Sunday, May 12, 2013

Location, Location, Location

Had the Cayman Islands been on the other side of Cuba, chances are they would be Spanish and very poor.  However that's not where the Cayman Trench is.  Its this side -- sorry, the south side of Cuba.

The Trench is essentially an 8000 metre high mountain under water and its three peaks are Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.  I thought they were volcanic but I was disabused of this notion by the marine guru at the Cayman National Museum at a talk earlier this week as she revealed the Cayman Island Maritime Heritage Trail to the world.

Cayman is also swamped by ship wrecked vessels for the simple reason that the wind/current combination for sail bound vessels in the past was in through the southern part and out in the channel between Cuba (and of course Cayman) and the Central American coast.  In dodgy weather this meant that many ships ploughed into Cayman's reefs (all of which are amazingly close in to shore) and were wrecked... then ransacked and then finally salvaged.  Like Bermuda, one of Cayman's early industries was that of wrecking.

In through the southern routes and Out through the channel between Cayman, Central America and Florida
So having been fired up by the announcement of this trail I decided to go and follow it today.  First up, the map of the trail is really small scale so tricky to follow if you don't have a fair grasp of the road layouts in Cayman which fortunately I do so I decided to start with the eastern part of the trail, starting in a place called Prospect Point.  It's also a nice way to discover the island as I'd not been to many of the parts I covered today and I discovered that Prospect Point was a really nice residential location indeed.  But I was here for the trail and found it.

The fort used to be nearby but is now long gone

There is a small channel in the reef line here so the early settlers decided to build a fort, as protection from pirates as much as anything else for the great colonial powers really didn't have any time for Cayman being small, waterless, no natural resources and with a landscape not set up for plantation farming like nearby Jamaica.  So Cayman was largely ignored.  Several schooners were lost on the reefs nearby in the 1800's.

Next stop was Pedro St. James, the oldest building in Cayman dating back to 1780.

It's government run these days and well worth a visit as a kindly old gentleman who turned out to be part of the original Eden family that built it was the tour guide.  The building was a ruin for many years until the government stepped in and bought and painstakingly renovated back to its original condition.  And it's a lovely old colonial style building indeed.


Today fully Renovated

This is in the outdoor non-attached kitchen (fire hazard and heat dispersement). and the restored old stove top.  Wood frame filled with sand, then coals on top rather like today's BBQ

The first William Eden arrived in Cayman in the 1770's from Devizes in Devon and almost immediately met the governor's daughter, a Miss Bodden -- a very Caymanian name.  They married and started having babies so needed a home, this one.  Sadly Mrs. Eden died in childbirth with #4 so William married another lady with whom he had 6 more children.  The new Mrs. Eden was reportedly a bit of a shrew so he upped and left for Honduras to log mahogany (for home and boat building) and sadly for him, that is where he then died leaving Mrs. Eden with 10 children and this house named St. James on Pedro Point (hence the name).

William Eden II was a very prominent businessman and inevitably with the biggest house that is where many of the business and governmental decisions were made in Cayman as Bodden Town, nearby, was the island's first capital.  In the early days there were few local laws only those brought in from Jamaica (Cayman was a dependency back then) few of which had any relevance and so were largely ignored.  That worked until the population grew larger when the old ways (essentially any problems were put out for arbitration with the neighbors but if you didn't like the result, you used fists) were found to be chaotic bordering on anarchy.  So in 1831 the bigwigs sat down and drafted a 'proposal' for the Governor of Jamaica essentially creating a democratic society.  Ultimately somebody read the proposal and in the 1850's it was accepted.  This enabled local laws to be made and the anarchy stopped.

Pedro St. James was also the place where the proclamation outlawing slavery and freeing all slaves was made in 1835.  The Act was actually passed in 1833.  News traveled slowly in those days.

There's also a nice display of near contemporary news from the 1940-1960 times when the island went from being a mosquito ridden swamp fringed by isolated settlements (this is pre-roads) to what we know it is today.  One section described the fact that personal incomes had actually gone down since the first settlement as truly Cayman had nothing, not even for Caymanians many of whom left to seek work.  In the late 1940's Government revenues totaled 12,500 pounds sterling, three-quarters of which came from the sale of stamps!  There were 3 civil servants back then as opposed to 4,000 today!  The 1950's saw roads, an airport and the first hotel on 7 Mile Beach.  There's no bush on 7 Mile Beach these days but 60 years ago there was no road and bush, bush and more bush.  And no tourists either!

