story / editorial
The Fathom II of Utila
Wreck Diving Expedition that Put Utila on the Map
barge reaches one of the Utila Keys
1972 advertisement in a Diving Magazine marked the beginning
of an odyssey for Gunter Kordovsky. While other crew of
Fathom II came and went to continue their life, Gunter has
stayed on Utila ever since. Gunter did find treasure, just
not the one he was expecting.
It all started many years ago on a little island in Yugoslavia
at that time under the communist rule of Broz Tito. A mountain
boy from Innsbruck, Austria, I was born "on snow skis"
and didn't have a clue about diving or oceans. By my early
twenties I had already finished a stint in the army's mountain
division special forces and was racing bikes in the summer
with the lnnsbracker Schwalben and my buddy Haus Prasheberger.
A three times Austrian champion that coached me at one time.
winter seasons, I raced Alpine class A and earned my share
of trophies. Suddenly, one day, by a stroke of pure luck,
I had a chance to cruise the Mediterranean Sea on a friend's
private yacht whose passion was building boats and diving.
He managed to put a tank on me even though I didn't even
know how to snorkel at the time. I overcame any hesitation
and the only instruction I was given was: "Don't come
back till the tank is empty". Then I was matter-of-factly
kicked overboard. I barely survived this first dive, coming
up out of the water with a mask full of blood and a hammering
headache. It was only later I was told about equalizing,
a way of managing the pressure as you descend and so avoiding
three days of recuperation I was handed a heavy double steel
tank rig with an old double hose regulator, a spear and
a bag with the words "Get some fish."
Once in the water, I spotted my first target- a nice size
fish and I fired my first spear. The fish and the spear
quickly disappeared into a cave. In my attempt to retrieve
my catch I got stuck and had my first mild panic attack.
I soon recovered and returned to the surface with no fish
or spear. Naturally I was given hell by the others. I did
three more stints of diving in Yugoslavia and a mountain
lake in Austria and was sold! Hook, line, and sinker on
scuba diving. I was beginning to discover the magnificent
1967, I got a contract to be a racing coach and ski Instructor
in Yay Peak, Utah. The following summer I did my first open
water course with some New England divers and dove for the
delicious cold water critters of Rockport and Cape Cod.
the seasons passed by, my old skiing injuries came back
to haunt me. A downhill race crash at 70 mph had injured
my back. The injury was aggravated by frostbite damage I
was dealing with. One day I was at the airport in Montreal
and happened to pick up a diving magazine which ran an ad
about a diving expedition to Utila, Honduras to look for
a sunken wreck. The course of my life was redirected forever.
$1,500 to join the expedition was a good enough reason to
start saving and after several odd jobs I was financially
ready. Arriving at the airport in Los Angeles from Toronto
I called the telephone number from the ad only to find out
the number was disconnected. I stood by the phone perplexed
as I wondered to myself if I was a victim of some sort of
hoax and my $500 down payment was gone.
was a relief when the phone operator gave me another number
I could call. I quickly dialed the new number and a guy
by the name of Max answered: "Sorry Gunter, Fathom
II left earlier. They tried to get a hold of you."
Going back to Toronto wasn't an option for me and after
ascertaining Utila was in Honduras, I decided to get to
the island by myself.
five days I made it to San Pedro Sula and spent a night
in La Lima hotel where drunken soldiers continually shot
off their guns. The next day I got on board a tiny three-person
Cessna plane with a Utilian who, to my relief, assured me
that Fathom II was real and on Utila. I'll never forget
my first sighting of the "Rock" as locals call
this three mile by eight mile jewel of the Caribbean.
The island had breathtaking volcanic cliffs where huge breakers
cascaded into the blue sky. Utila's spans of green, lush
vegetation were encircled by a beautiful blue ocean. I was
euphoric to know I'd be spending the rest of the year there
searching for lost wrecks.
mesmerized by all that beauty that stood in such contrast
to the cold ski slopes, the pilot maneuvered the little
plane buffeted by the strong East breeze into a steep approach
onto the rugged gravel landing strip. He was a professional.
