Solid performance, thoughtful layout, and maximum livability define the Jeanneau Leader 46 express cruiser.
We idled out of the long, straight channel leading north from Kent Island Narrows into the Chester River on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay. I pass the No Wake signs, push the throttles forward smoothly, and the boat seems to lift up onto plane with very little bow rise as though it was elevated from the hull’s center of effort. I wasn’t surprised considering that the hull form on the Jeanneau Leader 46 is a collaborative effort between brothers Japec and Jernej Jakopin of J&J Design in Slovenia and the naval architects of Jeanneau Design. Three pairs of lifting strakes flank a wave-cleaving, sharply raked stem with deep-V forward sections, a significant chine that widens aft to provide additional lift on acceleration, and a modified-V planing surface beginning well aft of amidships. Additionally, there’s a distinct spray rail that begins at the stem and extends to the transom for a very dry ride on plane.
“It may seem surprising that a global boat manufacturer like Jeanneau collaborates with outside companies like J&J,” said Nicolas Harvey, president of Jeanneau America. “But the reason is sound. Ten years ago, when Jeanneau produced a 45-foot cruiser, the fully loaded boat weighed 10 tons. Today’s fully loaded luxury 45-footer weighs 15 tons, so we asked J&J to design and engineer a hull of approximately the same size that can carry more weight without increasing the weight of the platform.”
The throttles were synched to a pair of Volvo IPS 600 diesel drives—the most powerful engine option among the two stern drives and two IPS drives offered—producing a total of 870 horsepower at wide-open throttle. The Chester River was beautifully smooth that day, and the boat topped out at 30 knots in just moments. I eased the throttles back until we settled in at a cruising speed of 20 knots and began a series of turns to create a boatload of messy wakes for crisscrossing at speed. As I expected, the sharp entry slashed through the mess with ease as is normal with a high-performance hull shape.
If you’ve read about or driven an IPS-powered boat, you know that the steering is smooth and continuous. The angles of the individually azimuthing drives serve as rudders to create optimal performance and control. As a result, the Leader 46 handles flawlessly at speeds right up to wide open throttle, banks beautifully into turns all across the upper and middle power bands, and settles into straight and true tracking with precision.
This model was loaded with numerous options, not the least of which was an alternate seating arrangement on the aft deck; its standard configuration is a fixed sunpad flanked by twin boarding stairs leading up from a fixed swim platform. This boat was equipped with an optional hydraulic swim platform, an outdoor galley on top of the standard garage for a small RIB, and facing bench seats in place of the sunpad.
With extra cushions and a convertible table, the aft deck seating transforms into a second outdoor sunpad supplementing the pad forward. The foredeck sunpad is equipped with handholds, drink holders and two adjustable seatback sections for leisurely lounging. Teak decking is standard on the swim platform, the steps and the aft deck, and our test boat had optional teak side decks for good looks and comfortable footing.
It is thought-provoking that the European builder provides dedicated life-raft storage on the aft deck, a CE safety requirement for those going more than six miles offshore. Most American cruising families never consider a life raft as necessary and instead, they opt to use the RIB dinghy as a safety platform. That’s okay if you can launch the RIB and get into it across a broad range of weather conditions.
The nicest option, in my opinion, was a glass aft bulkhead with a large central panel that swung upward using a hidden, electrically-powered mechanism—a nice bit of design work that transforms the usual sundeck on an express cruiser to an upper salon. Locked in place and with the starboard side door opened and latched inward, the aft bulkhead virtually disappears and serves to bring the outdoor and indoor spaces together. An optional canvas piece extends sun protection for the entire aft deck seating area.
Stepping into the upper salon, a large, beautifully upholstered, contemporary-styled, C-shaped seating and dining area is to port, and an outdoor galley is to starboard. It is noteworthy that this area is on one level continuous with the aft deck stretching all the way to the cabin entrance. To ensure that guests seated here have great views all around, the seating is slightly raised up. The same concept applies to the copilot and helm seating areas for longer, clearer views forward—albeit they are raised somewhat higher. The forward half of the upper salon can be bathed in sunlight and fresh air with an optional electrically actuated sunroof. Two sliding windows also promote cross breezes.
The copilot seating area is cleverly arranged for multiple uses and offers an aft-facing lounge-style seat outboard and a forward-facing, two-person bench. Pull the spare cushion from its dedicated storage slot below and drop it into place, and the seating transforms into an inside sunpad, shaded or lit according to the position of the sunroof and also well protected by the windshield.
The helm of the Leader 46 is well designed, with a twin bench that is actually two separate adjustable seats with flip-up bolsters. There’s plenty of standing room for better views all around the boat. A thoughtfully placed, stainless-steel hand-rail makes getting in and out of the helm seating more secure and offers some protection for the system switches ahead of it. The factory-installed Raymarine-based electronics package is anchored by a 12-inch multifunction device (MFD) screen to port of the adjustable-tilt steering wheel. It also had the necessary add-ons like a VHF, autopilot and radar. The throttles and an IPS joystick are outboard of the wheel for ease of maneuvering, along with a full range of engine performance gauges. A compass on top of the dash ahead of the wheel completes the total command and control effort.
Companionway stairs with stainless steel hand rails lead down to the true salon of the Leader 46, with another seating and dining lounge to port and a well-equipped L-shaped galley to starboard. The guest stateroom is in the bow; a nifty double berth can be reconfigured as a V-berth when not needed for a couple. It is served by an enclosed head to starboard. The master stateroom is aft, making the Leader 46 just right for a family with two children or for a couple and occasional overnight guests. Of interest to those who have a larger family, Jeanneau Leader 46 offers the option of replacing the lounge seating to port with an enclosed third cabin complete with over and under berths.
The large double berth in the master stateroom is set to starboard slightly, making room for a port-side head that cleverly separates the head from the enclosed shower on either end of the sink with storage in the center. Frosted glass doors for the separate compartments swing outward to form a glass partition—a clever design solution.
Jeanneau has a long-standing relationship with the Italian design and engineering firm Garoni Design that developed the sleek-looking profile of the Leader 46. Sporty exterior lines and practical in-hull windows illuminating enclosed cabin spaces below achieve a contemporary look overall. All of that is quite an accomplishment given the wider beams and higher topsides most family cruisers have today.
If you’re considering a new express cruiser, the Jeanneau Leader 46 is worth exploring. As the flagship of a line that ranges down to a new 30-footer, it has the performance and livability most cruising families seek.
— By John Wooldridge, Southern Boating Magazine April 2017