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Training for the Dive Experts
Words by Jennifer Matthews
Photos by Gord Meeks

TEC Diving Keeps Bay Islands' Divers in Tip-Top Shape
A TEC diver practices using a reel

A new form of diving has given the islands a new direction. Because of the calm conditions and temperate waters, the Bay Islands are the perfect place to learn not only recreational diving, but also the more specialized activity of TEC diving. The motivation for TEC enthusiasts is to dive deeper and to be able to dive for longer periods of time.

TEC diving refers to "technical diving" and is a form of scuba diving that exceeds the realms of recreational diving which doesn't require planned decompression stops. It requires advanced training and experience, specialized equipment, and proficiency in gases other than air, or standard nitrox gas. According to PADI, TEC "is further defined as an activity that includes one or more of the following: diving beyond 40 meters/130 feet, required stage decompression, diving in an overhead environment beyond 130 linear feet from the surface, accelerated stage decompression and/or the use of multiple gas mixtures in a single dive." A physical ceiling environment can be classified as cave diving, ice diving, wreck diving, or deep diving where decompression stops are essential.

Four TEC divers adjust their second tanks

According to Everett Ingram, TEC course director, the reason for TEC diving is a resounding, "Exploration!" At the time of interview Ingram was a Silver Course Director, and about to be Gold within the month, and is developing a course for Subway Watersports.

With TEC experience, divers can imagine going far into underwater caves or exploring wrecks that were previously unattainable. Practical applications include repairing mooring lines and inspecting channels.

The equipment involved in TEC diving is more extensive than standard scuba diving, with side mount harnesses for extra tanks, each with its own regulator. As technical dives involve longer durations and mandatory decompression stops, the equipment gives more redundancy that traditional equipment. There are options for multiple high capacity tanks and rebreathers. Recent developments in equipment, such as smaller tanks and harnesses that position the tanks in line with the body, have made TEC diving more accessible.

"TEC diving is a sport that's ahead of the curve," said Will Welbourne, TEC Diving Instructor at Coconut Tree Divers in West End, Roatan. "There's a building global interest that has picked up significantly. We have a huge increase in inquiries." Welbourne has been teaching TEC diving since 2005, developed the Roatan TEC Team at Coconut Tree Divers, and is currently working with PADI to develop new official teaching modules for the specialization.

Nearby Utila is not far behind. Similarly to Welbourne and Ingram, Gord Meeks at Utila Dive Center is also developing new techniques and teaching modules. With TEC diving a relatively new frontier, there is room for defining applications.

Although TEC diving involves dangers of depth and length of time, TEC diving is safer than traditional diving. "You have to put more into planning your dives," said Ingram. "Your computer is not your principal, but your backup." With extra redundancies, TEC diving also allows divers to explore extreme conditions without a buddy. "Essentially, you are your own backup," according to Ingram.

According to Monty Graham, TEC diving instructor at Coconut Tree Divers, "The more gases you are qualified to use, the deeper you can go. With trimix there is no limitation depth." This is also why Graham believes that the Bay Islands are the perfect place for TEC diving with the topography of the bottom offering so many opportunities to go deep just a short distance from shore.

Cost for TEC diving courses run approximately $1,200 plus the cost of equipment. PADI has recently revised the TEC requirements. Prerequisite courses are Rescue, NITROX, and Deep Diving. There are opportunities to do Discover TEC through PADI. The first course is TEC 40, which has four dives to a maximum of 40m (about 130') using planned decompression stops. The subsequent TEC 45 course is four dives to 45m (150 ft.). TEC 50 is four dives to 165ft. Then available is TEC Trimix 65, and TEC Trimix diver courses.

While TEC diving is a relatively new activity, still costly and elite, the ocean is, after all, "the final frontier" for many. TEC diving in the Bay Islands presents a perfect opportunity for those adventurers to explore the depths on our very own doorstep.