He put the little machine down close to the beach. Overshooting
the runway would result in disaster as the landing strip
was right next to a reef and a 200 foot drop-off. The airport
building had holes in the roof and floor so you needed an
umbrella inside in case it rained. A rusty truck was waiting
for us next to the landing strip. That truck was pretty
much the only means of transportation available. A brief
ride brought me onto a sandy road where the Fathom II headquarter
was located. As I entered the building, a scull from one
of several Paya Indian sites glared at me amidst the dozens
of pirate bottles. The locals referred to these artifacts
was at the headquarters because the guys were out diving.
After several hours of waiting in the broiling heat some
guys arrived wearing the cut offs, a standard uniform comprised
of ragged T-shirts burned by the tropical sun. Unceremoniously,
I introduced myself and was taken to another house where
I was issued an army cot that lay in a corner. It was quite
a change to my nice chalet in Quebec.
the evening I went with the boys to the infamous Bucket
of Blood, long ago called the most unique bar in the Western
hemisphere by Newsweek. The bar was frequented by the black
population and was the Fathom's main watering hole.
a rather restless night I got up at 5am and walked towards
the airport with native legends of pirate treasures and
sunken galleons haunting me. That stroll marked my first
acquaintance with the no-see-ums locally known as sand flies
and with a crab that took a liking and bit in to my finger
as I played with it. I found out the next day that Fathom
II had still not arrived yet.
was rather simple and prepared by our local cook. To my
surprise, most guys sat around doing nothing, so my gang-ho
attitude wasn't appreciated. The exception was our Russian
diving director Anatol, who decided to take me to the reef
by the airport to view an old pirate artifact. He took me
there in a speedboat called the Shark.
Kordovsky with three fellow divers
after hiking the length of the gravel runway barefoot, a torturous
endeavor for my tender feet, Anatol showed me the first real artifact:
A heavily encrusted five-foot cannon originally discovered by
Yonny Bodden, a local diver.
was highly amused with my paranoia regarding sharks and barracudas
and once underwater, next thing I knew I was startled by something.
Anatol shot a four foot Tarpon fish right through the middle.
It only took seconds for the powerful fish to rip the line. Next
the fish swam into one of the nearby corals. With my very limited
breath-holding capacity I came up fast only to have Anatol grab
my shoulder and scream in my ear to "watch out! Sharks!"
Out of nowhere, a shark made a tight turn and in one bite half
of the Tarpon fish was gone. A second shark quickly attacked and
took the rest of the fish. As fast as they came they disappeared.
The only fish left were two big barracudas. I eventually made
it out to the beach and with shaky knees stared at Anatol.
event, my first of many shark encounters, became immortalized
in a painting which was later purchased by German Ambassador
few weeks later the main crew of Fathom II arrived. Jan Malusek,
a photojournalist and myself did some VM sledding; a technique
where a diver is pulled VM on a rope by a boat to search for
wrecks. We'd heard from a local old-timer there where supposed
to be several cannons at the mouth of Lower Lagoon.
several adjustments in speed we managed to keep our masks
on, and not have them ripped off by the dreg or getting ourselves
half-drowned. Cruising along effortlessly, looking for cannons
or the elusive "Santiago" I spotted an eight to
ten-foot shark below me. I turned back to Jan to point the
shark out and he affirmed that he'd seen it. The young photojournalist
continued taking shots while being dragged past the coral.
After clearing my mask I looked back again to check on Jan
and saw the big shark behind him. I started pointing like
mad when my mask nearly flooded again. I cleared it and turned
to find an empty sledge floundering on the rope. Jan was nowhere
to be seen! I began to panic as I realized photojournalists
could very well be on shark menus. I searched frantically
for remains of man or fish. Finally I heard the signal to
come up and found Jan was on the surface. This is about the
time you are demanding to have an answer to the "Where
the hell have you been?" question followed by an irksome
"We were looking for your bones and whatever else the
shark left behind!" We didn't find the "Santiago"
or cannons but had yet another one of our many adventures.
Later on, myself, Chris Talbot and the rest of the team played
shark bait once more using our underwater sleds, scouring
the most likely sites to host sunken wrecks. Dangling on the
150 foot line we were covering the outer edges of Stuarts
Bank. We had already searched the area with our metal detection
unit donated to us by Barringer Research in Toronto. Toni
Orton, an engineer, was on hand to coach us about the use
of this state of the art metal detector. We found some things
but few had any historical value; a few cannon balls, a Guidon
(the small flag or banner carried by military units to identify
their origin or affiliation) of three and some scrap metal.
