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Ron Holland’s Career in Boat Design to be Saluted in Kinsale & Crosshaven

16th June 2018
International designer Ron Holland in his studio in Vancouver International designer Ron Holland in his studio in Vancouver

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.

original 1973 eyghtene2Ron Holland, aged 26, helming his own-designed-and-built 24ft Eyghthene to the Quarter Ton World Championship in 1973

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.

eyghthene 24 poland3A production Eyghthene 24 built in Poland
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.

golden apple4A boat of real charisma: Hugh Coveney’s One Tonner Golden Apple of 1974

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.

silver shamrock venice5The only way to celebrate being Half Ton World Champions at Trieste in 1976 - Silver Shamrock sails 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.

irish mist11 1975 oleary6Archie O’Leary’s Two Tonner Irish Mist II was another consistently successful performer. Photo courtesy RCYC

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.

big apple6aMen at work…aboard Big Apple, on her way to a race win in the 1977 Admirals Cup, with Johnny McWilliam on the helm and Harry Cudmore keeping a close eye on things, crouched on the weather quarter. Photo courtesy John McWilliam

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.

ken rohan regardless7Ken Rohan’s Regardless of 1979, seen here racing in Dublin Bay with Sean Flood on the helm and Harry Byrne on mainsheet, is widely regarded as the best all-round racer ever designed by Ron Holland. Photo: W M Nixon

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.

perseus racing8A highlight of Ron Holland Superyacht success – the 212ft Holland-designed sloop Perseus being skippered by Nin O’Leary of Crosshaven to runaway overall victory in the Lora Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta, March 2017
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 here) with New Zealand and Australia in February.

johnny mcwilliam ron holland9Johnny McWilliam and Ron Holland promoting the new book in 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.

six metre nuvolari10Ron Holland’s pet boat in Vancouver – the International 6 Metre Nuvolari, designed originally for Italian owners by Peter Norlin of Sweden. With a distinctive hull colour like that, you need to be very sure you’re not pushing it on the starting line…...

Next week, it’s Ireland’s turn for the launching of “All the Oceans”, which is being done with a sort of south coast book tour at Kinsale YC and Royal Cork YC.

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. 

Silver Shamrock11Still going strong. Ireland’s current “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth’s vintage Ron Holland Half Tonner Silver Shamrock, World Champion in 1976 under Harold Cudmore’s command. Photo:

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WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago