Shipmates: Ship captain keeps the cruising smooth

When David Sylvaria graduated from high school, he decided to take a summer job and save money for college that fall.

Asking around, the teen found a job at a local ship-building company near his home in Warren, R.I. Sixteen years later, he is still with that company. Only now, that young man is a fleet captain for the business – Blount Small Ship Adventures.

Capt. David Sylvaria has worked for Blount for 16 years

“I never did go to college,” Capt. David said with a grin. But he certainly learned the cruise business from the bottom up and studied to be a master at what he does.

Starting as a deck hand, Capt. David, 35, is now a licensed mariner. He has been a ship captain for nine years.

“It’s a great company to work for,” Capt. David said. “It’s family-owned and very laid back. I have a fantastic crew of people who are devoted to what they do.”

A “people person,” Capt. David says he enjoys chatting with passengers and sharing life aboard a ship. “If you didn’t like people, you might not like this job,” he said. “We have wonderful passengers, good people who make it a comfortable trip.”

Although his wife Chelsea has taken many cruises with him, she is now at home in Bristol, Rhode Island, with their daughter Riley.

“My wife just graduated from nursing school and we have a baby boy on the way,” he said proudly.

Capt. David discusses the route with a passenger

Blount Small Ship Adventures now operates two ships – the Grande Caribe and the Grande Mariner – cruising waterways in America, Canada, the Caribbean and Central and South America. A third ship, the Niagara Prince, has been taken out of service while Blount decides whether to renovate or retire it. Founded in 1966 by shipbuilder Luther Blount as American Canadian Caribbean Line, the company continues to build its own ships with innovative designs. In 2010, the name was changed to honor Capt. Blount who passed away in 2006.

On our 12-day cruise aboard the Grande Caribe, we are journeying from New Orleans to Nashville, covering 900 miles and going through 14 locks.

Waterways traveled include the Mississippi River, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Mobile River, Tombigbee River, Tenn-Tom Waterway, Tennessee River, Barkley Canal and Cumberland River.

“Passengers always enjoy going through the locks,” Capt. David said. “No matter how many we go through on a trip, they want to be on deck and see it.”

A device for raising and lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on river waterways, a lock has a fixed chamber which the boat enters. Then the fixed chamber is filled with water or drained of water so the vessel is on the same level as the waterway it is entering.

"It's a beautiful day in paradise"

“Locks are used to make a river more easily navigable,” Capt. David said.

Passengers also enjoy watching the many towboats and barges moving bulk commodities such as sand, coal and gravel on the rivers. “Towboats push barges lashed together to form a ‘tow,’ ” he explained. “A 15-barge tow is common on the larger rivers with locks.”

Along with operating the Grande Caribe, Capt. David also points out interesting sights along the river, as well as sharing historical tidbits about what we are seeing and where we are going.

When does he sleep? “In bits and pieces,” he said. “We do a lot of night runs on these trips.”

In fact, it seems as though Capt. David is often the intercom voice that awakens me in the morning. Guiding the ship from his top deck pilot house, Capt. David will be describing the weather, the river, the shore excursions and all the joys of cruising before we are even out of bed.

As he said on one particularly perfect morning when the Grande Caribe cruised into the sunrise, “It’s another beautiful day in paradise.”

For more information: Contact Blount Small Ship Adventures at (800) 556-7450,

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch





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