He’s a pioneer of one of the island’s most famous tourist attractions.
Captain Marvin Ebanks recalls feeding the stingrays in the warm waters of the North Sound as a young boy, throwing them scraps while cleaning fish on the sandbar.
‘There were so many mosquitoes you couldn’t clean the fish on shore,’ he said. ‘In those days, we were the only ones to come to the sandbar. We’d clean the fish here, and then I’d take them to West Bay to sell them for my father. We’d throw the food for the stingrays, and they’d come and get it.’
Today, the site has developed into one of Cayman’s premier tourist destinations, with dozens of trips to Stingray City and the nearby sandbar offered daily. It’s a unique attraction, with the sociable southern stingrays interacting with visitors who can feed them by hand.
Captain Marvin knows these waters like the back of his hand – he’s been sailing the North Sound, off and on, for nearly 80 years.
‘In those days, all you had was a sailboat – there were no motorboats. You had to know how to handle a boat too, and you had to know what you were doing.’
Captain Marvin – who turned 90 on Wednesday – still takes regular snorkelling tours to Stingray City and the sandbar, along with lunch trips to Kaibo, where he cooks on the beach. And he has no plans to slow down.
‘I enjoy it,’ he said. ‘I was almost raised up on the sea. I can’t do too much hard work now but I can still handle a boat, and I can still cook.’
His love of the sea is obvious. He enjoys sharing his passion with others, including watching first-timers discover the wonders of the underwater world.
On a recent snorkelling tour in his 43-foot boat Miss Jackie that included a stop at Coral Gardens, he tossed in a few squid to attract colourful schools of blue tangs and sergeant majors, assuring some of the more timid guests that the waters – and sea creatures – are safe. Among the underwater visitors: a docile barracuda and curious stingray. ‘They’re friendly,’ he noted. ‘They won’t hurt you.’
Captain Marvin doesn’t just sit behind the wheel – he makes sure his guests experience the sea to its fullest.
‘He loves to see people happy – that’s what he loves about his job,’ said Beron Bodden, one of two crew members assisting on the trip. He’s been working with Captain Marvin for about nine months.
‘I couldn’t ask for anyone better than him. He’s a nice person to work with, easy to talk to and is always ready to listen to your point of view.’
Elizabeth Chaviano and Jane Buhager, both from Miami, have been visiting Cayman for six years. They took the tour to the sandbar and Coral Gardens with Captain Marvin, and marvelled at the experience.
‘It’s the best,’ said Ms Chaviano. ‘It’s just who he is. It’s the history behind the man.’
Ms Buhager was surprised to learn Captain Marvin just celebrated his 90th birthday.
‘I hope I can be still active like he is at that age. It’s amazing – it really is.’
Meeting people from all over the world is one of the perks of the job. Captain Marvin has known some of his regulars since they were children.
‘I remember I had a young man who came on the boat when he was about 10. Now he has two daughters.’
Born in 1916 in West Bay, Captain Marvin has travelled the world working for various passenger vessels and shipping companies. Denmark, Canada, China, Australia, Brazil, England, the Philippines, Nicaragua, the United States and Greece were among his many ports of call.
During the Second World War, he worked for the US on a tug, earning $42.50 per month. There, he lived on a houseboat in Gamboa, Panama, and helped build the Panama Canal.
He married twice – to Jane Isabella Ebanks and Anna Christina Anglin, now both deceased. He fathered 15 children – four have since passed away – and has 31 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
He began taking tourists to snorkel and dive for conch, lobster and fish in 1951, basing himself out of what is now known as Morgan’s Harbour. They would bring their fresh catch ashore, and have a cook-out on the beach over a wood fire. A few years later he switched to Rum Point, stopping on the way at the sandbar to let guests feed the rays.
‘In those days, you were lucky if you saw two or three boats here.’
Later – after pursuing other ventures including a grocery store and bakery – he returned to the watersports business, taking his guests to the famous stingray site and for beach lunch trips to Kaibo.
The veteran seaman still averages four to five trips a week, including full-day excursions with large groups.
While he loves being out on the sea, family time is important as well.
‘I never work Sunday.’
But for Captain Marvin, retirement isn’t in his vocabulary.
‘I expect to do something as long as I feel like doing something – I don’t want to sit around and do nothing. I still enjoy it.’