BOAT REVIEW L980 semi-displacement powercat Emocean

April 2023 Launch Reviews
Words and photography by Matt Vance
Build Quality
MODEL L980 semi-displacement powercat
BUILDER Davie Norris/Randall Diggs
CONSTRUCTION E-glass epoxy laminate, foam core
LOA 9.80M
LENGTH (Waterline) 8.80M
BEAM 3.05M
ENGINE 2 x Honda BF150 O/B
Maximum Speed 34 knots
Cruise Speed 28 knots
  • Good separation of spaces
  • Secure handling and a dry, smooth ride
  • Feels like a bigger boat
  • Efficient, foil-assisted hulls provide economy and speed with modest power
  • Designed to be trailerable

Boat designer Dan Leech has made a name for himself designing small semi-displacement powercats. The L980 Emocean is his latest.

Sometimes with boats, you don’t know how good they are until you give someone else the helm, hop off and take a look for yourself. Watching your boat go by is the best way to get an honest appraisal. At least that is what crossed my mind as we bobbed around in a RIB with owner Randall Diggs, while the designer of the new L980 Emocean, Dan Leech, did whistling flybys for the camera.


When good design and innovative technology meet meticulous boat building and finish, you always going to have something special. The meticulous bit belongs firmly to owner and self-taught boatbuilder, Randall Diggs, who has just launched Emocean. The good design bit comes from Dan Leech, who has established himself as a leading name in the growing market of small semi-displacement power cats in New Zealand. Combined with the use of semi-foiling technology, the result is exceptional economy, an unbeatable ride, and comfortable cruising. In short, it is impressive.

Having been converted to the power cat idea with his previous boat, a Leech L875, Randall Diggs set about commissioning a bigger model. Only a metre longer but an exponentially bigger boat all around, the bare hull of Emocean was built at Davie Norris Boat Builders in Christchurch and finished off by Randall over an 18-month period, most of it during the covid pandemic.

The hull is built racing yacht style in e-glass/epoxy laminates supplied by Adhesive Technologies on either side of a foam core. The pre-laminated composite panels were CNC machined at ASP Composites, making a tight-fitting structure that has resulted in a very strong, light boat. The insulation provided by the foam also makes for a very quiet and comfortable vessel.
There are strong collision bulkheads in the bow, four watertight compartments aft, and deep bilges to keep any water that does come aboard away from the interior. The hull form is a flat V section at the stern tapering into a tight V at the stem, with a small skeg that aids tracking and allows beaching. The hull is strengthened using a double chine format which keeps the spray deflected down and offers rigidity and more beam up high, where it is needed.

The bridge deck is high and well out of the splash zone which is only enhanced by the addition of a foil between the hulls that sits in the perfect position relative to the longitudinal centre of gravity of the boat and adds an unseen strength to the already soft ride. With the narrow waterline beam of each hull, the resistance is kept to a minimum – this means that it takes very little horsepower to get Emocean moving and to keep her moving.

Semi-displacement power cats work well when the hulls are narrow and the bridge decks high. Dan Leech has incorporated some eye-pleasing lines into this basic concept that give Emocean handsome looks. She has a reverse sheer in the forward sections, accented by a spray chine that runs the length of each hull and terminates at the plumb bows with a step, thus achieving a good interior room with a dry ride. The reverse sheer gunwale allows full-standing headroom throughout the interior and allows the pilothouse to integrate nicely with the steep sides of the hull.

The narrow hulls not only give low drag efficiency to Emocean’s underwater profile but also provide ample storage space under the floors. The bridge deck has substantial clearance above the waterline at the aft end, which avoids any potential pounding and gets the deck up high and away from the spray. Emocean’s pleasing lines are enhanced by bespoke stainless fittings supplied by Boat New Zealand and a quality paint job that includes a 12-layer Aston Martin finish on the cabin roof!

Standing on the aft wet deck/duck board there is ample room between the motors for fishing or diving. TekTread trim through out the cockpit and decks provides sure grip and continuity, while stainless work by Christchurch Marine Services gives a solid sense of security to the cockpit and side decks. In summer, there is an inflatable slide that fits in here to add extra fun to hitting the water for the young at heart.

To starboard, the cockpit gunwale hinges down with a swim ladder on the aft edge, which makes for an excellent swim platform well away from the sharp edges of the motors. The aft deck and this side deck allow the central cockpit to remain clear and dry.
Under the cockpit floor are the two 130-litre fuel tanks, 200 litres of fresh water, and massive storage areas. Storage around the whole boat is staggering. With a place to hide everything, it is easy to keep the accommodation clutter-free. The catamaran platform means there is exponentially more space in the living areas of Emocean than in an equivalent length monohull. This is most apparent in the self-draining aft deck, which has a spacious, uncluttered feeling and leads nicely into the main saloon with a small lip to keep any boarding seas out.

