“Calling all ships approaching and passing the Cayman Islands. Anyone receiving my calls?” Cayman Brac resident Raymond Scott spoke into his marine VHF radio on a Tuesday afternoon last month.
Other than some chatter from a vessel approaching Grand Cayman, his radio was quiet that day. But sometimes, Mr. Scott plays an instrumental role in search-and-rescue missions carried out from the Sister Island.
While Grand Cayman has full-time port security officers, the Brac relies heavily on Mr. Scott as a volunteer to help put out the call for missing and distressed boaters.
According to Mr. Scott, he has helped save hundreds of lives during the nearly 40 years he has monitored the Sister Islands waters.
Typically, he will receive a call from marine authorities or family members on Grand Cayman saying that someone is missing at sea. After receiving that call, the volunteer will put vessels near the Brac on notice.
“Someone will go missing, and they’ll say to contact Raymond Scott to put out the call. There could be a boat coming from Key West with three people overdue. Or a boat went out a week ago and can’t be found,” he said. “I’ll get on the radio and [say] ‘This is an emergency broadcast: Attention all vessels, there’s a missing boat with three souls on board with a blue hull about 30 feet long. Any ships hearing my call now? Please respond to my call, this is an emergency alert.’
“They’ll say, ‘Yes, I’m hearing you and we’ll help search.’”
Other times, Mr. Scott will receive a distress signal from a boat that is in trouble. That was the case in 2004, when the 43-foot sailing boat Angelique began sinking near Cayman Brac while on a voyage from Cuba to Little Cayman.
When Mr. Scott spoke to the shipowners, they were already standing in a meter of water. The volunteer search-and-rescue coordinator put out a call to the Cayman Brac Fire Service, customs, and other nearby ships, who responded and saved the sailors before their predicament became dire.
Mr. Scott’s assistance to the territory is not always during times of disaster. For instance, he said that one time, port security officers on Grand Cayman were having difficulties communicating with a German vessel heading there. Because Mr. Scott said he knows “a little” German from his time at sea, the officers called on him to communicate with the vessel.
When he’s not assisting local marine authorities, the Brac resident regularly monitors ship movements in the Caribbean as a hobby.
“Oh, there’s a Cayman-flagged ship. She came past here yesterday. Registered in George Town and owned by a Japanese company … That’s a pretty ship,” Mr. Scott remarked while browsing through www.marinetraffic.com, looking at a picture of the vessel traveling close to an island. “That’s right up against the bush! Boy, that water must be deep. Her draft is 35 feet under the water. Imagine if that steering failed.”
In 2013, he found a ship that made newspaper headlines, sporting the world’s largest floating oil rig while passing by Grand Cayman.
He also organizes ships to sail near the islands whenever a seaman or his wife dies, and blow a whistle in their honor. Back in 2016, to mark the passing of Little Cayman’s Mary McCoy, he radioed the captain of the Hoegh Trooper, a 656-foot-long cargo ship, which rerouted to pass close to Cayman Brac and blew its whistle 10 times to honor the late tourism pioneer.
Mr. Scott received much of his marine knowledge from his time as an assistant docking master in the 1970s, when Cayman Brac was a major destination for tankers to make ship-to-ship transfers of oil en route to the United States.
“I’ve been through some very hard times at sea, working on ships docked up together pumping crude oil, with severe electrical storms flashing across the deck. Very risky, hazardous conditions, rough weather,” he said. “Stepping from crew boat, you’d have to wait until the crew boat raised up, then you jump and grab the ladder and go on up or the boat would come in and break your legs.”
He has since retired from the marine life, running his company Raymond’s Heavy Equipment Service instead. But he said that with a sluggish Brac economy, work has been hard to come by lately.
Mr. Scott has been lobbying government to give him a salary for his volunteer work.
“My job is one of the most important, except a doctor and a policeman or something like that,” he said. “I provide a public service. All the marine departments depend on me.”