A number of Cayman’s beloved catboats were in action recently at a regatta that was now become a much anticipated annual tradition in West Bay.

Familiar catboats and their skippers and crews, including the Captain D and the Brac Cat, were facing off with some new arrivals on the catboat racing scene, including the Destiny, at the annual David Foster Memorial Race, which took place on Sept. 25.

With the start at Captain Garvin’s Park, Batabano, the boats raced across the North Sound to a finish at the Foster’s residence at Sand Point, North Side, a press release states.

Rommell Ebanks in Brac Cat crossed the start line in first place, followed by Jerris Miller on Dignity, Kem Jackson in Captain D and Crosby Ebanks in Going Ahead.

The first half of the race saw light winds and smooth water, where Jackson and Crosby Ebanks showed their light air skills, overtaking the entire fleet, with Crosby coming out on top. The second half saw the winds freshening and a tight battle ensued between Going Ahead and Captain D, with the lead changing several times, followed by a similar battle between Brac Cat and Dignity.

These close battles kept up all the way across the North Sound, with Crosby edging out Captain D for first place by three minutes.

Rommel Ebanks sets out at the helm of Brac Cat.
Rommel Ebanks sets out at the helm of Brac Cat.

According to the Cayman Catboat Club, as previously reported in the Compass, from the beginning of the 20th Century through the 1950s the catboat was an integral part of the islands’ economy. An important possession for seafaring Caymanians for generations, the little boats were used for transporting people and goods between the districts.

In Cayman’s traditional turtling industry, catboats were loaded up on schooners, sometimes stacked one on top of the other, and deployed at turtling grounds in the Western Caribbean to catch and carry turtles back to the larger ships. Cayman Catboat club mainstay Kem Jackson noted that the catboats were handcrafted using a plane, a saw, a hammer and a hatchet with the timbers forming the boats’ interior ribs typically made of hardwood like mahogany and plopnut.

Over the years as new boat styles and construction methods were introduced these traditional little boats began to disappear, with many destroyed in Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Today, Cayman’s tally stands at only 7 or 8 operational catboats, though the Catboat Club endeavors to pass on the traditional boat building knowledge to younger generations in the hopes of keeping the cultural icons around for many years to come. Those interested in picking up a little catboat history can pay a visit to the Club’s clubhouse on the George Town waterfront. Located on Whitehall Bay the building is now being used for the construction of new catboats and as an educational hub shedding light on Cayman’s unique maritime history.

Final results

Crosby Ebanks in Going Ahead, first; Kem Jackson in Captain D, second; Jerris Miller in Dignity, third; and Rommell Ebanks in Brac Cat, fourth.

The Dignity arrives at the dock.
The Dignity arrives at the dock.

President of the Catboat Club Jerris Miller said the race, now in its 16th year, is the longest running event for the Catboat Club. It started in 1998 when it was known as the David Foster Race. The name was changed in 2005, upon Mr. Foster’s passing.

The Cayman Catboat Club thanked the Foster family and Foster’s Food Fair for their long-term sponsorship.

The next races will be the Premiers’ Cup, on a course offshore the Catboat Club in George Town on Oct. 23, and a point race on a triangle course at Captain Garvin’s Park, Batabano, West Bay.

There will be two races in November to coincide with the Pirates’ Landing and North Side District Day.

Kenneth Ebanks getting the Dignity ready for racing.
Kenneth Ebanks getting the Dignity ready for racing.