Book Review: One with the Sea

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Here is the sweeping story of one man's remarkable life. Born into humble circumstances, the only son of an Irish immigrant, Richard Daniel O’Leary’s love of the sea inspired him to attend the Maine Maritime Academy, serve as an officer in the Navy, as well as on the SS United States, and the Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.

He went on to create an illustrious business career based in Norfolk, Virginia. The company he founded, Cruise Ventures Inc., grew from a one-person operation to a national company with 2500 employees headquartered in fifty-five offices in twelve states, which built and owned a fleet of thirteen 600-passenger harbor cruise vessels. This is a grand story, not just about a man, but also about the opportunity that America still offers to those with vision and determination.


Richard Daniel O’Leary, One With the Sea



Richard O’Leary has drawn on a wealth of life experiences to contribute to his memoir. In this special interview, he discusses his philosophy of a strong work ethic, his distinguished military career, his successful cruise ship industry and the importance of family and friends.



Skye Wentworth) How does the title of your book, “One with the Sea” translate as a metaphor for you and for your life’s work?

Richard Daniel O’Leary) One with the Sea aptly describes how I spent my life. More than ten years of my life as a younger man was spent actually sailing on ships of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Merchant Marine. I decided, at a very young age when I first saw the ocean that I wanted to be on it or near it for the rest of my life. My entire career has been ship or maritime related and I have always lived by the ocean. I feel very fortunate to have found the interest and love that has given me so much fulfillment and pleasure.


Richard Daniel O’Leary, One With the Sea



SW) Tell us a little about your Irish heritage, upbringing and some life lessons you learned along the way. How did your father’s work ethic help you persevere and become successful in your careers?

RDOL) In many ways my father, an Irish immigrant, had a difficult life but he taught me, through example, to never ever give up on situations or people and to give your all to everything you attempt. He was the most unselfish human being I have ever met. His only thought was to do the very best he could to take care of his family, with very little regard for himself. When you grow up living with someone like that who also loves you dearly, it is hard not to develop some good traits that are applicable to many of life’s situations.



SW) What was the most thrilling and important adventure for you in your life as an officer at sea?

RDOL) Just being assigned as an officer on the bridge of the SS United States at 25 years-of-age was a thrilling event for me. I stayed for five years and crossed the Atlantic about 250 times. Each one of those crossings, made at speeds no other ship could attain, was an adventure. But one of the most exciting or at least most memorable was a negative experience. Two days out of New York, in 1962, I believe, we ran into a ferocious North Atlantic gale. The ship was actually “hove to” or stopped because of the ferocious seas. This is something we had never had to do in spite of a great deal of bad weather. The green water from the mountainous seas were breaking right over the bow which was about 70-feet above the waterline. The water would then break as it came aboard the foredeck and sheets of heavy spray and water would break against the bridge windows about 150 feet above the sea. I had seen a good deal of rough water but had never felt fear. When the water would hit the bridge windows I would duck down and I remember having the floating thought, “Is it possible it is all going to end like this on the greatest ship in the world?”

It didn’t, but we did some damage to this huge vessel including knocking a navigation range light off the main mast, which was about 170 feet above the sea. I later heard that we also cracked a structural beam in the main deck. As it always turns out, the wind abated the seas moderated, and we arrived in France only about 14 hours late. The whole event reminded me of a well-known Mariner’s prayer, “Oh Lord the ocean is so great and my ship is so small.” – even the SS United States.



SW) How did you decide to “jump ship” and begin a civilian career? What do you mean when you say that you embarked on “An Adventure in Capitalism?”

RDOL) The U.S. Maritime Services is a civilian entity much like the commercial airline business. My military service was comprised of my Active Duty Naval Service and 28 years in the Naval Reserve.

Because of the extensive business studies I had completed, it was logical to think about a business, but my only real interest was the Cruise Ship business. I started with the Norfolk Port and Industrial Authority, a quasi public-private entity. The work I did in attracting Cruise Ships to Norfolk led quite naturally to the founding of Cruise Ventures Inc.

I am a very strong believer in capitalism. I think our company represented capitalism at its very best. We took some new ideas and sold them to a group of people willing to take a risk for the potential of profiting. This is classic capital foundation. We nurtured and developed the ideas through adversity and good fortune, then took steps to transfer ownership, in our case, to the wonderful people who had done the work.


Richard Daniel O’Leary, One With the Sea



SW) Tell us a bit about the business, Cruise International Inc, which you founded.

RDOL) Cruise International was founded to market large ocean going cruise ships from ports where they did not normally operate. New York and Miami were the traditional homeports. We eventually operated ships from Norfolk, Baltimore, Boston, Wilmington, NC and Charleston SC. We sold cruises through travel agents and operated like a Shipping company that didn’t own ships. We developed the niche business of operating in different ports on Off Season dates into a good size business. We then expanded into the air and travel businesses and then added a fleet of 13 six hundred-passenger harbor cruise vessels in major ports throughout the United States.



SW)  Sounds like this was the beginning of the Spirit Cruises. Tell us a little about the concept, how you got started and what happens onboard.

RDOL) I love the ocean and I love vessels that take people to sea. I used to dream of owning some form of cruise vessel. In the late 1970s I began to think about developing a vessel and product that would compress the elements of a one-week ocean cruise into a three-hour experience. I engaged our executive group in brainstorming how we could implement a plan to develop this plan.

In 1978, we started by converting a World War II landing craft into a dining cruise vessel on the historic Elizabeth River. The popular ship was christened Spirit of Norfolk and our new company called Spirit Cruises was born. Primarily because of its age, this vessel was not successful.

However, the concept was very successful and we eventually built our own 600-passenger ships and operated them in 9 ports nationwide. Highlights included dancing as well as having bar and buffet on each deck, two live bands, a Broadway Revue, featuring the waiters and waitresses and spectacular views. We were moving about 17-thousand people per day and 1.5 million per year.
I’ve since sold the business but The Spirit fleet lives on. You can book cruises on The Spirit of Baltimore | Boston | Chicago | New Jersey | New York | Norfolk | Philadelphia | Washington DC. I urge everyone to go out there and enjoy.


Richard Daniel O’Leary, One With the Sea



SW) In your book, you talk about family and friends. How are they important to your success and wellbeing?

RDOL) I think family and friends are important as a stabilizing element in a person’s life. If you can find success in life or business and combine it with the contentment of having good friends and a great family you are fortunate indeed and are likely to be even more successful.



SW) Do you have a website? Where we can people purchase your book?

RDOL) Yes, One with the Sea: An Inspiring Rags-to-Riches Saga of the Son of an Irish Immigrant published by Jetty House, an imprint of Peter E. Randall Publisher, September 2011, can be purchased at Wholesalers can contact Baker and Taylor or Ingram.


Richard Daniel O’Leary, One With the Sea





Skye Wentworth is the Entertainment Editor for Wandering Educators