The Little Cayman Marine Museum was ceremonially opened Saturday in a building that could have been torn down on a property that could have become a site for premium-class condominiums.
Instead, because of one family’s generosity and the willingness of other families to contribute, visitors can meet some extraordinary men and find out how their hard work and ingenuity helped make Cayman what it is today.
The one family’s patriarch is Linton Tibbetts, one of the most successful businessmen these Islands have ever produced. Knowing the Baptist Church in Cayman Brac needed money, he offered to buy the wooden church building in Little Cayman that had been replaced in 2001 by a larger structure.
Then Mr. Linton deeded the property to his daughter, Donna Tibbetts Hooker, and her son Ryan. They could have done what they wanted with it. But, as Mrs. Hooker related, ‘It was Dad’s dream to have a maritime museum and we all said ‘Hey, this is a great place to put it.”
Fortuitously, the old church was a stone’s throw from the Little Cayman Museum Mr. Linton had been responsible for in the 1990s. His son-in-law, Dr. Michael Hooker, built a walkway to connect the two structures and other family members, including the grandchildren, helped paint and refurbish the building that now serves as a tribute to all Caymanian seafarers.
‘The whole family will continue to take care of it and Daddy will oversee it,’ Mrs. Hooker said.
While Mr. Linton already had numerous items to exhibit, a substantial portion of the museum collection came from families who trusted him with their photographs, letters and newspaper clippings, ships’ instruments and other artefacts.
The thoughtful combination of documents with photographs gives a face and personality to the doers of deeds so heroic they might seem to be yarns told by men at sea to entertain each other. The deeds are fact.
Who would believe that a man could sail a ship that was in two pieces? Captain Callan Ritch did it during World War II after the vessel was blasted apart by an enemy attack. He chained the bow to the aft section and navigated safely back to port without a radio or navigation equipment.
His story and portrait are on the west wall, next to what might be another legend, except that it’s true. Captain Alva Ashton Reid was a World War II salvage master, commended by the US Navy for recovering more than $700 million in salvage value of ships and cargoes.
Mr. Linton, an erudite guide, supplies information the exhibits don’t have. He is the one who explains about Captain Ritch chaining his ship together and Captain Reid being called to do a job and succeeding after men from three other countries couldn’t do it.
Not all of the feats of all of the seamen were quite so dramatic, but they were no less heroic. Whether they were turtlers or cooks or deckhands, they put their lives at risk almost every day. Before the age of electronics and hydraulics, they sailed and hauled cargo with sextant, compass, block and tackle.
No doubt that is why several of the speakers at the opening ceremony expressed their admiration for seafarers and the need to pass on their values of honesty and hard work.
Those values were noted by Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell, who confessed a personal connection to the maritime museum. His grandfather was among those lost aboard the vessel Nunoca, which set sail for Tampa in July 1936 and vanished at sea without a trace. Referring to a museum display about this tragedy, he said, ‘For me it’s as if the day the Nunoca was lost is now enshrined.’
Mrs. Exie Tomlinson Panton, representing the Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands, congratulated Mr. Linton and said the museum ‘enshrines our shared seafaring heritage.’ She thanked him ‘on behalf of so many Caymanian families of seafaring tradition. She predicted the museum would prompt viewers to revisit their own treasured family memories.
Minister for District Administration, Works and Gender Affairs Juliana O’Connor-Connolly suggested that the true impact of the marine museum will only be known in years to come, when a younger generation has been exposed to its message.
Governor Stuart Jack, said everyone should be grateful to the Tibbetts Family for the museum because it will help them remember where these Islands came from, the seafaring tradition and the hard life people had to go through. He especially hoped that young people would be able to come and see it.
Other words of appreciation to Mr. Linton and his family have become a part of the marine museum display. They were burnt into a section of an old catboat that was dug up in the yard of. Brigit Kassa and now rests just outside the museum entrance.
The message reads: The Little Cayman District Committee of the National Trust honours your foresight to assemble the Marine Museum. It restores our pride in our boat-builders and seamen. It preserves our history and ensures future generations will know their roots.’
For now, the Marine Museum will be open the same hours as the Little Cayman Museum, 3-5pm on Thursdays and Fridays. But attendant Mrs. Bruce Eldemire is happy to open for groups when requested; the hotel and condo managers all know how to reach her.