Even on Stuarts Bank, a well known Utila dive site, we never
got any reading on our metal detector.
wooden boat wrecks become hard to visually detect within 10
years of their sinking due to the destructive torpedo worm
(shipworm) which eats through even the hardest lumber. Only
the ballast stones and heavy metal objects like cannons and
anchors are left for treasure hunters to find. Many times,
like in the case of The Oliver, the wreck is located under
as much as 10 feet of gravel and sand.
job was to check out strange looking coral formations and
one day he spotted a strange metal grid imbedded in the coral.
I got on the sled as well and noticed a few coral heads in
a straight line. This seemed very unusual. After fawning around
a little bit, I suddenly found a few hundred year old looking
wine bottles, a piece of moldy dark glass and lead used on
the wooden hull.
finding a few more artifacts and part of the ships rigging,
we were pretty sure we'd found a wreck site. Much later we
were able to identify the wreck as a British log runner named
"Oliver" captained by Mr. Mood sunk in 1802. It
was the first real wreck we'd found so it called for a celebration
at the Bucket of Blood.
the wreck was in 60 to 70 feet of water it was difficult to
work with. We couldn't use a mail box device which is typically
mounted on the engine to reverse the propeller, blast down
and blow sand away from the excavation site.
decided to use a Hi-Lift: a plastic pipe with a nozzle, through
which air is pumped into a small jet. As the air goes up,
it creates a suction in which sand and gravel are removed
from the wreck. It took us several months and 3 shifts of
divers a day to reach the sections of the hull. In the process
we found 2 1/2" anchors, one cannon and numerous artifacts.
Two preservation experts joined us who had worked on the "Wasa"
a Swedish Warship that sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage and
was raised intact 400 years later. They showed us how to preserve
the various artifacts. We worked on the "Oliver"
for over 6 months and it was very educational.
highly professional excavation crew is an unrealized dream
when you have a mottled crew of treasure hunters. You can
get anything from the chronic screw-up to skilled pros or
to the occasional guy who joins so he can lose weight.
of the guys who expected to get rich fast didn't last. They
didn't realize that there was a lot of work involved and rough
conditions such as dangerous sand-digging, very rustic living
conditions, a different culture, mosquitoes, and sand flies.
From several dozen members who joined us, only the hardcore
guys kept going regardless of the hardship and lack of money
coming in. We suffered the fate of most unsuccessful treasure
hunters and had to operate on a shoestring budget.
times breakdowns, lack of supplies and other hindrances brought
our work to a screeching halt. I don't consider the time spent
a loss, rather a fantastic experience. After 38 years of living
on paradise island away from the madness of the rat race and
10,000 dives later, I love my extreme dive to 200 feet and
deeper as much as ever. The real treasure I found wasn't gold
but a simple peaceful fulfilling lifestyle on one of the most
beautiful islands I have ever seen. More and more people who
visit end up staying longer than planned, often staying for
good. I've found my Shangri-La and perhaps someday, I will
also find another interesting wreck in this deep blue ocean.
One never knows.
logs in an artifact found at the Oliver site
raising of "Oliver" 12' anchors
the 300 plus pound, 12-foot anchors with 50 gl. steel drums was
quite a chore and a great learning curve for some of us. The 2nd
anchor was imbedded and wedged in a coral head. We attached the
cables and positioned the lifting device which was a bleeding valve
incase we overfilled the drum. One diver filled the drum with air
from a regulator while two guys tried to break the anchor loose.
