New catboat launches hope for future fleet

| 28/03/2016

old and new catboats(CNS): The first catboat built from scratch in the Cayman Islands in more than 20 years was launched from behind the Cayman Catboat Club in George Town on Easter Monday. The Dignity was designed, crafted and built by Jerris Miller and his son NJ, with the help of Kenny Ebanks, and has already raised thousands of dollars for charity. Although commissioned by a private individual, it will form part of what Miller hopes will become a fleet of vessels that can reinvigorate the building and sailing of these traditional Caymanian boats.

Owned now by Neil Lomax, who was off-island Monday and will be taking the boat for its first sail soon, he has also donated the catboat for the club to use with underprivileged children. After many months working on the vessel, Miller said launching it felt “really great” as it was performing perfectly in the water.

“It’s been a great experience working with my son and he has really been the teacher and I was the student on this one,” Miller, the president of the Catboat Club, said. “It’s great to get boat building from scratch on the island and we have had a tremendous amount of interest from the public when we have been working at the club at night.”

But Miller said the club does not want to monopolise the tradition of catboat building and he hopes to get more people doing this in their own back yards.

Although the Dignity was crafted and built using traditional methods, NJ Miller, who studied boat building at the International Yacht Restoration School, applied modern technology to design the vessel based on the dimensions of an old catboat from Little Cayman that is believed to have been built in the 1950s.

CNS Local Life

Catboat launched in GT on Easter Monday

The use of computer designs to ensure the accuracy of the measurements helped to speed up the building process and saw the Millers complete the building in around five months. The father-and-son team told CNS that despite the help of computer technology and techniques to create more precise plans, the only modern device they actually used to build the boat was a table power saw; everything else was done using hand tools and traditional boat-building skills.

“We used modern lofting and drafting techniques to get the plans and it allowed us to be really exact with everything and got us to the point where we have plans for all the parts now, and if anyone else wants them they can come to us to use,” said NJ.

With the help of sponsorship from the business community and two more recent commissions, Jerris Miller explained that the Catboat Club has big plans for the future. He hopes to expand the current involvement of local students in the traditional craft and encourage many of them to take a leaf out of his son NJ’s book and revive Cayman’s boat-building tradition. With an annual scholarship now available for school leavers who want to follow NJ, there are now another two Caymanians studying boat restoration and boat building that Miller hopes will return home and join in the efforts to relaunch the once-widespread Cayman craft.

With the exception of one catboat which Jerris Miller said he built in the 1990s, most of the work on catboats in Cayman over the last four decades has been the restoration of the remaining vessels, some of which are around 90 years old. But Miller said only nine have been renovated and most of them are now museum pieces rather than boats that can actually sail. But with a renewed interest in the tradition, Miller is aiming to create a fleet of around 10 similarly sized boats and, in the coming years, revive the Easter catboat regattas. The goal is to have traditional races that will include expert older mariners who sailed the vessels commercially and novices, giving everyone a chance to get involved in what is a highly skilled form of sailing.


Category: Arts, Community, Culture

Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Actually Capt Crosby Ebanks built 2 catboats from scratch in the last 20 years And one one of those was only 4 years ago called The Going Ahead. He is an accomplished Caymanian cat boat builder and racer. Credit where credit is due. And all members of the cat boat club are aware of this.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It only takes a few good people like Mr Miller’s son to keep traditions alive. I Recently visited HMS Warrior a unique ship built in the Victorian era once destined for scrap. The interest of a few restored this incredible ship as a floating museum now visited by thousands each year.

    Looking at the cuts in the ironshore where Cayman vessels were built and launched is an important part of Cayman maritime history and I often visit them and think of all the hard work that went into this industry. Yes, it is true that perhaps the majority of young Caymanian’s only care about when the next video game or rapping artist will come but it will only take a few to keep this tradition growing and build interest.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Congrats to Jerris, NJ and Kenny on this accomplishment

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great stuff but…..”most of them are now museum pieces”. Most young Caymanians could not give a damn about cat boats and Caymanian heritage provided they can still get their pizza, fried chicken and burgers.And before someone comes back and says this is just the paper Caymanians, it is NOT. The born ones are bored stupid with the old ways (including church) being rammed down their throats as part of their “culture and heritage”.