Capt. Charles Marvin Ebanks, who died last month at age 98, built a successful watersports business and helped mold Cayman’s tourism industry from its earliest days.
He was known among friends and family as a religious man, dedicated to his family and his business, and widely recognized as a pioneer in Cayman’s tourism industry.
In a series of interviews with colleagues, employees and family members, he was repeatedly described as dedicated, honest, and a pioneer.
He was born on Grand Cayman on Sept. 27, 1916. He had three brothers and four sisters. He began a career on the sea, according to his own words published in the Cayman Islands Journal in 2013, at age 8, working on his father’s fishing boat. “I grew up on the sea,” he said at the time. He joined a turtling operation at age 14, traveling to the waters off Nicaragua to catch turtles and sell them in Cayman.
When war broke out in Europe, he joined the Merchant Marines, moving supplies to help troops on the front lines of the European theater in World War II. Bob Soto, another pioneer in Cayman’s tourism industry, said Capt. Marvin was part of a forgotten generation, “Cayman’s greatest generation.” Mr. Soto said, noting that Caymanians by the hundreds joined the Merchant Marines and the armed services in the United Kingdom and United States.
When Capt. Morgan returned to Cayman in 1951, he started taking tourists into the North Sound on a catamaran for snorkeling trips, with a stop for lunch at Rum Point. Later, as Rum Point grew into the crowded tourist mecca it is today, he would take tourists to Kaibo for the fresh fish lunch.
Sterling Ebanks began working for Capt. Marvin’s growing business when he was 9 or 10 years old in the late 1950s. He worked under Capt. Buddy Parson on the first motorboat in Capt. Marvin’s operation, the Chrissie Ann. As a boy, Mr. Ebanks’s role was to help on the boat and spear fish for the lunches at Rum Point.
The old fish recipe, Mr. Ebanks said, has barely changed since those early years: fresh fish, ripe plantains, chopped onion and green pepper, seasoned with pickapeppa, Worchester sauce, ketchup and lots of butter wrapped in tin foil and cooked in a fire.
Mr. Ebanks said drumming up business in the 1950s and ‘60s was a more personal affair. “You had to walk the beach in the evening, talk to the tourists and make the reservation right there,” he said.
But Capt. Marvin developed a reputation that helped grow his business in the decades before Cayman’s tourism industry really took off. Burns Rutty was the manager at the old Pageant Beach Hotel after he came back to Cayman from college in 1957. He said he always sent his guests to Capt. Marvin for snorkeling tours. “He was always the highlight of their trip to the island,” he said. Mr. Rutty said he always knew guests at the Pageant, which used to be just north of the Wharf Restaurant, would come back with good reviews from a trip with Capt. Marvin. “He was just a good person, took his business very seriously, very honest, gave people a good deal.”
With that reputation, Capt. Marvin built one of the most successful tourism businesses in Cayman. It continues to this day, now in the hands of his family.
Capt. Marvin could be seen on his boats well into his 90s. Mr. Rutty remembers seeing him on Kaibo for the regular lunch for tourists when Capt. Marvin was 93 or 94. “He said to me, ‘it’s keeping me alive, it’s what keeps me going.’”
In the last years of his life, Capt. Marvin’s daughter Jackie Ebanks, who now helps run the business, said her father would go out onto the dock with his walker to direct his captains where to park the boats, talk about the weather and chat with the guests.
Peter Milburn, who has been in Cayman for more than 50 years leading scuba trips, said Capt. Marvin was instrumental in building tourism on the island.
Mr. Soto echoes that, saying, “He deserves credit for bringing millions of dollars to Cayman and creating lots of jobs.” But more than making money, Mr. Soto said, Capt. Marvin made a mark on the country and “helped put Cayman on the map.
“Anybody who can wake up every day and look forward to work is a lucky man,” Mr. Soto said.
He leaves a legacy of a large family and a successful business. Capt. Marvin had 15 children, 33 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Services will be held Saturday at the Wesleyan Holiness Church in West Bay. The viewing will begin at 11 a.m., with the service at 1:15 p.m. followed by the burial.
***Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect a change in the time of the funeral service.***