story / editorial
/ local news
When Pirates Ruled... Written by Matthew Harper
many times have we heard or read in publications that Henry Morgan
once operated from Roatan? Not often. However, it is entirely likely
that he knew Roatan or Rattan and Guanaja or Barnacho, as they were
known amongst seafarers before they were first mapped. He probably
even stepped ashore to stretch his legs or watched his vessel marooned
on a cay while he chewed on some smoked hog and sipped on some Jamaica
rum. In fact, most Caribbean pirates came to these parts. If they
didn't, they had certainly heard of it, as the Bay of Honduras during
its golden age was to piracy as Plymouth was to the British Royal
Navy. However colorful a character Henry Morgan was, there were
others who once trafficked these parts and were just as charismatic,
but probably way more brutal.
Why here in these islands? Before the treaty of Utrecht in 1713,
England, Spain and France were constantly at war with each other,
and more bickering happened in the western Caribbean than anywhere
else. The golden age of piracy, as it was known, was a period that
began after the discovery of the New World (1492); it ran for about
250 years during which pirates and buccaneers were most active and
it is this time period that is most documented and considered most
This so called 'golden age' had its origins a little north-east
of here on the island of Hispaniola (Santo Domingo and Haiti today)
where, after 1492, more and more Europeans started arriving. On
Hispaniola first and then later in the bay of Campeche, Mexico,
Belize and the Bay Islands, white men sought to make a living cutting
lumber from the logwood tree (Haema toxylon campechium) and shipping
it back to Europe or to the colonies. These logwood cutters fed
on little more than smoked wild boar which abounded everywhere here
(even on Roatan up until the 1950s). Boar meat was smoked on open
fires called boucans and so the logwood cutters became known as
Around the mid 17 century, the Spaniards became alarmed at the number
of boucaners and began culling the pigs in an attempt to deny the
logwood cutters an important food source. Once discouraged, they
started moving farther afield, all over Central America. Because
the mainland of Honduras at that time was under Spanish rule, Englishmen
steered clear and settled on the islands where there was a ready
supply of logwood, pigs, fruit and fresh water. The first known
patent for a settlement was started in Port Royal in 1638, but was
short-lived. Its remains can still be found there today. It is more
than likely that the Spaniards had already begun to continuously
harass the settlers. Actually, in early 1650, it is documented that
Spaniards attacked the small village, but were sent packing by the
This pattern of harassment by the Spaniards had the opposite of
the desired effect because the settlers in the Bay, and indeed as
far as Mexico to Nicaragua, formed an alliance called 'Brethren
of the coast'. The brethren, spirited by small victories like the
ones in Port Royal, began plotting bold attacks on the Spanish shipping
that passed the bay hauling precious cargos of gold and jewels stolen
from the Inca on their way to Spain. Starting small, literally,
the boucaners used small row boats called pinnaces to board the
larger vessels and silently overwhelm the crew at the point of pistol
and cutlass. When things start to snowball into full-fledged piracy,
the pirates preferred small single-masted sloops to enable them
to enter into shallow water and negotiate reef channels. British
pirates preferred a vessel with a dozen or so cannons onboard, whereas
the French pirates favored small arms and hand to hand combat.
One such pirate whose life in piracy perfectly illustrates this
sudden change from simple woodcutter/boucaner to pirate is Captain
Edward 'Ned' Low. Born in Westminster, England, he was toted around
as a young boy on his brother's back in a basket stealing wigs and
hats from noblemen. Seeking a life of adventure on the sea, he later
went to Boston where he eventually joined a vessel going to Roatan
to collect a shipment of logwood.
He was employed as a patron going ashore to supervise the loading
and carrying of the logs. Once, after a day's work, he came aboard
hungry and the captain informed him that he would have to wait to
eat and that he and his men would have to be satisfied with a ration
of rum as the captain was in a hurry to leave. At this, according
to an eyewitness in the quaint vernacular of the time, Low, "took
up a loaded musket and fired at the captain but missed him, shot
another poor fellow through the throat, then put off the boat, and
with his 12 companions goes to sea: the next day they took a small
vessel, and go in her, make a black flag, and declared war against
And so began on Roatan the bloody career of Ned Low, who trafficked
in between the Bay Islands, Cayman Islands and Jamaica together
with his sidekick Francis Farrington Spriggs. Low taught Spriggs
the torture technique of tying up the hands of victims with pieces
of rope between the fingers and setting them alight, burning flesh
down to the bones. At one time early on in his career, Low joined
forces with another famous pirate, George Lowther who was also a
regular to the Bay Islands. Low's flag, unlike the skull and crossbones,
was a red skeleton holding in one hand a dart stabbing a bleeding
heart and in the other, an hourglass.
