Cable car solution proposed for cruise port

Cable car solution proposed for cruise port

A novel new concept to use cable cars to bring cruise passengers into George Town has been put forward as an eleventh hour solution for the port project. 

The design would involve two dock platforms close to the reef line, where the ships drop anchor. 

Passengers would be transported from the dock into Grand Cayman using cable cars suspended from two towers, envisaged as an iconic architectural feature of the new port. 

James Eldon Whittaker Jr., CEO of Next Development and the GreenTech group, presented the plans to government officials and members of rival campaign groups Save Cayman and Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future earlier this month. 

He believes the concept of a Cayman SkyBridge is the ideal solution to preserve the reefs and provide a solution for cruise berthing in Cayman. 

He said the cable car system would involve four overhead lines from each terminal and use cars that could transport 15 passengers at a time, with an estimated journey time of three minutes. The system would use 43 cars on each line and be able to move 20,000 passengers per hour, he said. 

Mr. Whittaker said the design is based on proven technology used on a larger scale elsewhere in the world, most notably over London’s Thames river. 

He said it was much faster than tendering and would also bring extra value as a unique and exciting feature of Cayman’s cruise port. 

“I don’t think there is a better alternative,” he said. “The traditional port is going to cause significant environmental damage, and not having a dock is also going to be a problem. 

“I am a practical person and I want to see the country get a pier, but I don’t want to see the environment destroyed to do it.” 

He said his firm partnered with engineers from around the world and invested its own money to produce the designs. 

He said the idea had been in the works for several years, but he was waiting for the environmental impact assessment to conclude before putting the plans in the public domain. 

He believes the dock and cable car system could be put in place for around $170 million – likely cheaper than the traditional port concept once the cost of environmental mitigation measures are factored in. 

The current design includes two towers, in the shape of a sail, with an underwater observatory to take people beneath the waves as an additional attraction. 

“What we want is for those towers to be an iconic architectural feature that people associate immediately with Cayman,” he added. 

Mr. Whittaker said the cable cars and underwater viewing area, next to the Balboa shipwreck, could become attractions themselves. He believes some of the operational costs could be offset by running evening tours and selling naming rights to the cable car system. 

The plans involve building two terminals on the sandy bottom between the shallow reef and the reef wall, with cantilevered piers stretching out into the deep water beyond the wall. He said the platforms would be affixed to the sea bed in less than 70 feet of water. 

Some land reclamation would be required for the land-side facilities, but the bulk of the dredging – the main sticking point for opponents to the traditional pier concept – would no longer be required. 

Doppelmayr Garaventa, the engineers responsible for the London cable car system known as the Emirates Air Line, have been involved in the design process. 

Mr. Whittaker added. “This idea has never been done in the Caribbean, but this is not an experimental technology by any means. These sky transit systems have been used the world over and in similar applications and in much larger and more complex scale. 

“The team involved has built these types of systems all over the world, including the Emirates Air Line in London, which is actually much larger and more complex than what we are proposing for Cayman.” 

He said the cars could be housed inside the terminals during hurricanes, and the lines and towers would be engineered to withstand storm winds and high seas. The design would use renewable energy technology, he added. 

James Whittaker, the CEO of Next Development, and James Whittaker, the writer of this article, are not related.  

Cable cars have been put forward as a new solution to the port project problems. - IMAGE: ARTIST

Cable cars have been put forward as a new solution to the port project problems. – IMAGE: ARTIST’S RENDERING

The two terminals would be positioned close to the reef line.

The two terminals would be positioned close to the reef line.

The new concpet involves cable cars linking the terminals to George Town.

The new concpet involves cable cars linking the terminals to George Town.

A cable car system could transport 20,000 passengers per hour, according to the man behind the Cayman SkyBridge concept. - IMAGE: ARTIST

A cable car system could transport 20,000 passengers per hour, according to the man behind the Cayman SkyBridge concept. – IMAGE: ARTIST’S RENDERING


  1. I appreciate everything that has been said in this article but I would still like to know who would be liable in the event of an accident and what type of liability insurance would be required to operate this type of system.

