story / editorial
/ local news
DIVER'S LABYRINTH- THE
STORY OF ROATAN'S WRECKS
by Ellen Debboli
by Jim Connolly
interested in history, thrilled by sunken treasure, or terrified
of being trapped in small, submerged rooms, shipwrecks have always
been appealing to divers and non-divers alike. Around Roatan, the
remains of partially sunken ships are common. And although the most
frequently visited wrecks were intentionally sunk for scuba diving,
their histories are no less interesting than stories involving pirates,
Spanish Galleons and sunken treasure. In studying Roatan's contemporary
wrecks, two things become apparent. First, stories evolve, becoming
a web of fact and fiction difficult to decipher. And secondly, truth
can be more interesting than fiction.
Roatan's newest planned wreck is a 300-foot freighter called Odyssey.
Owned by Hybur Limited, the Odyssey was being rebuilt when a catastrophic
fire put an end to its freight-hauling career. Close ties between
the Galindos, owners of Anthony's Key Resort, and the Hydes, owners
of Hybur Limited, made it an obvious decision to donate Odyssey
for diving. AKR spearheaded the effort to secure government approval,
clean, prepare and sink the ship, while several dive operators around
the island contributed to the clean-up effort.
Clean-up was extensive, with approximately 50 truckloads of debris
- including charred furniture, insulation and electrical wiring
- removed over several weeks. Once clean, Odyssey was made safe
for scuba divers. For example, hatch covers weighing several tons
were welded on to strengthen the ship's frame. On November 15, 2002,
the ship was towed from French Harbour to Mud Hole, positioned over
its future home and sunk.
Local video producer Tim Blanton spent that day shooting video.
70-80 spectators watched from sea and shore as lines were anchored
to ensure the ship remained upright while sinking. The sea-cocks
were opened and water began to fill the ship. After several hours,
and one dramatic moment when it listed to starboard, the Odyssey
righted itself and disappeared beneath the surface. Blanton and
Galindo were among a group of divers who visited the Odyssey the
following morning. Upon seeing the upright attitude and location
of Odyssey centered between two coral heads, Galindo commented it
was a "bull's-eye".
The new home of Odyssey is off Mud Hole, resting on sand in 110
feet of water. The ship is massive, 300 feet from bow to stern,
50 feet wide and 85 feet tall. The size is the most impressive thing
about diving the Odyssey. When exploring the cargo area, along passageways
the length of a football field, divers look tiny.
Just two months after the sinking, several week-long 'Northers'
ripped through the north shore. Two of the massive hatch covers
were ripped off by the power of the surge slamming into the hull.
Two wrecks grounded close together within the confines of Dixon
Cove are familiar to all Roatan residents. The run-ashore ships
are clearly visible from the road between French Harbour and Coxen
Hole. In late afternoon the sun transforms the rusted hull into
an intense and picturesque copper sculpture. Both wrecks have been
decaying here since the 1970s.
Stories abound. Some claim one ship, with a cargo of lumber, ran
aground in a storm. The second ship came to assist and also ended
up on the reef. The lumber was off-loaded in a futile attempt to
save the ship and was collected by local residents. Others say the
cargo was marble. One version maintains one was a Cayman-owned vessel
run aground intentionally for insurance. Rumors persist that the
ships were involved in the Nicaraguan revolution, then abandoned.
Longtime residents report that the wrecks were two separate incidents.
One did carry lumber; the other carried paint. Both ships caught
fire and were abandoned, what
of their cargos pillaged. During an attempt to tow the ships out
to sea, they broke free and came to rest in Dixon Cove.
Along the south shore, the Prince Albert was the first Roatan wreck
intentionally sunk for scuba diving. The tanker, owned by a group
of Nicaraguans, left Nicaragua with a cargo of war refugees, headed
for Roatan. After escaping the war-ravaged Central American country
and delivering the refugees, the ship remained in French Harbour.
There, it was stripped of valuables and left partially submerged.
Evans, owner of Coco View Resort, saw an opportunity to remove a
hazard and gain a wreck for the benefit of his diving guests. Securing
government approval proved difficult for Evans, but not impossible
with assistance from local businessman Albert Jackson. Evans hired
clean-up and welding crews and set about the task of preparing it
weeks later, a local shrimp boat towed the tanker to Coco View.
The sea was rough and during the effort to transfer lines, they
snapped and the ship ended up on the reef. Efforts over several
weeks to release it were unsuccessful and resulted in severe damage
to the shrimp boat.
