Superyacht designer Ron came to Cork for one weekend, and stayed 40 years

From Afloat Magazine.

“IF you want to be famous in Ireland, beat the English.”

Ron Holland says that was his path to acceptance in Cork sailing circles which led to international fame as designer of the biggest superyachts in the world.

Originally from New Zealand, he came to Cork for a weekend and stayed for 40 years, becoming one of the world’s leading yacht designers based at Currabinny in Cork Harbour and Kinsale.

“Plain luck and grabbing an opportunity,” said Mr Holland. “Hugh Coveney and sailmaker John McWilliam invited me for a weekend in 1973, with an opportunity to do race boats for Hugh first of all and Archie O’Leary second. We took these boats – Golden Apple and Irish Mist – to race in England and beat the hell out of the English. So I became quite famous in Ireland in the ‘70s and that was fun.”

From quarter-ton yachts to the legendary Shamrocks built at Rochestown, to the 247- foot Mirabella V, then the world’s largest ever single-masted sailing yacht, his designs have led the world. He was back in Cork from Vancouver in Canada where he now lives, recalling a lifetime in sailing at talks in two yacht clubs – the Royal Cork in Crosshaven and Kinsale.

With students having finished their Leaving Certificate examinations and awaiting results he had a message for young people – ‘don’t fear educational failure.’

“For a kid that was not very good at school, in fact having failed high school exams twice, I am embarrassed to say, my message is not to be afraid of seeming to fail educationally, but be determined and grab opportunities when they come,” he said.

“Aged 16, failing high school exams for the second time, things weren’t looking very promising. People told me that I was going to be sweeping the streets. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to go to university if I can’t pass basic high school, but I’m winning yacht races at the weekends and got a job in a wooden boat building yard. That carried me forward. I grabbed the available opportunity and did the same when the opportunity came to come to Ireland.”

Ron Holland recounts the journey from his first sailing dinghy, a 7-footer in New Zealand, to the designing of superyachts in the 400 pages of his book, with 200 photographs, All the Oceans.

“I have a chapter entitled: ‘Just Say Yes’. If I was teaching a young person anything it would be to keep your eyes open for the opportunities, say ‘ yes’ and then figure out how to do it.

“Not much in my life was planned. I was saying ‘yes’ to the next opportunity.”

He followed that philosophy as boats got bigger.

With Volvo Cork Week to start on Sunday at the RCYC in Crosshaven just across the Owenabue River from where he had offices at Currabinny, he told me that he “did a yacht for the then boss of the Volvo car company” who helped him get into “computer-aided design” – which was a major step forward.

|We took advantage of the big yacht emergence in the 1980s and were leading the world in design from Ireland,” said Mr Holland.

In Vancouver, he teaches a course in Master Yacht Engineering.

“When my students figure out that I’m a failed high school student, they go – ‘how the hell are you teaching us?’ That gave me the motivation to write my story. I lived life bigger than I dreamed I could and I had pretty big dreams as a youngster.

“Taking the opportunities that came my way was the path to success. At 71 years of age I can look back with no regrets.”

A San Francisco television company is filming a documentary about his life and his book has been launched at locations around the world from New York to New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Tom MacSweeney, Maritime Cork

Pacific Yachting Review of All The Oceans

All the Oceans is an excellent read and is sure to become a classic on the bookshelves of anyone involved in the world of yachts from the 1970s to modern days. Holland got his start as a youth by immersing himself in the world of offshore sailing and racing and was intimately involved with some of the world’s fastest speedsters in some of its most challenging races.

From his offices in lreland, Holland designed yachts for, and became friends with, such notable figures as former British Prime Minister Ted Heath, newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch and Monaco’s Prince Rainier. He also designed a number of production yachts for Nautor Swan, Camper Nicholson and Jeanneau and collaborated on New Zealand’s first America’s Cup entry in 1987 (which lost out in the final round to Dennis Connor’s Stars and Stripes).

In the 1980s, Holland started designing 100-foot-plus sailboats. His most celebrated is the 247-foot (75.3 metre) Mirabella V, launched in 2005. It was, and still is, the largest sloop ever built. Until then, the technology to manufacture the massive masts, winches, rigging, sails and hydraulics for such large vessels didn’t exist, but that didn’t stop Holland. There were many skeptics who said that the structural challenges were insurmountable. However, Holland proved them wrong. The amazing aspect to all this is that Holland was never schooled in yacht design; he learned the basics while working and taking classes as an apprentice boat builder at the age of 16.

Some of the most riveting parts of the book are when Holland takes us through high-seas dramas such as being arrested by the Cuban military; his near-death experience during the notorious 1979 Fastnet Race during which 15 people died; the keel failure of Simon Le Bon’s (lead singer for Duran Duran) yacht prior to the Whitbread Race, and more.

In 2012, Holland moved his design offices to Vancouver and began to settle into semi-retirement. However, he hasn’t given up sailing and still owns a small Coronado 25 for local sailing where he is active in the racing community. Holland was there, saw it all and helped write history. AII the Oceans takes us on an amazing insider’s voyage through it all.

—Peter A. Robson

Colin Squire’s Review in Yachting Matters

I first met Ron Holland at the launch of Mirabella V in Southampton during 2003 and for those that are unaware she was, and still is , the largest single masted yacht ever built. Being the designer of such a vessel is an accolade in itself, she would have been a reference point in any yacht designers career, and Ron had been asked to lead the creative team due to his history of designing many of the finest sail yachts ever built, be they simply cruising the world’s oceans or taking part in, and winning many of the world’s most rugged yacht races. I have to admit to sitting in awe watching his presentation of M5 (her more recent name). I mused on what sort of man Ron was and imagined him being a ‘difficult-to-approach’ creative genius.

Several years later, during the spring of 2009, I was in search of a subject for the increasingly popular ‘Man At The Top’ series of editorials in Yachting Matters and I recalled the M5 presentation and thought Ron would be the ideal person to interview. With great trepidation I approached Ron to see if he was willing to meet up with me and tell me his life story and I nwas delighted when I received his reply ‘By all means’.

We met in the beautiful town of Kinsale, near Cork on the coast of Southern Ireland where Ron’s design studio was located. At 9 am on a Sunday morning I walked into a little cafe and there, sat before me , was the man himself. He greeted me with the biggest smile and a warm handshake. He immediately put me at ease as we tucked into a hearty fry-up before walking the short distance to his office.

We talked all day; covering his life as a youngster, his first designs, his love of sailing (especially racing), his involvement in the America’s Cup , his move from New Zealand to the USA and on to Ireland, his famous designs, his ups and his downs, his move into the Superyacht arena, where many of his world’s largest sail yachts have his fingerprints all over them.

My editorial came out at 15 pages, pretty sizeable for a magazine editorial but it only covered just a few memories from this extremely extraordinary man’s life.

However, for those that would liked to have known a lot more about this iconic figure it appears that your hopes have been realized as Ron has just published his life story in a magnificent memoir titled All The Oceans – Designing by the seat of my pants.