In the boat before the dive: Michael Moses, Guillermo Peirano, Gord Meeks, Jon Kieren.
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Missed Opportunities

The wasted opportunities also cost lives. Roatan's roads are notoriously dangerous and deadly and the island's taxi drivers have become infamous for their inconsiderate, dangerous driving habits and arrogance. Not long ago there was an opportunity to change that reality and save lives. In 2006 the Jared Hynds Community Center opened up with ample space reserved for a driver education center. While the Roatan Municipality has the power, and some would argue responsibility, to require all taxi drivers to take a yearly, paid "driver education" course before it issues them municipal operating licenses, it has never done so. The taxi's owners don't even have to take a yearly paid-by-owner road worthiness test.

Every year in the Bay Islands, around 10 to 20 people needlessly die in avoidable traffic accidents, in circumstances that are baffling to a driver who has taken a driving course (likely outside of Honduras.) It is a wasted opportunity paid by human tragedy and trauma.

Another recent opportunity lost for Hondurans, was the closure and abandonment of beaches from Louisiana to Florida. The Honduran Institute of Tourism has not advertised, nor promoted Honduras as an affordable, nearby destination in US tourist markets linked to the Gulf coast. This is a missed opportunity that might not present itself again.

Instead, the Roatan businesses were forced to focus their marketing efforts on "staying alive" or the "dos por uno" campaigns. While several resorts that embraced "dos por uno" could pay their bills and keep their employees, other resorts, which did not drastically lower their prices, found themselves struggling and unable to compete.

There are several opportunities not yet lost. The seafood breeding grounds in Gulf of Mexico, affected by the oil spill, will likely be negatively impacted for several years. As a result the lobster and shrimp fishermen and the packing plants in the Bay Islands are looking at a bright couple of years, probably. That is if Bay Islanders don't sell all their boats to Ceibeños and manage to get all their boats equipped and out to fishing grounds.

One country's failure is other's opportunity, so let's take advantage of them before someone else does.

While it is easy to blame circumstances for one's suffering, no one but oneself is to blame for failing to take advantage of an opportunity given.

While 2009 was a difficult, even disastrous for some, year in Honduras, 2010 looks to be different. Compared to 2009, with its floods, 7.4 earthquake, a coup, political crisis and international sanctions, 2010 looks like a gift from the heavens.

Honduras industries are up, almost all of them. Coffee prices hit a 12-year-high, shrimp prices are up 25%, and the Gulf oil disaster has provided opportunities to cash-in on Florida-beach-deprived tourists. The question remains whether Hondurans and Bay Islanders can take advantage of opportunities presented to them.

As far as opportunities and gifts go, nature endowed the islands with abundant reefs, beautiful rolling hills, plentiful freshwater aquifers, unique flora and fauna. Sadly, in recent past, Bay Islanders are showing a poor record of taking advantage of opportunities handed down to them.

The World Bank's "gift to Roatan" of garbage dumps have been misused, if used at all. The Roatan dump has been an environmental disaster for years - due to mismanagement by municipal government. The Santos Guardiola dump, after a well attended and nationally publicized ribbon cutting ceremony in April 2008, has never been opened and several expensive machines are rusting away. Easy come, easy go.

At a nearby temporary Diamond Rock dump, untreated garbage burns and harmful pollutants sip into unprotected soil, endangering the islands aquifers. This is when a perfectly ready dump sits two miles away, at the end of a paved, but unused road, behind a rusting fence.

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'We Want Roads, Roads, Roads' By Thomas Tomczyk

A New Central Government Representative for Bay Islands Hears Requests from Mayors

According to Commissioner McNab, Roatan's mayor has pronounced a new hospital and paving of the Mud Hole to Palmetto road as the top priority projects he'd like help with. The Santos Guardiola mayor wants the road paved from Oak Ridge to Paya Bay. Utila's mayor wants a road running from East Harbour west towards the Cayos, and Guanaja's mayor wants the paved road to be continued towards the airport. Road infrastructure is on the mind of all Bay Islands municipal executives.

