Students learn maritime history

Savannah Primary School students got a lesson in Cayman maritime history on Tuesday.

A visit to the Seafarers Association building had the group of 40 students learning how local ship builders and seamen played an important role in Cayman’s history.


Savannah Primary School students examine a piece of mahogany wood and iron spike used in the framework of the Western Union schooner constructed by ship builder Roy Arch. Mr. Dick Arch showed the prized maritime possessions during a talk with students at the Seafarers Association Building on Tuesday. Photo: Jewel Levy

‘Cayman is rich in maritime history and the constructed framework for the Schooner Western Union is an example of that,’ said Consuelo Ebanks, who was assisting Seafarer member Dick Arch.

Ms Ebanks also encouraged the young students to gather as much information and knowledge about the history and culture of these islands from the older generation who were fast dwindling away.

‘These seniors are our ancestors who made these islands and who have a vast amount of knowledge to share with us,’ she said.

Mr. Arch shared with the group how his grandfather, father and uncle were all shipbuilders in those days.

‘My uncle Roy constructed the framework for the Western Union Schooner, which was used for laying telephone cables.

‘Using sturdy mahogany wood, harvested in Cayman, rope soaked in tar and iron spikes for fastening and hand tools, he constructed the main part of the schooner.’

A Western Union schooner website states in 1938 Thompson Enterprises contracted Heber Elroy Arch to supply the hardwood and the timber and to build the vessel.

The Arches framed the ship, putting in all the ribs, the stem and the stern post. The timbers, or frames, were of Cayman mahogany. Her planking was built of two–inch Date county pine brought over from Florida, where some of the best stands of this presently endangered species grew. She was purposefully built for Western Union as an auxiliary cable laying schooner.

Mr. Arch said when the frame for the schooner was completed it was dismantled and shipped to Key West for reassemble and completion.

That schooner, which is presently on dry dock for repairs, is more than 70 years old is still active today operating cruises out of Key West, he said.

It sails twice per day giving guests a glimpse of Key West’s historic maritime past.

It is the flagship of Key West, he said.

Mr. Arch also identified other schooners built by his uncle using 99 per cent Cayman mahogany. A few were the Goldfield, Sunbeam, Erie and Bonnie Rose.

The students also got a chance to touch a piece of mahogany wood and iron spike used in the building of the schooner, which is a prized possession of Mr. Arch and a link to his family’s maritime heritage.