New twist on catboat building

Ned Jerris Miller III hones skills up north

A young Caymanian man is continuing a family tradition, but with a new twist. 

Ned Jerris Miller III comes from a long line of catboat aficionados and sailers in the Cayman Islands. 

This summer he’s had a chance to hone his boat building skills at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, Rhode Island, as the first recipient of the Gwen Bush Memorial Scholarship, which awards $20,000 annually and aims to revive Cayman’s maritime industry, according to a Government Information Services news release. 

Earlier this year, as part of his freshman assignment, he and a teammate completed the restoration of a dilapidated 55-year-old, 12-foot Beetle Cat.  

Every restored boat must be tested for sea-worthiness and his passed with flying colours after successfully crossing the Newport Sound in June. The school sold the boat for US$11,000.  

“While the construction of a New England catboat differs from that of a local catboat, all the techniques learned at IYRS reflect the traditional way that catboats were built in the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Miller said. “The drafting and technical drawing courses taught me how to document the dimensions of existing Cayman Catboats and to produce full-sized plans. This will allow interested persons to build catboats from plans and may result in additional private catboats sailing in our waters.”  

Very few of Cayman’s original catboat builders remain to pass their skills on to the younger generation.  

Kem Jackson, one of two remaining master boat builders, is taking Mr. Miller under his wings for the summer and will help him measure, document and produce builders’ drawings for the 38-year-old Cayman catboat Chisholm Cat.  

On completion, his work will be sent to IYRS for evaluation and addition to his 2010/2011 grades. He’ll also present copies of his drawings to the Cayman Islands National Archive for safekeeping. 

For the balance of his summer he’ll document the dimensions of the nine catboats in the Cayman Catboat Club’s fleet. 

“All of this year’s work will be helpful in fulfilling the Cayman Maritime Heritage Foundation’s mission,” Mr. Miller said. “One of the major problems with the hundreds of catboats built in Cayman over the past 150 years is that they were all built from half models. 

They were never built from plans, and except for the overall length, no information exists on the exact dimensions of a Cayman catboat.” 

Mr. Miller returns to IYRS in September where he’ll complete the final 12 months of his two-year programme.  

Expressing thanks for his scholarship he said he’s grateful to the Ministry of Education, the Cayman Maritime Heritage Foundation and the Cayman Seafarers’ Association, all of which were partners in creating the scholarship. He is also grateful to the family of the late Gwen Bush.  

Education Minister Rolston Anglin takes pleasure in congratulating Mr. Miller on completing his first year.  

“We look forward to your return home and to the efforts you’ll undoubtedly make to revive Cayman’s boat building industry,” he said. “It is also my hope that your passion will encourage others to follow in your footsteps, and to take advantage of this unique scholarship opportunity, which is specifically designed to help restore a trade that holds such a special place in our heritage.”

For more information on the Gwen Bush Memorial Scholarship, call the Scholarship Secretariat on 244-2417 or email [email protected] 


Ned Jerris Miller III, centre, chats with master builder Kem Jackson, left, and his father, Jerris Miller, about old boat building methods. Also pictured is the recently restored Whittaker Cat. – Photo: Submitted

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