While Roatan municipality and some private businesses (Carnival Cruise Lines, Media Luna Resort and the Black Pearl golf course) have built several miles of paved roads on the island, the central government and its Ministry of Public Works (Secretaría de Obras Públicas, Transporte y Vivienda SOPTRAVI) have done little in the last several years, apart from maintenance and repair. In the last four years there has been no significant public road construction on the island with Punta Gorda being the only exception. It is conceivable that road work that should have been done by SOPTRAVI, from central government funds, is now likely to be paid from international aid.

The Commissioner's office is planned to open in the Jared Hynds Community Center in French Harbour. Four technicians are expected to be hired to help with determining and conducting the projects. While the Commissioner's post is paid around Lps. 20,000 a month, the committee members are not paid.

Unpaved road around Diamond Rock

Honduras has plenty of ministries, 22 in fact. In February it received one more: Ministry of Planning and Foreign Aid (SEPLAN - Secretaria Tecnica de Planificacion y Cooperacion Externa). The ministry is responsible for planning and funding development projects throughout Honduras.

"It's an effort to decentralize the government and bring in local participation to decision-making," says Commissioner Evans McNab, responsible for Zone 6, the Bay Islands. The six Zones of Honduras are divided based on watershed and Bay Islands is the country's smallest zone. Cayos Cochinos, while part of the Roatan Municipality, is not under the Bay Islands Commissioner but instead falls under the Zone 5 Commissioner's jurisdiction.

Each Zone Commission will rely on a 15 member advisory commission for suggestions and prioritizing of development projects. The four places at the committee are guaranteed for the Municipality mayors, and the remaining 15 places will be assigned in a series of meetings with different groups representing the Bay Islands interests: tour guides, press, construction, etc. All of that is planned for the coming two-three months.

‘Real’ Pirates are BackBy Thomas Tomczyk
After a 160 year absence, Roatan is home to a Pirate Ship

Jiri says that he has designed the Black Pearl himself "from pirate sketches" found at the Library of London. "It's the exact replica of Henry Morgan's 1645 boat," Jiri says about his pirate ship.

The two mast brig is 27 meters long, 7 meters wide and displaces 200 tones. It is meant to accommodate 70 passengers and eight crew. Jiri assures everyone that the pirate ship was inspected and certified by the Roatan port captain.

The authenticity of the boat was increased by the casting, in Czech Republic, of six period-style cannons. Four of them are 14 pound and the other two are 16 pound cannons.

The boat's ribs are made of Santa Maria wood. Honduran mountain pine was used for the boat's siding. The ship's bottom and deck was covered in fiberglass.

The construction of the boat took longer then Jiri expected, over four years in fact. The Black Pearl was built at la Ceiba shipyard, then moved to Oak Ridge for equipping. Now it is docked at Fantasy Island where it is destined for tourist shows.

A sword fencing match

Bay Islands have not have a pirate ship docking since 1741 when the English military settlement in Port Royal put an end to Roatan's pirate history that begun in 1500s.

Enter Czech entrepreneur, artist and (since 1999) Roatan resident Jiri Maska. Jiri has been thinking about pirates since he was a teenager. When he came to Roatan, he built a brewery, launched a naturally brewed Pilzner beer and then focused his energy on his childhood dream of captaining a pirate ship.

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One's Disaster, Another's Gain By Thomas Tomczyk

Bay Islands Fishing Industry Benefits from the Gulf Oil Spill


With fuel prices spiking for the last five years the shrimp industry in the Bay Islands has been struggling to stay profitable. Shrimping in the Gulf of Honduras became a balance of paying for boats' costs, diesel and crew salaries. In the last several years many fishing boat owners in the Bay Islands were forced to sell their boats and banks have repossessed dozens of others.

