seemed to be higher quality than the L44, but otherwise very similar. My wife did like the work room area we saw on other catamarans, like the Antares
, but neither the L44 nor the Helia 44 has these.
The helm station feels very well integrated with the cockpit, and I think we'd use the bridge deck
sunbathing area, but only when "on the hook". The boom is right over the sunbathing area, and I wouldn't want to knock my niece or nephew into the drink accidentally. We really liked the big 3-person helm seat. I am a bit puzzled by the placement of the Helia 44's winches being across a small companionway
from the wheel
- I have read elsewhere that while single-handing the captain
will use the nav system's auto-tack to work the winches, but that seems to take some of the fun out of sailing (again, this is theoretical since I'm a novice
.) Also, it is true that to see the Helia 44's instruments in their standard position you have to look through the spokes of the wheel
. I felt like I could mostly see all four corners of the boat from both the L44 and the Helia 44.
We view this boat as an entertainment platform for about 5 years, followed by ~5 years of longer term cruising up and down the US East Coast
into the Caribbean
, so our needs and wants may be different from yours.
I know this may be surprising, but the other catamarans we looked at (Outremer, Chris White, Lagoon
, Antares) just didn't do it for us so I don't have as detailed observations on them as the L44 and the Helia 44. Sadly, we missed seeing the Maverick at the show... it seems interesting.
We were tending towards the L44 but were pleasantly surprised by the Helia's galley, flow between galley and cockpit, and overall design and appearance of quality (no idea how it holds up in the real world.) We were fairly primed on the L44 for other reasons (price, ease of maintenance
, potentially better local broker, reviews
, market depth
in our area, build quality) but now it is a dead heat for us because of the Helia's nice features, and surprisingly rude treatment by the L44 broker (I guess they have to prioritize near-term buyers over people doing their due diligence, but a bit of common decency goes a long way.)
Again, I want to stress that this is a fairly superficial review based on a novice's impressions, but I wanted to offer it up to the Cruisers Forum community because I've benefited so much from what others have written here.