Sailing a New Leopard Home

Before Mark O’Leary got on his new Leopard 50 in South Africa to sail it across the Atlantic, he hadn't done a lot of offshore sailing or passage making.

"Sure, I'd done a lot of sailing," he told us. "But it was mostly coastal, with a little offshore, like sailing from Ireland to France. That’s not the same as an 8,000 mile journey — at all."

And after a month at sea on Sea-Sential, his new boat, he sees it all in a new light.

 "Everyone should consider this kind of crossing. It's a wonderful opportunity to spend time offshore with an expert captain, learning your limitations, and learning how strong and capable your Leopard is."


From the Other Side

Mark comes from Ireland and a family of sailors. He’s been around boats most of his life. Before buying a Leopard, all his sailing was on monohulls, like his family's Baltic 64 and other boats on charter and with friends. So when he was ready to buy a boat and the world, of course, it was going to be a cruising monohull.

But his wife, Holly, talked him into a Leopard instead.

"And she was absolutely right," Mark said. "After sailing this boat across the ocean, this was definitely the best choice. I'm completely in on multihulls."


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Owner Involvement

Though Mark and his wife have owned boats in partnership before, the Leopard is their first foray into owning their own boat. So it's a familiar experience for them, yet altogether new. To get their Leopard just the way he wanted it, Mark headed to Cape Town well before taking delivery of the boat.

"I showed up in Cape Town on March 20th, and told the build team we needed to be out of here by May 20th," Mark said. "We were busy. I was there for two months and never made it to [popular tourist destination] Table Mountain." 

Busy indeed. The Leopard build crew are professionals from boatbuilder Robertson & Caine, working from a proven design. But owner involvement can ensure the boat meets their precise needs and wants. The boat's owner can pick out details like outlet placement and interior finish plans. Mark’s plan was to manage the finishing, then take the Leopard across the Atlantic for a shakedown and break-in period.


Handling the Ocean

Coming out of Cape Town on Sea-Sential, they headed right into big breezes and heavy weather with thirty to forty knot winds. This was intentional, since right behind the lively system they sailed into was an even bigger system. With more sustained winds that could have kept them in the harbor for weeks looking for a departure  window.

"With large seas and winds close to 40 knots, the Leopard handled beautifully," O'Leary said. "Yes, we took some slamming, but the boat handled it well. Better than we did, maybe."

Fortunately, not all the weather was so demanding, and they enjoyed some pleasant and comfortable sailing. Most of the sailing is downwind in the trades, and once they got over the hump leaving Cape Town, the trip was mostly smooth.


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School Every Day

One thing Mark knew when planning this trip was that he needed more offshore expertise on board. For that, he turned to Captain Paul Badenhorst, an experienced delivery skipper with almost 300,000 nautical miles under his belt. On board also was Paul's wife Sonja, along for her first offshore passage, Neil Wilson, another Leopard 50 owner, and John McIntosh, a former Leopard owner.

"With experienced people on board, every day is school day," Mark says. "There's always stuff to learn on a passage, so why not take that opportunity with a guy like Paul?"

There are daily challenges on board, such as weather routing and system maintenance, as well as unexpected issues like thick floating seaweed fouling a prop miles from shore. That sent Mark into the water with a snorkel and a knife.


Ports of Call

The total trip distance was about 8,000 nautical miles, but they didn't do it all in one go. The first leg took them from Cape Town to St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic, a common stopping point for fuel and provisions on crossings. "You've definitely got to stop at Ann's Place when you're in St. Helena," Mark points out. "Great food, very welcoming."

After St. Helena, it was the long haul to St. Lucia, over 4,300 miles in straight-line distance. Averaging 7.7 knots on this leg, it still took over three weeks out of sight of land to complete. They caught a couple of tropical waves to liven things up and made great time.

In St. Lucia, Holly and their daughter Maddie caught up with Mark for some Caribbean sailing on the way to St. Thomas. There, Neil Wilson left them and they continued on to Ft. Lauderdale, then on up the coast to Annapolis.


Built Tough

One of the best parts of this crossing was the boat shakedown. It's almost a non-story, as there were only two minor, cosmetic issues that popped up for all the miles of hard sailing. When Leopard technicians went over the boat in Annapolis, one commented she looked like they had delivered her on board another ship.

The plans for Sea-Sential are two seasons in the U.S., with a trip to the Caribbean in the middle. After heading to Florida at the end of Hurricane season, they'll make for St. Lucia again and take the slow route back, island hopping their way north. Eventually the boat will head to Ireland and onwards for some European cruising, then to Mallorca, which will be her permanent base.

"Your boat is meant to sail, and new owners should do this crossing and get expertise from someone like Paul on board," Mark concludes. "The boat handles it amazingly well. The boat wants to make the trip, and you only learn the boat's spirit and character from a long trip like this."


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