I was on top of the drum monitoring the airflow. Finally, the drum
was full and the ropes taught as a fiddle string. The huge anchor
resisted our efforts to pry it loose so one diver increased the
air supply. Due to the overfilled drum, when the anchor finally
came loose, with a big noise it started to rocket to the surface
from 65 feet of depth. My efforts to bleed air through the valve
were useless. At 40 feet of depth, I got off the drum which then
broke through to the surface right beside the boat and scared the
hell out of the other team of divers who were all chilling in the
sun ready for the next shift. Unfortunately, the drum tilted, filled
with water and both anchor and drum came crashing back down. A mad
scramble ensued with half a dozen divers trying to get away from
being crushed by the 300 pound anchor. After the excitement died
down, we gave it another try and succeeded. The anchor was moved
to Diamond Cay to be part of the marine museum later on.
story / editorial
/ local news
______________back to top
Artists Extraordinaire By
Islands is Not only a Mecca for Divers, It's also a Perfect
Place for a Heist
scammers set out to scam their victims, others just fall
victim to their own unpreparedness and lack of ethics. The
Smart Pages, a phonebook project that ran well in the hands
of its founder in 2003-2005, dwindled and turned into an
object of dread when ran by D, a person that took it over.
believe that D became an involuntary scam artist and never
wanted to run away with clients money that was paid to create
a 2008 phone book. She just focused all her energy on convincing
people to buy advertising and had no energy, nor money to
actually print the book itself. Either way, hundreds of
Roatan business paid up-front for something they never saw
and it left a bitter taste in their mouth.
best scammers work in teams. They produce a smoke and mirror
aura of legitimacy; association with organizations that
are big, legitimate and work for a "good cause."
No one controls or checks if they work with a business license
have legitimate experience in their field or a represent
a real company.
the last decade, by far the most common on Roatan has been
the land and development scams. Hundreds of people have
put money down for projects that never saw the light of
day. If you say you're representing a big foreign company
doing a project here, few will check if it is really true.
You put your $50K down and expect an international resort.
Too often years go by and development is nowhere.
I fell for a tax shelter scam that pretended to help abused
girls on the island. It all begun when I found myself trusting
C, the person on the ground for Kids Matter International
(KMI) responsible for organizing and fundraising. With the
benefit of hindsight vision I should have known better.
board of KMI flew in on jets from US, partied and walked
Roatan's beaches. They gave away tee-shirts with fancy logos
and cried crocodile tears about how they are here to help
the abused girls.
Honduras is a country where too few people understand what
professional ethics is. Morality is weak and laws are made
to be used for individual's benefit. "I'm hiding in
Honduras. I'm a desperate man. Send lawyers, guns and money.
The sh-- has hit the fan," sings Warren Zevon in his
1978 album. In many respects little has change in Honduras
since and perhaps that's why many people have been attracted
to this place.
Roatan is a heaven for scam artists and it has been for
a long time. Maybe from the times of the pirates, maybe
even from the time of the Spanish slave raiders that earned
the trust then kidnapped the local Paya Indians to sell
them on slave markets of Cuba in 1500's. On Roatan everyone
has a chance to live out their dream, no matter how plausible
or damaging to others. If they wanted to be an electrician,
but didn't go to electrical school, or bothered to become
license, no problem. If you want to do a development, do
a phonebook, save some orphans, that's just great. Roatan
is the place for you, no matter how little experience, or
bad intentions you might have.
of us get suckered by rude, ugly and suspicious. The scammers
we should all be most careful of are the ones that are charming,
well spoken and charismatic. The most successful "matchstick
men" and women of Roatan are the ones that evoke association
with large established organizations or announce their goal
as helping children abused or sick.
Sponsorship International, an orphanage project in Sandy
Bay has left a legacy of both financial and psychological
abuse. B, a charismatic founder of the project was run off
the island in disgrace. A few months later B begun repeating
his scam in Kenya. His website is full of pictures of B
smiling and hugging Kenyan children and asking for donations
to "support required to sponsor a child [of] $29"
so he could continue to do so just like he did it on Roatan.
in many of the photographs from www.kenyakids.org B is wearing
a shirt with a clearly visible "Honduras' Policia de
Tourismo" logo- a souvenir of Police support from his
six years on Roatan, and only reference on the website he
has ever been to Honduras.
there are no active organizations that protect us from the
constant and growing tide of scammers. The situation is
even more difficult considering that the government officials
itself engages in "scam like" activities. For
example, some tourists might find that the Honduras immigration
is a scam designed to extract and punish you for visiting
the country. One day of overstaying your 30 day visa will
cost you $150 and no receipt.
