How to quit your job, buy a yacht and sail around Asia
23rd January 2020
Ever dreamt of giving it all up and living on a sun-drenched boat sailing around the world with your mates? Well, that’s exactly what these friends did.
With little to zero sailing experience, this group of mates from Cork spent two years preparing for the epic adventure around Asia. From researching boats to saving up enough to buy a boat between them, to actually learning how to sail (Sailing for Dummies was a well-thumbed through book before the gang set sail!) they were determined to make their dream a reality.
We had a chat with Gerald O’Sullivan from the self-named Seanchaí Boys about the expedition and how something that we all talk dreamily of after a few drinks actually became their life.
So, first things first, where did the idea come from?!
The initial idea sprang up at the end of college. One day we were staring at a map, looking at all the places we wanted to go and flippantly thought that sailing would be the best way of travelling around the islands of Indonesia and getting to places that are rarely seen.
We were then living in Australia and did a yacht trip to Fraser Island and that was it! We decided then that we were going to buy a boat of our own and do this thing! Everyone loved the idea but a few had to be persuaded to actually do it because of the obvious dangers and shortcoming of experience.
When we told our friends and family, they didn’t believe us at first. Rightly so, our safety and the dangers of sailing worried them but when we showed them how much research and preparation we were doing, they got behind us.
How did you prepare for such an epic trip?
In the beginning, the only experience we had between us was one person who had done some dingy sailing so we all had to spend a lot of time gaining experience. Hours were also spent learning about boats and searching for the perfect vessel for sale in South East Asia that we could buy.
We worked in Sydney for 6 months saving all of our money to buy a boat and cover expenses and we stopped going out at weekends, spending all of our spare time learning to sail instead. All of us could rattle off the whole ‘Sailing for Dummies’ book if you asked us! But we learned that with some hard work and research, notions can actually become a reality.
We eventually found a 44ft yacht with 11 beds in Malaysia, bought it and called it An Seanchaí (pronounced Shann-a-kee) which is the word for a traditional Irish storyteller. We figured this boat would have some good stories to tell!
The best piece of advice we got was from one of the lads’ uncle, Brendan Ankers, who’s an experienced sailor of the Pacific Ocean and came out to help us get going at the start. He said: “Don’t overthink it or you’ll never leave the dock,” and I think this can be applied to a lot of situations and experiences in life.
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What does a typical day on the boat look like (if there is such a thing?!)
If we’re on a long passage, it’s just divided between being on shift, which can mean crackers with copious cups of tea and a good podcast, or fighting our way through a tropical squall, or off shift and grabbing sleep when we can. Obviously with up to 10 lads onboard there would be a fair bit of muck talk and banter taking place in the cockpit as well!
If we’re at anchor we usually go out exploring, hiking around the area and snorkelling and then just spend the evenings reading and relaxing or planning for our next leg of sailing. The longest distance we’ve travelled in one go is 450 nautical miles across the Celebes Sea, North of Sulawesi, which took 4 days and required a lot of prep.
When we’re in a port that’s our time to get repairs done and generally get off the boat to cure the literal cabin fever!
What’s the worst thing that you’ve experienced while on the journey?
We were stuck at anchor for three days in a heavily pirated area because of engine troubles and no wind. On the second day, a 40-knot squall came in and hit us hard, causing us to slip on our anchor. We had to try and get our anchor up and reset under sail before we went on to the rocks. It was pretty hairy but we knew we were going to be experiencing things like this along the way so once it was happening, we just had to get stuck in.
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With all the work on the boat that we have done , we have been eager to leave Langkawi and head on our first big voyage towards Phuket in Thailand. Whilst waying up our options we have been met by sailors telling us that this is the worst time to do so due to it being the monsoon season. It's good to see Mark taking their opinions into consideration.
And the best thing?
On the flip side, we’ve had so many more good experiences compared to bad ones (thankfully!) Everyone has their own personal favourite moments but generally being out at sea with water on every horizon and nothing but the wind and waves pushing you towards your destination, as the sun rises and sets is a pretty incredible experience. We’ve sailed alongside dolphins, whales and even had a Manta Ray breach off the boat which was quite special.
One morning we had a waterspout come towards us just as the sun rose which was a hair-raising but unforgettable experience!
We’ve seen some incredible places but the one that stood out the most was Raja Ampat in West Papua. It’s an untouched paradise and the coral wildlife and scenery is quite literally unbelievable.
We just love the autonomy and adventure being on a boat affords you and the ability to experience remote and untouched areas. But at the same time, like a dog, a boat is not just for Christmas – you can’t just walk away and leave it unattended as you please. And while there are eleven beds on board, they are not made for 6ft6 lads!
How long do you plan to sail for?
After 9 months, we’re coming to the end of our sailing trip. But a few of us are starting a long cycle trip home in March so we have another adventure to look forward to now.
But we would just like to thank everyone in the sailing community that helped us along the way. It is a special community and we were always met with positive vibes, particularly in Langkawi where we started out our trip. The trip 100% wouldn’t have been possible for us without this.
A special mention must go out to two people in particular. Brendan Ankers, Ger’s uncle, decided to fly over to Langkawi to help us with setting up the boat. He imparted a huge amount of sailing knowledge on us but also gave us the confidence that we could do it, along with lots of laughs from his crazy stories. And Mary Tatton, the woman who sold us the boat. Not only did she absolutely bend over backwards for us, but she is also great craic and an absolute legend!
It’s been an unforgettable experience and was great to prove to ourselves that crazy ideas and goals can be achieved if you want them enough.
Follow the Seanchai Boys’ adventures on their Instagram: @seanchaiatsea