Six years sailing on the open seas

Probably the World's most extreme retirement plan ever

Brian Keyes

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Brian Keyes

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brian.keyes@kilkennypeople.ie

Six years sailing on the open seas

Padraig and Myra Reid, about the celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, are just back from six years sailing around the world. Their story is fascinating

Have you ever considered sailing off in to the sunset?

For most of us, it’s a type of metaphor for retirement, a dream that’s realised in the sense of taking it easy in later years.

But for Padraig and Myra O Maoilriada, a couple from Tullaroan, they literally sailed off in to six years of sunsets, and have just returned recently after a trip that literally was the trip of a life time.

Their story really is one of a leap of fate, together, in to an unknown world that began with a health scare, but the final five years of their voyage was, so to speak, plain sailing.

Myra and Padraig purchased a boat, trained up to the rank of yacht master and set sail around the world in their retirement. It’s an amazing, courageous tale that they tell so matter of factly that, it’s like - what else would we have done?

But the reality they began with was while they were well travelled, neither had ever sailed before making this decision, not even on a cruise ship, and in Padraig’s case he could not, and still can’t swim. So consider the vastness of ocean, and not seeing land for sometimes weeks at a time. For six years that was their life on board a ship that they called home - Saol Eile.

It all began in 1042. Well not really, but a Carlsberg-sponsored viking ship in a Danish museum, admired by Padraig, was built that year in Dublin, and sailed to Denmark. That fascinated Padraig, and at home during his first Christmas of full blown retirement he announced he was setting sail. Around the world.

Enquiring eyes turned to Myra, who was not expecting such an annoucement. At the time, she said no. But then she just couldn’t let Padraig off on his own and they began to plan their circumnavigation of the globe.

Padraig and Myra live in Tullaroan for over 40 years. He worked initially for Smithwicks in Kilkenny, and then transferred to Dublin - his profession being the building of breweries.

In early 1999, he retired from Diageo, but continued working - setting up his own consultancy business which saw him travel the globe - and designing the world’s largest distillery - for Don Pedro brandy in Mexico.

So globetrotting and building drinks manufacturing plants from whiskey to orange juice was Padraig’s life. Indeed he reckoned he had worked in 50 different countries and 60 different cities. And as the consultancy grew, others joined him who had left the drinks industry so the workload began easing off. On one such visit to Beamish in Cork, Padraig and some pals decided to to go shares on a yacht. It was not instigated by Padraig, but he enjoyed it none the less.

And then, what Padraig describes as a 'stroke of good fortune' occured.

Padraig had a stroke in June, 2008. The Bank Holiday Monday. “It was a blessing in disguise,” added Padraig, who suffered the permanent loss of peripheral vision in his right eye.

“But what it made me do was focus,” as Myra added, “We went in to Bank of Ireland, and we had bought shares, and we wanted to cash them in.” This was June, 2008, the shares were now at €9.38. The Reids had to sign a form stating they knew what they were doing, “They were basically asking us were we crazy?” said Myra, cashing in the Bank of Ireland shares. But their minds were made up. By Christmas, the shares were 13 cent. And so, Saol Eile could be purchased. Had they waited for a few months, their dream would have been dashed on the rocks of the greatest financial crash in the history of the state.

The Reids hired a professional to to source their vessel - a yacht , 16 metres long, an Amel Super Mararua was the make, anchored in Mallorca. They travelled out, brought it back to Kinsale, and then worked with Zaver Guvay, a sailing instructor from Bantry, on achieving their grades in sailing and gaining both valuable advice and experience

It took them over a year to become fully familiar with their vessel to begin their voyage. And on August 22, 2010, they embarked from Kinsale with two passengers, heading to meet the trade winds and on to Spain, the Canary Islands and the Carribbean. Family members were picked up along the way as they crossed the Atlantic in three weeks.

They enjoyed the high life of St Vincents, St Lucia and that area before heading for Panama and crossing in to the Pacific ocean. Relative calm seas on all fronts so far. But the journey ended abruptly in Panama. Padraig had a health scare. Clots had formed in both lungs.

“I nearly died, I thought it was a chest infection but it got worse and worse,” he said.

“I went in to a private hosptial immediatlely, they took me in, I was met by a consultant who said it was a lot worse than pneumonia.”

Previously, Myra had to threaten not to travel to ensure they went with health insurance, and boy was Padraig glad.

“It was very frightening,” said Myra “heading in to see him and this heamorrhage,” as the doctors offered two methods of curing Padraig - both attached with high risk. But with excelllent medical care, Padraig pulled through, but he had to return to Ireland and had lost a lot of weight.

Now all that mattered was recovering, and getting back to Saol Eile to continue the journey.

But they had to be patient with trade winds mapping their destination, and they returned in 2011 to their boat to begin the journey again. Fun times on the high seas for the next five years.

“The Pacific is such a large expanse, I would suggest to other yachtees to just skip the Galapagos Island. It costs $1,000 to anchor and its just a rip off. Other than that it was wonderful, catching firsh and hoping to land them before it became shark bait,” said Padraig.

“When you’re crossing big oceans, you don’t see many ships, you don’t even see birds as you are so far from land,” added Myra

Fifty years married in 2017, Padraig and Myra were on, in one sense a sense of discovery of each other. “Found it a little bit difficult because we are two very independent people,” said Myra. “We had our own lives, and suddenly we are now in a boat together all the time. Well we saw other sides to each other, we obviously did,” as Myra added jokingly “I’m a glutton for punishment.”

