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  • Kurt Holland

Sailing Science Center: Who is Kurt Holland?

In 1995, Kurt Holland was teaching sailing at Olympic Circle Sailing Club (OCSC) in Berkeley. Bay Area sailing school owners felt the sport’s instructional standards had eroded and approached US Sailing to create a new certification standard. Now called the US Sailing Keelboat Certification Program, Kurt was ranked number 1 in the first certification cohort by professional sailors from around the nation.

Kurt’s earlier years were challenging. He grew up on Lake Michigan’s shore in Chicago. Finding that high school was not a good fit, he left at age 16 for Waikiki, where he swam, sailed, and worked on tourist boats. On his 18th birthday, he joined the Navy, where he was assigned to vessels in San Diego, Central America, and Asia before landing back in Hawaii.

In the Navy, Kurt found mentors who changed the trajectory of his life. They sorted him out, providing structure where he could thrive. He became a Navy rescue swimmer and founded a Navy sailing club. As a rescue swimmer/lifelong waterman, Kurt has plucked 21 people from the ocean. As a sailor, he has won local regattas on J/24s, Cal-20s, and Rhodes 19s.

Leaving the Navy in 1983, Kurt set sail onboard a Canadian-owned Niagara 35, headed from Hawaii to Victoria, BC. A week into the voyage another crew member—a fuzzy thinker—couldn’t understand why it was getting so cold. He thought he had signed on to go to Victoria, South Australia. Seeking big winds, Kurt made port on San Francisco Bay, continuing his lifelong relationship with boats and the ocean. He taught sailing for OCSC, worked for J/World in Florida, and ran charter boats in the Caribbean. Realizing that sailing would not pay the bills, he turned to motor vessels, serving as AB, Mate, and Captain for Crowley and CruiseWest. In 1989 he went to Alaska to support the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup. This proved life-altering, as he witnessed cleanup errors caused by a lack of science literacy. Motivated by this experience, he went to college and launched an ongoing effort to recruit the next generation of ocean stewards. Good fortune smiled on him when he met Erin, a competitive racing sailor, as she worked to sand the bottom of a J/24. Bonded by a love of the ocean, adventure, and sailing, they rebuilt, moved aboard, and cruised a 41-foot sloop from San Francisco to Maine via the Panama Canal.

Kurt's first sailing-based intervention, Encinal YC, Alameda

Coming ashore, Kurt joined Big Picture Learning, working at the Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) as a science teacher (video). He continues to work alongside the educational activists at BPL as a regional coordinator for the Harbor Freight Fellows Initiative and as the leader of the Working Waterfront Initiative. Beyond being a vocal supporter of the Sailing Science Center, Kurt has joined the SSC’s founding Advisory Committee, which will have its first convening later this year. We are humbled by Kurt’s accomplishments and honored by his support. He is a model of excellence.

Kurt leading a National Geographic Teachers' Training

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1 Comment

Doug Stowe
Doug Stowe
Feb 22, 2022

An amazing, wonderful story. Kurt is an inspiration.

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