Paul W.J. Harding (Capt. Ret) Author of ‘Sharks in the Runway’
I was born in the UK where I lived until aged twelve. In 1960 my father accepted a three-year posting to the Bahamas with a local airline. My love affair with this amazing archipelago began immediately on arrival. The price paid for this new-found love, being sent to an English boarding school as a youngster that turned out to be an educational nightmare. The upside came with the travel experience involving flying as an ‘unaccompanied child’. I met a fellow student who shared grandparents living in Sussex, where both of us spent half-term holidays not long enough to warrant flights home. He invited me to Africa when our school days ended. The experience of living in the wilds of Kenya & Tanzania instilled an awe for nature and the challenge of capturing it all on film. I left England after college, beginning my first employment as a scuba-diving instructor in the Bahamas – becoming fully qualified to teach ‘Open-Water’ diving instruction in some of Nassau’s leading resorts. This part of my first career offered experiences such as acting as an underwater stunt double under Director/Cameraman Lamar Boren.
My father pulled an unexpected departure from our lives leaving my mother and I stranded in a foreign country penniless, and without any permanent legal status. I never saw or heard from him again. Politics of the Bahamas were in the middle of change; Independence was just ahead in 1973. I was undeterred being left ‘head of the household’ having exciting ideas for creating my own career, even after my ‘work permit’ renewal had been refused with a change of government wielding a new immigration purge. I met a fellow Australian caught in a similar situation. I declared ‘if I was going to be poor then let it be in a pair of shorts!’ We made it our quest to ‘live off the ocean’ and not leave the Bahamas as so many expats were doing. The adventures came fast and furious with our new way of life, involving commercial spearfishing and diving for tropical fish to be sold in exotic stores through Europe and New York. Dizzying stories erupted, including hand combat with very large sharks, diving in a three-mile-deep ocean with whales, and exploring the deep ocean canyons around Nassau.
After the Australian left for home several years later I regained legal status, forming my own small-group day-charter diving business called ‘The Out-Island Safari’ – under my new company Diving Safaris Ltd. The ride lasted seventeen years; winning the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism Awards for excellence in the country’s primary industry, where near fifty thousand visitors enjoyed our experience, both above and below the water. One of my clients, a television producer out of Texas, invited me to film underwater material and snow-ski footage in exotic locations all over the world. We shot nearly fifteen shows, most of which were aired on the new Discovery Channel in the United States. I photographed the first shark film, which spawned the still existing Shark Week production still airing today. I was privileged to meet famous people such as Norway’s’ Olympic Champion, Stein Eriksen and follow in the footsteps of Cousteau on other underwater episodes.
One day I spied a seaplane flying overhead and knew immediately my first career choice could now come to fruition after no encouragement from my father years earlier. I ordered a factory-new seaplane, having no clue how to fly! I hastened over to a Florida flight school whilst my new plane was being constructed. I soloed in just nine hours and passed my Private Pilots License with 40 hours experience, collecting my seaplane after passing required water-flying ratings. Commercial qualification followed soon after. Upon arrival in Nassau, I had built a small base of operation and successfully opened the Bahamas first commercial seaplane charter service – a career that lasted twenty-three years and accumulated over 14,000 hours of flight experience. Such a lengthy career sparked lots of adventures! I had been invited to become a freelance writer for aviation magazines, which ignited the interest in writing my autobiography. I was privileged to meet a wide array of colourful characters including Johnny Depp, who inspired me to ‘put all those amazing stories on paper’. I flew the actor for almost three three years becoming friends, while invited aboard his yacht for dinner several times. It has taken me almost 5 years to complete the often-perilous chronicles of the last 50 years. I continue to fly privately with aerial photography and writing a travel blog as a sideline.
About the Author
About the author: After being raised and educated in the United Kingdom, Paul Harding relocated to the Bahamas where he became a certified scuba instructor and opened his own business. After a lifelong interest in flying, he earned his commercial pilot’s license and started Safari Seaplanes in 1990, the first charter seaplane business in the country, which he ran for over twenty years. Now retired, Harding currently resides in Nassau, Bahamas and still flies privately.
He has previously written for Water Flying Magazine and this is his first book
This extract is from a days flying with friend and insurance adjuster, surveying destruction from a recent hurricane that had severely damaged our Out-Islands. The flights had been a success where several communities would now receive funds for badly needed repairs. We were flying home when disaster strikes!
“On this day I was about half way through my aviation career, but the reaction time was impressively instantaneous; so dramatic there would be no hiding it from my client. We are taught repeatedly at flight schools about emergencies, instructed to follow tried and true solutions to produce the very best outcome documented from past incidents. This one was not in the book. We were only ten feet off the water, heading at 80 mph straight toward a frightening scene of inhospitable jagged rock-face with torn shrubbery on a craggy apex. Added to our plight, towering above was an electric cable running the length of the cay, held aloft taught as a tightrope by two electrical poles. Were we going to be able to clear it?! Split second reaction had me hit the opposite rudder pedal so hard that I broke the metal toe piece clean in half. Nothing happened. We were headed toward certain disaster at this altitude with no directional control and mere seconds to play with as the rock-face loomed.
If I pulled the power now, momentum would crash us into the base of the rocky shoreline resulting in certain death. I must keep the seaplane flying “flat” enough toward the rock face allowing it to gain some valuable airspeed. Did we have enough time? When things are going horribly wrong the scene appears to take on an appearance of slow motion. Panic is no option; it becomes think, think, think. Those remaining precious seconds lasting forever, mercifully giving time to react. I could see David’s body language shift awkwardly, bracing his hand on the interior windshield support that ran from the roof of the cockpit through the instrument panel – something and anything solid to hold on to. We hurtle towards the land with threatening wires above. I heard a slightly shaken Scottish brogue ‘Oh Shit!’ from my passenger as we came within the last few yards. I heaved on the yoke and pumped the flap handle in that familiar movement memorised from flying in tight places. The little seaplane obediently leapt skyward, like its name the factory had declared on its tail, ‘Super Rocket’! The electrical wire disappeared inches underneath and a very audible gulp of air from both occupants through their headsets. ‘Damn that was a close one!’ David nearly shouted in excitement.”
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