By Jewel Levy, Pinnacle Media
The Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa, now under construction on Seven Mile Beach, will feature an eye-catching piece of Cayman maritime history when completed.
“Blew Bayou” is just waiting for her final coat of blue paint from Captain Kem Jackson, a West Bay resident who specializes in catboat restoration, before it will be hoisted in the air and suspended from the ceiling of the hotel’s main lobby, in preparation of its scheduled opening in November.
“Kimpton is renowned for its inspired design that imbues each hotel location with a whimsical sense of place. The Kimpton Seafire design team appreciated the streamlined shape and cultural resonance that make a catboat an ideal sculptural installation,” said Jackie Doak, chief operating officer of Dart Realty, which is developing the Kimpton resort.
The hotel’s design team, Powerstrip Studio, in consultation with Dart Realty, said since the catboat is such a significant part of Cayman’s heritage, the authentic Caymanian catboat would be the ideal design feature for the lobby of the hotel.
Carefully crafted from the curved branches of Cayman’s plop-nut, fiddlewood or mahogany trees, catboats played a major role in nearly every facet of life in the Cayman Islands, serving as the islands’ taxis, pickup trucks, buses and fishing boats, from the early 1900s through to the 1950s.
On the hunt to find a catboat to restore, Dart Realty got lucky in 2015 and was able to purchase one of the last surviving original catboats on island, the “Blew Bayou.”
“They brought the boat to me and said they wanted her fixed up and for her to look really beautiful, and they said they had picked the right man to do it,” said Mr. Jackson.
“I told them I hope so.”
“Dart has a long-standing relationship with the Cayman Catboat Club and can think of no one more qualified to restore this unique piece of Caymanian Heritage than Captain Kem,” said Ms. Doak.
Mr. Jackson believes the “Blew Bayou” was built around 1990 by catboat builder Elford Dilbert, who originally built it as a fishing vessel. It then lay forgotten for several years until it was restored in 2009 by Rommell Ebanks, who raced it in the annual Cayman Islands Catboat Regatta until 2015. After claiming a second place finish, it was retired from competition. Kimpton representatives say they look forward to offering the boat a third life in its new role as the hotel lobby’s design focal point.
Mr. Jackson said the small vessel is the standard catboat color blue, with 14 interior ribs.
“It is restored with a special West System epoxy, which will help to preserve it,” he said.
“It’s not the type of glue we would use on a catboat that would be going in the water, but this one will just be on display.”
As the vice president and master builder at the Cayman Catboat Club, Mr. Jackson is excited about the work he has done so far on this example of local craftsmanship and history. For the past several months, he says, he has strived for perfection in restoring the boat, so that when it is displayed at the hotel, it will be able to represent an important piece of Cayman history for years to come.