From Ship to Shore – Dr James B Rieley

Written by Melanie Winters

Written by Melanie Winters

Dr James B Rieley was born in the United States but is British citizen. He has lived in Mallorca for twenty years, except for the time spent in the BVI (which you can read all about below). James, and his partner Mary Lee, returned to Mallorca again in March 2020. He’s owned seven boats and lived permanently on most of them. He’s retired now but still writes incessantly and does lots of artsy stuff (his words) when he is not advising CEO’s and business leaders on how to become highly effective through decision-making! He’s the man for the job after earning his PhD in Organisational Effectiveness.

James is relatively new to sailing.  ‘Relatively new’ meaning he had never sailed before 1988, when he read a book written by Tania Aebi about her experiences single-handedly circumnavigating in a 26-foot Contessa…  

For James, there is a fine line between being a retired businessman who loves to live on boats and being a sailor that used to own a business. Clearly, the whole ‘business’ thing still courses through his veins, but at the same time, he is sure that his DNA has a strong dose of always wanting to live on water.  

Whilst James had no desire to single-hand around the world, he realised that he wanted to learn how to sail. So, he bought his first boat, a 30-foot sloop and, as James was retired, he realised he could spend all his time learning how to sail.   

For James, part of the enjoyment wasn’t only being able to drift off towards the horizon but also to learn why things work the way they do on a boat. This meant that he discovered things like the capsize screen formula, which clearly impacted the choice of his second boat… He sold the sloop and purchased a Taiwan-built 35-foot double-ender and promptly sold his home and moved onto the boat permanently.  

With a passion for boats now a firm part of his life, James went on to purchase a 47-foot Vagabond cutter-ketch, followed by a Hatteras motor yacht, and then several other 46/47 foot sailing boats.  

“I don’t really ‘work’ in yachting per se, however, having now owned seven boats over 30 plus years, I do recognise what ‘working’ on a boat is all about.  For me, the entire aspect of working on a boat has taken on special meanings as several of the boats I have owned have had acres of teak on them!”

Living (barely) through hurricane Irma, James tells me this was a challenging point in his life. However, there have also been some very special moments and some ‘seriously good highlights’, and he points out they seem to have revolved around the times he has lived on boats.  

“I have lived in Mallorca for the better part of twenty years now. In 2017, I moved away from the island and became a legal resident of the British Virgin Islands – living on my boat on a mooring ball in front of the Bitter End Yacht Club at Virgin Gorda. On a scale of 0-10, with 10 being pretty great, I would have ranked the quality of my life then at about 4,695,327, I think.  That all ended rather abruptly when hurricane Irma, the largest and strongest hurricane to cross the Atlantic at that time, came along and changed everything!”

James had moved his boat Saphir from Virgin Gorda to a hurricane hole on Tortola, and about 12 hours before Irma struck, he had to move into the safety of a small hotel overlooking where his boat was. Come sunset on the sixth of September, Saphir was toast and James had almost been killed. “That day was one of those ‘Mother Nature always wins’ experiences,” he sadly remembers. 

“After several months living on land in Tortola with my partner, Mary Lee, we moved to Antigua for 18 months and, as my lease on the villa was about to expire, Mary Lee asked me where I thought we should look for a place to live.  I said that I had thought about it long and hard and that I thought we should return to Mallorca. We arrived during lockdown in March of 2020 and have lived in Colonia Sant Jordi ever since.” 

I was keen to find out how James knew it was time to swap the ocean waves for terra firma. “For me, when Saphir was trashed during Irma’s visit to the BVI’s it was a signal that it was time to move to land as Saphir was not only my boat, but also the home that Mary Lee and I were going to live in for quite a few years. I looked for a replacement boat almost immediately after the hurricane but still haven’t found the right boat quite yet apparently, as we are living on land here in Mallorca again!” 

One of the things that James loves about living on a boat is the reality that there is a difference between what ‘we’ as humans consider adequate living space on land compared to on a boat. “I love that living on a boat means that you need to prioritise anything and everything you move onto a boat with. I learnt very quickly after moving onto my second boat (but first live aboard) that whenever I would buy something new including clothes, books, whatever, that to make room for it on the boat meant that I would need to get rid of something that I already had. 

This impact, the need to prioritise what I had, also meant that I reduced the number of purchases that perhaps I wanted but didn’t really need. Now, living on land again, we seem to have acquired mass amounts of ‘stuff’ again!”   

James may be retired again, which means his daily schedule is pretty flexible but for him, the term ‘flexible’ means that he is busy every day. James still does Advisory work for CEO’s and senior business leaders in Europe and the Americas, as well as writing business related articles and books. James has written a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph in London, and produced a weekly advisory newsletter titled Plain Talk about business performance, since 2004.  

As of this summer, James has written an impressive number of books, 19 in total, mostly about business performance, leadership, strategy, and realising personal and collective organisational potential.  

James has also written two memoirs – Living on Rocks (a memoir about his life in Mallorca and the Caribbean), and Seven Boats (a memoir about growing up and becoming who he is). 

After the destruction of hurricane Irma in 2017, James very kindly wrote about his harrowing experience and the aftermath, for The Islander magazine. His articles featured in both the November and December editions that year. On reading them, you literally felt like you were there. 

In his spare time, James creates impressive art (pictured here). In fact, I even bought my Mum two of his unique paintings for Christmas. He uses a technique called four-colour Serigraph. The Rasta Dreams piece is cut and draped paper, and James also makes intricate cut and fold greetings cards. You might recognise some of Palma’s most famous landmarks, perfect for Christmas – I bought some of these too!

I asked James what the best thing about living on a boat was. “For me, feeling the movement of her in the water…the motion of the ocean! You just cannot beat it!” 

James leaves us with one piece of advice… “Years ago, I saw an advert for a Canadian university that operated on a tall ship, sailing around the world with about 50 students. The advert had a photo of the ship and these words: You can never discover new lands if you are afraid to lose sight of the shore.  This is what learning is all about and, for me, what sailing and living on boats has been all about as well.”


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