In the middle of the twentieth century almost all island boys had but one dream and that was to ship out. In those days our school system on the island of Bonacco only went to the 6th grade and most of the boys tried to finish it before looking for jobs. Others, however, left school and went to sea as young as 14 years old.
This early-to-work trend continued for two or three decades, with older boys opting for merchant marine service in the 1940s and then for international shipping after the war, others worked the banana boats that sailed from ports along the Central American coast that ended up with their cargoes in the USA.
The youth in those days had no alternatives as it was either go to sea, or live in poverty.
I remember well that every Thursday morning the M/V Kern would arrive at the Municipal dock bringing mail, groceries, beer and soda. The boat’s captain/owner did double duty as our banker as well.
On the boat’s arrival day, the whole town would gather around the mail office hoping that their father, brother or son had remembered to send the family a little money. There was never much money coming in because the salaries on those boats were very low. On a banana boat a body could earn anywhere from 60 to 125 dollars a month depending on your position, the captains and chiefs earned more.
Education was not so very important in those days, but instead it was person’s natural ability and intelligence that counted. From the hordes of able body seamen that went to sea from this island, dozens of them became captains, mates and chief engineers of large shipping concerns in the USA.
In the 1960s, with the discovery of shrimp banks off the east coast of Honduras, all this changed. Everybody was getting into the fishing business and some people did very well. Shrimping provided an opportunity for young men to stay home and operate the family fishing boats.
Over the last 35 or 40 years many fortunes were made and lost and now we are almost back to square one. With the fishing industry “on the way out,” money is scarce and our young men are faced with the same predicament as their grandfathers faced, live from hand to mouth, or ship out.
Shipping out these days is not as easy as it was back then, now there are governments involved in these things, and a person needs beaucoup money to acquire all the paper work that is now needed to work on ships.
Almost all of our young men are graduating from school and returning home to a life that offers few opportunities. A lot of these boys immediately begin taking courses that will help them prepare the paper work they’ll need to get jobs in the offshore oil fields of the world.
Some of them end up in the USA, some in Mexico, others in Africa and the oil rich nations of the Persian Gulf. The money is as great as the distance from their families. Still, there are no other choices. It’s back to the sea for the young men of Bonacco. [/private]