  2. This is an interesting proposal and one that will get some attention. I applaud Mr. Whittaker for thinking outside of the box and truly creating something that cold be iconic worldwide.
    There are some worries that do jump out:
    1) What kind of maintenance and service issues will arise seeing that these cars have not been used in a saltwater marine environment before?
    2) It will be interesting to see a full cost evaluation because $170 million to create platforms large enough to handle the biggest ships and be hurricane proof in the great depths sounds over optimistic.
    3) There are some design issues (that albeit may be easily fixed but not without cost. The platforms are too short. Having a little bit of marine knowledge the platforms must be longer than the ships to properly secure the lines. If this increases the construction cost and greatly increases the depth of the last platform then the estimate of $170 million is likely grossly understated.
    4) I don”t see how this takes away the challenges for elderly or handicapper passengers. They are likely to have some reluctance to get one the cable cars, definitely not the risk that tender bobbing up and down have but still not the same as stepping right onto a dock.
    5) I hope Mr. Whittaker spoke to the port about cargo requirements because more land reclamation may be needed to satisfy any long term needs.
    6) He seems to be far too late in the game. This needed to be brought forward a long time ago. The island is so far behind and even if current plans go through we are in a real crunch to get berthing in place (in whatever form) if the island wants to retain anywhere near the current level of arrivals.

  3. This seems like an interesting idea, worthy of consideration. I’m sure there are pluses and minuses to it, and I hope the MLAs (and all interested parties) give this option due consideration and examination.

  4. "Skybridge"? Another demented idea thrown into the pot by those who would desecrate Hogsty Bay in the interests of "iconic architecture that people would associate immediately with Cayman". Please! Lord spare us from this hare-brained idea – like the runaway ferris wheel and so many other crackpot money-making ideas to make the cruise ship to shore problem into a goose that lays golden eggs. Fuggedabout it!

  5. What a fascinating idea. There seems to be no downside. Something unique that is relatively affordable. Highly functional and scalable that can work in conjunction with the tenders based on demand.
    It also sounds like something the cruise companies would support financially.
    Kudos to Mr. Whittaker for thinking outside the box!

  6. I think that this is a good idea of concept, but it has it pros and cons. We cannot compare our underwater environment to other parts of world like England, they do not have what we have that so many people/children lives depends on it, the underwater environment. I think that the "dredging" would be the most devastating part of the project, what is done in George Town harbor would affect other parts of the Island environment because of weather and dredging, is that about what the report said. I think that if it can be done without the dredging it would be a plus for the Islands.

  7. I actually think this idea has some merit. Saves the reef and you would be able to pass over it as you come on island. Should be an awesome view. I wonder if a rough sea would effect ship docking, as the current situation does? Regardless, this shows what open minds with a vested interest in the public good can achieve when they think outside the box. Still, talking about it and doing it seem worlds apart in Cayman. I remain hopeful a solution can be found that builds on Cayman’s strengthens rather than degrades them.

  8. Very interesting proposal, but not sure it works for the volume we need. The tenders transport many more people. They ferry thousands of people.
    I’ve been standing in line waiting for gondolas at ski lifts and I think this would be no different. Gondolas are better suited for a steady stream of passengers, not for peak traffic which is what the tenders do for us.

  9. I like it.
    This does sound creative and is definitely outside of the box thinking. This would definitely set Cayman aside from the other cruise destination, show their commitment to the marine environment, display forward thinking and it sounds like it would cost a lot less than the proposed dock as well. I can even see taking a ride on one of these from George Town to Bodden Town, imagine the view. It would actually turn out to be a new tourist attraction, almost like an island tour and getting to work in GT from BT would be snap.
    Oh well, just wishful thinking I guess since the idea probably won’t even get consideration from the CIG since they are already committed to building the concrete piers in GT. So I’m sure they will say in can’t work in Cayman, after all the CIG is full of ingenious engineers who know these things.

  10. Maybe we should launch miniature rockets with passengers from the pier to the ships back and forth. Then we can do away with the platforms altogether and save all the reefs in Cayman.

