Longtime island visitor recalls treasured memories

American Keith Rayner has been a regular visitor to Grand Cayman over four decades. While the beauty of the island was what first attracted him, memories of his wife and the time they shared on the island keep him coming back. 

His wife Shirley, 80, passed away in 2011, but she left a special gift for her husband, now 84 – a journal of short stories of their trips to Grand Cayman. 

“She was a schoolteacher and loved to write short stories. Her stories tell how much she loved the island and its people,” he said. 

One of her stories, titled “My Lookout Chair,” – Mr. Rayner’s favorite – describes how she would sit on a chair, looking out at the sea and the sky at sunset. In it she wrote: “Skies are beautiful in the early evening and you can watch the sun actually set. The sun never seemed to want me to see it leave down there. The day vanishes without a trace of the beauty it once had or will have tomorrow.” 

Writing runs in the family – the Rayners’ granddaughter Taura Ebanks has written a children’s storybook based on her experiences growing up in the Cayman Islands. Ms. Ebanks’s mother Lisa Rayner married a local boat captain, Schister Ebanks. 

Mr. Rayner, on his latest trip to Cayman, recalled fondly the first visit he and his wife made here from Iowa in 1971. 

“We fell in love with the island’s warm weather and beautiful ocean and made many trips after that,” he said, adding that it was after a friend had good things to say about the island that he and his wife first came to Grand Cayman. The friend told the couple he had “found the most wonderful place in the world,” and they traveled from the United States to see it for themselves. 

Not too long after that, the Rayners brought their family and other friends with them. They stayed in a three-bedroom villa at Seascape on West Bay Road for $55 a night. To prove a point, Mr. Rayner produced a Seascape price list from the ‘70s. A dinner at Grand Old House was not that expensive and they dined on lobster and steaks, he recalled. 

Mr. Rayner also noted: “When we first came over, we left the doors open, walked anywhere at night and never thought about break-ins or robber[ies]. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, not that I am saying they are not so today … but more so back then because tourists were a novelty.” He said many of the drivers were courteous, and waved or beeped their car horns when they passed. 

As for Seven Mile Beach, he said of the earlier years, “All we saw passing in the waters those days were a few fishing boats. There were no cruise ships, tour boats or water sports equipment and activities … people just enjoyed the residents and the quiet scenery.” 

On one of their visits, he recalls helping two fishermen remove needle fish from their nets after pulling in a huge haul. “That was fun,” he said. “They had caught hundreds of fish and were pulling them into the boat when they asked us to take out the unwanted fish. At the time I did not know the name of the fishes but later on they told us they were sprats. One of the fun things to do those days was watch the fishermen.” 

The Rayners enjoyed barbecues at the Holiday Inn, which were popular with Caymanians and tourists alike, listened to Barefoot Man, and watched the local fire-eater perform. Visits to the Stingray City Sandbar were laid back and enjoyable, he said. 

“We loved to walk the beaches and meet the local people. When finished walking, we would sit and take in the island’s sunset and smells. I can’t come up with any regrets, bad experiences or problems during our travels to Cayman,” he said. 

Mr. Rayner said that although the island has changed considerably, it still retains the charm of quiet island living. “Right now, I don’t know many people here, but I still enjoy the warm weather, water and people,” he said. 

Keith and Shirley Rayner enjoy the solitude of Seven Mile Beach in earlier years.


Keith Rayner relaxes on a beach chair at Villas of the Galleon on Seven Mile Beach. – Photo: Jewel Levy