Smooth sailing for Bunbury local
England born and raised Gary Shea sailed into Bunbury more than a decade ago and he is now well and truly anchored in the city.
Gary owns and operates the State’s only sailing school and charter company that offers international accreditation in Oceanwest Charters.
He and his team sail between Bunbury and Cape Naturaliste, using some of the best waterways in the world to train up sailors.
It would be safe to say Gary found his sea legs from a young age and never looked back.
After growing up in Liverpool and Southampton in England, Gary fulfilled his childhood dream and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 17.
Like something straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster – most probably starring Tom Hanks or Nicholas Cage – Gary was a weapons engineer.
He looked after satellite communication systems and electronic warfare to do stuff like analyse other ships’ radars and weapons.
He analysed if missiles “were coming” and what sort of missile it was. Seriously.
It was 23 years in the navy for Gary, who speaks casually about the experience.
“It was interesting, I really enjoyed my time in the navy,” he said.
“I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve been all around the world to the very top to the very bottom, I’ve seen all sorts of things.
“I’ve been to the Antarctic Circle and seen icebergs, I was quite lucky really with what I did.
“Then all of a sudden you’re aged 40 and this long career comes to an abrupt halt.
“Most people sort of stay in the industry, initially that’s what I thought I’d do, but I decided on a huge change and came sailing instead.”
And a real sea change it was, with Gary moving countries as he figured out what was next.
“It was a fairly easy transition, I felt at home in this place straight away, it just felt natural to be here, I don’t know sometimes it happens like that,” he said.
“A lot of people said ‘what was it like when you left the navy, was it really hard because you’ve got all that structure?’.”
Camaraderie was another element people thought Gary would miss from his time on the naval warfare force, but he said his job now as a sailing instructor replicated parts of his past.
“You’ve still got all the people on a boat working together, it just felt normal really, I didn’t miss (the navy) at all,” he said.
Sailing was something Gary did “for fun” while in the navy and says when he moved to Australia the opportunity to make some money from the hobby “just opened up”.
“When I first got here I just thought ‘I’ve just done 23 years in the navy, I can have six months of fun’,” he said.
“So I started doing sailing as a job, with the idea that once the winter came I would go and find a proper job and get back into engineering.
“But the winter never came because I went to Exmouth then came back from Exmouth down here and did another summer, then back to Exmouth the next winter.
“Sailing took over really and I think it’s Australia – if you want to do something in this country, maybe I’m just lucky or work hard, but you just seem to be able to make things happen here.”
While Gary admits sailing was a hobby that became a job and it was easy for people to say ‘you’ve got the best job in the world’, he said it was also a lot of hard work.
Proving the move Down Under was the right one, Gary met his now wife Joeanne on a boat a couple years after arriving.
The success of his business is obvious through his growing team with Joeanne helping run it and another instructor on board, after Gary started up in 2012.
Gary laughs that the “Christmas parties got better”.
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