Pilots of the Caribbean – Paul Harding of Safari Seaplanes
We’re starting a new blog series entitled “Pilots of the Caribbean” because like the original pirates, they all have a tale to tell. While today there are a couple of established seaplane operators flying among the more than 700 islands and cays of The Bahamas, in the beginning there were just local individuals who learned to fly seaplanes out of sheer necessity. Being able to fly ‘door to door’ demonstrated the benefits of seaplane flying right away. Captain Paul Harding operated the first charter seaplane service, known as Safari Seaplanes, for more than 23 years using Maule aircraft (M7-235 or 260s) on straight floats. It wasn’t easy. He had to convince the Civil Aviation Authority in Nassau, as well as the FAA, that it could be a viable and much needed service. It took more than six months just to complete the paperwork. For some of his prospective passengers, it would prove to be the easiest way to get to and from their island homes.
Paul’s first base of operations was Nassau Harbor, a very busy ‘runway’! Flying off the water was easier with straight floats and eliminated having to deal with the complexities of the airport in Nassau. Later on he acquired a Maule Amphibian to bring passengers directly off the water and land at the airport for commercial airline transfers. Maule aircraft, which are manufactured in Moultrie, Georgia, accommodate up to 4 passengers. Paul flew anglers to fishing lodges and boaters to their yachts. In 1990 he pioneered a flightseeing program taking passengers to the Exuma Cays to snorkel through Thunderball Grotto (from the 1965 James Bond film) and have lunch on one of the out-islands.
When asked about his best experience flying in the Bahamas, Paul stated, “Flights through the Out-Islands were spectacular, especially the Exuma Cays, which offer stunning vistas from above! Becoming Johnny Depp’s seaplane pilot for 3 years was a real treat, as we soon became friends! Many Hollywood & TV characters used my service which always provided some fun publicity.”
After more than 23 years in business Paul retired. He had accumulated 14,000 hours of flying time and it was time to hang up his water wings. He sold the business to a Bahamian operator and these days’ still flies a land plane specializing in his aerial photography business. Apparently he never gets tired of seeing The Bahamas from the air!
Cape Air – Providing Seaplane Services Since 1980