Prince tours Sister Islands, meets with locals

Prince Charles shakes hands with Charli Foster, as her dad Woody Foster looks on, at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in Little Cayman on Thursday. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Large crowds do not often assemble on Cayman Brac, but hundreds gathered Thursday on the island’s Bluff to see Prince Charles cut the ribbon on the new 25-metre swimming pool – his first task upon arrival in the Sister Islands.

The pool had its grand opening nearly two years after construction began on the facility around May 2017. The project cost an estimated $2 million.

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Difficulties with digging the rocky Bluff, transporting materials, and having construction staff from Grand Cayman travel there contributed to the lengthy timeline for the project’s completion, according to project officials.

Michael Hunt, who coaches swimming on the Brac, said the new pool will help his athletes prepare for competitions. The previous largest pool on the Sister Island was only 15 metres long and did not have starting blocks, he said.

“Now we’re on equal footing with Grand [Cayman],” he said.

The pool is intended for high school and sports department swimming programmes, and will not be open to the general public, according to project official Delroy Bodden.

The first competition the new facility will host will likely be the Lions Swim Meet in May, he said.

Prince Charles cuts the ribbon inaugurating the new pool at the Cayman Brac Sports Complex. – Photo: Ken Silva

The swimming pool is a part of a larger project to develop the sports complex on the Bluff.

Justin Bodden, head of Public Works on the Brac, said other amenities include a FIFA-certified soccer field, tennis courts, basketball courts and changing facilities. Additionally, work continues on the multipurpose hall, which will include an indoor basketball and volleyball court.

Bodden said the multipurpose hall was scheduled to open around this month, but there were delays due to changes in the flooring.

The multipurpose hall was originally estimated to cost $9 million, he said.

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After cutting the ribbon on the pool and watching eight Brac students swim laps to mark its opening, Prince Charles walked around the facility, taking time to shake hands with the Brac residents. The Brackers reported that the prince was an affable and charming person.

“He asked if I was a local and I said, ‘Yes sir, I am,’” said Brac resident Morrill Scott Jr. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m very happy to have met him and shaken his hand, and I hope he enjoyed his visit and comes back again.”

Little Cayman

Prince Charles then headed to Little Cayman, where he paid a visit to the Central Caribbean Marine Institute. There, he chatted with researchers and students about coral and reefs that are critical to the Cayman Islands.

Prince Charles looks out on Little Cayman’s waters. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Officials at CCMI took the opportunity to announce their Healthy Reefs campaign, an effort to bring attention to the coral restoration and research the institute is doing.

“We want the children of the world to appreciate the coral and the creatures of the sea,” said Carrie Manfrino, director and president of the institute. “Our message today is that we need to act urgently and act now to protect the future of coral reefs.”

An attempt to link up with an underwater diver, part of the institute’s Reefs Go Live programme, had technical problems shortly into the video feed and had to be abandoned. There were plenty of other things to keep the prince interested, including the unveiling of a commemorative plaque.

He interacted with a group of Cayman International School students, asking them about how what they were learning about corals and reef life fit in with their science curriculum and encouraged them to take advantage of the immersive, multi-day programme they were participating in.

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“It concentrates the mind,” he said.

A crowd of about 50 visitors and local residents greeted the prince upon his arrival at CCMI. Many were hoping for a chance to shake hands or even have a word with England’s heir to the throne.

Marcia and Mark Ortner, of Minnesota, spend about half the year in their home on Little Cayman.

District Commissioner Ernie Scott (left) greets Prince Charles as he steps foot on Cayman Brac for the first time ever. – Photo: Ken Silva

“I’m surprised he would take the time to visit the Sister Islands,” Marcia Ortner said.

Originally, she said, locals thought they had to be invited to the CCMI visit. In a visit two weeks ago, Governor Martyn Roper dispelled that misconception.

“He said, ‘Come to see Prince Charles,’” Ortner said. “It really made people happy in that we were part of the celebration.”

She had both a Cayman flag and a Union Jack in her hands. “We’re going to be British today,” she said. “I wish I could speak in that accent.”

For CCMI, it was a chance to get a bit of the international spotlight, if only for a few moments.

“We feel it’s really important for him to recognise us,” Manfrino said. “It will help other scientists understand that we’re here.

John Clamp, who co-founded CCMI with Manfrino, said the institute would benefit from “the publicity this type of visit brings. It gets the word out”.

Like many of the children present at the event, Charli Foster, 11, was star-struck. Wearing her favourite dress she’d gotten for Christmas, she tagged along with her father Woody Foster.

“I was just so excited that he was down here,” Charli said of the prince, who lived up to her expectations, shaking her hand and asking her a little bit about herself.

“It was a great experience,” she said.

Clamp was happy as well.

“He seemed very engaged,” he said of Charles’s short visit. “What [officials] said was if it runs over, that means he’s enjoying himself. And it ran over, so I consider that successful.”