From Backpacker to Boats, My Ibiza Story

In the next of an ongoing series Carly Marie Sorensen interviews Neil Wood, Owner & Founder of Boats Ibiza. This article was published in The Ibizan 912, 17th October 2019.

copy of the article as it appeared in the printed newspaper.

Interview with Neil Wood of Boats Ibiza

  • Carly Marie Sorensen

Neil Wood arrived on the island in 2006 after a two-year adventure travelling the world. All he had was a backpack, a tent and a desire to stay for a while.

Backpacker to Boats: Neil Wood of Boats Ibiza: My Ibiza Story
Backpacker to Boats: Neil Wood of Boats Ibiza: My Ibiza Story

Fast forward thirteen years, and he is the owner of Boats Ibiza, a hugely successful boat charter firm boasting celebrity clients such as Nicole Scherzinger, Wayne Rooney and The Kooks to name but a few.

I have known Neil for quite a long time now and he is easy-going, friendly and almost perpetually smiling (except when there are boat problems!).  Imagine the stereotype of what a businessman looks and acts like, then imagine the total opposite. THAT is Neil. Unassuming, humble and I don’t think I have ever seen him a suit.

On a recent trip out in our boat, we saw a tanned and smiling couple waving at us from their paddleboards. We realised that it was Neil and his lovely lady Angharad. ‘All those boats and you’re out on a paddleboard!’ we asked, laughing, ‘Yeah, they’re all out on charter today,’ he responded with a grin, ‘so we’ve got this.’

Don’t let the boyish charm, adventurous streak and chilled out demeanour fool you though. Neil Wood is a hard-working and determined business owner who takes risks and never shies from a challenge.

Before Boats 

Owning a charter company wasn’t a big dream or plan – it just kind of evolved. Neil’s life plan when travelling around the world pre-Ibiza was ‘Anything to avoid going back to the office and getting a “proper job”’.  He wanted to be able to earn a living and fulfil his wanderlust. Neil was determined to make that happen, preferably with a water focused activity as he has always been attracted to the sea and all the adventure activities associated with it.

Portrait of Neil Wood with the caption "Don’t let the boyish charm, adventurous streak and chilled out demeanour fool you though. Neil Wood is a hard-working and determined business owner"
“Don’t let the boyish charm, adventurous streak and chilled out demeanour fool you though. Neil Wood is a hard-working and determined business owner”

Neil initially wanted to set up a kite surf school somewhere. Viewed as a business with minimal equipment cost, and it was a new(ish) sport which he was hooked on and “knew” would have massive growth. However, Neil did not find the perfect location in which to base it and enable himself to both make a living and be able to travel.

He had also worked in various locations around the world as a dive master. Back in 2006 Neil got a job as a dive-master on his 2nd day on the island, a job he had qualified for and had experience of during his travels around the world.  It paid €20/day, and, unsurprisingly, he lasted 1 day.  

So, boats it was.

Boat #1

Straight after leaving his dive master post, Neil started cleaning, crewing and helping with stock for various boat owners, working up to delivering and captaining boats.

His first business opportunity arose that Summer in the form of a small water-skiing boat with a capacity for 5 guests.  When it came up for sale, Neil took a risk and decided to buy it on his credit card, not knowing at the time how he would pay it off. He just knew he would make it work.

He managed to secure winter work as a crew member and captain for delivery and charter of various boats and set sail to the Caribbean to spend a winter jumping from delivery to charter to delivery and earning the money to pay off that credit card and set up his business.

Neil at the helm of a speedboat
“The fun bit: being a captain and teaching water sports.”

Neil arrived back on Ibiza in May, perhaps naively assuming a month would be enough to get things set up. Inevitably getting all the relevant paperwork organised took longer than planned, but despite setbacks and delays Neil launched Boats Ibiza in 2007. 

Baggage

Like most of us who reside here, Neil found (and still finds) the bureaucracy a frustration, but it’s a necessary one! For those who don’t reside here, there are seemingly endless forms and papers we need to complete, generally in person at an office after a long wait, in order to get anything official done.

Despite the hurdles and hoops, Neil enjoyed a successful first year with his little speedboat and expanded the following year with a second boat. A winter working on a 73m superyacht for a Russian billionaire in the Maldives provided the funds for the second boat. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend my winter!

When starting out he was doing everything himself: sales, SEO, marketing, accounts, cleaning, logistics, drinks runs, paperwork, Spanish bureaucracy, low level mechanics and obviously the fun bit: being a captain and teaching water sports. From here he has gradually added to the portfolio and now owns or exclusively manages seven boats ranging from 31ft to 60ft.

Voyage

Twelve years on from that second boat, he now has a team of employees and has seen his business steadily grow to become the success it is today. 

Don’t expect to be getting the secret to this success though, there isn’t one. Neil says that there has been no strategy, every decision is based on the here and now. He tells me he didn’t plan to end up managing seven boats and a team of staff, it just kind of happened.

Further evidence of the ‘no plans’ approach came when I asked him where he saw Boats Ibiza in five years from now. He said “No idea, five years is a long time. I guess stay the same size. Seven is more than enough boats to deal with”.

A luxury Camargue 47 cruiser
“The Camargue 47, one of Boats Ibiza’s fleet of seven vessels.”

However, Neil also said he was recently reminded by one of the team: “remember in 2014 when we delivered the predator, you said never again”. Since then he has added three new boats to the portfolio. I wouldn’t be surprised if Neil has an even bigger fleet come 2024….

Crew

For Neil, one of the best things about running a business is his current staff, the majority of whom have worked with him for over 4 years. Finding good staff can be a huge challenge here, so Neil is always grateful when he finds a good worker. In my opinion (my husband has worked on the engines of Neil’s boats since we arrived) it is Neil’s amiability, flexibility and generosity which have resulted in him retaining such a solid core team.

The other highlight of the charter business is the ability to travel in the winter. The worst things for him are paperwork and accountancy.

Boats Ibiza

Ibiza is the ideal place for Neil to base himself and his business. First there is the obvious draw of it being a much-frequented tourist destination where boating is in ever increasing demand. But it also meets his personal need for outdoor adventures and downtime with loved ones.  The sea temperature is great for water sports and diving, it certainly beats the North Sea. Plus there are plenty of places to indulge his passion for mountain biking and it’s close for friends and family to visit.

However, it isn’t all perfect…. As any Island dweller will tell you, the traffic and heat in August are horrendous and there are very few direct flights in the winter.

A luxury cruiser with a sunset backdrop.
“it isn’t all perfect” ;-)

Tips

Before letting him get back to work, I asked Neil if he had any advice for anyone thinking about making their Ibiza business dream a reality.

Neil Wood of Boats Ibiza realistic and helpful five top tips.

  1. Check all your guesses are correct before committing to anything.
  2. Expect legislation to change. Spanish bureaucracy is not like the U.K.
  3. Don’t think it’s “living the dream” … boat clients only see the nice bit; they don’t see the behind the scenes problems.
  4. Take time out to clear the head, the summer in Ibiza can be extremely stressful.
  5. Expect to work very hard and don’t get caught in the party scene (too much).

So, there you have it. The story of a backpacker from England turned Ibiza business owner.


Our thanks to Neil Wood for his time and participation.

Please note that some advertising on this page is automatically inserted by Google Adsense. Given the subject matter of the content Google is likely to include other Ibiza boat charter companies. For more information on Neil Wood’s Boats Ibiza visit their website at https://boatsibiza.com


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