A Mariner’s Tale

By Captain Willard E. Kennedy, Master Mariner

Captain Willard Kennedy came into the Museum one day and asked the staff if we wanted his sextant and navigational tools. What a wonderful gift, and through emails we have been privileged to learn about this “Salt Cay boy” and his journey through life. The Museum thanks Captain Kennedy for this gift and the following story excerpted from his autobiography. 

Often folks would say, “You’ve had an interesting life, why don’t you tell your story?” My reply would be “Someday.” I always knew that it should be today, but today lapsed into yesterday and the story has never been told until now.

Captain Willard E. Kennedy

Captain Willard E. Kennedy

I was born in Salt Cay to Japthalina Duncanson Kennedy and William Henry Kennedy, on February 14, 1944, the third of seven children. Life as a boy in Salt Cay was slow, yet there was a lot for children to do, such as waking up before sunrise, going in the bush to get wood to burn coal, going to the tank for water, and then on to school where Miss Mary Robinson was the head teacher.

At eleven years old, I started working in the salt lighters carrying salt to the ships that came to Salt Cay. My job was to empty the salt from the bags and tie them up in bundles of ten. The money I made was used to help my sister Amelia, who was in Grand Turk going to Senior school. I had two uncles who were captains of ships, Capt. Bertrand (Bert) Duncanson and Capt. Eustace Duncanson. Even though I did not know them, hearing of them and what they did impressed me and I wanted to be a captain like they were. I got my chance to go to sea.

On November 8, 1960, at the age of sixteen, I joined the M.V. Inagua Trader in South Caicos. When I joined the ship, Capt. Swann said, “Young man, your wages are $80 a month—$30 for your mother, $30 for the bank, and $20 for you.” I had no say in the matter! Our first port of call was Santiago de Cuba, the first foreign port that I visited. I was intrigued with the beauty of Santiago—after all, I’d only ever seen Salt Cay, Grand Turk, and South Caicos—so going to Cuba and hearing Spanish for the first time was something else. I was taken ashore by Capt. Swann and we walked for an hour through the city. I kept turning around and looking up at the high rise buildings, as the highest building on Salt Cay was the White House!

I bought the sextant in 1963 to practice celestial navigation—measuring the altitudes of the celestial bodies, computing them, and plotting the position of the vessel. I was employed by West India Shipping Company as an Able Bodied Seaman (ABS) on the M.V. Inagua Crest and was allowed to practice on the bridge. From 1968–69 I attended the American Marine Nautical School in New Orleans, Louisiana to study for the Second Mate’s License. On successfully obtaining the license, I went back to work as a second mate on the M.V. Inagua Sound for one year, responsible for the navigation of the vessel.

I saved my money and in 1970, returned to school, studied for the Chief Mate’s License and received it in 1971. I was promoted to Chief Mate on the M.V. Inagua Sound, second in command and responsible for deck operations of the vessel. In 1972, I attended the U.S Merchant Marine School in New York and studied for the Master’s License. On successfully passing the examination, I was issued an “Unlimited Master Mariner’s License Any Ocean, Any Gross Tonnage.” That was quite a feat for a young man at the age of 28 and I was proud because I saved my money and educated myself.

From 1974–76, I was Captain of the M.V. Inagua Trader II, operating out of various European ports in the North Sea. In the year following, we transited the Atlantic Ocean from Houston, Texas to Kuwait via the Suez Canal, to Singapore, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, and France. From 1972–1985, I worked as Master on various vessels and navigated the world with a sextant and nautical tables. That experience, I called an adventure because there was nothing routine with it. West India Shipping specialized in transporting heavy equipment, oil rigs, and high pressure vessels for oil refineries. We were globe trotters. In 1992 with the implementation of GPS, the sextant was laid aside for instant position and accuracy within a hundred feet. So from 1986–2013 we followed weekly schedules in the Caribbean—you knew which ports you would be in every day. As a man of the sea, it was a job I loved doing. But there was no adventure in it. During my career, I was paid to go to see places other people have to pay to go to see!


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John Butler
Jun 28, 2024 11:05

A wonderful tale about a wonderful compan I worked ashore for as a Port Captain I knew both Captain Bert & Eustace Duncason and also Captain Sweann. All suberb seaman and ship skippers.

After te founder of West India, Henry Read passed the majority owners closed the company, sold tjhe vessels & terminals.

I have wonderful memories of my days with West India Line.

C C Carter
Jun 28, 2024 15:41

I often think of our years with WIL and all the professional seamen sailing those heavy lift ships.
I knew Capt. Kennedy as an accomplished and able Master, along with all the other Captains and Engineers.
It was a time of innovation and learning for all of us.

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