4 Simple Questions with Sailboat Designer Ron Holland

"I believe designing a fast, good looking sailboat does not require any design compromise." -Ron Holland

Here's number 4 in my series of mini-interviews with prominent sailboat designers. Today I'm welcoming Ron Holland, the premier large yacht designer. 

Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Ron's love for sailing began at an early age. Ron's father, wanting the best for him, bought Ron a sailing dinghy for his 7th birthday. Ron recalls feeling upset because he really wanted a rowing dinghy, not a sailing dinghy. He was afraid the dinghy would tip over and sure enough, it capsized on their first trip out on the water.


By the age of 15, Ron was a well-known crew member of several successful yachts. One of which was the 36-foot ketch Aloha on which he sailed from Auckland to Sydney, a journey of over 1,000 miles. His experiences lead to an apprenticeship with boat builder Keith Atkinson through the Auckland Technical Institute. While there, two teachers recognized a budding designer in his drawing abilities. With their support, Ron's focus shifted from boat building to boat designing. 


Ron in New Zealand with Thalia in the background

Ron was only 18 when he received his first commission to design a 26-foot yacht for a fellow student. The success of the first yacht led to additional commissions. In 1968, Ron had an opportunity to go to San Francisco where he soon found employment as a Trainee Naval Architect with celebrated American yacht designer Gary Mull. Through Mull, he was introduced to some of the top sailors in California and began crewing with some of the best yachters of that time.

Ron's innovative designs have repeatedly shaken up the world of sailing. Today, Ron Holland is one of the world's leading yacht designers and creator of a new generation of 100ft plus performance super yachts. 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of Ron Holland Yacht Design. Ron's studio is currently based in Vancouver, Canada. As you'll see in the questions below, Ron is dedicated to working closely with both clients and builders. 

His design portfolio includes the 247-foot Mirabella V, the largest single-mast sailboat ever built. The 210-foot Felicita West is one of the largest aluminum sailing yachts in the world and was a collaboration between Ron and Perini Navi Group. Ron Holland Design is also responsible for the Discovery 55, 57/58, and 67. And then there's Ron's personal cruiser from 10 years ago, Golden Opus (pictured below).

As always, I want to give a very big THANK YOU to Ron for participating! And now on to my questions and Ron's responses:

 1) Sum up your sailboat design philosophy in a few sentences.
Work like hell (with the client and the builder) to give the client a design he will love! I believe my design portfolio spans a wide variety of design concepts because of this philosophy. The one constant MUST - they have to sail fast and handle well.

 2) What's one of your personal favorite sailboats that you designed and why?
Racing yachts: Imp. She was designed for a great client that let me free to do my best work. Imp also had a great crew who drove her to win many races.

Big yachts: Mirabella V. The biggest at 247 feet, most challenging design effort. Very big. Composite. Tallest (by miles at the time) carbon mast. Biggest sails. 150T on lift keel and so much more. I've been aboard close reaching at 18.9 knots!


Mirabella V

3) Is there a sailboat design and/or designer that inspired your own work or career?
I've been inspired by so many designers. Olin, L Francis, Bill Garden, Arthur Rob, and Kiwis John Spencer and Bob Stewart (both light displacement designers).

4) Is it more difficult to design a sailboat that looks good or sails good?
I believe designing a fast, good looking sailboat does not require any design compromise. Designing to a handicap rule challenges this. Also, fashion challenges this, especially on aesthetics (i.e. the present vertical ends, straight sheer line profiles). The big compromise relates to designing a yacht that can sail well (win races) in all conditions. That's difficult! 

Golden Opus, Ron's personal 73' cruiser (10 years ago)

Thanks again Ron!

If you're interested in more design perspectives, visit SailFarLiveFree's Sailboat Reviews page. There you'll find articles written for SFLF by other designers such as Bob Perry, Ted Brewer and more.

Lastly, stayed tuned for the next interview in this series!

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