For Capt. Harold B. Banks, a rewarding maritime career was the fruition of childhood ambitions and big dreams come to life. Most recently, these have earned him the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour for his contributions to seamanship.
Capt. Banks was born in 1937 into a Little Cayman family. His father, the late Guy A. Banks, who once served as district commissioner, and his wife, Vinolia, raised their eight children on the island. Capt. Banks recalls his childhood school had only 12 pupils, according to news release issued by the Cayman Islands Government Information Service.
As the eldest son, young Harold was looked upon to continue the maritime tradition of the day. “Every man and boy was praying for a job on a ship”, he comments. When he was 16, the late Capt. Theo Bodden had allowed him the post of mess-boy on the Merren family’s merchant vessel “Amoa”.
Thereafter he was to become the first Caymanian second officer, then chief and then captain, on board ships owned by National Bulk Carriers. He also completed formal studies, mainly at the Maritime School of New York.
His maritime prowess and commitment to excellence added to the Cayman Islands’ reputation for producing leading sailors – and also secured jobs for his younger brothers, cousins and other young men – some of whom became officers. He also trained many of them, and others around the world, as pilots and mooring masters.
Through diligent work and study, at age 24, Capt. Banks attained a master-mariner’s licence and began serving as captain. Three years later, he was selected to captain the largest private yacht in the world at the time – the 295-foot “Darginn”, which was owned by Daniel Ludwig of National Bulk Carriers.
During the early 1960s he was offered the opportunity to train to be the first Caymanian airline pilot, but he maintained his commitment to a seafaring life.
“It was a very good life, but also a very bad life,” he said. While he enjoyed seeing new places and cultures, the rigours included rough seas, storms and typhoons, and temperatures ranging from a high of 140 degrees in Saudi Arabia, to minus 40 degrees on research ice-breakers in the Arctic.
He lists international dignitaries including a king, presidents and chairmen of industry among those with whom he became acquainted over the decades.
In 1977, he returned home as manager and chief mooring master of Cayman Energy, which managed the new oil-transfer business off the Sister Islands. There, he managed the ship-to-ship transfers with such dexterity that he received a written commendation from the United States Department of Energy – specifically for his flawless night-time mooring during a moonless night. The official stated: “Your procedure of ship-to-ship mooring could be used as an example for others to follow”.
Capt. Banks came to be well known and respected in shipping circles. His last overseas dispatch lasted a decade, as he served as chief mooring master and ship-to-ship superintendent around Asia, the Middle East and Australia.
However, over the past nine years he has worked in Grand Cayman, as Bodden Shipping’s chief pilot for the cruise ships and tankers visiting Grand Cayman.
An unintentional, yet undeniable ambassador for the Cayman Islands, his familiar whites and captain’s hat are a staple on the George Town waterfront.
In the course of his work of meeting passengers from the cruise ships, he is often their first and last impression of Cayman. He therefore ensures that visitors receive a warm welcome and that they are encouraged to return as stay-over guests, and hands out thousands of personal business cards and other materials. The reward, he says, has been hundreds of phone calls to him by thankful visitors who have returned for longer stays.
In 2011, an official from the cruise line conglomerate AIDA Cruises added to Capt. Banks’ many commendations. That document concluded: “The island of Grand Cayman, without Capt. Harold Banks, would be like the Caribbean without a north-east wind and sunshine.”