story / george
/ local news
over Municipal Salaries
By Thomas Tomczyk
a Hard Economic year one Roatan Municipal Corporation Fights
for Salary Increases, While other one Votes to Cut Theirs
Galindo said that several of the Roatan Corporation members
businesses owe unpaid taxes and fees to Roatan Municipality
and it would be inappropriate to raise salaries of the councilmen
at time of hardship. " 'Never send a hungry man to
the government office' once told me a good friend from Flowers
Bay" said Mayor Galindo.
four years ago the Roatan Municipality voted to double their
salaries from Lps. 10,000 to Lps. 20,000. In contrast, the
Santos Guardiola Municipal councilmen met in October to
vote for a temporary, six month salary decrease. They will
now receive Lps. 7,000 a month, down from Lps. 15,000. The
Mayor's salary was cut from Lps. 40,000 to Lps. 30,000 and
vice-mayor receives Lps. 15,000 down from 25,000 Lps."I
am glad that the [Santos Guardiola] corporation recognized
the reality and economic suffering of the community,"
said about the salary cuts Shawn Hyde, Bay Islands Governor.
days of the petition and coinciding with a dispute over
taxi rates required to be displayed in all Roatan taxis
Roatan Police became preoccupied with threats and possible
risk to safety of Mayor Galindo. Roatan preventive police
has assigned him with an around the clock escort. According
to Mayor Galindo, the threats are not precise enough to
attribute to anyone in particular, but "In Honduras
there is the reality that if you don't like someone's policies
you can have them taken out." A municipal police presence
has been increased at the Municipality in Coxen Hole and
a COBRA police officers with automatic machine guns accompany
Mayor Galindo anywhere outside his home.
to Mayor Galindo the 2010 Municipal budget is close to being
confirmed by corporation members and should end up around
Lps. 101 million, or $5.3 million. "I came to a corporation
that was in debt and broke," says Mayor Galindo. "Times
are tough and we might only end up collecting Lps. 70 million
provide an armed protection for Mayor Galindo
In a signed petition from September 29, nine of 10 Roatan
Municipal councilmen demanded a 75% salary increase. They
wanted to increase their salary from Lps. 20,000 to Lps.
35,000 a month, just Lps. 5,000 shy of what the Roatan Mayor,
Julio Galindo, is being paid.
the letter included 24 requests, ranging from employee hiring
and firing issues to municipal road-paving policies. Mayor
Galindo says that the most important was really point number
12- the request for city council salary increases.
some intense arguing Mayor Galindo swayed six of the councilmen
to withdraw their support for the petition. One city council
member abstained from voting, and three that continue to
insist on salary increases are from Liberal Party including
David Bodden and Marcus Nelson. Both of them declined to
comment to Bay Islands Voice on why they presented the petition
to the mayor or asked for a salary increase.
By Giordana Toccaceli
Unique Group of Health Professionals visit Roatanrench Harbour
Community Center Moves Library, Expected to Host other Organizations
The journey of the Floating Doctors, a non profit group
of doctors seeking to bring medical care to developing countries,
began on April 17, 2010 with seven people and 20,000 pounds
of medical supplies bound for Haiti. Their transport and
home is a 76 ft sailboat called Southern Wind and allows
them to focus donation dollars on medicines rather than
Floating Doctors team rescued the 30 year old Southern Wind
from the bottom of the dock in the canals of the inter-coastal
waterway in Florida and spent 11 months renovating the boat
themselves. They designed it to be self-sustaining as far
as energy and fuel efficiency. The boat travels up to 250
miles a day and requires little fuel. The red and white
rugged boat stores medical supplies and serves as a base
for medical laboratory.
organization's founder, Dr. Benjamin Labrot, 34, a graduate
from Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, Ireland, is living
out his lifelong dream of bringing free medical aid to those
who can't get it otherwise. The seeds of this dream were
planted in his life by his father, Dr. George Labrot, who
would take him along on medical missions. "Practicing
this kind of medicine is the most satisfying thing I've
ever done with my life," says Dr. Benjamin Labrot.