  11. Thanks James,
    At first glance this looks very novel and interesting concept. I suspect that it is also scalable. If so we have long term expansion options.
    We’ll still need greater port (freight) capacity in the future but perhaps that could be achieved by building on piles.
    The idea of having a really unique solution in Cayman that enhances both our tourism product and our ecotourism reputation sounds like a great marketing and long term business strategy.
    I hope this manages to pass all of our requirements and critiques.

  12. Ok. Apologized for my prior humor. Maybe I’m missing something. Let’s NOT build the simplest solution which is a solid pier perhaps built on pylons because the reefs would cease existing in Cayman and destroy the dive industry as we know it, Rather let’s do something like this.

    Has any one of these been installed over salt water? How many moving parts are there? How will the electric motors fair over time over salt water and wind? What kind of maintenance is required to insure the cables, pulleys, towers and electric motors to keep them in non-corroding working order? Is it stainless steel? Normally those are installed in mountain ranges for skiing and sightseeing. FYI also usually for thrill seekers, as not everyone enjoys being dangled in the air, unlike a simple unwavering fixed dock with no moving parts.

    Which company will offer the maintenance of this complex machinery? Will they be as competent as other public services in Cayman?

    What kind of daily power requirements will be required to move these carts daily? What if there is a CUC power cut? Do the passengers get a refund for being stuck up there? Or maybe there are backup generators to generate that kind of power requirement?

    Wind…Even though this will be on the west side of the island, we can get faily gusty eaterly winds. leaving the water calm, but the air not so calm. Will those seniors and children be willing to get get dangled up in the air over the ocean? Will this system be closed during thunderstorms?

    What is the footprint on the offshore patforms right on top of those reefs? What about those coral reefs and snappers etc? Where will they move to?

    What about those that don’t like heights? Blindfolds perhaps?

    And finally 170 million? Cheaper than a fix dock with no miving parts, minimal power requirement, limited maintenance staff? Really? If you buy that one, I have a floating dock to sell you.

    I have to give credit for imagination, but zero for praticality. Especially when the alternative is obviously much simpler even to the braindead.

    Here”s a thought, why don”t we concentrate as to why we are being PREVENTED from taking the simple clear route, contemplate it over these options and see what makes the most common sense.

    Maybe its the fixed dock which should have been built two decades ago.

  13. When I first read this it looked like an April Fool’s story.

    It’s interesting that the Emirates Air Line in London should be referred to here. That service had to be shut down due to issues with high winds nearly 250 times in the first 30 months of operation and has been described as being far too unreliable to be used for commuting. Even when the wind is within operating limits I can personally vouch for the fact that the ride can be a bit on the lively side. Lightning strikes are another potential threat.

    It has also proved to be a financial disaster. Despite the fact that the sponsors, Emirates, and the EU covered the bulk of the cost, the chances of the taxpayers ever recouping their investment of just GBP16 million are reckoned to be zero.

    In reality this offers no advantages over tendering and in fact would be a far less flexible solution. It would also be very vulnerable to any sort of mechanical failure. A simple breakdown (remember all the major spare parts are going to be thousands of miles away) would easily reduce capacity by at least 50 percent. It is a complete waste of time and money even considering it. As they saying goes this is the ideal solution to a non-existent problem.

  14. A lot of concerns and opposition have already been put on the table regarding this as I expected. But it’s just a proposal at this point so why not at least listen to what they have to say. I am sure things like maintenance requirements how well it will stand up to salt water and wind would all have to be considered.

    It would have be built by the private sector and we all know that they won’t do it unless it will work and generate revenue. I would also hope they would be the one maintaining it as well, the CIG can’t even seem to maintain the own fleet of cars.

    Doing things the simplest way isn”t always the best idea. For example the dump, it”s real simple to just dump the would countries trash in big pile but it it the best way.

    One thing I will say is that this will attract more people than those that won’t like to ride on it. People will want to come just to ride the cable car over the water. And for those that don’t the tenders would still be able to pick them up and return them to the ship, however I’m sure that business will still lose revenue as with the dock which will most likely put them out of business altogether.

  15. Thank you Cayman Compass for giving us a good laugh on which to end the week. The island has seen some hair brained schemes proposed in the past but, this one takes the cake. It really would have been a prize entry as an April Fools Day spoof.