Dramatic changes have occurred during Ron Holland's 33 years in the yachting industry, and now he's noticing a new ecological awareness.
Yacht designer Ron Holland celebrated two milestones in 2008 – his 60th birthday and 33 years in his chosen profession. Since these events always stir up reflection, it is a good time to get his insight on the growth of the industry and how he sees his role in its development, past and future.
‘Some key things happened,’ he says. ‘When I finished school I went to work for a builder of wooden boats, and that became a sort of foundation in the way I approached design in my career. I was in my 20s, just starting out, and my approach was more practical than theoretical or academic.
‘It was the 60s and the superyacht almost didn’t exist. There were a handful, maybe, of big yachts but nothing really under construction. It has been amazing to see the whole industry undergo a dramatic change.’
Holland began with designing and sailing successful racing yachts in international regattas: the Admiral’s Cup and the Fastnet Race. Performance was a big part of the achievements of Ron Holland Design.
The studio moved on to designing the Maxi race yachts Kialoa and Condor, which, at 24.4m, were the largest racing yachts being built at the time. For Holland these were the stepping stone to the new generation of big sailing yachts.
We could never have imagined what was to follow in the next 20 to 25 years. It has been extraordinary
Ron Holland, Ron Holland Design
‘We did two projects, both sort of influenced by racing success. One was in Europe, called Whirlwind XII, and it was the first 30.5m that I designed and the first built by Royal Huisman shipyard. Both of our organisations were at the leading edge of those first steps into 30m-plus private yachts,’ recalls Holland.
‘The second boat we did, in parallel almost, is now called_ Avalon_, built in New Zealand – the first over 30.5m to be built in that country. These two boats were defining moments for my organisation. I thought that’s it, this is the ultimate, it’s never going to be bigger or better. We could never have imagined what was to follow in the next 20 to 25 years. It has been extraordinary.’
The two boats had an impact on the luxury market because they showed that it was possible to have a level of comfort beyond what traditional, classic sailboats could offer, even large boats. They were more stable, heeled over less and had more volume, and their interiors were reminiscent of motor yachts.
At the same time a revolution was going on in equipment. Mast riggers, sail makers and hardware manufacturers were bringing out new products that enabled large yachts to be sailed by small crews.
Among Holland's well-known projects are the supersloop Mirabella V and Perini Felicita West
The increase in the motor yacht market is one of the most dramatic trends of the last 10 years.
‘I think it has to do with the spread of wealth,’ says Holland. ‘It has enabled people who traditionally would not consider owning a yacht, who haven’t a background in boating like most sail yacht owners but have made a lot of money, to enter the market as a passion or pastime. The automatic response is to get a powerboat. It is simpler and more logical.’
However, although up to 400 boats of over 30m are being built at the moment around the world, only a small percentage of the people who can afford a private yacht have actually bought one, which leads him to believe that superyachts will continue to be an important growth industry: ‘I don’t think we are anywhere near the limit.’
Holland believes it is right, while bearing safety in mind, to fulfil his clients’ dreams and goals.
‘I had to face this when we did Mirabella V. Previously we had the tallest mast on Felicitá West, a Perini 210 ketch. We thought, ah, it’s the master of the world. Then Joe Vittoria came along for Mirabella V and said he wanted a sloop,’ Holland explains.
‘Mirabella’s mast is easily 30m higher than anything around. I did say to myself, can we do this, is it reasonable? From an engineering point of view, yes, we certainly can, and if that is what the client is asking for, we can fulfil it.
‘People need to remember that with projects like _Mirabella V _and the 120m motor yachts being built, a great thing is happening and that is the distribution of wealth. This is a hell of a good way for wealthy people to feed money back to a wide variety of craftsmen. Building a complex yacht touches more aspects of engineering and services than any other single industry.’
Probing further into the subject of Mirabella V, how was the experience?
‘It really was a once-in-a-lifetime project. Every time I walked into the shed when they were building it, it was breathtaking to see how big and magnificent the thing was. I can’t say it was something I dreamed about because when we were doing Whirlwind and Avalon we could never imagine 76m sailboats. It was just that a courageous client gave us the opportunity to put our experience and knowledge into fulfilling his dream and it was a wonderful chance to be involved.’
The Marco Polo's single propeller enables it to use 30 per cent less fuel than equivalent motor yachts, but its owners were still convinced a twin-screw design would be better
Beauty is paramount in Holland’s designs, even though he is focused on fulfilling the client’s dream.
‘I don’t want to sacrifice the aesthetic solution around what the client is trying to do,’ he says. ‘I put that ahead of everything else. When the boat is launched or anchored in a bay and you look back from the beach, it has to look great.’
Today, ecological issues and spiralling costs enter any discussion with a yacht designer about the future of the industry.
‘I mean, $100 a barrel for oil must be an influence, even if it is not apparent at the moment. Certainly there is awareness, ecological or even just efficiency awareness, among designers, builders and equipment manufacturers. For the first time we are seriously looking at how to be more efficient in the use of materials.’
The company has designed a 45.72m motor yacht, Marco Polo, a single screw explorer that has a fuel efficient advance of 34 litres an hour, a huge advantage over conventional twin screw motor yachts. Even commercial ships are using one large diameter propeller rather than multiple propellers because the efficiency gain is huge.
Ron Holland Design is focusing on designing motor yachts with hull shapes that are very low resistant and sea-kindly
‘Still, we have seen a lot of resistance to the concept because of the psychological thing of one engine versus two, despite the fact that we can offer almost a 30 per cent reduction in fuel – a big cost saving over an ocean-going yacht’s lifespan. Clients feel that having two of everything is safer.’
Ron Holland Design is focusing on designing motor yachts with hull shapes that are very low resistant and sea-kindly, have a nice motion in rough water, and are designed with the same sophistication as racing boats.
‘I don’t see any pioneering stuff going on – I think there is a refinement of the things we have already done. I really don’t have any desire to do something really wild.’
He is, however, working on a project for a super-trimaran, close to 91m, with a very low resistant hull form, for fuel efficiency, and a ‘gigantic’ living space.
Holland has enough motivation to keep designing yachts for years to come. ‘I think my motivation goes back to when I was a kid, about eight or 10 years old,’ says Holland. ‘I had my little sailing dinghy and I imagined that I was Captain Cook exploring New Zealand. The motivation was the exploration, the sailing across the ocean with a wind-driven ship, and it is amazing how that is still as solid today. My whole life has been about sailing, from a little kid to now, that’s me. Sailboats are something I will do until the day I die, hopefully.’
Originally published: Boat International Jubilee Special 2008.