Bringing Back Jolly Roger
Roatan is often a graveyard for sailboats. Some of them rusting and molding away, are still beautifully wearing shades of all glory of transatlantic crossings, memories of violent storms and demanding passages. Brick Bay, Fantasy Island, Coxen Hole and Oak Ridge are dotted with boats that once were the pride of their owners and objects of desire for onlookers. One can see sailboats on side of the road that haven’t seen water in a decade and possibly never will.
One such boat was on its way to a slow demise when a taxi full of slightly tipsy Barbadians drove by. “We couldn’t believe our eyes,” says Martin Bynoe, one of the men in car. “Suddenly we look to our left… and holly shikes… that is Jolly Roger!,” said Joe Peterkin, a Barbadian living on Roatan, about a boat that in bad shape and slowly taking on water.
The three energetic Barbadians: Martin Bynoe, Allan Kinch and Richard Greenwich, came to Roatan after seeing an ad on the internet advertising Black Pearl, a La Ceiba built wooden party boat that is now anchored in Las Palmas. It was for sale for $1.2 million and topped the interest of the Barbadians looking for a boat that could enter the booze navy serving the island’s tourists. The islanders examined Black Pearl and decided to pass on the sale. “She was built badly,” said Bynoe. For the Barbadians it was destiny: the Jolly Roger line, famous in Barbados, was meant not to be lost.
Jolly Roger is a Barbados registered, 114 foot double masted schooner. The boat was most likely built in 1966 on a beach in Petit Martinique, an English speaking island belonging to Grenada. “She was built on a beach and rolled out to sea on logs,” says Kinch, another Barbados man, pointing to the Los Fuertes strip of land by the Texaco fuel station where Jolly Roger was being repaired and refurbished before her journey back home.
Originally there were five Jolly Rogers, and the Roatan schooner is Jolly Roger number one. Over the years the other Jolly Rogers sunk: two off Trinidad, one off Antigua and one off the Grenadian coast. “They went up and down and in between the islands all the time,” says Chris Worme, a Barbadian who was contracted to come down and help rebuild the Jolly Roger. There are still a few boats that perform these duties in Windward Islands, but much more on a commercial scale.
In the 1960s and 1970s the Jolly Rogers hauled cargo, mostly beer between Saint Vincent, Saint Martens and Grenada. “Grenada didn’t use to have a brewery back then so all the beer had to be brought in,” said Kinch. Kinch, an owner of several Barbados businesses, has decided to bring the boat back to her original shape and, in some ways, function. The plan is, by New Years Eve, for Jolly Roger to become the largest party boat on Barbados, with hundreds of paying guests enjoying beers on its forty-four-year-old deck.
In 2004 Jolly Roger was bought by Alvaro Alamina, a Belizean who brought the schooner to serve as a party boat in Belize. The boat soon found itself in Panama, then ended virtually abandoned and tied to a dock on Roatan. All seamed doom-and-gloom for the forty-four-year-old-boat until four slightly tipsy Barbadians saw her leaning on a dock in Oak Ridge.
Since September this beautiful old Jolly Roger is being restored to its long-lost glory. She has pylons supporting her sides and dozens of blue tarp draped across her top deck. At the height of the work 35 people, like ants swarm in and out of her bringing out old, damaged elements. The workers bring new things: all new electrical wiring, new pieces of wood to replace rotten ones.
The boat’s construction crew is full of energy. There is a mixture of languages and accents. Spanish, Bay Islands English, Barbados English, American English. There is good energy all around and everyone has a slightly different reason to be smiling. The Barbadians feel like they are bringing a piece of their island history back home, and Roatanians feel pride in helping to bring an elegant ship back to her glory.
The Barbados men were friends nearly all their lives. They grew up within a couple of miles from one another, right next to the sea. “It’s quite an adventure. For boys from Barbados to take her [the boat] home is quite something else,” said Worme. “They [the tree owners] called me up one day and asked: ‘what are you doing tomorrow? We have a boat here on Roatan, would you like to take a look at it?” said Worme. With uncombed, long grayish hair, the Barbados man has been around the sea all his life. “This island is just like Barbados. Maybe a little longer and a little less wide than us… and we cut down all the trees to built hotels.”
After heavy rains and storms, the work on Jolly Roger hit a crescendo in mid November. The Roatan rain delayed the crew by four weeks and pushed up the schedule. “We have a rain season in Barbados, but not like this,” says Worme.
Dozen pieces of metal weighing half a ton is pulled up by ropes by eight men. This is the top of the 1,000 gallon metal gasoline tank that will increase the range of the boat. A 525 horsepower John Deere engine was lowered next to two fuel tanks designed to contain 1,000 gallons. There are brand new generators and tanks capable of carrying 1,000 gallons of water.
A four millimeter fiberglass shell was placed over the 44-year-old hull to make the boat stronger and more watertight. Eight rolls of 50′ fiberglass and 16′ rolls of 25′ fiberglass were used to waterproof the boats hull and deck. Everything on the boat is brand new: new generators, new engine and electrics. Mack Sail custom made the boats red sails.
Jamel Lister and Richard Gordon working with Mack Sails out of Florida laid out 2,000 feet of wire, two large electrical panels and we are still not done. “We came down to bring the sails and a bit of electrical, but it turned out to be much more than a bit,” said Lister. The Americans installed the mast’s gaft up and the set up of the sail.
Much of the equipment needed for the boat came in three metal containers. “We had no problem with customs. It’s been great,” says Worme. Bucket brigades of people have helped to bring the necessary parts to make Jolly Roger sail once again.
While Kinch prefers not to disclose how much he paid for Jolly Roger, he admits that the boats three owners will spend around half a million dollars fixing her. “Around $200,000 of that was spent on Roatan,” says Kinch. “DV Woods [a French Harbour building supplies store] just loves us.”
Balancing a boat of Jolly Roger’s size and built isn’t an exact science. “They found old metal cogs that crushed the sugar cane and used it for boats ballast,” says Worme. Jolly Roger contains a treasure chest of East Indies history: below its deck there are discarded, old huge wheels and cogs taken from sugarcane plantations. Some of this metal is well over 100 years dating to Barbados’ sugarcane history.
The re-balancing of the boat with ballast will take some trial and error. Old, rusted chains should be used to rebalance the boat. “We are going to have to do a few tests to make sure she will not flip over in rough seas. She mite lay down on her side and she might not come back up,” says Worme. “It’s not much of a sailing boat to tell you the truth. We’ll be going strait into the wind and that’s what this boat hates. It likes sailing 90 degrees to the wind.”
Richard Greenwich is designated to captain her on her return voyage and the crew plans to take it easy with the sails and do most of the journey home using its brand new motor. “If anything happens, we can always make it to Jamaica,” says Worme, who hopes to be in Barbados for Christmas.