Credited with having had a major role in shaping Cayman’s water-sports tourism industry, Capt. Marvin, as he was fondly known, passed away Saturday morning, surrounded by his large family. He was 98.
Capt. Charles Marvin Ebanks, like many men of his generation, “grew up on the sea,” he said in a 2013 interview with the Cayman Islands Journal. From commercial fishing to the U.S. Merchant Marines, and for more than 60 years running the successful tour company bearing his name, Capt. Marvin lived a long life on the sea.
He was recognized in the February 2013 Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s annual Arts & Culture Awards, receiving the Gold Heritage Cross – the organization’s highest award for a lifetime of work that has contributed in a meaningful way to the country’s cultural heritage.
He told the Journal last year, “I worked with my father from the time I was 8 years old. We’d go fishing in the morning and again throughout the night. The only time I wasn’t fishing was when I went to school – Bosun’s Bay in the afternoon. I did that until I was 14 years old and then went to work turtling – going to the Miskito Cays to catch turtles in Nicaragua to bring back here to sell. That is how we helped the family make a living.”
Capt. Marvin returned to Grand Cayman after service with the merchant marines in 1951. That’s when he began running his first tours to Stingray City on a borrowed sailboat, to show off the stingrays attracted to the fisherman cleaning their catch on the sandbar in the North Sound, according to his own account.
From a borrowed boat, to running the largest tour operation in Cayman, Capt. Marvin’s life traces the growth of tourism in the Cayman Islands. He told the Journal last year: “The first tourists came in sailing boats from the United States. They would drive around the island for a while and then wonder what else there was to do. I suggested they come out in my boat. There were lots of lobster, conch and fish, and we started making lunch on the beach. We didn’t have masks or snorkels; we used what was called a ‘water-glass’ [a container with a glass bottom] and what we’d see down there, we’d dive it up.”
Capt. Marvin’s daughter Jackie Ebanks said her father was involved in the daily operations of the tour business well into his 90s, running his own boat until he was 93. As recently as the beginning of this year, Ms. Ebanks said, her father would use a walker to go out to the dock near his West Bay home. “He was out on the docks telling the guys what to do, where to dock the boats, asking them how their day was, warning them about a storm coming up.”
“I keep doing this because I like it,” he said last year. “And I have a lot of repeat customers. I’ve been doing this so long that if some people come on the boat and I’m not there, they’re disappointed. Some of them have been going out with me for over 30 years.”
Ms. Ebanks said those repeat customers, who would return to Cayman every winter, always took a trip with Capt. Marvin. She said that the family has delayed her father’s funeral because “he had a lot of fans worldwide.” Many of those repeat customers came in recent years to talk with Capt. Marvin and told his family that when he passes “no matter what, we want to be here.”
Capt. Marvin is survived by 15 children, 33 grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Services will be held Jan. 3 at the Wesleyan Holiness Church in West Bay. The viewing will be noon to 2 p.m., followed by the service and burial.