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Yachting - February 2008 - The American Way

Written by Dudley Lawson

In his book, Hope from my Heart, DeVos says, "At that point, most people would have given up and gone home, but Jay and I were committed to our dream and were still confident we could make it work." The travelled across Venezuela, and Colombia, by plane paddle steamer, and narrow gauge railroad, to the west coast of South America.

They headed South through Chile, flew over the Andes, and traveled back up the east coast of South America, making stops at most of the Caribbean Islands before returning to Michigan. "That trip changed my life," DeVos continues in the book, "I had learned to take risks and to rise above defeat in order to achieve a goal and realize a dream. [The sinking] had taught me to improvise in ways that made life more interesting and spontaneous. Every subsequent venture in my life has been benefited from the lessons learned on that trip."

When DeVos speaks of subsequent ventures, one must wonder if we shouldn't all go out and sink a boat. He, along with his sailing and business partner Van Andel, went on to found Amway. Short for the American Way and now named Alticor, the company's success propelled DeVos to a spot in the top quarter of the Forbes 400, with his wealth recently estimated at $3.6 billion. Van Andel passed away in 2004 and DeVos has turned operation of the company over to the second generation, but he remains active in Alticor as well as in the NBA Orlando Magic franchise, which he also owns.

DeVos has come a long way, both in business and yachting. His love of the sea has only grown over the intervening six decades since the sad demise of the schooner Elizabeth. In his own words, he is now "a boat owner with experience, who's bought and sold and sunk a few boats. We have been through a lot of boats in our lifetime."

There have been numerous sailboats of all types, growing in size and sophistication along with DeVos' business growth and sailing experience. Like many successful people, DeVos has a competitive streak that carries through both his work and his recreation. When asked about high points in his yachting over the years, the smile on his voice was clear as he answered, "Winning a Mackinaw Race is always good!"

The love of sailing continues, for both DeVos and his sons. The younger generations got hooked on competition in races off Bermuda, Hawaii, and Chicago, and the sons still campaign a custom 86-footer named Windquest. For Rich DeVos, the sailing may be less competitive these days, but having been aboard a few of her sisters over the years, I guarantee that his current sailing yacht, Independence, is no slouch in performance. The sleek 174-footer built by Perini Navi spends her winters in Florida and the Caribbean, and alternates summers between the Mediterranean and the US.

The DeVos family's first powerboat, a 36-foot Chris Craft - what else would a Michigan family buy in those days?-was acquired to serve as floating accommodations for their racing activities. As the circle of family and friends grew, more berths were needed and the fleet of cabin cruisers and motoryachts changed as necessary to meet the demands.

DeVos found that entertaining on yachts was beneficial to Amway's business, but to avoid mixing business with pleasure, the company acquired its own boats. Over the years, Amway commissioned three Feadship motoryachts, the largest being a 170-footer. All were christened Enterprise and hosted clients and star employees in ports throughout the U.S.

At one point in the early 1990s, DeVos became an equity partner with Irwin Jacobs in Genmar, then the parent corporation of Hatteras Yachts. In the process, the North Carolina builder constructed a custom motoryacht for DeVos. His taste for larger vessels was whetted, but a serious personal problem loomed. DeVos, suffering health problems of increasing severity, divested himself of both his motoryacht and his Genmar interests.

In 1997, following two bypass operations, DeVos was told his only chance of survival was a heart transplant. Given his age of 71, though, as well as other complications involving his current heart, his odds of receiving a suitable donor heart were poor. Even if a heart should become available, his prospects of surviving the operation and recovery, after two bypasses, were even poorer. In short, he needed a miracle. DeVos turned to his faith and credits the prayers of family and friends with delivering that miracle, and another as well. A few days following his transplant operation, you see, he had a chance to meet the donor of his new heart.

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