Like many New Zealanders, the young Ron Holland was mad keen about boats and sailing. And like several eventually distinguished fellow-countrymen, he has found his life path through a successful career in the international yacht design industry, right up to the dizzy heights of visualising some of the most remarkable superyachts in the world writes W M Nixon.
But while the other young would-be Kiwi boat-creators went forth to become associated with already-established international centres of the global marine industry, the twists and turns of life in the early 1970s saw the young Ron Holland being encouraged to settle in Crosshaven.
There, after the success of the Royal Cork Yacht Club’s Quarter Millennial Celebrations in 1969-70, the growing confidence and developing enthusiasm of local sailors was to see the rapid development of the local marine industry. It came about through a dynamic interaction between newly-arrived talents such as sailmaker Johnny McWilliam and designer Ron Holland, and the brilliant boat-building abilities of renowned Crosshaven-based families such as the Bushes and Leonards.
Development and expansion of this quality could not have taken place without the support of the growing band of great Cork sailing families, veritable dynasties such as the Coveneys, the Loves, the O’Learys, the Cudmores, the Doyles, the Keneficks and the Mansfields – all these renowned names at some stage found themselves racing a new Ron Holland-designed boat. And some – such as Hugh Coveney, Archie O’Leary and Harold Cudmore Jnr - pioneered the way into the winning frame in international competition.
Thus although Ron Holland-designed boats had been a force to be reckoned with ever since he came to world prominence by topping the Quarter Ton Worlds in England in 1973 with his own-skippered-designed-and-built 24ft Eyghthene, getting involved with the vibrant Crosshaven of the 1970s saw his career move up several gears.
He’d built Eyghthene while working in Florida, but the focus for the Ton Cup championships was to be found in Europe, with his American friend Doug Peterson’s One Tonner Ganbare showing the way forward in 1973 in the One Ton Worlds Italy while Ron was doing his winning on the south coast of England.
The One Ton level was what interested Hugh Coveney in Cork, and between the jigs and the reels, by the late Autumn of 1973 Ron Holland found himself in Crosshaven, involved with a team which included the hyper-talented though still very young Killian Bushe, building the 36ft One Tonner Golden Apple. She may, in the end, have taken the runner-up slot in the One Ton Worlds at Torquay in Devon in England in 1974, but with her many innovative features including a Bergstrom-Ridder rig, she attracted every bit as much attention as the winning Doug Peterson-designed Gumboots.
The Holland reputation was further enhanced when one of his early production designs, the 33ft Nicholson Three Quarter Tonner Golden Delicious, was overall winner of the 1975 Fastnet Race.
Yet it wasn’t until 1976 that one of the growing and developing Cork lineup of locally-built new Ron Holland designs was to win a major world title. But as this was the Half-Ton Worlds at Trieste in Italy in 1976, when rising superstar Harold Cudmore Jnr did the business with Silver Shamrock, the Holland-Crosshaven show was really on the road, and Silver Shamrock’s crew memorably celebrated their victory by sailing up the Grand Canal in Venice with spinnaker set.
The Holland-designed production-built Shamrocks – in both their racing versions as the Golden and Silver Shamrocks, and in the popular Club version with improved accommodation – were widespread in Ireland in Crosshaven. Kinsale, Dun Laoghaire, Howth and other centres.
Notable in this golden era for Crosshaven campaigners working with Ron Holland and Johnny McWlliam and the rising talents emerging with them were the O’Leary family with their fabulous 40ft Two Tonner Irish Mist II, and the Clayton Love/Hugh Coveney/Ray Fielding triumvirate in the utterly gorgeous 44ft Big Apple, winner of the Concours d’Elegance (and many races) in the 1977 Admiral’s Cup.
This enthusiasm reached another peak in 1979 when the new Ron Holland-designed 42ft Regardless – for Ken Rohan of the Royal Irish YC on Dublin Bay – joined the Holland-design-dominated flotilla at Cork for the 1979 Admirals Cup selection trials. With a broader transom which moved away from the more pin-tailed earlier Holland designs, Regardless was a brilliant all-rounder - in fact, many reckon she was probably the best all-round offshore racer Ron ever designed, a lovely boat to sail, and a guaranteed winner.
So although a broken rudder meant she had to pull out of the 1979 Fastnet Race (which Ireland had gone into leading the Admirals Cup series), Regardless came back for the next Fastnet in 1981, and won Class I going away.
By this time, not only had Ron’s hyper-busy design office expanded to take on many talents, such as Tony Castro who in time went on to establish their own firms, but the level of work required ever-larger premises. So the company moved from its base in the Strand Farmhouse in Currabinny across the river from Crosshaven, to a handsome Georgian house right next to the yacht club in Kinsale.
There, the firm was well-placed to handle the increasing stream of orders for much larger craft including Superyachts – both sail and power. The story becomes ever more complex, but fortunately for those who want to follow it in full detail, Ron Holland – who turned 70 last year – has been working on his memoirs for the book “All The Oceans – Designing by the seat of my pants” which has gradually been released on a worldwide basis, starting (as reported in Afloat.ie here) with New Zealand and Australia in February.
Other places such as the US and of course Canada have come into the loop, for Ron has been based in Vancouver since 2011, his design office in Kinsale having been taken over by Rob Doyle. In Vancouver, he keeps his own superyacht moored (Dun Laoghaire sailors please note) in the Coal Harbour, and he is so well settled into the thriving local sailing scene that when the International Classic 6 Metre Worlds was staged on his home waters last September, he had bought himself the vivid red Peter Norlin designed 6 Metre Nuvolari to race in the 45-strong fleet drawn from centres worldwide. And though he didn’t get himself into the frame, he and his crew enjoyed themselves enormously.
It is truly a Midsummer Night’s Dream, for in addition to old Crosshaven shipmates from way back with the strong possibility of attendance by Harold Cudmore and Johnny McWilliam among others, the star of the show will be the first Irish-produced World Champion of them all - Silver Shamrock of 1976 Half Ton World Championship fame, and now owned by the current Irish “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth.
If they can all manage to get together in Crosser, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.