After this I was on the road again out east -- there's only one road so difficult to get lost.  However the east road is all by the coast with reefs and beaches so it was difficult to know where the trail points were other than with the microscopic trail signs often hidden away behind things.  This meant annoying everyone on the road traveling east as I couldn't go more than 20 mph otherwise I'd miss the signs.

The first was The Iphigenia, a Welsh barque that was stranded on the Bodden Town reefs in 1874 -- reckless navigation not weather being the reason.  The ship was overrun by local salvagers, something the local authorities found difficult to control there being 2 magistrates who tried to keep the peace whilst the 3rd was joining in.  The captain was reprimanded and told 'to be more careful next time'.

Difficult to imagine conditions where a ship would founder on a day like today!

Next was The Juga, a Norwegian ship wrecked on reefs at Old Isaac in 1888.  Part of it is still there above the water line.  As it's really close into shore local wreckers were on board within 5 minutes, first helping the crew away, next negotiating salvage rights with the captain before finally dipping in.

Don't expect to see this on the water side of the road.  It is on the other side almost hidden by foliage. I missed it first time around.
Then came the East End Lighthouse -- on the other side of the road on top of a small bluff.  The lighthouse was first erected in 1906/07 and was replaced in 1957 with a newer model.  Before this a lantern was put on top of a 60 foot mast each night.  Progress indeed.  Today's model is driven by solar power.

The old and the new ... old at the back.  They don't like throwing things away in Cayman!

Finally came the Wreck of the Ten Sail right out at the far eastern end.  In 1794 during the Revolutionary War with France, the Royal Navy had captured a French frigate nearby and was sending it back to England for refit under the name HMS Convert.  She was also acting as security for a convoy of 58 merchant ships also sailing back to various parts of Europe -- I thought the convoy system was only introduced in WW1 but clearly it was in operation before this.  The convoy was setting sail from Jamaica on the morning tide but the night before 6 or 7 vessels left harbour so HMS Convert and the rest of the convoy had to leave pretty quickly.  News came back that those turkeys who'd left before the others had all ploughed into some unknown reefs somewhere so the chase was on and HMS Convert was in the van.  A lookout in the night called out a warning about reefs just off to one side and as HMS Convert turned away another merchant vessel who'd clearly been dreaming ploughed into her side and both ended up on the reefs as well.  What didn't help was the fact that there was quite a strong breeze driving the convoy onto the reefs so in the end 10 ships, HMS Convert and 9 other merchantmen, ended up on the reefs hence the name of the site.  The rest of the convoy managed to get back to their home jurisdictions unscathed.  Convert's captain faced customary court marshal and was acquitted and went on to greater things in the Royal Navy.

This ship foundered in 1963.

200 year anniversary memorial of the Ten Sails
On the way back to West Bay, I drove through South Sound and came across Pallas and Pull and Be Damned Point.  This is pretty much the south eastern most point of the island and the place where all the bad weather comes in from -- plus it's the part where most ships pile up.  The Pallas was another Norwegian ship in ballast from Scotland that piled into the reef in 1875.  Part can still be seen on the reefs.

Cemetery in the background

The remains of the Pallas
Now this is interesting.  This was the time when the shipping world was making the great transition from sail to steam.  So what happened to all the older sailing vessels?  I'd never really thought about it but the Norwegians had.  They bought them, or certainly a large number of them, and continued to operate them under sail.  Some of course foundered and some on Cayman.  The steam vessels didn't have to use the wind/current channels of old, they could now go when and where they pleased so largely avoided Cayman.

This site was right next to yet another cemetery.  I've not mentioned this before but there are cemeteries everywhere.  They are really ornate and this one was no different.  In addition there appeared to be a digging party in the cemetery as a load of people were there, many digging away and seemingly having a party at the same time.

A private cemetery at Prospect Point

But the beach itself on this part of South Sound was actually lovely.  Not the calm and quiet waters of 7 Mile Beach, but roiled by the endless ocean swell and currents coming up from the south.  Today being calm and quiet, everything looked beautiful but I can imagine it being nasty when the wind picks up.

A more recent ship wreck on South Sound
All in all, a great day!

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