Southern Wind has been in the Bay Islands since July and
will stay here until December. The Floating Doctors core
team and medical school volunteers that fly in from the
US to take part in the project, have treated around 4,000
patients on Roatan and Cayos Cochinos. They were able to
help in medical problems ranging from parasites to stroke
victims and paraplegic children. The team is currently waiting
on 14,000 pounds of medications and equipment donated by
Direct Relief International from California. According to
Dr. Benjamin Labrot the container should include high tech
are on call six days a week and can be found volunteering
their time and expertise at any of the following clinics:
Clinica Esperanza, Los Fuertes Health Center, RBC and Oak
Ridge Health Clinic.
and reproductive education is probably the most important
need for young people here," said Tracy Ebanks, a Licensed
Medical Assistant, from Oak Ridge, Roatan, who is currently
studying in California and one of the volunteers with Floating
Doctors. Ebanks volunteered three days and performed around
30 ultrasounds at the Oak Ridge clinic with the Floating
story / editorial
by Giordana Toccaceli
Business Man Creates Jobs Through a Unique Island Souvenir Company
ingredients and home-made remedies used in these soaps are already
benefiting islanders. Cindy Peterkin, a Six Huts resident and a
fan of RNSW says: "I can finally sit on my porch and enjoy
the view without smelling of DEET." She uses No See Um, one
of the more popular types of soaps specifically formulated to repel
sand flies and mosquitoes. Peterkin had been searching for over
20 years for a soap that would not give her rashes. She finally
settled on Neutrogena gel but it was difficult and expensive to
get on Roatan. She has been using RNSW soaps since August and has
been recommending the locally made soaps to her island friends.
RNSW soaps are medicinal, anti-allergenic, and all natural. They
are cold-processed to preserve the integrity and quality of all
the ingredients. Cold process soap making originated in ancient
Rome and is the 'true' art of soap making, using lye, base oils
and essential oils. The soaps found on supermarket shelves are usually
made through a melting and pouring process which reduces the benefits
of naturally derived ingredients. The only preservative used is
grapefruit seed extract. The company's aim is to use ingredients
that are healing, soothing and moisturizing while limiting any negative
impact on the island.
from the No see um line, there is a highly therapeutic and healing
Avocado soap, Lemongrass soap with astringent, antibacterial and
antifungal properties and Madre de Cacao soap, whose main ingredient
Madre de Cacao has been used by islanders for centuries as a comprehensive
cure for all types of skin ailments. A fifth soap made from Jack
Ass Bitters is on its way as well as a pumice stone scrub and lip
balm. The soap packaging is made from recycled paper and tied with
a string of sisal. Eventually the company plans to offer other body
wants to stay as local as possible, but in some cases has to import
products like coconut oil from Nicaragua and essential oils from
the first month after their launch, RNSW sold 150 units and last
month sold 300 units. RNSW Soap bars come in two sizes, two ounce
bars priced at $2.50 and four ounce bars at $3. Gift packs with
samples of all the products are available for $10. The soap bars
can be purchased through a stand in Mahogany Bay, at Barefoot Charlie's
internet shop in West End and at Bananarama Resort in West Bay.
of the four types of soap bars offered by Roatan Natural Soap Works
by his grandmother's soap making in South Africa, and his passion
for herbology, Mathew Harper, owner of Green Hill Energy Solutions
and Roatan based Roatan Natural Soap Works (RNSW), describes his
newfound work as "therapeutic." Harper is an electrical
engineer who recently has become an artisan soap maker.
discovered a niche market in island-made souvenirs when he observed
that nearly all island souvenirs were brought in from the mainland.
The untapped market and a desire to keep his workforce employed
in a slow year led Harper to reinvent his company and create a new
business model. While the demand for electrical contracts has dwindled,
several of his electricians are now making soaps once a week and
happy to still have a job.
company was founded as an artisanal business that will generate
jobs, training and at the same time provide natural, vibrant, high-quality
island souvenir products locals can be proud of. "Municipality
has been no help to me whatsoever. I'm trying to create jobs, generate
revenue. The main reason I voted for Pepe Lobo and Julio Galindo
was because of their support towards local business" says Harper.
someone with sensitive skin choosing the right soap, shampoo or
any body care product to use can be a delicate thing. Artificial
perfumes, chemical additives and over-processing in commonly used
soaps strip the skin potentially causing dryness, itching and inflammation.
Buyers of RNSW in Plan Grande, can be at ease when using their products
because of their old fashioned, back-to-basics approach to soap