Captain Colin R. Davis
"Son, the only folks attracted to the water are one of three types. The social outcasts, the psychologically and mentally unfit, and those unable to conform to living in society with others. And there's a fourth person, but that person is all of the above." Just a young man, I couldn't help but look at that old sea and salt crusted sea captain and wonder to myself, "Huh....well then which one are YOU old buddy!?" But ya know, I wisely kept that to myself. Hah.
I guess I always knew I hated authority. Which is funny, because mine is a military family. So how that translates to a love of the water just might correlate to a fifth category. Daddy's side of the family runs back to the Revolutionary War, with a Davis serving on the Revolutionary side. Both momma and daddy's parents served in World War II. One served in Africa and Italy via the Army, and the other in the Pacific for the Navy. Daddy was drafted and served in Vietnam, and one brother is a newly commissioned Lieutenant in the Army. I myself was accepted into the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, but ended up attending Massachusetts Maritime Academy to chase the life of a sailor. But the first time I ever saw the Atlantic Ocean sparkle before my eyes, I heard the calling of the blue deep and that was that.
We never had much money as a family growing up, and our family eventually drifted from New York down to St. Simons Island, Georgia. As a 9 year old boy living in a tin roof home on a dirt road made of shells and beach sand one block from the shores of St. Simons-I knew the truth. We had it all, we had much more than many, and we had it every day after school when my brother and I would walk to the beach to play and watch shrimp boats, all the while hunting shark teeth on the shell road, occasionally finding one or two, among other treasures. Daddy rode a bicycle to work, and momma kept the car and worked odd jobs. Life was simple, and we learned to swim early and fish even earlier than that. Shoes were optional and we walked to school back then. School was one block from the beach and we could see the water and sand from our desks. At 13, we left the Island and moved to the mainland, to the commercial fishing capital of the Southeast-Darien, Georgia. Shrimp boats lined the riverfront along downtown, and every creek or inlet for miles had docks with trawlers tied up. There wasn't a young fellow in town back then that didn't look up to the captains of the big shrimp boats as heroes. We all hung around the shrimp docks, ran commercial trot lines, and castnetted for shrimp. Many boys were in their boats before school even started, and back in those boats after school let out. It was a way of life for generations, and the first time I saw a 70 ft long DESCO trawler power down on a Detroit 12V-71 and send black smoke flying, and shake the dock with it's rumble, I was hooked. I became a hang around down at all the docks and soon graduated from my commercial trot lines to running striker on a 60 foot trawler. My best friends were twice my age, and our travels took us out of state to South Carolina or Florida. It was a life of adventure and salt and hard hard work. But no better fit ever existed for a young man and I soaked up everything I could about navigation, line handling, fishing, and a little bit about being a man too.
At 18, I saw the writing on the wall and realized shrimping held no future for me and unfortunately was a dying industry. I left my dreams of my own boat and a life of being my own boss behind and left home and headed to Boston's Cape Cod area to attend the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a para-military college which is one of five in the country to train merchant mariners in the ways of a life at sea. I learned celestial navigation using the stars and planets and sun to plot a position fix, I was taught ship's construction, the history of shipping, stability and trim of ships, lifesaving techniques at sea, cargo loading and unloading, and so forth. Spending two months a year at sea on the school ship sailing the Atlantic and Caribbean and 10.5 months a year in Monday through Friday all day classes, I had found my calling. The water. I decked for Portland Tugboat, LLC and packed fish at a freezer plant on the Cape Cod Canal, and even sold shoes to pay the bills and make ends meet. Summer breaks I headed home to shrimp, catching the tail end of the white shrimp season. I sailed under internship with Military Sealift Command in 2002 and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in the Mediterranean, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Norfolk, earning the Expeditionary Award. Through it all, I never lost my love of the water.
After graduation, I left the Academy with a Third Mate, Oceans, Unlimited Tonnage Coast Guard License, an Able Bodied Seaman's License, and all the certifications necessary to sail deep sea on tankers or large container ships or the like. Ever unable to follow the mold, ever restless for bigger things, I headed straight for the Inland towboat and barge industry, and started as a deckhand with Kirby Inland Marine, on a steersman track to obtain my Mate of Towing endorsement from the Coast Guard. After a year of training, I earned my Mate of Towing Coast Guard License endorsement. I had converted the normal deep sea career for one of the rivers and canals. Eventually, I upgraded my Coast Guard License to Master of Towing, Inland Waters, Great Lakes, Western Rivers. Today, I transport black oils, pressurized cargoes, and petrochemicals by barge anywhere that the United States Inland waterway system is navigable. There are thousands of miles of river and canal systems in the United States, and I work anywhere from Chicago down the river system to New Orleans and all of the connecting rivers and waterways that branch off from it.
