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Cayman Catboat Club honours champions of maritime heritage

Arts and Culture 18 Apr, 2024 Follow News

Mary Ebanksleft with Ola Jackson right

Cayman Catboat Club Statue Dedication

Family of Captain Kemuel Jackson_CaymanCatboat Presentation

Family of William Austin Ebanks _CaymanCatboatPresentation

Dart joined the Cayman Catboat Club in celebrating Caymanian seafarers William Austin Ebanks and Kemuel “Kem” Jackson with a sculpture commissioned to recognise their efforts to keep catboat culture alive in the Cayman Islands.

The Ebanks and Jackson families gathered with friends of the Cayman Catboat Club on 11 April to unveil an iconic catboat sculpture now permanently on display outside the club’s headquarters on North Church Street along the George Town waterfront.

Designed and crafted by Artisan Metal Works, the graceful 400-lb sculpture that doubles as a bench is about half the size of an actual catboat. Crafted from marine-grade stainless steel to withstand corrosion. Dart covered the cost of all materials for the project and the Artisan Metal Works team donated over 600 hours of time to design and build the installation.

“Dart’s longstanding support of the Catboat Club is a testament to our commitment to keeping Caymanian tradition and heritage alive. Through the commissioning of this installation, which is an amazing tribute to our seafaring past, and its dedication to two stalwarts of the trade, we aim to keep catboats at the forefront of people’s minds, helping ensure that they are shared with future generations,” said Dart Asset and Community Portfolio Manager Dominic Ross.

Emblematic of Cayman’s maritime heritage, catboats are small, one-sail wooden boats that were once used for fishing, turtling and transportation around the Islands. With the introduction of motorised vehicles, catboats became a thing of the past, fading away in backyards. Thanks in large part to the efforts of “Mr. Austin,” “Captain Kem” and their community of catboat enthusiasts, the vessels’ cultural importance has been kept alive in Cayman’s collective memory. Both gentlemen were recognised during National Heroes Day celebrations in 2021 for exceptional contributions to seafaring heritage.

“Austin and Kem helped reignite Cayman’s love and respect for the elegant yet humble catboat,” said Catboat Club President Jerris Miller. “The Catboat Club’s new bench is a testament to their passion for building, sailing and racing the boats as well as their service and enthusiasm for sharing stories of the craft and sea with young Caymanians.” 

Artisan Metal Work General Manager Ralph Armas said of his company’s involvement: “We are honoured to have dedicated our time and resources to recognise and celebrate two men who play such an important role in preserving Cayman’s cultural heritage. We hope both locals and visitors enjoy the bench and are inspired to learn a little more about catboats – a much-revered symbol of the past.”

Austin Ebanks

Mr. Austin was an avid catboat racer who served as a director of the Catboat Club. With an easy laugh, quick wit and expansive sense of humour enlivening his sailing skills, he was a natural tourism ambassador.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Austin worked with the Dart family as one of the company’s first team members, cultivating the gardens and nursery. He shared his passion for the sea with colleagues, avidly recounting details of boat craftsmanship, knowledge of waterways and how many catboats Cayman had in their heyday. At his memorial two years ago, his friend and manager Shannon Schmidt noted “Mr. Austin was happiest on the ocean with his wife and children, and he spent whatever chance he got sailing with his family. The way he would stare out at the sea, as he would often do, it was obvious there was a special connection.”

Kemuel Jackson

“Captain Kem” went to sea as a young man and worked his way up to being chief engineer. His later life’s work was devoted to restoring old catboats and crafting new ones. A master boat builder who grew up and raised his family in West Bay, he served as vice-president of the Catboat Club. He has been recognised with an MBE and National Heritage Award for his stewardship of Cayman’s culture.

Captain Kem’s most notable creations included a six-foot model as part of a display that won a silver medal in the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show and the refurbished 24-foot Whittaker Cat which is now used for educational programmes and heritage celebration races. Dart commissioned Captain Kem to restore a catboat that is the design centerpiece of the Library by the Sea at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.

This labour of love was rechristened at the hotel’s 2016 opening as the Miss Ola in honour of his wife and longtime partner in keeping catboat culture alive.

Cayman Catboat Club

The Cayman Catboat Club was founded in 1998 with the mission to preserve and share the craftsmanship behind the wooden vessels which served as critical modes of transportation from 1900s to 1950s. In 2011, Dart awarded the Catboat Club with a $175,000 grant to support the club’s mission and the renovation and 2014 reopening of its harbour front headquarters. The Catboat Club and Maritime Heritage Foundation occupy a building more than a century old. The lower level features a collection of artifacts as well as an active workshop where club members build or refurbish catboats.

The Catboat Club offers educational tours and presentations to the community. The public can contact President Jerris Miller at +1.345.926.4676 to learn more.

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