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‘Dreams from the Sea’ in its new home

Published 4th February 2008, 4:10pm

A poignant reminder of the most celebrated icon of Cayman’s seafaring past became a permanent fixture in Heroes Square last Monday, when ‘Dreams from the Sea’, a striking bronze sculpture commemorating the Caymanian Catboat, was unveiled as part of the 2008 National Heroes Day celebrations.

Whilst inspecting the monument as a work in progress, nearing completion, the Hon. Alden McLaughlin, JP, Minister of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture, shared his own memories of this unique vessel, which was the original ‘pick-up truck of the Cayman Islands’.

Looking back, the honourable Minister said, “I know that many of us remember with great fondness the catboat’s crucial role in transporting goods and produce around the islands, as well as its supreme versatility and unmistakable form, which is defined by its distinctive sail shape. For those of us who grew up with it, it is quite simply an enduring symbol of our home”. Minister McLaughlin is delighted that the catboat monument is now a central feature of Heroes Square, explaining, “Dreams from the Sea will preserve this cultural icon in the hearts and minds of Caymanians for generations to come, as well as tell an important part of our story to visitors and newcomers to our islands.”

Mrs. L. Angela Martins MBE, JP, Chief Officer of the Culture Ministry with responsibility for National Heroes Day, said, “It was fitting that ‘Dreams from the sea’ was unveiled on this year’s National Heroes Day, because the whole event centered around a distinctly maritime theme, celebrating this integral part of our islands’ culture and history, and recognizing the catboat’s crucial role in supporting our society and economy over generations passed.”

‘Dreams from the Sea’ was meticulously sculpted by the team of local craftsmen at Artisan Metalworks, which is managed by Karoly Szücs, whose reputation for innovative designs and quality workmanship has made his work a much sought-after commodity, both in the Cayman Islands and overseas. Mr. Szücs (or Karoly as he prefers to be known) donated his time working on ‘Dreams from the Sea’ without charge. He said, “It is not often that an artist gets the chance to research and fulfill a project so important to the culture of the country. As soon as I was approached I was immediately excited about this project and just knew I wanted to do it.”

The project required Karoly to undertake extensive research on his subject. “I studied many photographs, including a selection from the National Archives” he explained. His research led him to Mr. Jephard Walton of Cayman Brac, the legendary catboat builder whose name is synonymous among Catboat enthusiasts with the vessel itself. Karoly said, “I spent time with him discussing traditions, history and taking photos and measurements of the boats at the Brac museum. It was a unique learning experience and helped me to truly understand the requirement.” Karoly added, “I came back to Grand Cayman and met with Jerris Miller and Kem Jackson of the Cayman Catboat Association and began to have a fuller understanding of the catboat culture in the islands. I really got a feel for the passion involved in the history of catboats.”

In recent decades the use and profile of the Catboat has declined with the islands’ development and their increasing reliance on road vehicles. In the mid-1990s, the Cayman Catboat Association was instrumental in returning the legendary vessel to iconic status by preserving remaining boats and promoting the history of the craft. Mr. Walton, was recognised during the National Heroes Day celebrations, along with Messrs Miller and Jackson, and other members of the Cayman Catboat Association, for their contributions to preserving the Catboat’s place in Cayman’s cultural history.

National Heroes Day’s unveiling of ‘Dreams from the Sea’ was accompanied by the publication of a 28 page pictorial history book celebrating the Caymanian Catboat entitled, ‘Hearts and Sails’, which was published by the Culture Ministry and researched and edited by Cayman Brac resident, Claudette Upton. Ms. Upton had previously researched extensively for Cayman’s Quincentennial celebrations in 2003, and was also the editor of the Cayman Islands history, Founded upon the Seas, as well as a number of other works on the Cayman Islands, including The Cayman Islands in Transition and Stories My Grandfather Never Told Me.

Ms. Upton said that the story of the Caymanian catboat is told in the pages of ‘Hearts and Sails’ by those who sailed her and those who brought her back to life, “From its birth on Cayman Brac through its heyday as ‘the pickup truck of the Cayman Islands’, its gradual disappearance as turtling declined and Caymanians turned to motorized boats and automobiles, to its triumphant resurrection in the 1980s and 1990s.” Copies of ‘Hearts and Sails’ were distributed through the Ministry of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture to guests at the National Heroes Days celebrations, and will also be delivered to schools so that Cayman’s youngsters can share in the enchantment of this most celebrated of the islands’ maritime icons.