South African Boat Builders Bringing a Leopard of Different Sorts

At the Cape Town catamaran builder Robertson and Caine, a steady mix of sail and power cats is being readied for launch and delivery.
Leopard 42
The Robertson and Caines factories in Cape Town, South Africa, are busy building the new 40-foot power cat, the Leopard 40PC, along with the Leopard 42 (above) and a full line of sailing catamarans. Courtesy Leopard Catamarans

A rain-disrupted two-day safari in the usually arid plains and mountains north of Cape Town, cruising across windy Table Bay to view Robben Island from a power cat, and wild World Cup soccer fans filling
the streets nightly each provided entertaining sideshows to the main event on a recent trip to South Africa: a media tour of the Robertson and Caine boatbuilding shops, where Leopard catamarans are built. It was an adventure that the builder arranged to coincide with the launch of its newly designed 40-foot power cat, to be marketed as the Leopard 40PC and the Moorings 403PC. 

R&C operates six manufacturing ­facilities in Cape Town, where it builds models that include 42-, 45- and 50-foot sailing catamarans, and 40-, 46- and 53-foot power cats. All models are available to private owners under the Leopard brand, and for charter through Sunsail and The Moorings. The 403PC will be available for on-water vacations this year.

All the R&C facilities that our small troupe of writers visited were bustling, though they were winding down the 2022 production year in anticipation of the plant’s closing to give employees their annual holiday break. The company built 182 boats in 2022 and plans to produce 213 this year, according to Donovan Thomas, R&C’s technical director. 

The three-stateroom 40 PC is being constructed on a new production line, in a building previously used for research and development. Hull No. 1 had just launched, and we saw four more in various stages of build. Construction of the first few boats includes hands-on workforce training; full-on production commenced early this year.

The busiest shop we found was the Bolt facility, where the Leopard 45 sailing cats—the company’s most popular model—are built. There, assembly-line manager Rotenda Randima walked us through the various workstations, from bare hull to finished boat. At each ­station, a swarm of technicians added to the overall sensation that there was, ­indeed, a lot going on. From the plant, she said, a new boat is trucked every four-and-a-half days to the harbor, where it undergoes sea trials before being loaded onto a ship for delivery.

On the 45’s production line, large fans kept the air moving, even on a hot South African morning. Hulls sat in cradles fitted out with wheels that roll along rails in the floor. At each workstation, lists of tasks were posted, along with progress notes and reports on things such as the number of injuries incurred, if any. At the station where the 45’s deck and cabin top are bonded to the hull, workers had gone 204 days without a mishap, I noted as I strolled by.

Rotenda Randima
Assembly-line manager Rotenda Randima noted that a new cat is rolled out every four-and-a-half days. Courtesy Robertson and Caine

Throughout its plants, the R&C workforce includes experienced boatbuilders and trainees, the latter easily identifiable, dressed as they are in orange overalls. The company trains 100 to 150 people a year in skills that include carpentry, lamination and mechanical systems, among others. The overall number of employees runs right around 2,000.

R&C is somewhat uncommon in the world of boatbuilding because it has just one customer: Travelopia, the parent company of Leopard Catamarans, The Moorings and Sunsail. 

Franck Bauguil, vice president of yacht ownership and product development, says that besides the Leopard 42 sailing cat, which won CW’s 2022 Boat of the Year award for Best Cruising Catamaran Under 50 Feet, R&C has introduced three new power cats in the past three years. The company plans to refocus on sail in the coming months, with a couple of new designs in early stages of development.