Long before Cayman became known as a financial centre it was known for its sailors, men and women who were admired for their command of the ocean and their stalwart work ethic.
The men and women of the Cayman Islands were among the world’s best seafarers and the work that they did, along with their strong belief in ethics and morality, prepared the ground for what would come in the form of one of the strongest economies and banking sectors in the entire globe. In fact, the money that was sent home from sea was what started the ball rolling and brought banks to the Island’s shores to begin with.
For anyone who wants to know more about this aspect of Cayman’s history the Sea Farers Association is the place to find out about some of these sea faring sons and their dedication to making a better life for their families and the Cayman Islands as retired seaman John Douglas says “The Caymanians of yesteryear and the example they left behind was one that all young people in the Islands can look to for inspiration and direction. They are who the younger generation cease to be and need to become in order for Cayman to regain its footing and continue to move toward greatness.”
For many of the men their sea faring careers took on different forms through out the years. Urban Wycliffe Myles for instance left a legacy of Caymanian mastery at sea behind him. Born in 1910, in 1920 he moved to Jamaica with his step mother and other family, while his father – like many other Caymanians at the time was making a living at sea, working on a passenger ship running between Santiago, Cuba and Haiti.
In 1931, the 21-year-old got a visit form one of the local schooner captains, who wanted to know if he was interested in going to sea and despite his father’s objections about him being too young, Urban was allowed to join the Gold Metal as a cook.
The Gold Metal was a schooner operating from to the Mosquito Keys catching turtles. For the next four years, Urban worked as a cook on numerous vessels such as the Rembro, which was owned by Doctor Roy McTaggart.
During the height of the second World War, Myles joined the Admiralty Bishopdale, sailing out of Kingston, Jamaica. After 68 days at sea, the crew found themselves in the Pacific Ocean sailing towards Australia, fuelling some of the biggest American and Australian battleships and troop transporters heading to war zones in the Pacific.
The late Mr. Myles would tell people during his life that one of his greatest memories at sea was, “Sailing out of Puerto Barrios in February of 1946 under a Caymanian Captain, Algie Fautardo and one of the chief engineers getting sick. While trying to make their way to Belize to drop their fellow crew member off to a hospital, they found themselves ship wrecked at a place called Glover’s Reef. In full dark they managed to make their way ashore and after getting their fellow seaman to dry land and on to a hospital, they had to spend 11 days in order to catch another ship to Florida.
Norberg Kelvin Thompson who was born on 28 March, 1925 followed in his father’s footsteps as a seaman after returning form schooling in the United States and spent many years at sea. Over his time at sea Thompson faced quite a few challenges and even came close to loosing his life twice from being thrown overboard from the ships he was working on.
Sailing on the S.S. Caymanian as Chief Mate, he supplemented his wages by buying food supplies from Jamaica and Belize and selling them locally in Cayman. All the time though his dream was of one day owning a modern day bakery on the Island he called home and he would eventually leave his life at sea to become one of Cayman’s premier business men.
Another great seaman that sailed the seas and helped to make the word “Caymanian” a term that was associated with hard work and dedication was Captain Shelby Hydes, who was born in West Bay on 7 June, 1928 and at the early age of 16 went to sea on the Caymanian schooner “Wilson”.
Mr. Hydes’ first journey was to the turtle grounds known as Mosquito Keys, where the turtlers had to fish from small keys for months at a time, rounding up the turtles in makeshift pens before the schooners returned to pick them up for sale in Cayman and Key West.
From the turtle grounds, Captain Shelby sailed on many infamous Caymanian ships such as the Jemson and the Remco and Addie H, before becoming captain of the Remco in his early twenties.
He retired from sea in 1970 and started one of the first shipping agents in Cayman, handling various cargo lines, shrimp vessels and one of Cayman’s first cruise ships. In addition, he served on the Port Authority Board for 16 years during the development of Cayman’s first modern birthing facility.
Today most of the seafarers from that era are part of the Seafarer’s Association and meet regularly. The organisation and its men and women still contribute to various community causes, as well as host events at their building in the Prospect area of George Town.
Recently a flag for the association was developed to commemorate their feats at sea and pay homage to their contribution and legacy.