Andrew O’Riordan was just setting out in life when it threw him a serious curveball.
It was 2011 and Cork’s leading sea safari operator was a young newlywed with a wealth of seafaring experience, a ton of enthusiasm and a solid business plan.
Then doctors discovered he had cancer.
While the following years were a challenge, Andrew found his love of the ocean helped him through his gruelling treatment plan.
As the saying goes, smooth seas do not make skilled sailors.
Andrew’s recovery inspired a brand new business, Ocean Escapes, which provides exhilarating, inspirational, and educational marine tourism experiences for people of all ages.
In his own words, this is how he’s working it:
Following a battle with aggressive Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2011, less than a year after getting married, I had to rebuild my life and my business from the ground up. I had just started a marine business before my illness, but had to cease working throughout my illness and recovery. During my time in the hospital, my only escape from my situation was to dream of getting out on the water. On days I was well enough to be released for a few hours, it was my escape. Hence, Ocean Escapes was born.
I’ve had a love of all things nautical from a very young age. My parents bought me my first boat (a 3.3m Yamaha 330F with a Mariner 15hp engine) at the age of eight and I’ve pretty much been on the water ever since. I learnt the ropes on the “Back Beach” in Fountainstown where we had a mobile home. Under my Dad’s watchful eye I drove up and down the shallow strand summer after summer. My confidence and ability grew, and so did the size of my boats.
With a few qualifications under my belt I purchased a Tornado 4.5m at the age of 19 and then took a leap of faith and had a custom Excalibur 550 built in 2010 to start my marine business. Little did I know life was about to take a bit of detour!
I learnt to walk before running. Every cent I earned I reinvested back into the business to give it the best shot of success. I reverse-engineered it, focused on where I wanted my business to go and aimed towards getting there.
I knew I had the skill set to do the job I wanted, and following my battle with cancer I had a drive for life – I knew I could make this work. I was passionate about life in general and wanted to share my love for escaping to the water with everyone. Having the support of my wife and family, I haven’t looked back. Things took off and I am now the biggest sea safari operator in Cork, working full time with a crew of skippers. I absolutely love what I do.
I had been out of work for a number of years due to my illness and it was tough finding a good rhythm. I was so eager to do everything that I got frustrated that I couldn’t tackle it all in one go! I had to learn to prioritise and work on things in stages.
Customer feedback on TripAdvisor has proven invaluable. Facebook and Instagram have been a great platform for advertising, along with YouTube videos. One video went viral and created quite the media storm.
I admire my Dad. He has taught me everything about how to work. His attitude has always been to work hard for what you want. I have grown up watching and admiring his work ethic, his mannerisms and his rapport with his customers. I have him to thank for my attitude towards work.
My good friend and business mentor, John Riordan, has always been there with phone calls and advice to keep me grounded.
I love Mondays. When you love what you do, you aren’t working for the weekend, you’re living every day to its fullest.
I get to spend my days outdoors, seeing our beautiful harbour and all the wildlife it holds.
I love the challenge of continually growing my business. Each week brings new opportunities and I love embracing them. I had the great opportunity of working with Spike Island Adventure for a two year contract in 2016/17. On average I was carrying 1,000 passengers a month on the water. It was both challenging and hugely rewarding. This opportunity opened doors for future projects and further growth, which I’m really excited about.
It’s tough work. Lots of people say “Oh you get to drive boats all day? That’s not work at all”, which is true, but what people don’t see is the hours of maintenance and hard graft put in behind the scenes to maintain our boats to the level we pride ourselves on. It is absolutely worth the hard graft, but you must be prepared to do that hard work to deliver the best service you can.
People want to see what they are getting before they come onboard. We’ve run a number of very successful Facebook campaigns. Instagram is brilliant for showing the everyday happenings in our company, from our huge engines to a sunset photo of a late evening spin.
Some of our Facebook videos have had a reach of over 15 million. We’ve found short, quick video clips perform the best. A clip of a basking shark we filmed from our licensed drone went viral. We have GoPros mounted to our RIBS to capture candid moments too, which people love. The less “set up” the better, people want to see real.
Networking is a huge part of what we do. My attitude is we are stronger together than apart. My aim is to link in with businesses to open up the harbour to anyone who steps on board the RIBs.
I switch off by getting out on the boat! Just me, my wife and the dog, heading offshore to just take it all in and relax.
We’ve a few exciting partnerships coming up in 2018 which is going to bring great options for passengers. We’re working really hard to bring the best experiences to our clients, and we’re optimistic that 2018 is going to be our best year yet on the water.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s all a growing experience. Every decision shapes your journey, it’s all about what you do with the outcome of that decision. You either win from an experience, or you learn from it.