Mr. Jackson knows catboats

October has been designated Older Persons Month. According to a Government Information Services release, this month’s theme is Aging is a Privilege and Societal Achievement.

The advisory goes on to say that the elderly are generally playing more active roles especially through voluntary work. This they do mainly by transmitting experience and knowledge and helping their families with caring responsibilities. These contributions can be assured only if older persons enjoy good health and society addresses their needs, the statement continues.

One older person who is seen to embody the contribution made by the elderly in Cayman is William Kem Jackson.

The 69-year-old is an active proponent of catboat renovation and helps raise public awareness about Cayman’s catboat heritage.

‘Catboating is like a hobby for me. Of course it takes a lot of time, patience and money,’ Mr. Jackson said.

Stressing that he is not old, Mr. Jackson was born in 1937 in Batabano, West Bay. He and his wife Ola Sandra Ebanks Jackson have three children: Priscilla, Patricia and Joseph.

Sailing and racing catboats has been Kem’s passion since he was 11-years-old. In his youth, catboats in Cayman played a significant role in people’s lives.

‘Catboat was the pick-up truck of Cayman. They were used to transport packages and, of course, in turtling and fishing,’ he said. ‘It would be a great loss if this tradition were to die.’

Together with the Cayman Catboat Club, Mr. Jackson has been working for six years in raising awareness about catboats. This programme involves visiting schools and talking and showing catboats to children. He also organises free sailing expeditions on catboats.

‘I have found school children to be very interested when I explain to them what catboats used to do,’ he said. ‘And I have already witnessed some of these children explaining our catboat tradition to tourists, thus contributing to the attractiveness of our islands to tourists.’

Mr. Jackson renovates catboats in a workshop at his home, all with a view of fulfilling his mission to preserve the Cayman tradition of making boat models. Mr. Jackson said that renovation of the catboat is a difficult skill, as all the boats are uniquely constructed.

‘Building a boat is easier than repairing one,’ he explained. ‘First, there is need to find suitable trees for catboat ribs; nowadays there are not so many suitable trees left. In the old times men went into the bush and looked for the tree that was suitable for them. Nowadays we might need to make catboat ribs by bending wood with steam.’

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