Captain John Priyantha De Silva is a master mariner who hails from the coastal city of Galle, Sri Lanka. His first book Through Deep Waters created a wave of interest about “life at sea”. Next came his “Troubled Waters” which was met with a greater sound of applause. Captain De Silva was hailed as a celebrity Captain as rave reviews flowed. Troubled Waters is Captain John De Silva’s third book about the sea, written at sea.
John holds a Master Mariner Class 1 from the Sydney Maritime College, Australia. He is also a member of the Company of Master Mariners of Sri Lanka since May 1991. John De Silva now lives in New York, U.S.A with his wife Subitha and his children.
Biography In Brief
I am John Priyantha De Silva born on December 18, 1952. Ceylon, as my home country was called at the time of my birth, is a tropical Island, in the Indian Ocean. After becoming a Republic, the name was changed to Republic of Sri Lanka. My father was Bertram De Silva and my mother Corinne De Silva. My mother’s maiden name is Rajapakse. I always thank God for giving me good parents and giving me the wisdom to plan my life according to his will. I thank my parents for educating me in a good school and bringing me up in a sound and moderate social background.
I studied at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo upto High School Certificate level. During my school days I wrote a few short stories in Sinhala and in English covering some of my own experiences and actions, and also those of my friends and classmates. Late, Rev Fr. Marceline Jayakody was my Sinhala and English teacher during the final year at High School. It was Father Jayakody who inspired me to write in both languages.(Read More about Fr. Marceline here)
Although I liked the game of cricket very much I did not take part in cricket at school level. I played football and was a member of the 1971 and 1972, first eleven team of the school. I will always remember that, I was a member of the team which played a very good game of football to end up with a score of 2 goals each after going into extra time, and draw with St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena. St. Benedict’s College, at that time had the best school football team. On the following day, the news item appeared in one daily paper had called the end of the game as “Golden memories and Silver tears”, because St. Joseph’s had lost to St. Benedict’s for many years prior to that. I am and always will be a great fan of Manchester United.
My first visit on board a ship
Somewhere in October 1971 I was invited by a friend to join him to go on board a ship berthed in Colombo harbour. I was delighted at the invitation. But I explained to him my problem. He said that he would obtain permission from my mother. He came with his brother, who happened to be the third officer on that ship. My mother allowed me to go on board the ship with them. It was great. As the Third Officer, he was living in luxury. As it was in the evening we declined dinner. Therefore we were served with a hot cup of soup brought in by a steward. I went around the ship and it was out of this world. The name of the ship was “Lanka Rani”, Sri Lanka’s very first cargo ship.
Following the visits to the “Lanka Rani”, I developed a liking towards seafaring. One day when my father was at home, I just mentioned my idea to him. His immediate response was “don’t talk nonsense”. As he was a person of few words, it took another month or so to find out why he said that. I once called the friend who was an officer on the “Lanka Rani” to visit home when my father was there. He obliged. Both brothers came and had lunch with us. It was extremely difficult to convince my parents. They went on saying that I being the eldest in the family, they just cannot even think of sending me to sea, considering the dangers and other activities involved in seafaring.
Joining the merchant Navy
One of my Uncle’s who knew my ambition, once visited our home and informed me that a company in Sri Lanka based in Colombo will be calling applications for Officer Cadets in the Merchant Navy. It was advertised in the papers. After a long deliberation, my father agreed to help me with the application. He followed up the matter with the Finance Director of the Company who was known to him. He had assured my father that my application had been filed and the interviews will be held in March 1973.
In March a written exam was held by the Company which I passed. I was then given a date to come for an interview. I was interviewed by a very senior Master Mariner (Senior Ship’s Captain) in the country. He first checked my vision report and was satisfied with the results. Then he interviewed me for more than two hours. I still remember what he mentioned towards the end of the interview, “Son, take very serious note that you are going to marry the sea and forget about weddings, funerals, etc.”
In April 1973 the same Captain had a very long discussion with my father. At the end of the discussion he said that I will be informed in writing, and to come on the date mentioned with two sureties to sign the bond and be prepared to keep a refundable cash deposit of Rs. 5000.00. The estimated time for signing the bond was around June 1973, and we kept checking on the time that I was going to be called in for this purpose. It was a Thursday in October when I finally received the letter calling me to report to the Office with sureties to sign the bond. A week later I was handed in vouchers for my uniforms and shoes. The situation at home changed. Everybody was happy. The next thing was that my parents and I visited my grandmothers’, close relations and friends to give them the good news of my being recruited as an Officer Cadet in the Merchant Navy. I studied at Sir John Cass maritime College in London and also at the Lal Bhadur Sahstri Nautical College in Mumbai. Final part of my studies was done at Sydney Maritime College in NSW Australia and, I obtained Masters Certificate (Master Mariner) in December 1989.
In the 12th November 1973, I joined my first ship at Colombo. Along with me there was another Sri Lankan and an Indian Cadet. On that day, I first went to church with my parents. We had a very simple celebration at home with kiribath, (milk rice etc.,) and proceeded to the Shipping office to sign on the vessel. Those days security was not strict as it is now and about 20 of my immediate family members including my maternal grandmother went on board with me.
Through these years I have commanded many ships; all types, other than Tankers. I am also a Marine Surveyor and a Marine Consultant.
The main aim of my first book was to convey a message to people of all walks life, both genders and any one above fifteen years of age; by very carefully reading the same to avoid any possible unpleasant situations in life and be prepared to face any situation that would very suddenly arise at any stage of life.