Finally, in January 1985, a new steel-hulled shrimp boat owned by
Jerry Hynds was commissioned for the task and the ship was successfully
pulled off the reef. A joint effort between the shrimp boats and
the Coco View fleet tied the bow into the wind, then pumped water
in until it sank. Soon after, a Coco View guest suggested that Evans
name the ship Prince Albert, in appreciation of the assistance Mr.
Eighteen years later, the 140' tanker is in remarkably good shape,
sitting upright in 65 feet of water. It has significant coral growth.
Eagle rays frequent the wreck, a resident moray stands guard near
the stern and arrow crabs and seahorses share space along the deck.
El Aguila, Spanish for 'The Eagle', is 230 feet long with a dual-deck
cargo area. According to Samir Galindo, General Manager of Anthony's
Key Resort, its final voyage was a run from Puerto Cortes to Haiti,
carrying a cargo of concrete. It ran aground near Utila (there was
speculation sabotage was involved) and was there for several years,
partially submerged. Rocky Jones, from Utila, salvaged the ship
and towed it into the harbor. A passing storm pushed the ship onto
the reef, where Jones again salvaged it. This time he intentionally
sunk it partially so it wouldn't be vulnerable to future storms.
At the time, the only wrecks accessible to north shore dive operators
were two wooden-hulled vessels sunk (naturally, not intentionally)
years before and the wooden hulls were quickly disappearing into
the sea. AKR had been looking for a ship to convert into a wreck
dive and El Aguila proved a perfect choice.
About 5 weeks passed between the purchase of El Aguila, the clean
up (including removal of the original cargo - tons of now-hardened
concrete) the towing and finally, the sinking. Galindo commented
that sinking El Aguila was "a real challenge", but the
ordeal helped make the Odyssey experience such a well-organized
When El Aguila sunk in 1997, it was upright in 110 feet of water.
In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch arrived and battered the north
shore, breaking the ship into three pieces. Galindo says that with
all the salvageable metal removed from the ship in Utila, the hull
was structurally unable to resist the stress created by relentless
current and surge. In essence, Mitch provided a service to the wreck
divers of Roatan. The three pieces created extra nooks and crannies
to investigate. El Aguila sits a short boat ride from the AKR dock,
protected by garden eels and one large but curious green moray eel.
These are not the only wrecks around Roatan - they are a sampling
of the most high profile. Divers can find a former dive boat with
its diesel engine intact in shallow water near the Sea Grape Resort.
French Harbour channel near Little French Cay is home to the Island
Fueler, a spooky wreck owing to turbid waters creating low visibility
in the channel. Longtime residents can probably pinpoint dozens
more. And, while diving on a wreck is a thrill at any level, the
stories of how the wrecks came to be only add to the allure.
story / editorial
/ local news
FAIR ATTRACKS HUNDREDS By Jaime Johnston
of people crowded Jonesville's main street for the community's Second
Annual Fair held November 22-23. The event had been postponed from
the previous week and featured live bands, street vendors and a golf
cart float parade.
The parade opened the fair on the evening of November 22. "We
did ours with a carnival-style. We tried to use as much color as possible,"
said 16 year-old Nesha Ducker who rode with sister Brittany in the
parade. The Duckers joined five other floats, throwing candy, hats
and carnival beads to spectators. Festivities continued with the music
of Sandy Bay's Sherwin and the Boys which attracted a large dancing
crowd under the hanging street decorations at the fair's entrance.
In front of Jonesville's high school, there were three games, pony
rides and two deejays playing music. The streets were lined with stands
representing 13 vendors. Stands sold a wide variety of island-style
conch soups, nacatamales and heavy cakes. "Each vendor paid 300
Lempiras to set up their stand. That money, along with bar sales,
will go to help pay the loan taken out by five residents to pave the
Jonesville road," said Helen Thompson, one of the eight fair
second day of the festival continued with horseback riding and featured
sales of conch balls, pick crab and baked chicken. Sandy Bay's Joseph
and the Boys closed the fair, playing reggae and soca tunes until
the early hours of the morning.
This was the first year that the fair was hosted on Jonesville's
main street; it attracted more visitors than in 2002, when it was
held at the ball field. In addition to several private donations
to cover the fair's start-up costs, corporate sponsors included
RECO, Cervecería Hondureña, Mariscos Caribeña
and Bodega Dora. Santos Guardiola Municipal donated two trucks of
gravel for the Jonesville road, assisted with clean-up efforts and
paid for the bands music.
