Tales of the high seas are always worth the time and in the case of David Paul Collins he had plenty of them to write up.
Shanghaied is the result of years of experience on the water and in exotic lands. The story takes place one summer as a 15-year-old boy signs up unwittingly for an African freighter bound for ports unknown. Will he find his way home? Will he even survive?
Debut novelist David tells Weekender the entire story was based on his personal experience on a ship.
“No doubt I was complicit in getting on the ship in the first place, and have only a vague recollection of how that happened. At sea, I saw my name on the Articles of Shipping, so I did sign on, but if I had the opportunity to do so voluntarily, I don’t know how to explain the fact that I did not go back to the Seaman’s Club to get any of my clothes and personal belongings,” he says.
“Fortunately, I had the two rolls of film from the brownie camera I had aboard and all the photos in the book are authentic. I also have copies of several letters, which I wrote to my family back in Massachusetts and one in particular, described with diagrams the grounding of the ship in a branch of the Orinoco River in Venezuela,” he says.
All characters are as he remembers, although names have been changed.
Dedicated to Cayman
The book is also dedicated to Caymanian bo’sun Orman Whittaker, who was in charge of the deck gang. In 2002, David and his wife Victoria visited Grand Cayman on a cruise and through Alfred Hydes reconnected with Orman.
“My friend, whom I had not seen for 45 years, drove down to pick us up and take us to his home,” David says. “We met his wife, Gwen, and later, I was able to send photographs back to the family. His daughter, Winsome Hill, wrote back to express gratitude at having photos of their father as a young man … About a year after our first meeting, I flew back to the island and spent a couple of days with him going over people, places, and times. He also introduced me to Austin Bothwell, who also sailed for national bulk carriers.”
As a business executive, his career has included many visits to many countries – more than 105, to date – and now he’s coming to Cayman to speak with the Rotary Club at Westin Casuarina on Thursday, 22 March. Bo’sun Whittaker was a member and officer of the club and his family will be in attendance. Twenty per cent of sales will be donated to the club.
On Friday, 23 March at 7pm, David will be appearing for a signing at Books & Books.
“My great respect for the Caymanian seamen and the families they left behind in order to provide,” he says. “My seagoing career covered another five years after leaving the SS Ore Transport and I often heard fellow merchant mariners say that the Cayman Islanders represented the best seamen in the world.
“Those Caymanians possessed values that I have not seen commonly replicated anywhere else.”