by Jo Djubal
Richard Ward has just returned from a tour of America and is enjoying his morning surf. Later in the day he's looking forward to a blast in an ultralight towards getting his flying license.
Richard with daughter Amber, at the Phuket Boat Show
In between he'll head to his factory where happy, dedicated shipwrights and a team of bright enthusiastic design crew are constantly working on the latest award winning offerings from Seawind Catamarans... his brainchild and one of Australia's most obvious success stories in the annals of multihull design.
The company's steady growth and confident evolution has been calmly played out in typical Aussie style - namely to get head down, bum up, produce quality, down to earth cruisers designed for a distinct and growing market, present them with an honst enthusiasm and look after your clients needs - always.
Hardly rocket science but as history as shown, often hard to achieve in reality. Despite how easy they make it look, companies such as Seawind don't just happen.
Recently lauded with a swag of Awards in the USA, including Cruising World Magazine Most Innovative Design and Best Multihull Cruiser for 2007, Seawind has come a long way in twenty five years.
And so has Richard Ward. Being at the helm of his company and steering it to success has been an incredible voyage for him. Taking risks to do something you love and following the dream may be the catchcry for many but Richard Ward has actually gone and done it. And done it more than well ... But how?
How has a laid back chartered accountant with a penchant for the odd ocean race created a multihull company on the verge of widespread international acclaim ...
Looking at his early beginnings, Richards childhood definitely hinted at a lifelong love of sailing. Besides his father being a Surgeon Commander in the Navy, seafaring wasn't prevalent in the family history but a love of the ocean certainly was.
'From the age of ten, we had a holiday house in Caloundra just north of Brisbane where we spent every holiday and a lot of weekends until I was in my early twenties. We surfed in the mornings and sailed in the afternoons at Pumistone Passage at Golden Beach. My first boat was a Thorpe 12 'Hot Cat', a heavy open cat rigged dinghy. It was a wild thing to sail – huge mainsail, no jib but carried a spinnaker.'
'In the strong afternoon sea-breezes, many races ended in a capsize from which there was no recovery... In later years, this class became lightweight with enclosed buoyancy but our boat was completely open, carvel planked and built like the Titanic. Later we progressed to Moths and Gwen 12’s.'
'The early sailing years at Caloundra were a lot of fun because it was holiday mode sailing. We’d do all the season races, including away races to Mooloolaba and Lake Cootharaba. But it always more fun than serious and often with a cousin or friend as a scratch crew. I still get regaled with the stories of how I nearly drowned my Auntie Cam or Uncle Dick or some other close relative!'
Schooling in Brisbane and his subsequent years at the University of Queensland (gaining a Bachelor of Commerce followed by his Australian Chartered Accountancy qualification) were interspersed with days on the water.
'At around seventeen, I started sailing in Brisbane, either up the river in 16 footers or at RQYS in a range of classes. I also started ocean racing in bigger boats. Back then, ocean racing out of Brisbane wasn’t huge. The boats were a bit motley and it was well before multihulls changed the ocean racing scene there. Along with a few friends we crewed on a famous old 36ft steel Alan Buchanan sloop 'Sequana'.in the 1972 Sydney to Hobart.'
Shortly after the 1972 race came the exciting opportunity for Richard to do some serious ocean cruising aboard a 56ft American ketch headed for Africa.
'It was my first time outside of Australia. And to a young man who had never been outside Brisbane, it was a wonderful and truly educational experience which gave me an insight into what an exciting place the world is. The boat had been built in Ecuador using local Ecuadorian timbers by a seventy five year old Russian-American and traditional craftsmen.'
'Chalen, the head carpenter and an indigenous Ecuadorian indian stayed on for our year long, round-the-world trip. He was a wonderful guy who taught me a lot about how to live a calm and meaningful life and what is important and what is not.'
The next four years were spent working and sailing in the UK, his suit and tie lifestyle working for lauded company Ernst and Young, offset by some pleasurable sailing experiences.
'I’ve done many major ocean races but some of my most memorable sailing was in the UK in the summers of 1975, 76 and 77. It was tough competitive racing with the top boats in the world. It was a new era of 'ton' racing with brilliant new designers like Ron Holland, German Frers and Bruce Farr and the Solent was the epi-centre of world yachting.'
'It was a great time to be there. It all culminated in the 1977 Fastnet in which I navigated Bart Ryan’s sloop Betula to a very satisfying division win. Although I love the thrill and physicality of dinghy and round the buoy yacht racing, I still prefer the longer ocean races which combine the need for both mental and physical stamina and get you into a closer relationship with the sea.'
It was while living in the UK that Richard came across the opportunity to own his first cruising yacht, a 34ft Van der Stadt sloop. 'I had it built in Sri Lanka in 1975. It was a beautiful boat, fibreglass construction but with an ornate wood interior. I was doing a lot of ocean racing and desperately wanted to go cruising. However, I had very little money and was planning to build a boat myself. However, I came across this boat company in Sri Lanka who were offering this production cruising boat at an incredibly low price.I was ready to leave London anyway after four years of English weather!'
'On the trip back to Australia with my new wife Lindie, we called into Colombo, met the boat builder, loved the boat and placed our order. We then buckled down back in Australia for twelve months to earn enough to pay for the boat. Approx. $22,000 in total! And this was including a 20hp Volvo, English aluminium spars, UK sails, Lewmar winches etc etc. It was the most wonderful way to commission a boat to be built. Everything was different and exciting.'
'A year later we launched her in Sri Lanka in an incredibly ornate and complicated ceremony that invoked every known Hindu and Buddhist deity. With flowers and coconut milk, we christened her Parthati, the mother goddess and one of the incarnations of a wife of Lord Shiva.'
Richard recalls that making the transition from crewman to yacht owner was a huge jump . 'I’d done thousands of ocean miles as crew, navigator and sailing master and thought I was pretty good. But then you have your own boat and suddenly realise there are so many things that that you’ve never bothered with or had a chance to learn.
'We shipped Parvathi home to Sydney and spent the first year sailing in and around Sydney. I made heaps of errors including the most embarrassing one - knocking the top of the mast off on Iron Cove bridge! It was a strong southerly and we were well heeled over...it didn’t even occur to me that the bridge might not be tall enough. Half way under the bridge, we met the wind shadow and the boat came upright with the terrible sound of tearing aluminium. The forestay was completely severed but with the strongly rigged lowers intact the mast miraculously stayed put. I certainly never made that mistake again!'
Richard believes there's always something to learn when you're out there sailing, and that each learning curve offers a lesson to log to experience.
'That summer, we sailed to Lord Howe Island arriving just in time to be told