Captain Kem Jackson’s rich history of sailing and engineering skills are a perfect compliment to his passion for catboat building.
He has used his ingenuity to cut costs while preserving an important part of the Islands’ maritime heritage.
Often single-handedly, and with the use of solar powered tools, Captain Kem spends his time restoring catboats, one boat at a time.
His latest challenge: restoring a 24-foot-long, 8-foot-wide catboat that is more than 50 years old.
The Cayman Islands Catboat Club bought the boat from North Side resident Linton Whittaker, promising to restore and preserve its natural state as much as possible.
Catboat Club member Jeris Miller says he has admired the boat since he was a boy.
“I had been asking the family for about 20 years about the boat before they finally agreed to sell it. Acquiring the catboat was very important to the Catboat Club because it is probably the biggest catboat left on the Island,” he says.
Miller says people do not want to sell catboats. “It is like a family heirloom, and when the Catboat Club usually acquires them, they are dropping apart and need to be restored.”
Labour of love
For the past two years Captain Kem, along with his wife Ola and club members, has been restoring the boat, which he is expected to finish sometime this month.
“When we discovered the boat, we thought it was in excellent shape but later found out it was covered with fibreglass,” he points out.
“After I removed the fibreglass, most of the original catboat was not there, just the ribs were left. Apparently the boat had laid on one side for quite awhile and that side had completely rotted away. Most of the ribs and planks on the other side of the boat were in pretty good condition, so I was able to save all of those.”
Captain Kem says the stern also had to be replaced with new deadwood.
On sunny days Captain Kem’s solar generator produces more than enough juice to power up his working tools, outside lights, freezers and pump house - and dramatically reduce his electricity bill.
Captain Kem got into solar power after acquiring three panels from a friend who bought a boat and saw no need for the panels.
After finding out they were in working order, Captain Kem bought another panel and some batteries to get the system up and running. He then bought a 700-watt windmill to generate power when there is not enough solar power, but in most cases the two work together.
“When the two are working together, it does not take very long before the batteries are all charged and ready to go,” he says. “It works beautifully.”
Captain Kem also produces his own water; his reverse osmosis system produces 50 gallons of water an hour, he says.
“From the time I purchased the unit in 2005, it has been working ever since and I have not had one bit of trouble. But you must bear in mind I am an engineer and I know how to maintain the equipment, which cuts down on a lot of cost,” he says.
“God forbid, but if anything like Hurricane Ivan should happen here again I have a generator, water and could run an extension cord into the house from the inverter to get power. This time I am well prepared,” he adds.
When repairs are finished on the boat, the Catboat Club, which has eight boats, will use it for racing and catboat rides.
Along with his catboat passion, Captain Kem teaches Caymanian youngsters as much as he can about these boats and their role in the history of the Cayman Islands.