Governor gets a catboat lesson

Loxley Banks blows the conch as Kem Jackson, Governor Martyn Roper and MLA Tara Rivers watch and listen. - PHOTO: Spencer Fordin

The boats are old, and so is the wisdom that went into making them.

Governor Martyn Roper got a tour of catboat maker and captain Kem Jackson’s home and an education in the making of Cayman’s iconic catboats on Friday as part of a meet-and-greet tour of West Bay and its constituents.

Roper and his wife Elisabeth inspected a number of old boats and listened as Jackson, one of the key members of the Cayman Catboat Club, told him about constructing and restoring the vessels.

“This is a real story in Caymanian history,” said Governor Roper after walking around Jackson’s yard and taking in the sights. “The reputation of Caymanian seafarers, everybody knows about that, so to come and see the boats is fantastic. There’s great work being done to restore them and return them to what they were before, and it’s really important to keep a hold of that culture and heritage.”

Jackson showed the Ropers how the frames of catboats were created from the curved branches of mahogany trees, and he spoke from firsthand knowledge about their utility and durability.

There were hundreds of these boats at one point, said Jackson, and now there are just a few remnants of the old way of life in Cayman. Jackson is currently restoring multiple catboats, a labour of love that stands to remind Caymanians of the way life used to be before the advent of modern technology.

MLA Tara Rivers said she had been escorting the governor around the district and introducing him to a number of people who were thrilled to meet him.

Governor Martyn Roper visited West Bay on Friday where he met with residents and families and learned about catboats. – PHOTO: Spencer Fordin

“This is a part of the district tour in general,” she said. “We’re now visiting the constituency of West Bay South, of which I’m the representative, and I’m taking him to a number of constituents.

“One of them is Kem Jackson, who is an integral part of the Cayman Catboat Club and restoring the traditional heritage of catboat building and restoration. We’re here with the Jackson family, and the governor and his lovely wife had a good briefing on what it means to be a snapshot of Cayman’s heritage in terms of what and how the boats were built, constructed, restored and used.”

The Foster family poses with members of the Catboat Club at the annual David Foster Memorial Catboat Race.

Roper also had a larger meeting with constituents set for Leo Ebanks Park on Friday evening, that would allow him to meet West Bay residents in a more informal setting.

“This is really nice,” said Governor Roper of the opportunity to meet local families. “I’ve done George Town. I’ve been to North Side. We’re in West Bay today. I’ve got Bodden Town, East End and other places coming up. It’s just nice to meet people and it’s really special to be invited into people’s homes.”

Catboat race

Some of Cayman’s catboats, and Jackson himself, were out at sea last month to show that the traditional boats can still perform.

Kem Jackson explains the art of restoring catboats to Govenor Martyn Roper and MLA Tara Rivers. – PHOTO: Spencer Fordin

Boaters taking part in the Cayman Catboat Club’s David Foster Memorial Race on Sunday, 24 Aug., raced from Garvin Park in West Bay to Rum Point in North Side.

Jackson, skippering the boat Captain D, with Joey Jackson finished the race in 2 hours, 30 minutes. Brac Cat, crewed by Rommell Ebanks, Rommell Ebanks Jr. and Andrea Martinez finished the race in 3 hours, 14 minutes.

In third place was the Whittaker Cat crew, Jerris Miller, NJ Miller and Orneil Galbraith, in 3 hours, 44 minutes, followed by The Traveller, skippered by Bobby Ebanks, which finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

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