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The Fathom II of Utila
by Gunter Kordovsky

A Wreck Diving Expedition that Put Utila on the Map
Supply barge reaches one of the Utila Keys

A 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.

During 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 bloody masks.

After 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 underwater world.

In 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.

As 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.

The $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.

It 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.

After 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.

While 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 as Yabba-Ding-Ding.

Nobody 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.

In 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.

After 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.

Breakfast 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.

Gunter Kordovsky with three fellow divers

Shortly 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.

Anatol 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.

That event, my first of many shark encounters, became immortalized in a painting which was later purchased by German Ambassador Eckhard Schober.

A 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.

After 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.

Finding the Oliver

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.

Most 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.

Chris's 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.

After 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.

Since 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.

We 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.

A 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.

Most 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.

Many 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.

Gunter logs in an artifact found at the Oliver site

The raising of "Oliver" 12' anchors

Lifting 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.

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Scam Artists Extraordinaire By Thomas Tomczyk

Bay Islands is Not only a Mecca for Divers, It's also a Perfect Place for a Heist

Some 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.

I 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Even 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.

The 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

Few 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.

Child 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.

Ironically, in many of the photographs from 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.

As 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.

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War over Municipal Salaries By Thomas Tomczyk

In a Hard Economic year one Roatan Municipal Corporation Fights for Salary Increases, While other one Votes to Cut Theirs

Mayor 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.

Only 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.

Within 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.

According 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 this year."

Police 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.

While 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.

In 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.

Doctors that Sail By Giordana Toccaceli
A 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 housing.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 wheelchairs.

They 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.

"Health 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 Doctors.

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Soap from Scratch by Giordana Toccaceli

Local Business Man Creates Jobs Through a Unique Island Souvenir Company

The 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.

The 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.

Aside 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 care products.

Harper wants to stay as local as possible, but in some cases has to import products like coconut oil from Nicaragua and essential oils from Guatemala.

In 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.

One of the four types of soap bars offered by Roatan Natural Soap Works for sale

Inspired 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.

Harper 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.

The 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.

For 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 making.

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