This time our series takes a look at how Caymanians have traditionally celebrated as a community throughout the decades.
By Lindsey Turnbull
Taking part in special festive occasions with family and friends has always been something to look forward to for Cayman residents in years gone by, just as much as in present-day times, providing a chance to relax, kick back and have some fun.
Regatta was a community affair
The annual sailing regatta was one such event that brought the community together for celebration each year, all the way back from when it first started, in 1935. The first Cayman Islands Regatta was held in January of that year, produced by the Cayman Islands Yacht and Sailing Club. The club itself provided local residents with a great place for people to gather and enjoy each other’s companionship. The club house was located north of George Town where members held meetings on Sunday mornings throughout the year. The idea for a regatta came about from the Commissioner Allan Wolsey Cardinall, who founded the club, as a means to encourage more visitors to the island.
In those days the regatta consisted of races between commercial schooners, and some years there could be as many as 20 white-sailed locally built schooners and about 100 blue-painted catboats participating in the event. According to a June 1990 report in Newstar, “the racing was probably unique in its intense closeness, as everyone competing knew the seamanship and mannerisms of his rivals and sea qualities of the other vessels.”
The course itself started at the George Town harbour, stretching all the way to North West Point in West Bay, where buoys were anchored to show the turn around point, from where the vessels would race back to George Town. The event closed with a gala in the George Town Hall on the evening of the third day when the winners would receive their trophies and prizes. According to the Grand Cayman CISC, the regatta was considered the climax of the social season. George Town would be bedecked with flags and bunting and the entire population would be on the sea front, watching the excitement that would be unfolding over the three-day event.
In an interview recorded with Ms Una Bush noted in the Cayman Islands National Archives Memory Banks, she describes how “…they used to have a day or two, when our boats…cat boats, and the big schooners…sailed, and people had a lovely time… they had dances and they also catered to entertain those who came; picnics and things like that.”
The regatta paused for a few years, until it was reinvented as the Easter Regatta in 1964. The foreword in the 16th Galleon Beach Easter Regatta commemorative magazine from the 1980s, written by Acting Governor Dennis H Foster, states “Those who come to the beach to relax on the sand, in the sun, are as much a part of the Regatta as the little boats with sails many colours and the men and women who tack, plane, reach, beat or run in the sea all along the fine Seven Mile Beach and a spirit of camaraderie makes the holiday pleasant for all.” Sure enough, visitors to the event could enjoy amusement at the Galleon Beach location in the form of a bar and BBQ, greasy pole, live band and water ski show.
Parades, music and fun
In that same decade, the Rotary Club launched the first Batabano carnival in 1983 in early May. The volunteer committee tasked with organising Batabano was chaired by the ‘face’ of Batabano, Donna Myrie-Stephen, a Miss Cayman Islands winner in 1981. Still running today, Batabano, split into the adults’ parade and another one specially for children, sees hundreds don brightly coloured, exquisitely decorated costumes and parade along the West Bay Road into George Town, dancing to the pulsating rhythms of the Caribbean. CayMAS is a relative newcomer to the festival scene, another colourful event held in May that also attracts hundreds to the streets of George Town and the West Bay Road. Next year these two carnivals will be combining into one single national carnival, to be held on the second weekend in May going forward.
Incidentally, the name batabano comes from the name of the tracks that are left in the sand when turtles come onto the beach to nest.
A discussion on national carnivals and festivities can never take place without a mention of Pirate’s Week, now in its 42nd year. Initially developed to encourage more tourists to Cayman, Pirate’s Week is probably the most well-known of all Cayman’s festivals. It always consists of amazing fireworks, an energetic pirates landing, heritage displays, street dances, and of course, a buzzing parade through George Town
The event centres on the traditional mock invasion by pirates, followed by the 'capturing' of the Governor while pirates run amok before being cast off again for another year. It’s a highly popular spectacle that’s always well-attended by visitors and local residents alike.