EXPRESS SINKS AT LA CEIBA HABOR by Jaime Johnstont
Utilan couple lost half of their fleet as their vessel crashed into
harbour rocks at La Ceiba on November 20. At approximately 4am,
half an hour from porting at La Ceiba, Utila Express was overcome
by rough seas and stormy weather which completely destroyed the
"She [the Utila Express] was coming in on the easterly side
of the pier at La Ceiba and the sea hit them with a storm. The strong
winds swept the bow into the rocks so hard that the stern lifted
out of the water and caused the captain to lose control," said
Martha Rose, who with her husband Mike, owned the Utila Express.
Captain Angel Alvarado, who had captained Utila Express for two
years, left Utila at 2:30am with his seven crew members. "The
captain thought the weather wasn't too bad when he left. It just
caught them on their way in. Then, the boat was being smashed against
the rocks along the bay so hard that the crew jumped on the rocks
for safety," said Martha Rose who was notified by telephone
of the accident. The Port Authority rescued the crew, but nothing
could be done to save the boat. Utila Express was carrying minimal
cargo, only glass bottles for return to a La Ceiba depot.
Utila Express, whose estimated value is between $200,000-$250,000,
was built 13 years ago by Mike Rose's brother Eric, a native Utilan.
Martha and Mike Rose first began their shipping business between
Puerto Cortes, Utila and Roatan. Two years ago, they started operating
weekly trips between La Ceiba and Utila. The Roses have one remaining
cargo boat, Tonia C, and have no immediate plans to replace their
BALLOTS, ONE WINNER
Morel, from Punta Gorda, was the winner of the H.B. Warren's raffle
on November 29. Customer Kenya Johnson drew Morel's name from over
500 ballots to win an Orion 16-inch color television set, valued
at 3,400 Lps. H.B. Warren's will host another draw for a Sanyo 25-inch
color television worth over 6,100 Lps. Customers who spend over
500 Lps. will have their name entered in the raffle. The winner
will be announced on December 31. In the photograph: Gilma Antonia
Salmeron de Morel and her grandson Jason, 4, entered eight raffle
tickets. The family comes from Punta Gorda twice a month to shop
at H.B. Warrens to take advantage of the store's 10% off end-of-month
and 15-of-the-month discounts.
story / editorial
/ local news
THE AISLES by
is a silent predator of island businesses, prompting local proprietors
to take action to protect their interests. "Shoplifting is
a big problem in our stores," said H.B. Warren's owner Curby
Warren, "It's impossible to know exact figures, but it's something
that we take a lot of trouble to prevent."
H.B Warren's, like many other businesses, have implemented various
security measures to prevent theft. An armed guard patrols the store.
There are cameras, two mirrors and a check-point for bags and purses.
"Most often, the shoplifters are women who carry large purses.
They steal toiletries, hair dye, just about anything," said
Warren, "Because of the 'set-up' of the building, it's impossible
to see every corner." Warren noted that the male shoplifters
are caught stealing alcohol, while children take candy and soft
drinks. "We send anyone caught shoplifting to the Municipal
Police with the product and a report," said Warren.
Director of Municipal Police, Joseph Solomon explained, "Shoplifting
is a criminal situation dealt with by a criminal judge who will
then look over the evidence and [listen to] witnesses to determine
extent of criminal activity. Then, the judge will impose a fine."
Luna y Mar in Los Fuertes uses a 19-inch four-screen video monitoring
system and four surveillance cameras. The store, open in February
2003, didn't report any incidents of shoplifting. "Someone
is always watching the monitors and the customers. We would know
instantly if something was missing," said store manager O'Neal
Nixon. The stores three-person staff takes daily inventory to ensure
all merchandise is accounted for.
PetroSun in Coxen Hole struggles with constant shoplifters. "So
far this year, we've sent 12 shoplifters to the Municipal Police,"
said PetroSun Manager Lily Greenwood, adding that all 12 shoplifters
were male. In addition to two uniformed, armed guards and a video
monitoring system inside the store, PetroSun has installed a bar
code scanner to protect their inventory. "I know people says
it slows down the lines, but it makes sure people can't switch price
tags and allows us to record the history of every product,"
said Greenwood. PetroSun has placed 'temptation items' such as alcohol,
razors and pills behind the counters, close to cashiers. "In
the space of one week, we had three hair dyes go missing and the
system shows me none of them have been sold," said Greenwood.
According to Alan Bruce, owner of Video Picks in Coxen Hole and
Los Fuertes, employees are the key factor for security. "We
actually had two cameras stolen out of our store and we were able
to get both of them back. We recorded the serial numbers and models
and had our staff watching for people coming into buy accessories
for these cameras. Three months later, we got both cameras back
that way," said Bruce, "Training your employees right
is making sure shoplifting's not happening."