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Cat Cay(s)

Cat Cay, so named because it resembled the cat line of a sailing vessel, was once the stronghold of notorious pirates like Henry Morgan and Blackbeard. The island may have played a significant role in the American Civil War, serving as an important base for the Confederate blockade runners.

In Queen Victoria granted the original deed for Cat Cay to Captain William Henry Stuart, as a reward for his services as keeper of the Lighthouses.

Later, Captain Haigh, of a distinguished English family, became the owner of Cat Cay. Captain Haigh established the island custom of dressing formally for dinner. His original home burned, but the cookhouse remained intact. Its huge oven fireplace is part of the rebuilt cottage named Haigh House in his honor.

Milo Strong and his wife bought the island in 1915. They built and lived in the Manor House, which still exists today. They spent nine months out of the year on Cat Cay. The 1929 hurricane blew the roof off. Although this was repaired, when Milo died two years later and another storm damaged the Manor House, Mrs. Strong decided to sell.

Friends of the Strongs, Louis and Rae Wasey purchased the island for $400,000 in 1931. Wasey, an advertising tycoon, intended the island to be a winter home for himself and his wife and as a place to entertain clients and friends. He enlarged Manor House and built a number of English styled “cottages” for his guests.

During the Great Depression, Wasey turned the island development over to Mike Smith, an architect friend. Smith loved the Bahamian and old English architecture and used both in making the island buildings. He employed Bahamians, sent a schooner to Cuba for handmade tiles from deserted churches and had men search the Florida swamps for angled pieces of wood needed for his Tudor-style buildings.

In 1935, Wasey converted the island to a private club and sold building lots to his friends. He had about 200 members paying annual dues of $500.00. Mrs. Wasey, who loved antiques, built the Cat Cay English Shoppe, where the island boutique now stands.

There were many fishing tournaments back then as the waters around Cat Cay were well stocked with fish and the deep water fishing lay just a mile off shore. The structure known as the tuna tower was invented on Cat Cay and first used by a skipper in the 1952 Cat Cay Tuna Tournament. While the first tower was rudimentary at best, its usefulness was quickly noted.

In World War II, Cat Cay was a base for PT boats of the Allied Forces. General Hap Arnold, in charge of the Air Force, spent several months recuperating from a heart attack at Lou Wasey’s Cat Cay home. An Air Force officer stationed there, Monk Forster, fell in love with the island and returned after the war to manage the club. He bought High Tide, built by Wasey’s partner O.B. Winters. TRW owner, Fred Crawford, purchased High Tide.

Lou Wasey had built a nine hole golf course that the Duke of Windsor, while Governor of the Bahamas, enjoyed playing. The course was named Windsor Downs in his honor. During one of his visits the Duke mentioned that it might be fun to have a little casino on the island for guests, Wasey readily agreed and the Duke issued a license in Lou Wasey’s name personally.

Upon Wasey’s death in 1963, the island's casino license expired. Wasey left the island to his daughter Jane, a New York sculptress, who returned for two years, but in 1965 Hurricane Betsy did enormous damage and the island was closed.

A few years later, Al Rockwell, the head of Rockwell International, put together a small group and bought the island. It became a private club owned by members.

Fishing in Cat Cay is still great. Tuna are less common now, but mahi mahi, Blue and White Marlin, Snapper and Grouper are available. During the colder seasons of the year Cat Cay offers a Wahoo run and spearfishing.

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