“You’re working on the boat a lot of the time, you do your three hours on, three hours off, so you’re always working,” she added, recalling the peaceful night watches she enjoyed.The sea and the night sky at night, the silence and the peace that came with it. Something she will never forget.

So around the Pacific, down to New Zealand, New Caledonia around to Papua New Guinea. “That’s a very sad, sad island, second biggest island in the world, one of the wealthiest in the world...but the people have nothing, politicians are corrupt, Australian, Chinese, New Zealanders, all in their raping the country. 95% unemployment, no police force.” said Myra.

A year in Indonesia, and Malaysia, touring the islands, around Borneo and the Chinese sea, described by both as “absolutely wonderful.”

During their trip, they took internal flights, like in to Vietnam which they were very impressed with, and in particular the sense of humour of the people.

“The furthest west in Indonesia, the poorest it is and when you come in on a boat, you’re just a novelty,” added Myra. “The poorer the people, the more welcoming they are. We tried to stay out of the major civilised places.”

Padraig was adverse to officialdom “People looking for bribes to bring in your boat.”

“Indonesia is a very muslim country, some places sell beer, some don’t. They’re very tolerant,” said Myra as in restaurants, you can bring in your beer but not to flaunt it - indeed sometimes it’s discreetly sipped in a coffee mug. “Guinness is widely available in Indonesia, as everyone knows it’s non-alcoholic, it’s a health drink, I drank it all the time out there,” said Padraig with a smile

They then headed to Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. Along the way, they made countless new friends, were accepted in homes, enjoying the hospitality from various cultures.

“You become like a big family, you’d be looking out for other people and their yachts. You set up a radio network,” said Myra as Padraig remarked “You might be 200, 300 miles away from there, but you get a weather forecast, and you know what’s going on.”

“One time there was a roll call, when we were coming down the Indian ocean, they were looking for Silver Girl, her mast came down and a German couple, 80 miles ahead turned around, and 80 miles is a whole day, 24 hours, they came back to stand off her. No mast, in the Indian ocean, is not nice. Southern Ocean is always getting you on the side. The Indian Ocean was by far the most challenging. The yachtie community, with the help of various sites, are constantly posting up to date information - not just on weather but where to anchor for repairs and supplies. You never feel stranded.

“People make countries, We went in to a small island, one of the Cook Islands, we’re in the harbour but we’re out from the harbour wall. We’re sitting on the boat and there is someone up there shouting, a man with green shorts and a green t shirt and a green cap. I go across on the dinghy, and he tells me he’s Paddy Lynch,” said Myra.

Paddy Lynch is of course world famous. He left Britain to avoid being recruited to the army, he went to Southampton and jumped aboard a boat for New Zealand. Becomes a jockey,and trains a Melbourne Cup winner. He goes to Cheltenham every year.

“You notice how very similar people are. You hear the Americans go on about muslims, but we spent a lot of time in those countries, very courteous and gentle people said Myra as Padraig added “South Africa is a dangerous place, but you learn, first thing you do is you learn where is dangerous, and you just don’t go there.”

Padraig was very impressed with Nambia” One place we visited, was unknown to me Namibia, used to beSouth West Africa, during the First World War the South Africans occupied it because it was German west Africa. Then the League of Nations gave it to South Africa as a trustee to hold it for the natives. When the Black states in the sixties started gaining independence, suddenly there was a block of African votes in UN and they forced through a vote that South Africa had to relinquish Nabia. The UN appointed Sean MacBride - his father fought the British in the Boer War. He took 300 Africans and put them in to college around the world, these guys run the country, it was truly a visionary thing to do,” said Padraig.

Padraig wants to go again, I miss my children and family,” said Myra

“ I have five grandchildren and four children. He wants to go around Cape Horn. I came home for a short period,to get Padraig’s medication and the last time before now was 2014,” said Myra adding “I Skyped - but I started to cry, and be upset for a day or two, it’s easier to email. Our eldest grandkid was 14 when we left, now he is over in England working at 20 on the way to college.”

The whole voyage gave Padraig “a great thirst” for more.

“If you are considering a similar venture, try our own coastline first,” said Myra.

“As a practise run, if they want to go around the world, go around Ireland. If you can sail around Britian and Ireland you can sail the world. We took months at it, stayed where we liked. You’re not in hurry — real long days of sailing, it’s great.”

Padraig was what you would describe nowadays, as an extreme sportsman. He loves the adrenaline mix , and was a seasoned mountain climber in his youth. It’s the excitment of it all that gave him a real buzz. “When I had the stroke I realised I worked my whole life, and there had to be more to it. You have to enjoy yourself, and there is no enjoyment of going out in bad weather. We met 50 couples over the years, sometimes over and over again. We have come across four or five boats that were lost, crews are saved but the boats went down.”

“Your boat is your home, you have personal stuff, all your gear, you don’t want anything to happen it. Pitting your skills against the elements, we avoided storms, but we know people who wait for the storms, the Volvo race does that. We’re cruisers,” remarked Myra.

The final leg of the journey was from Brazil, home to Ireland. It was their longest stretch at sea. “We never met another Irish boat on our travels,” said Padraig “We only saw one on the way home, Slí Eile.”

So the Maolriadas return to Tullaroan, and you get the sense its almost like regrouping. Will they go again?

Sin Scéal Eile.