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