PORT ARTHUR, Texas – Oh, what a night!
A cavernous room at the Carl Parker Centre here was magically transformed into the tropical paradise of Grand Cayman Saturday night in a revival of the once-annual Cayman Party.
On hand to enjoy tasty patties, Tortuga rum cakes, Cayman corned beef, crab balls, cassava cake, the coldest beer in Texas and frosty rum punch were more than 700 people with connections to Port Arthur and the Cayman Islands.
They danced and did the limbo to the steel drums of Caymanian Earl LaPierre and music and vocals of Cayman favourites The Barefoot Man and Sea and B, Chuck and Barrie Quappe. Also on stage was the OutRigger Band.
In the background a DVD collection of Hurricane Ivan photos taken by Courtney Platt played on a huge screen as people from Grand Cayman explained to their US friends and family what each photo was showing.
The crowd was larger than expected, thanks in a large part to the coconut telegraph.
Cayman Night Saturday was the start-up to the annual Cayman Party, which was discontinued in 1995 when the Convention and Visitors Bureau pulled its support. It was supposed to be held last year, but Hurricane Rita changed the organizers’ plans.
‘Because of the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, it was necessary to re-schedule the event,’ said Verna Rutherford, a Cayman native who is now president of the Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce. ‘We prolonged it as long as we felt we could, but decided we should re-schedule and do the best we could with planning the event, though we were still in the re-building mode. People were definitely ready to get their minds on something else, and we all needed a fun, relaxing and laid-back event that could be a positive experience for us. So, the date was set and we spent two short months planning the Cayman Night in Port Arthur.’
The fun and relaxation were in order because Cayman and Port Arthur each suffered from September storms – Ivan in Cayman in 2004 and Rita in Port Arthur in 2005.
Because there were only two months to plan, Mrs. Rutherford expected a crowd of 400; 450 if they were lucky.
‘Thanks to the Cayman Compass, a few folks in Cayman learned about the event in time to make plans to visit family while being here for this event,’ she said.
She credited the newspaper with its Cayman coverage and stories posted on caycompass.com for luring visitors to the evening.
And others helped, too.
‘Thanks to Barefoot, people throughout the US heard about it because he listed it on his web site and he sent out info about the event with every merchandise order he shipped out,’ Mrs. Rutherford said. ‘People started calling from all over. Barefoot fans were here from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and from areas in Texas like Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio and other locations.
‘We also had a lot of interest from Parrot Head and dive groups, as well as others who just enjoy the Caribbean style of music. We even had one couple who came in on their boat, from the Houston area.’
Keith Smith made the trek from San Antonio Texas to join in the revelry.
‘I came to see the Barefoot Man and drum up some business for Dive World,’ he said. If he sells enough interest, he’ll bring his dive company and divers to Grand Cayman in August.
Sinclair Oubre of Port Arthur showed up in a dive suit.
‘I don’t do beaches but I have gone diving there (Cayman) a couple of times. Anybody could have worn a Hawaiian shirt.’
Mechelle Moody of Beaumont, Texas, showed up to hook up with family from Grand Cayman.
‘It was my first time and I loved it,’ she said. ‘I got to see family from the islands and learned more about Caymanian culture.’ Her grandfather, James Samuel Chisholm. was one of the many Caymanian seamen who migrated to and settled in Port Arthur.
She hooked up with Uncle Glenn Chisholm from Grand Cayman and cousins Sheree Barideaux of Port Acres, Texas, and Vince Chisholm of Crystal Beach, Texas.
Port Arthur’s relationship with the Cayman Islands dates back to the early 1900s, when the city was a port of entry for Cayman sailors who brought their families over to stay.
In 1981, The Cayman Party was instituted and in 1983 Port Arthur and Grand Cayman were declared sister cities.
Jewel Bodden, affectionately known as the Pizza Lady of West Bay, turned up and was almost speechless as she took in Cayman Night. ‘It’s nice, nice, very nice.’
Cayman Brac native and Port Naches, Texas, resident Darley Bodden said ‘It’s all right.’
Recently retired Radio Cayman chief Loxley Banks was there with his wife and friends.
‘It looks like quite an evening for a celebration. It’s a very festive atmosphere,’ he said. He arrived in Port Arthur from Grand Cayman last Thursday and is spending the rest of this week there catching up with family.
Mrs. Rutherford said the Chamber took on the Cayman Party because the group was looking for an indoor event to take the place of its annual ShrimpFest. That festival was competing with the several other shrimp festivals being held in the area.
Now plans are under way for Cayman Party 2007, which the Chamber hopes to throw in April or June to allow the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and government officials to join in the fun.
And talks are progressing with Cayman Airways to come up with a special rate for Cayman residents to travel to Port Arthur for the party.
Feedback concerning Saturday’s festivities has been remarkable, she said.
‘People expressed a great deal of appreciation to us for reviving the event. People from all walks of life had a great time visiting, dancing or just watching others. It was a true family affair with lots of small children and multi-generations having a great time together.’