Rear bulkhead folding doors and an electric window open along the entire width of the saloon, allowing the deck and living space to merge into a spacious multi-function living area with a settee to port and well-appointed in-line galley with substantial Nova Kool fridge-freezer complementing the Thetford hybrid hob at the forward end. With the height above the water and the clever use of the strengthened glass windows, including a one-piece windscreen from SeaMac Aluminium, the view from the saloon is unobstructed.

The substantial saloon is complemented by a private and well-proportioned accommodation zone with access to a king-size double bunk to port and substantial heads and shower to starboard. An additional quarter berth to port, plus the saloon settee, can provide for extra guests if required. The trim is set off by a two-tone upholstery with the high-gloss, crown-cut walnut galley highlighted by black oak frames lit by Hella LED lighting throughout. The feel is of being in a well-appointed apartment designed for a couple who want to get away from it all in style.

The helm station is a central stand-up or sit-down arrangement with excellent 360-degree visibility. The moulded carbon-trimmed instrument panel is dominated by two 10-inch Garmin screens which provide all the navigation and engine information. The engine controls are Honda fly-by-wire, with Seastar power assist steering and push-button starting. A Fusion sound system and underwater lights keep the party going. The boat’s electronics package is powered by three lithium 120-amp house batteries which are app monitored from the skipper’s phone and topped up by two 195-watt Juice solar panels mounted on the cabin roof next to the Garmin 18-inch Radar dome.

The powerhouse of the L980 is twin Honda BF150hp four-stroke outboards provided by Icon Marine. They spin 16-inch propellers and provide more than enough power to quickly push the low-drag hulls up to their 28-knot cruising speed, without a large wake or any screaming from the motors. 150hp is at the upper end of the range for this model, which will perform perfectly well with engines down to 90hp.

On the Water
The first impression of L980 is of elegant space. It is hard to believe you are on a 9.8-metre boat when the feeling is more like a 12-metre boat. The space has been arrived at largely by extending the efficient layout of the smaller Leech models. With storage to soak up the clutter and a clean-flowing deck layout, the vessel always looks like it is ready for a photoshoot for a glossy boating magazine.
A closer look at the boat reveals some clever detailing created by Randell over the solid bones of the base design. Walking through the boat every corner angle and detail has been thought through making it feel seamless. This functionality is achieved by keeping the berths and toilet facilities on a lower level, while the helm, galley, and socialising areas are up high in the saloon. The separation of space works well offering a private retreat that is essential to good morale aboard while cruising. Opening up the aft end of the saloon to the deck creates a spacious feeling to the living area. Most launches of this length are only sophisticated day boats, but you get the feeling that Emocean could provide very comfortable cruising for over long periods.

Manoeuvring away from the wharf or marina is easily done on the throttles and shifting without using the wheel, relying on the widely spaced motors to provide control. Once out in the channel, acceleration was smooth with no apparent foiling hump to overcome. The Hondas provide a quiet power that means you can be smoking along at well over 20 knots with little effort. High on the bridgedeck there is little sensation of speed and for the uninitiated, constant consultation with the GPS readout is required to check what your senses are telling you.
Emocean tracks like she is on rails thanks to her long, thin hulls. The foil gives her a Cadillac ride, lifting the bows out enough so the chine rails can deflect any spray, resulting in a smooth, dry ride in conditions that would have most boats of this size pounding. The foil seems to take care of any trim, giving her a slight bow-up attitude. A top speed of 34 knots can be achieved easily, however, 28 knots seems to be a go-all-day sweet spot at around 75 litres an hour of fuel consumption, with an economy mode of around 20 knots and 30 litres an hour.

Emocean was designed to be towed and has a custom trailer to transport her between cruising destinations. Dan Leech has included an option in the design which incorporates a slightly wider beam for marina-based clients, which would only add to the already excellent accommodation space and stability.
With a northwest wind change pending, we snuck up into the lee of Quail Island to test the entertainment possibilities of Emocean. She did not disappoint with the fold-down side deck, outside dining, and inflatable water slide all making life at anchor a hoot.

It was perhaps later when we were out in Dan Leech’s RIB taking photos that the true measure of the boat was realised. Randall and I sat with the engine off as Dan did flybys for the camera. Getting off your boat and watching it move through the water is like having an out-of-body experience. Randall sat mesmerised as his boat whistled by, hovering on her foil-equivalent of a magic carpet, the engines purring. As she shot away from us into the distance while we bobbed in her minimal wake, he reviewed his own boat in three words: “Shit, that’s impressive!”/>


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