+ Man Overboard! +

by Captain George H Grant + Illustrator Unknown

Man Overboard illustration

My favourite story in the entire omnibus, with a terrific first line: "No one saw the boy fall." The unnamed boy falls from the starboard scupper of a ship into the ocean 100 miles off Florida, and struggles to stay alive. Did anyone see him fall? Will anyone rescue him? The story is short, tight and thrilling. The story is a true one, and if it had happened more recently, the boy and Captain Grant would have been guests on Oprah. The illustration captivated me from the first time I saw it; my love of the colour green comes partly from it.

Boy Overboard! coverAlmost always the stories in the Reader's Digest Junior Omnibus are condensed from previously published works; Man Overboard! is an exception. It was first published in May 1955 in Reader's Digest, then in the omnibus and then as a book by Little, Brown in 1961, renamed Boy Overboard! with illustrations by Peter Spier (who also illustrated the book version of Hector, the Stowaway Dog).

In the book the boy has a name, Peter. On Christmas vacation from New Hampshire, he gets to fulfill a dream and ship out on the San Andres, a banana boat going from Boston to Cuba and Honduras. (The real SS San Andreas was shipwrecked on the Banco Chinchorro, an atoll reef in Mexican waters near Belize.)

It takes most of the book to get to the boy going overboard; Peter learns his way around the ship, tangles with bad guys, meets good guys, explores Havana, etc. When he finally does go overboard, the telling of the story isn't as thrilling and tight as its original version, and the kicker, tear-jerking, great last line is omitted completely. You can read Man Overboard! online, in a very slightly modified verion.

Captain GrantCaptain George Hook Grant (and what a terrific middle name for a seafarer) was born 1896 in Thornliebank, a small village in East Renfrewshire, Scotland, 6 miles (10 km) south of Glasgow. He first went to sea when he was 14. He gained his Master Certificate No. 009208 (Steamships) in Glasgow in 1919 and then worked for the United Fruit Company, sailing between the United States and West Indies, first as Mate on the SS Toloa (the ship from which Charles Whittlesey, Commander of the Lost Battalion of World War One, committed suicide on November 24, 1921) in 1920-21, and then as Master on SS San Pablo and SS San Blas from 1923 to 1931. He was torpedoed five times during WWI.

Other books by Grant include:

  • The Half Deck (1934)
  • Consigned to Davy Jones : My Third Voyage in the Half Deck of a British Tramp Steamer (1934)
  • Take to the Boats (1938)
  • The Heels of a Gale (1939)

He retired from the United Fruit Company after fifty years at sea, in 1951. Captain Grant was awarded a gold medal for meritorious service and cited for saving 106 lives over the years. He retired with his wife to Long Beach, New Jersey and was a Rotarian. He died in in 1989 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His son took his ashes out to sea.

+ Omnibus Home Page + The City That Died to Live + Annie Oakley and the Wild West +
+ Pigs is Pigs + The Princess Who Wanted the Moon + The Night My Number Came Up + I Killed "Moby Dick" +
+ Hector, the Stowaway Dog + The Day I Met Midnight + Hunter + History and Horrors in wax +

+ If you want to comment about Man Overboard!, please write to omnibus@chebucto.ca
+ If you have an extra copy of the Reader's Digest Junior Omnibus, I'd be happy to send it on to someone who has lost theirs.
+ This site is hosted by Chebucto Community Net, providing free and low-cost internet in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, since 1994.
+ A labour of love by Jane Kansas, last updated on July 9, 2011.