The Journey Continues: Captain James Wilbanks

Who hasn’t dreamed of the adventures of the sea and water? My journey this week is about a retired tug boat captain who was based on the Houston Ship Channel.

Born 84 years ago to a sharecropper family, Captain James Wilbanks has fond memories of spending his childhood singing gospel songs on the front porch of his home in east Texas.

“While visiting family in Houston, my brotherin-law encouraged me to accompany him to his job on a tugboat with the casual comment, ‘You might like it,’” Wilbanks shared. “I went and was bit and stayed on for 42 years. I started as a deckhand, worked my way up, and served 25 years as a Captain. I never stepped on a tug without praying ‘Help me Lord.’

“When working on the intercoastal canal, each day is precarious and different. Typically, a tug will push two barges side by side, each 50x250-foot long. As a captain, you must take into consideration variable factors such as the cargo weight, the tide, wind factors, water currents, and ship channel traffic,” Wilbanks chuckled. “Traveling day or night at the awesome speed of 5 m.p.h.! The longest trip I ever made was from Houston was to Baton Rouge, Louisiana on a very busy waterway. That will keep you on your toes!”

A special memory the captain shared was transporting dangerous cargos.

“Ferrying acid to oil refineries and addressing the toxic acid fumes emitted. As to other dangers, my tug was once run over by a ship near the Shell Refinery outside of Houston – a giant ocean-going ship made an error in navigation. Warning whistles blew, and a collision occurred with my tugboat, resulting in chaos.” Wilbanks said. “My tug was turned upside down. I escaped by breaking out the cabin windows and sitting on top of the swamped boat until help came. I also survived three major hurricanes, beginning with Carla in 1961.

“After retiring, my wife Lou Ann and I moved to San Marcos to be near our son and grandchildren. My advice to my granddaughter, Olivia, a college student, is: ‘find an opportunity or profession, get proficient, dedicate yourself to it, don’t waver or change. Stay with the plan!’ That is the path I took.

“My life verse is Jeremiah 29:11-13. ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”’

James is a follower of Jesus and a member of First Baptist Church on McCarthy Lane.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666