Working 28 days on and 28 days off, I've been unbelievably fortunate to have more time than most dream about to spend on Padre Island. Since moving to Corpus Christi thirteen years ago, I've had 6 months a year off, and I've spent every day as a young man but the first day and the last day that I had home from the tugboats on Padre's sandy shores, fishing, exploring, riding, camping, swimming, and learning. Day after day I would "day trip" back and forth to the beach, with overnight camping trips thrown in when the weather would allow, and most often, when it didn't. I would go down island anyway, figuring that the Island STILL had something to teach me. My first beach vehicle was an old 1980 Jeep CJ5 with an 1977 AMC 304 V8 and T-176 four-speed manual in it. I upgraded to a Jeep TJ with auto and a 9 inch lift that did poorly, and eventually a Jeep Rubicon four door, also automatic, with more computer systems than the space shuttle in it. None of the newer jeeps did well for me. I finally ended up in a heavily used 1999 Dodge Ram 1500 Sport single cab that was an absolute beast on the beach. When it soon rotted out, I ended up in a moderately used 2003 dodge ram 2500 quad-cab, that I used for quite a while. It's headers finally rotted out, and it's frame fractured in two behind the cab before I parted ways with it. These days, I run a 2011 Ram 2500 diesel with a manual 6 speed. It's perfect for towing an RV down Island, or the zodiac that I fish with. Of course, there's been quite a few shark racks along the way as well, this latest one being the best we've ever fabricated. Having a mechanic for a father and his willingness to teach me has always been something I've never stopped being thankful for. Without any mechanical know-how, running mile after mile of beach will soon completely destroy even the hardiest vehicle. Preventative maintenance is simply a must, and knowing how to fix something down Island even more so. Quite often, there is no one around to even flag down, and it might be a few days before anyone comes along.
Funny enough, I started fishing Padre by teaching myself, and would be darned if I would ask anyone anything. But it didn't take long to meet some old timers with a lot to pass on, but time would always find me taking off after visiting for a short while. I just needed to be alone, just had to experience Padre for what it really was. And I couldn't do that with the voices of others drowning out all that the Island had to teach me. And if there's anything I know, it's that the learning never stops on Padre and one can never know it all there. In a time when so many never learn to really fish, and just jump straight in for fishing for the largest sharks the beach has to offer, I for one started small and worked my way up from the very smallest hardhead catfish first. After every trip I would log my experiences and document water temps, tides, etc. It didn't take long before I moved up to sharking, and fishing offshore beyond the breakers with a kayak and now zodiac. And from my first steps on Padre, I found myself over and beyond the foredune ridge dune line, exploring what lay beyond. These days, I sometimes hike 7-8 miles of back Island just wandering and looking, and sometimes spend the night back in there, just to hear what the Island has to tell me. At the end of the day, like Rawalt before me, I view the Island as one large unique and special ecosystem full of history, and not just as a fishing "spot."
An old World War II veteran and good friend of mine, Ralph Wade, once told me that guides were the worst thing that ever happened to Padre and the bay system, and there was way too darn many of them. I've always agreed with Ralph. He was fortunate to be one of the first few men to fish Padre for recreation at all starting back in 1961, and was really predated only by Louis Rawalt in the 30's, 40's and 50's. But over time I've realized just how much I want to share the Island with others, and pass on it's rich history and it's legends and the sheer AURA of such an immense stretch of uninhabited island. It's all about the hardcore sharking with so many, or just fishing fishing fishing. But there's so much more. The last 5 or 6 years I've spent almost all of my spare time researching Padre Island's history from its Indian cultures to its ranching era to its Spanish explorers. I've enjoyed volunteering in the National Seashore's Science and Resource Management Division. There's so much to share. From the Library of Congress to the National Archives, there's been no end to the discoveries just waiting to be found. Padre has always suited my restless spirit and my love for the water, and I can't wait to meet YOU and help YOU find the same enjoyment that I find every sunrise, every sunset, and every footstep that I take across the age old sands of Padre.
Fair winds and following seas.
--Captain Colin R. Davis, 2017