Last time we explored Cayman’s rich ship-building heritage, so a natural follow-on from that article is a look at two of Cayman’s most famous locally-built ships - the Cimboco and the Goldfield
Cimboco: connecting Cayman to the outside world
Residents on Grand Cayman may well frequent the Cimboco restaurants – one at the Marquee Plaza and one at Countryside in Savannah – and even enjoy the artwork of the Cimboco ship that adorns the walls at the Marquee Plaza restaurant. But they may not know much about the history of this once-famous vessel.
In 1927 the launching of the 120-ton Cimboco was a game-changer for the Cayman Islands. According to an article in the Northwester from November 1972, the launching of the Cimboco was one of the greatest days in Caymanian history, with islanders making a festival of the event with lots of eating, drinking, dancing and merriment to be had at the time.
Built the year before by the Cayman Islands Motor Company, the Cimboco (an anagram of the company’s name) was a pioneering vessel, the very first locally-owned motorship that would open up a whole new world for residents.
It was built at the George Town yard on North Church Street by Capt. Rayal Brazley Bodden who also crafted Elmslie Memorial Church, the George Town Post Office and the original George Town Library that stands in front of the new library building. Its importance to the islanders in the late 1920s and 1930s could not be underestimated, as it provided a lifeline when it came to bringing in items that would not have previously been experienced, such as ice and exotic food items, while at the same time providing a passenger service for people visiting Jamaica. Of great importance also was its mail service that provided people with a regular communications link to the outside world. Up until that point mail was received every ten weeks or so, at best.
In fact, the Cimboco became the only reliable freight, passenger and mail boat in Caymanian history, with residents looking forward to its regular round trip service every three weeks between Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac and Jamaica.
The Northwester article tells how the President and Managing Director of the company was Dr Roy McTaggart and that the Cimboco was classed by the Marine Board of Jamaica to carry 20 first class passengers, 12 deck passengers and 12 crew, including the Master. The vessel shipped thatch rope which was then a major industry on the island.
In May 1942 the Cimboco made a significant contribution to the Second World War effort by rescuing the survivors of the Comayagua, which was torpedoed by a U-boat not far from Cayman’s shores. Captained by Eugene Thompson, the Cimboco was sent to rescue the remaining survivors on board after the attack. In 1947 the ship was sold to Archibald Brothers of Columbia and now lends its name to popular restaurants on the island.
Sad tale of the Goldfield
Another important locally-built vessel of the era was the Goldfield, a magnificent schooner built for Conwell Watler by the Arch brothers in 1930. Crafted out of local mahogany wood that was highly prized for its ability to weather wet conditions and also yellow pine brought in from Louisiana, the Goldfield was used as a turtling vessel. Skipper Capt. Charles Farrington hunted loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles in the Miskito Keys off of Nicaragua, eventually taking the ship and its prized cargo to Key West in Florida where the catch would be sold.
The Goldfield was then sold three further times and used as a cargo and passenger ship, taking its load - both human and cargo - back and forth between Grand Cayman and Florida, before being purchased by the Goldfield Foundation for US$75,000, refurbished and sailed back to Grand Cayman. Sadly, the Goldfield eventually sank and her remnants are still to be found at Canal Point.
Seaman H.E. Ross spoke about the Goldfield at a presentation he gave at the National Gallery in 2018, having been involved with the ship in the early 1980s. Mr Ross explained how he had tried to teach the then crew of the ship how to sail, but that the ship eventually came to its sad demise in Canal Point.
Readers interested in the story of the Goldfield can see a model of this Caymanian-made schooner made by Dr William Hrudey in 2002, which is on display in the lobby of the Cayman Turtle Centre.