It takes between $30,000 and $50,000 to equip a lobster boat for the season. A shrimp boat is less costly, about $15,000-$25,000. In the past, boat owners could count on financial help from banks or packing houses to outfit their boats with fuel and supplies for the season. However, banks and packing plants are also strapped for cash and not so willing to help boat owners, many of whom now own only a fraction of their boat. "80% of the fleet has mortgaged 100% of the value of their boats," says Hyde. "I know of only five [boat owners] that are solvent."

Out of the 170 boats that hold lobster licenses now only around 60 are based on Roatan, with 60 on Guanaja, and the remainder in La Ceiba, a growing base for the Honduran fishing fleet. Roatan still remains the base for Honduras shrimpers with 80% of the 42 boats being based here. Only one of the four Honduran conch fishing boats is based on Roatan.

La Ceiba is also a location of growing number of packing plants - around a dozen now. In recent years two packing plants closed in the Bay Islands reducing the number to four operating packing plants: two on Roatan and two on Guanaja.

Every boat that is able to go out fishing means a regained livelihood for Bay Islands families. With eight people employed on a shrimp boat and 14 people on a lobster boat, Bay Islands has seen hundreds of fishermen lose their source of income. "Many captains are working abroad," says Evans McNab. With a closing of Bay Islands' packing plants, hundreds of employees, mostly women, have also lost their jobs.

On a good year, the Honduran fishing industry grosses around $100 million Lempira, or $5 million. While the 2010 season looks good, it comes after several years of break-even seasons and to an industry that is fragile and shrunk. "You don't know how a season is going to be until it is over. There are hurricanes, etc," says Hyde. "Still, while the world economy is bad, our prices have gone up."

Shrimp fleet in Guanaja

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster has had an economic impact far beyond US borders. The Bay Islands' lobster and shrimp fishing industry is on a firm path to benefit from the Gulf's misfortune. The shrimp bonanza is years overdue, and after several lean seasons couldn't have come soon enough. After the 2003-04 US embargo on Honduran shrimp, diesel prices going from 60 cents to $3 a gallon, and shortage of cash, the Bay Islands' fishermen could use a break.

As of June, 87,000 square miles, or about 36% of Gulf of Mexico shrimp fisheries were closed to fishing and many shrimp buyers were reluctant to buy Gulf shrimp for fear of contamination. The prices of seafood in US rose and Honduras fishermen lined up to benefit from this opportunity. The 2010 Honduran fishing seasons opened early: lobster season opened on July 1, and shrimp season followed on July 22.

The current lobster prices are around 60% higher then last year. The buyers pay $14.15 per pound of lobster, compared to $8.50 per lb. paid last year. The increase is less with shrimp whose prices have risen around 25% and one pound of shrimp brings in $2.60. While the lobster prices are high, they don't approach the record prices of $18.50 that were paid in 2001 and 2002.

The shrimp buyers pressure Honduran fishermen to sell their wild shrimp at prices similar to Pacific farm raised shrimp. The Honduran fishermen are beginning to develop a brand name to their product: the "Honduran pink"- as a select quality product. The idea is to disassociate the wild Honduran shrimp with lower quality, farm raised shrimp raised en masse in Honduras' Fonseca Bay. Developing a brand name is a difficult matter and some see an up-hill struggle. "It will take a united effort on the part of the fishing industry and there has been little of that in the last 40 years," says Shawn Hyde, GM of Mariscos Hybur, one of Roatan's two working packing plants

The seafood industry is always changing. Ten years ago, 90% of Honduran shrimp was being sold and shipped to US. The 2003-04 US embargo on Honduran shrimp forced many boat owners to diversify where they sell their product and currently only 50% of Honduran shrimp is sold in the US. The rest is sold in Central America: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. By exporting shrimp to the Central American market, "we can save around $1.25 in packing cost," explains Evans McNab, Bay Islands Commissioner and fishing fleet owner.

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