Fifty years ago, the residents of the Cayman Islands, like people all over the world, watched and listened with wonder as man landed on the Moon for the first time.
On 20 July 1969, Caymanians waited with bated breath beside shortwave radios or before grainy television screens as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the Moon. And like most newspapers, the Caymanian Weekly, a precursor to the Cayman Compass, ran a front page story on the historic event.
The Caymanian Weekly story mentioned two of the people on Grand Cayman who were able to witness the momentous occasion via television, at a time when few people possessed TVs. Winston and Dora Watler, now deceased, lived in a wooden house off Crewe Road. They had their television switched on all day that Sunday hoping to get a glimpse of the Apollo 11 mission.
Just as the camera caught the action on the Moon, the couple were able to see a hazy picture of astronaut Neil Armstrong come down the steps of the lunar module and put his left foot on the Moon’s surface.
“Uncle Winston had one hell of a galvanised pipe high in the air acting as an antenna and all kind of wires hooked up to it, and he was constantly jingling, shifting and working it around to see if he could catch a picture,” recalled 80‑year-old Brainard Watler.
“When they found something on the television, whether they wanted to watch it or not, they had to because it was all that was showing at the time,” Watler said, adding that the couple’s black and white television had been sent to Dora by her relatives in the United States.
Many in Cayman followed the action by radio at the Beach Club Hotel. Watler said the Beach Club was the popular place to be in those days in Cayman, so it was no surprise that is where people gathered to listen to broadcasters describe the landing.
Historian and author Roy Bodden recalls there being lots of excitement among the people of Bodden Town and other parts of the island as they awaited the Moon landing.
Those who were fortunate enough to have a shortwave radio were glued to the Voice of America radio station where the news was being broadcast, he said.
As a young boy, he recalls some of the older people saying at the time that the astronauts “had no business going up there” and to expect trouble because they were going to places where they shouldn’t be. But, he said, he knew he was excited about it.
Back in those days, most people listened to the news by radio, and those who did not have radios heard it by word-of-mouth from other residents, Bodden said.
Billy Adam was 22 at the time of the Moon landing. He said it was an “intriguing” experience listening to the events unfolding on Voice of America.
“I was listening to the communications in the various stages and when they reached and circled the moon and when they landed, it was very interesting to a lot of people following the journey that day,” Adam said.
One of the astronauts who walked on the Moon that day, Buzz Aldrin, is a regular visitor to the Cayman Islands, where he comes to scuba dive. In an interview with the Cayman Compass in 2013, Aldrin, who has been a diver since the 1950s, described the sensation of diving as the closest thing to moon-walking that he has experienced on Earth.