Ten new arrivals at the University of Auckland discovered that their new campus included the deck of a 50m superyacht.

The university has started the country's first post-graduate degree in yacht engineering, and the perks of the Auckland campus became immediately evident to the first intake of students on Friday.

The course's founder, entrepreneur Ron Holland, took the students on a tour of the Russian-owned Thalia, a massive steel-hulled ketch which is visiting Auckland for a refit.

In the background to Auckland's Viaduct, the Volvo Ocean Race was in full swing.


"It is a bit of a unique course," Mr Holland said. "It's one thing sitting in a classroom, it's another thing being able to walk through a gigantic yacht and shipyards with boats at different stages of construction.

"This is a very logical [site] because of our maritime industry and our well-known yachting success."

This reputation has drawn a diverse group of students. In the class of 10, just only are Kiwis; the others come from France, Dubai, Norway, Iran and South Africa.

Mr Holland admitted the luxury boat market had shrunk in a tough economic climate. Twenty years ago, 200 boats larger than 30m were being constructed around the world. Today, that figure is 20.

He hoped his unique course would give graduates the edge in this competitive job market.

Unlike Europe, New Zealand's boat-building industry often builds a boat from start to finish, from the hull design through to the light fittings.

Mr Holland noted that students would enter the workplace as many of the original superyachts reach 15 or 20 years old and require expensive refits. A service for one of the mega-yachts which park in Auckland's Viaduct can cost around $1 million, and make-overs can set an owner back $5 million.

The Master of Engineering Studies in yacht engineering is not all about basking on pleasure boats - it will be steeped in high-end theory and cover the design and construction of boats from wind-surfers to mega-yachts.

The university's graduates have a strong heritage in designing high-performance yachts. Physics graduate Tom Schnackenberg helped create the twisted wind-flow tunnel at the Tamaki campus which simulated winds and allowed scientists to observe how sails behaved. He later co-ordinated the design for America's Cup winner Black Magic.

Mr Holland was also involved in a number of America's Cup designs, but his big claim to fame is the largest single-masted boat in the world, the 75m Mirabella V, which would tower 25m above the Auckland Harbour Bridge's arch at high tide.

He was raised in Auckland where he sailed P-Classes from age 7 and left high school to complete an apprenticeship in wooden boat-building. He formed a boat design company in Ireland in the 1970s and recently shifted to Vancouver.