When we arrived at the club, he stepped out of the car, gazed at the bay, and took in a deep draught of sea air. He seemed distant, even though a moment before we had been joking about this and that. I watched his eyes move from Shakespeare Cliffs out towards Purangi, Tower Rock, Centre Island, Mangatawhiri. “Wow this is the centre of the universe,” said our guest, Mr. Ron Holland, and then turned to me and Fred and continued matter-of-factly, “So show me where we will be doing the presentation.”
This past weekend, celebrated yacht designer, Ron Holland, visited the Mercury Bay Boating Club. The plan was hatched 8 months ago. You see last August, I was high above the arctic circle working on a yacht named Rosehearty as she made her way along the coast of Greenland and the islands of the Northwest Passage. Now it so happened that the designer of this yacht was on board as part of the expedition team. One evening, after a day of sighting polar bears and navigating among giant icebergs, the expedition team and crew had the pleasure of hearing a story.
The story was about a young boy from Auckland who did not particularly enjoy school but did enjoy messing about with boats. It was a story about how this same boy through hard work, perseverance and a little good luck ended up becoming one of the top yacht designers in the world. In the end it was a story about finding your passion, about keeping your eyes trained on that distant horizon, confident that if you do the work, and believe in yourself, you will succeed. Sitting in the salon listening to that tale those many months ago, I could not help thinking that this was a story I would like our junior sailors to hear. We are fortunate and grateful that the story-teller agreed.
Ron Holland started sailing at seven; began exploring the Hauraki Gulf at 11, imagining himself to be following in the footsteps of Ferdinand Magellan, and Captain James Cook. He designed his first yacht at 19 and rapidly made a name for himself as one of the most successful and sought-after designers in the highly competitive world of international ocean racing. Yachts with names like Lion New Zealand, Condor and Morning Cloud emerged from his pen. His seminal influence on the then-new category of superyacht brought him fresh success and an introduction to a world of fascinating personalities: business tycoons, royalty, and rock stars.
On Saturday evening, Ron spoke to a packed clubhouse — adult members, junior sailors, and community supporters watched the slide show and listened to the stories. With his humble demeanor, Ron joked about designing boats for prime ministers, dining with playwrites, and figuring out how to design and build the largest sloop in the world. When the Ron Holland office unveiled their plans to build Mirabella 5, the yachting world was shocked. “We were being asked to design a boat that could not fit under any bridge in the world, with a single mainmast a third taller than any mast ever produced. The largest mast at the time was ours at 216 feet.” Ron explained. “The Mirabella mast was to be 300 feet.”
After the presentation, Ron signed copies of his new book, All the Oceans, Designing by the Seat of my Pants. Meanwhile from the club galley, an assortment of desserts emerged. The juniors ate quickly and then raced outside into the darkness to play tag and spotlight. The adults chatted with Ron and in small groups amongst themselves around the main club room.
The next day, Sunday, Ron joined the MBBC Junior sail squad for an informal chat about boats, the ocean, long sailing voyages, and specifically which rock stars and royalty Ron had met in his travels.
“How long was your longest voyage?” one junior asked.
“Twenty-three days,” Ron replied, “and that was on board a yacht with a lawn mower engine for power and no head!” Shocked expressions –“But where did you, you know, GO?” “In a bucket!” Ron roared with laughter.
What a thrill and privilege it was to have this kind and talented gentleman, sitting on the grass, answering questions and offering the perspective gained from his long and active career. Under a cloudy sky that was quickly turning blue, he explained the differences in hull form and sail shape between our Optimists, Microns and O’Pen BICs. Inside, he laid out the latest plans for a 42 meter schooner he is working on. When asked a question about the difference between Captain Cook’s Endeavour sail plan and a modern superyacht’s sail plan, Ron drew a quick sketch of the Endeavour on a piece of scrap paper to explain his response. The kids gasped at what the quick strokes of his pen revealed.
When it was time for Ron to depart, the kids were given the go-ahead to race to the beach and jump into the ocean. It was getting hot; the clouds had burned off. There was little wind but the waves boomed against the shore. Ron watched the children sprint in to the waves. “They just don’t know how lucky they are.”
Thank you, to Jonathan Kline for the guest post – and Jackie Dagger for the photos.