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Cayman Islands Government

Stamps Tell Catboat Story

One of the 25 stamps entitled Catboats: Sailing around the Bluff.

Stamp releases can serve a variety of purposes. They can be used to educate, commemorate special occasions, celebrate the past, or even to raise funds.

The Cayman Islands Cultural Series Part 3: Catboats, scheduled to be released on Wednesday, 31 August, celebrates the significant historical and cultural role that catboats played in the Cayman Islands.

A catboat (or cat boat or cat-rigged sailboat) is a sailing vessel characterised by a single mast carried well forward (near the front of the boat). A catboat rig is "a fore and aft rig with a mast that has a minimum of standard rigging and no jib (headsail)." Although any boat with a single sail and a mast carried well forward is technically a catboat, the traditional catboat has a wide beam, approximately half the length of the boat, a centerboard, and a single gaff-rigged sail.

The first locally known catboat, "The Terror", was built by Mr. Daniel Jarvis from Cayman Brac. It is widely acknowledged that Caymanian catboat building is considered an art. Local catboats range in length from 14 to 28 feet, depending on the purpose of the craft.

Catboats were often painted blue to minimise the reflection of the sun's glare into the fishermen's eyes. There are two distinctive types of catboat - the Grand Cayman and the Cayman Brac catboat. The major difference between the two is that the bilge on the Cayman Brac catboat is higher than that of the Grand Cayman design.

Most residents in these islands know more about catboat racing rather than the reason they were developed in the first place, which was to assist with turtle fishing. While turtles were plentiful in the 1800s, as time progressed, turtle fishermen had to go further and further afield for their catch.

The catboat was designed to be nimble and quick on the water and they were easily stored on the schooners that were used to bring cargo and turtle to these islands.

The catboat was also used as a mode of transport, in much the same way that cars are used today. Back in the heyday of the catboat, there were no roads connecting the Eastern Districts and even existing roads were little more than footpaths up to the 1970s, so sailing a catboat was the required mode of transport.

The Cayman Islands Cultural Series Part 3: Catboats is a six-part stamp series depicting various aspects of the catboat's development and role. The 20 stamp is titled, Catboats: Catching turtles. There are two 25 stamps, titled, Catboats: Being built and Catboats: Sailing around the Bluff. The 50 stamp is Catboats: Racing regatta style; the $1.60 stamp is titled, Catboats: Unloading cargo; and the $2 shows Catboats: Sewing the sails. The first day cover depicts a young man blowing a conch shell to let residents know that he and his father were on their way in with the day's catch.

Postmaster General Sheena Glasgow said, "This issue tells a story, beginning with the reason catboats were made, their impact on our economy and the fact that they continue to be around today. It involved taking a look into the past and bringing that to life so that residents can revisit an essential part of our history."

"We have a lot of people to thank for assisting the Postal Service with this issue, particularly in helping us to maintain historically accuracy in words as well as in the graphic representation. In this regard, we are indebted to our Stamp Advisory Committee members, the National Archive and Cayman Catboat Club members and District Administration," Ms Glasgow added.

The Cayman Islands Cultural Series stamp issue was launched on 23 February 2006, to highlight culturally significant local elements.

The first issue focused on plants such as the Red Mangrove, Ironwood, West Indian Cedar, Spanish Elm, Wash Wood and Fustic. Part 2 illustrated how the Islands' national tree - the Silver Thatch Palm, Coccothrinax proctorii, an endemic species of palm only found locally - played its role in Caymanian development.

For further information contact: Susan Watler