Leaving an IT job to set sail for the high seas in Hawaii

'It is a great place to live. You go about in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops day and night'

Captain of his own ship in Hawaii - Eamon Guilfoyle

Captain of his own ship in Hawaii - Eamon Guilfoyle


Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Eamon Guilfoyle from Kilkenny who worked as a boat captain in Honolulu and is heading back to Oahu soon to captain a boat again.

When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?

In 2002 I retired from IT at the age of 54. It was a bit too young to retire finally. I was already a diving instructor and that was an obvious direction to go. My wife, Judi, was working in a very stressful job and would join me in the adventure. We travelled over to Florida to do a crossover to become PADI diving instructors. I got a Green Card as we wanted to go to the Caribbean. We got jobs in a scuba business in St Thomas in thre US Virgin Islands in October 2003.

Did you study in Ireland? Where and what?

I come from a farming background and went to CBS in Kilkenny, where career guidance seemed sketchy unless you wanted to become a Christian Brother that is. I studied agriculture, but was not finding jobs in that field. I applied to be a pilot in Aer Lingus and made good progress through the various tests and interviews until there was a problem with my eyes.

But as I had impressed at the tests and interviews, they offered me a job in Aer Lingus where information technology was just getting started and I went into that about 1970. There were no degrees in IT in those days, just experience.

Eamon Guilfoyle at the helm in Hawaii
Eamon Guilfoyle at the helm in Hawaii

Did you do any training to be a boat captain?

I was a coxswain (boat driver) in a diving club in Ireland and sailed in Malahide. I loved being out on the water. When it comes to being a boat captain and driving large dive boats, different countries have different rules In the US you need to get a USCG (Coast Guard) license to become a captain. If you want to drive inspected vessels, which most dive boats are, you need a Master’s License and for that you need to be a citizen, so you need a US passport.

Tell us about your career before Hawaii.

We worked in the Caribbean for about three years getting experience and progressing up the ranks as diving instructors. I was working as a boat captain in BVI and I liked that, but I wanted to move along and the Pacific was calling. We had been going to a big trade shows in the US called DEMA, dive companies, professionals and equipment manufacturers, each year. It’s a great way to meet people, do updates and get opportunities in the business.

I was offered the job of manager of Truk Lagoon Dive Centre. I accepted and we mover out to Micronesia. Judi was the hotel business manager. We ran the business there for a year. It was a fantastic opportunity to dive the best wreck dives in the world and get paid for it. ]

But it was never a place to stay permanently, conditions for the locals are not very good there, third-world really, and there is nothing to do except drink and dive, there is not even a TV station. So we moved on and Hawaii seemed a good option.

Tell us about your career in Hawaii? What does your day-to-day work involve? What does you average day look like?

We settled in very quickly, had a contact from a friend and picked up jobs in a dive centre. We rented half a house and bought cars. We were now very good at getting ourselves sorted.

Hawaii is a collection of islands. The biggest population is Asian, followed by Americans and lastly locals. Americans stay mostly together and we were in that group as we spoke English and fitted in. Working days varied. They could be on the boat, leading dive tours, training people in pool or working in the dive shop. I also trained and became a realtor.

Do the Irish fit in well in Hawaii?

The Irish fit in well everywhere in the US, Canada and Australia where English is the spoken language. England was not as good for the Irish, but I think it is changing. I worked on an IT contract in England early 1980s and did not like the attitude to the Irish. Suppose the legacy of the North was still too fresh.

What is it like living in Hawaii?

It is a great place to live with a very consistent climate. It is never too hot or too cold. You could go about in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops day and night. There is lots to do and it is easy to make friends. Most people we knew in Hawaii are from the US mainland and all want to fit in and make friends. I had bought a Corvette and joined the Corvette Club of Hawaii and that brought a new set of friends.

We also had the curious Irish factor. There are about five Irish bars and even the Guinness there was drinkable. I now had a US passport so could drive the dive boats once more. We loved it there, had made good friends and would have stayed, but my wife got sick.

What is it like coming back to Ireland? How long are you here?

We had maintained our medical Insurance, so we had to come back to get her treated. She recovered ok. We still had our house here anyway so we would eventually have had to come home to sort that. We are still here.

Are there any particular challenges you face in your work?

Challenges are there to be overcome. Every job has challenges. I have worked at different careers and they all bring different difficulties or challenges. With an IT background if something is broken - fix it.

Have you any plans?

I am in Kilkenny where I left about 40 years ago. If I can settle I will stay, if not I’m away again.

Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?

Certainly, there are greater opportunities abroad. There are a bigger range of jobs and lots of starter jobs abroad and it is easier to move jobs. If you are good, you progress up.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career abroad?

Go with a plan, have some qualifications and it is easy to get work. Irish people seem to get on well. They are smart and ambitious and easily progress. It is easier to progress in business abroad than in Ireland where nepotism reigns. Before you go, do some research online so when you get there you can do some networking. Irish clubs and the old trusted GAA and all good for contacts. But that is mostly in east coast US and cities in Australia. Outside these areas there are few Irish.

What is it like living there in terms of accommodation, transport, social life and so on? What are the costs like?

Accommodation is expensive in Hawaii, about twice what it is in Ireland. it is also car country, but they have a good bus service on Oahu where I was. Taxis not cheap but people are very good at giving lifts. The people there regularly have house or pool parties or BBQs - different systems from BYOB to Pot Luck. We sometimes sat out on the pier after a day on the water having a few beers

Where do you see your future?

Wish I knew, but I have re-invented myself so often I can do so again.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

Family, hurling, rugby and being impressed at the knowledge and conversation of random people in random pubs anywhere in Ireland.

Is there anything you won’t miss?

Taxes, levies and charges, and Goverment interference in people’s lives. It’s way too expensive to have a nice car here. There are too many quangos snf politicians talking about what they are going to do but not doing it. There is a terrible entitlement culture here. Nothing happens - walking , hiking, cycling etc - unless it’s for charity. Ireland has become a country of whingers. I better stop.

If you work in an interesting job abroad and would like to share your experience, please email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little about you and what you do.

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