The Cayman Islands Maritime Heritage Foundation and Cayman Islands Catboat Club have secured a 15-year peppercorn lease from Government for the Old Whitehall Bay building on North Church Street.
Captain Paul Hurlstone says ‘the building once belonged to Captain William Clarke and is at least 150 years old,’ making it one of the oldest remaining structures in George Town.
‘Plans for the restoration of the building have now been submitted to the Planning Department,’ said President of the Foundation and Catboat Club Jerris Miller.
‘The restoration will allow us to make the clubhouse into a key cultural tourism attraction and we hope to include boat building facilities, a small maritime museum and an educational and research centre.’
The architectural firm of George Serrant and Associates has been hired to oversee the design plans and intend to incorporate some of the original wall posts, the wattle and daub and the tongue and groove woodwork that still survives in the building.
Kem Jackson, vice president of the club is regarded as one of the few people that still can build and re-furbish the old traditional watercraft, and he has now refurbished four old boats bringing the total fleet up to six.
‘These boats were all derelict and 50 to 75 years old and today thanks to Kem they are in pristine condition,’ said Mr. Miller. ‘A major focus for us is to make sure the art and craftsmanship inherent in construction of the Cayman Catboat is passed on to others. We go to the schools and teach the children about the boat and some of its uses such as turtling. It is an important part of our Cayman history and we want to preserve it. We organise sailing races and Kem Jackson and members of the club can often be found at public events, offering free catboat rides to tourists and locals alike. If the event is not on the water, he brings along the boat, fully rigged and equipped.’
The Catboat Club recently got a boost in its fundraising efforts.
The ministry of Youth, Education and Culture presented the organisation with a check for $55,000.
Mr. Miller said the Club is ‘very grateful for the support from Government. This money is vital for our ongoing efforts as well as our continued development. We plan to spend the money on new sails, a trailer to haul the boats and in addition to current boat restoration efforts we are also going to construct a 30 foot cat boat.’
At the annual general meeting that was recently held at the Seafarer’s Building on Shamrock road, lifetime membership to the Maritime Heritage Foundation and Catboat Club was presented to Bob Soto, who was described as a ‘a pioneer and wealth of history in all things Maritime in the Cayman Islands and who was the force behind the bronze monument in George Town celebrating Caymanian Schooner Seamen.’
The other lifetime membership award was given posthumously to the late Mr. David Foster.
Mr. Foster was described as an enthusiastic supporter ‘without whose encouragement and financial assistance the Cayman Catboat Club would have surely foundered.’ During the last Pirate’s Week the club staged the inaugural David Foster memorial race, which took place throughout the districts, primary school children were trained to sail the boats and took part in the races.