Life Lessons From A World Sailor

David Ward is a life long sailor, successful businessman and owner/director of classic VW spare parts firm VW Heritage. The business, built from a two-man show into a multi-million pound firm, is thriving, despite the recent recession. David puts this success down to heart-felt leadership and decent values.  In this article, David describes his recent ocean voyages across the Mediterranean and reflects on how his adventures and challenges at sea have taught him key lessons about contented living, business success and gratitude.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

I’ve been sailing for over three decades and in that time I’ve seen more gifted and experienced sailors than myself. You either catch the buzz or you don’t. And like anything that takes a lifetime to master you discover things about yourself and life’s journey along the way.

I set sail from Brighton Marina to Cadiz, Spain, in my Beneteau 461 Yacht, Steelaway. It was a beautiful day with just the right amount of offshore wind and a gentle southerly breeze. I always experience a certain amount of anxiety before setting sail on a long journey. It’s the same at the beginning of any new venture, it can be dangerous and you never truly know what’s up ahead. My relationship with sailing has always been ambivalent. There are times when I think ‘God knows why I do this?’ but once I’ve cast off and I’m sailing into unfamiliar waters I think ‘This is the best thing ever!’ By the end of the second day we were sailing along the Costa Blanca where the white capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada rise majestically from the ocean, while dolphins swam alongside the boat.  If I’d let my anxiety get the better of me, I would have never experienced such beauty.

Batten down the hatches

Decide what your goal is, plan and prepare well, then go for it. Procrastination is the death knell of success, and fun!

We attempted to cross the Coast of Death on the Bay of Biscay off the Spanish Celtic region of Galicia. It was our second try. One month before, we’d been beaten back by poor weather conditions, and after 29 exhausting hours of battling against squalls and a wind that refused to settle down, we limped back to Brest in the south of France. This time, we had learned our lesson, or so we believed. With a favorable weather forecast, we planned a 3 1/2 day crossing. The only problem was, we were one crew-member down. How would we fair, just the two of us in volatile waters?  We set sail across the deep Atlantic accompanied by glorious weather and a whale graced us with its presence. But it wasn’t long before we realized a storm was heading our way. To race ahead of the storm, we started pushing the boat harder. It wasn’t looking good, we were frightened but we just got on with it. With harnesses on, we strapped ourselves in to the back of the boat. After a grueling few hours, we were back sailing in the direction of Al Corunna without a storm in sight. Contrary to our expectations, we arrived 12 hours ahead of schedule.

A ‘fighting spirit’ is key to success. For me, this means having the strength and determination to see a quest through to its successful completion, no matter what threatens to capsize the endeavor. It’s the same in business, the more uncomfortable I feel, the harder I work.

The power of gratitude

Success will follow if everybody on board clearly knows what the goals and objectives are. But success is a lot more than just good planning and clear communication. I try to understand and value each and every crew member, and keep them happy and feeling appreciated. That way you make the right decisions for the whole rather than the part, and avoid mutiny in the process! Success is about valuing what you have. It’s about sustaining a perspective of profound gratitude, and for me, this really is a formula for happiness and success.

In my hallway at home there is a meter long photograph of all the people who have helped me or shown me kindness in some way, whether it be big or small, at crucial times in my life and business career. There are about one hundred people, all standing and smiling in a long line on Brighton beach – with the sea as a backdrop. It serves as a poignant reminder to me that it’s never a solo journey; you always need the support of others to make progress.

 David Ward is the Director of UK based online firm VW Heritage, which supplies vintage out of production spare parts for classic VWs and helps enthusiasts keep their vehicles on the road.



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