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'Far ahead of his time': Renowned Kiwi boat designer Ron Given dies

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A boat designer ahead of his time and a perennial student determined to perfect his craft – even in his final days.

That’s how friends and loved ones have described Ron Given, one of the country’s most famous boat designers, who died on Sunday in Noumea - two days before his 86th birthday.

Given had been living in New Caledonia off and on since 2020, shortly after being diagnosed with metastatic melanoma – a decade after undergoing successful treatment for skin cancer.

"Immunotherapy treatment gave him three more years but, in February, the disease came back and no more could be offered medically,” Given's wife Andrée said. 

“Everything was arranged to get palliative care at our apartment. Ron died peacefully around midday Sunday, surrounded by his Noumea family and the week before, his son Victor and daughter Tracey came to see him.”

Tributes have been pouring in for Given, designer of the Paper Tiger catamaran which – with more than 6000 registered worldwide – is considered the country’s most successful “off the beach boat”.

Retired boatbuilder and good friend Craig Partridge said the industry has lost one of its leading figures.

“He was a brilliant designer and, in some ways, underrated. I don't believe there's been any other designer in the world that had that many boats built off the design,” Partridge said.  

At the time of his death, Given was designing a 16m motor catamaran for a Tauranga-based client. 

“Ron kept telling the doctors to get on with it because he needed to get home and get back to his project. That was the kind of guy he was, committed to the industry and to his craft to the very end.” 

From an engineering background and with a love for motocross, Given designed his first boat as a 24-year-old in 1961 – driven by a desire to perfect what he believed was “the boat of the future”.

“He was far ahead of his time, one of our most talented yacht designers and obviously one of our best multi-hull designers,” said decorated Olympic sailing coach Grant Beck.

 “He was extraordinarily clever and never offered a complex solution to a problem. He always found a simple solution.” 

Given’s work received high praise in several countries. 

“The New Caledonians have phenomenal respect for Ron and, in some ways, he is more appreciated there than he is over here - because he has so many boats over there, doing enormous miles.

“And he had a great sense of humour – he was the only person I know who was fully French and fully Kiwi and managed to pick up the worst from both cultures,” Beck laughed.

Given would spend many hours studying literature and designs and developed a particular interest in safety as he became more involved in coastal and offshore racing.

David Austin, the leading medical practitioner behind the annual Dr Dave's Offshore Medical Course, knew Given for over 15 years.

He was a fantastic guy, innovative, well ahead of his time and one of those people who was always interested in listening to people's ideas and adopting them,” Austin said.

“Some designers you find are fixed in their ideas, but Ron was always keen to help and to listen to other people and take on new ideas.” 

Given was also a keen yachtie and competed nationally and internationally  - always designing and building his own boats and logging thousands of sea miles delivering his catamarans to offshore clients. 

One of the most recent trips perfectly captured Given's passion for his work.

"Ron, myself and another guy were delivering one of his 11m power cats to Maré Island and Ron spent half the time on the bow, looking out the window at the wave action," Partridge said.

"That was Ron – his mind always working stuff out. Always learning.” 

Given is also survived by stepdaughters Samantha and Caroline, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A ceremony will be held in Noumea on Thursday (March 16) and further arrangements will be made to honour his life in Auckland at a later date.