A season with the Jeanneau Leader 36 reminds the editors of what really makes a boat a success.
I juked and bobbed through the crowd as they shuffled slowly through the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show. It was a warm and sticky Saturday. Guests gulped from tall beers and snapped cellphone photos. I didn’t have the same luxury of time they did; I was beelining to my next meeting. Channeling my inner New Yorker, I side-stepped a large group of gawkers and spotted open dock ahead of me. I was in the home stretch when I got distracted—I spotted a Jeanneau Leader 36.
Like looking at an old photograph, my mind wandered back to the summer and the Leader 36 that Louis Marine had loaned our company for the season. Suddenly and effortlessly, I was transported to a warm summer evening; I was sitting on the corner of the aft sunpad, sipping a beer of my own and looking out onto Hamburg Cove and some kids swimming and floating on pool noodles nearby.
It was just one remembrance from a summer filled with similar memories. Picking a favorite is a near-impossible challenge. But if I were to try, I might pick the time my boss, Gary DeSanctis, grabbed Jason Wood and me for an impromptu cruise to the cove with our production team—a hardworking group that hustles behind the scenes to put this magazine together, without all the time on the water that we editors get to enjoy. Watching them having fun out on the boat was perhaps more enjoyable for me than actually cruising. Being out on the water, swimming, listening to music, and laughing for most of the day made for a pretty unforgettable Tuesday afternoon. It also gave us a chance to connect and build relationships that couldn’t be replicated in a year of chatting at the water cooler.
Then there was the time digital editor John Turner, Jason, and I ducked out of the office one afternoon to take the boat to Deep River under the guise of shooting video (which, for the record, we did do). It was the day after a particularly challenging week at work spent preparing the magazine to be shipped to the printer; the soothing powers of the water quickly reminded us of why we do what we do, and before long we were laughing and recounting stories of past misadventures.
“Remember when we had to drop the hook at night in the Caloosahatchee using tiny flashlights and the mosquitoes the size of birds started swarming?” “Hahaha, or what about the time Tommy made us buy those 3-inch-thick steaks that took hours to cook?” “Or when we ran out of food and propane?” “Ugh! If I never eat bologna again it’ll be too soon!”
There was also a trip to Sag Harbor where we tested the Wajer 38. Taking a boat to a boat test … I don’t think I’d ever done anything so cool (for work) in my entire life. And running the Leader 36 back the next morning with Gary atop the flattest Long Island Sound I’ve ever seen was also memorable, not just because of the dull headache caused from too much fun the night before, but because it was my birthday. I remember thinking, Does it get better than this? That question came just in time for me to look aft and watch our unsecured cooler roll through the cockpit, off the swim platform, and into the Sound, spilling its contests and leaving a debris field behind us.
Up until this moment, the 260-horsepower Volvo Penta D4s matched to DPH stern drives had proved highly maneuverable but now it was time to give the joystick a real-world test. Gary pivoted and swung the boat around for 20 minutes as I lunged with the boat hook struggling to retrieve the bobbing cans of ginger ale, ketchup, ice bags, etc. Sweat dripping down my neck, and my head pounding, I half expected Gary to, rightfully, give me a hard time for the wayward cooler. When I finally looked back I saw him grinning from ear to ear, snapping cellphone photos and taking way too much joy in my misery.
I would, after a cup of coffee, laugh about it too.
Besides making memories I’ll never forget, our time with the Leader 36 provided the team with a chance to really learn about the boat in ways that we never could have during a regular test. Had I simply sea trialed the Leader 36, I would note that it sports a smart layout, giving a generous amount of room to the space that is used the most: the cockpit. I would note exceptional handling, a nice turn of speed, comfort in short chop, and slightly less comfort in sizeable following seas. I might have noted that the express-style windshield gives the boat a sleek, raked look but diminishes forward sightlines. But I wouldn’t have known that after a couple trips I would get used to standing at the helm, being able to easily drive with my head above the sunroof, something that grew on me.
I would have noted that the hydraulically opening engine room access allows you to easily climb into the engine space to check fluid levels. But again, I probably wouldn’t have realized that after a little practice we could perform engine checks in just a couple minutes.
One thing we marine journalists are careful to inspect are the walkways leading forward to the bow, and for good reason: we’ve seen some builders forgo safety in these walkways for added interior space or style. The Leader doesn’t have that problem. What’s more, our time as stewards of the boat meant frequent wash-downs. When I finally stopped making sarcastic comments about the feeble self-coiling hose Gary bought, I realized that the side decks are large enough to accommodate walking up and down with a hose in one hand and a bucket of soapy water in another. It really is amazing how much you learn about a boat when you wash it down. From watching the water run down its sides to noticing what spots get the dirtiest, you gain an intimate knowledge of the boat, and a pride of ownership, albeit a temporary one.
Another thing I noticed when washing down was that the hardtop above the grill was subject to grime and splatter; perhaps moving the grill a bit farther aft would mitigate that.
After a sea trial, I would have noted that the guest stateroom, with a double berth that converts to twins and a third berth to port was adequate for adult guests for a night or two, or with children for much longer. Thanks to our summer on board, I learned (faster than you can say, “Where’s the Advil?”) that for a fully grown 6-foot, 2-inch man, that third fore-and-aft berth is for emergency sleeping only.
I would eventually get the hang, somewhat, of the digital switching system, but still would prefer the option for analog breakers.
Eventually, I snapped out of my boat-show daydream and continued on down the dock, further reflecting on my time on the boat and its design. She was made for spending the day enjoying wine with friends on the French Riviera, letting a warm Mediterranean breeze pour through the sunroof as classical music emanates through the speakers. I realized that the Leader 36 is equally qualified for an afternoon on the Connecticut River with beer and sandwiches and that when it comes to boating, what matters most is not where you are or where you’re going, but the people you bring with you and the memories you take away.
- Builder: Leader
- Model: Leader 36
- Boat Type: Cruiser
- Year: 2016
- Base Price: $331,500 (w/260-hp D4s); $308,500 (w/260-hp MerCruiser 5.0 MPI)
- LOA: 37'7"
- Draft: 2'5"
- Beam: 11'10"
- Displacement: 14,586 lb
- Fuel Capacity: 145 gal.
- Water Capacity: 42 gal
- Standard Power: 2/260-hp Volvo Penta D4s with DPH Duoprops
- Optional Power: 260-hp MerCruiser 5.0 MPI
- Props: 4-blade Volvo Penta Duoprop G5s
- Deadrise: 16.2 degrees at transom
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.