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Silver Cloud – The Caribbean’s Oldest Trading Schooner

I have known Elliot Hooper, the owner of
SILVER CLOUD
, for well over a decade;
however, it was not until this year’s Foxy’s 31st Wooden Boat
Regatta that I sat down on his historic vessel and inquired about her past.
Elliot, Jo and their lab Comet, lovingly bring her over from Coral Bay each
year to be the Committee Boat for Foxy’s. When I ask, they enjoy filling me in
as to her history – SILVER CLOUD was
built in 1899 in Thunder Bay, Ontario, as a Great Lakes Pilot Schooner. Her
hull is Canadian registered and is 90′ LWL – 110′ LOA, 15′ wide, weighs 90 tons
and carries 700 gallons of diesel with a Detroit 671 engine. She has a
cold-molded riveted black iron sailboat hull – a process that ended in the
1920s. Powered by steam, her beams are stamped with the Carnegie Steel Logo and
her sailing history just as interesting.

SILVER CLOUD was first used as a pilot
& fire ship, as well as a buoy tender. An old Bahamian Customs Official told
Elliot that in the 1930s the Kennedy Family operated her as a rum-runner during
Prohibition. In WWII she was utilized for cargo purposes, sank and was raised
in the 1950s by a missionary and his wife who managed her to transport
eyeglasses from Canada to Haiti. He died a mysterious death on board in the
late 1970s. The schooner was then exploited as a drug runner in the 1980s,
ending up abandoned in St. Augustine.

Elliot bought her
as a wreck from a U.S. Coast Guard tow boat in 1987 – abandoned and left in the
bay. It was love at first sight – ah, but love is blind. Not to the sweet
schooner but to oncoming weather and Elliot’s history in this department is one
laden with storms. Elliot is a true descendant from Captain Cook, the Western
discoverer of many islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In fact,
the name in his passport is Elliot Cook Hooper – a true sailer at heart.

Born in upstate
New York, Elliot attended Mt. Union College in Ohio before moving to The Keys.
After working on SILVER CLOUD for a
solid two years, while running a Silk Screen T-shirt business in Marathon,
Florida, for infamous bars & boats, he sailed her to Coral Bay the day
before Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Having anchored in Hurricane Hole, with his
Chevy panel truck on the deck and his silk screen business down below, he was
relieved to have had no serious damage.

Feeling himself
lucky, he set his business up next to Shipwreck Restaurant in Coral Bay, with a
staff of four. I was living next door at the time and enjoyed spending my free
time observing Elliot’s skills. I love art and could recognize his talent at
once. He specializes in multi-color work in a four colour process and has
designed and made T-shirts for famous bars and boats all over the Caribbean. In
1995, he went to Trinidad and spent 6 months redoing the deck plates only to
return to Coral Bay just weeks before Hurricane Marilyn. Always caring about
his neighbors and other sailors, Elliot did a “relief run” to St. Maarten
between Hurricane Luis and Marilyn in which St. John sailors had donated goods
and food. Elliot is the model for Captain Bryan in Charlie Locke’s “A Pretty OK
Place” written about Coral Bay. Things have been fairly quiet since, so Elliot
and Jo consider themselves lucky just to be able to maintain a status- quo.
However; they lovingly refurbished her before Foxy’s and I have never seen her
looking better.

As we head into
shore Elliot tells me, “This kind of project is not for everyone. I took it on
as a challenge and have learned a lot. After 18 years, I have rebuilt almost
everything on the boat. Besides silk screening, I deal in hardwoods and
fiberglass water tanks that are built in Trinidad. We bring them to the Virgins
so I have had many adventures dealing in this type of trading.” Our dinghy
reaches Foxy’s dock and I thank him for his time – and for giving me even a
greater awe of this wonderful vessel – the oldest trading schooner still
operating in the eastern Caribbean.

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