One of the most famous examples of using false flags in piracy happened
off Roatan (according to maritime records, between Utila and Roatan's
west end) March of 1723 when Low closed in on a Spanish vessel by
trickery, "hoisted up Spanish colors and continued them until
they drew near the sloop, then they hauled them down hoisted the
black flag, fired a broadside and boarded her."
and his men were no doubt under the influence at the time as was
their custom. They tortured the crew in a barbaric nature and
even those who begged for mercy were tortured to death. Not much
is known of Low's end, but some accounts attest to him falling
victim of mutiny by his own crew and then forced to shoot himself.
Among his darker deeds, Low was also responsible for the marooning
of Philip Ashton, a sailor from Boston here on Roatan. His story
makes for another article in itself. He was a prodigious writer
and seemed to capture the spirit of what Low and his brigands
were all about when he wrote: "where prodigious drinking,
monstrous cursing, hideous blasphemies and open defiance of heaven
and contempt of hell itself were the constant employment."
I have mentioned, Francis Spriggs was a Low acolyte who eventually
became a captain himself and, in addition, a Roatan regular. Spriggs,
in April 1724, captured a sloop under a Captain Hawkins. He stole
the cargo and forced Hawkins to eat candles before putting him
off at Port Royal with only a canoe, a musket and powder so that
he could fend for himself.
Spriggs, running from the navy in Jamaica in November 1724 arrived
in Roatan to find 12 vessels about to head north loaded with logwood.
He and his now expanding fleet of the damned captured the vessels
and marooned their crews on Roatan.
At the beginning of 1725, he took a further 16 logwood vessels
and put their crew off at Barnacho. The navy finally caught up
with him here though and navy vessel Spence chased him and his
vessel, The Delight, ashore where he took to the woods of Roatan
and he was never heard of again. Probably subjected to one of
his own tortures, standing in line at Banco Atlantida!
Another rogue who came undone in these waters was the infamous
captain Charles Vane who was fairly successful at stealing ships
between Jamaica and the Bay Islands. On the 16 of December, 1718,
Vane, in partnership with Calico Jack Rackham, came upon the Pearl
of Jamaica anchored in Port Royal harbour which they took.
Vane had captained a previously captured sloop in partnership
and Rackham skippered a similarly-procured brigantine. Because
Vane, like other pirate captains, favored the Bonacca cays for
careening, he carried the Pearl there. While in transit between
Roatan and Guanaja, they encountered another sloop from Jamaica
which they also took, marooning all crews.
In February of 1719, Vane left Barnacho with all four vessels
for a cruise toward the west. A day from Bonacca, he was separated
from his fleet by a terrible storm and ran aground on a small
island a few leagues to the west of Bonacca. (Descriptions seem
to indicate the Cayos Cochinos).The sloop was staved to pieces,
all his crew drowned and he was himself a castaway. He was provisioned
by fishermen and turtlers from the mainland who frequented the
island. After some weeks there, a vessel from Jamaica stopped
at the island for water, the captain of which was Charles Holford,
an acquaintance of Vane's. Thinking that he was saved, he asked
Holford to take him from the island. Holford replied "I shant
carry you aboard my ship unless I take you prisoner; for I shall
have you caballing with my men, knock me on the head, and run
away with my ship a-pirating." Vane did not believe him and
Holford, true to his word, sent two of his mates to clap Vane
in irons at gunpoint. Once in Jamaica, Holford handed Vane over
to the authorities where he was tried, convicted and hung at Gallows
Many of the well-known pirates of the era passed through these
waters at some point due to the strategic significance of the
place. After all, the islands were an ideal place to run to and
hide after committing acts of piracy off the Spanish mainland
or in Jamaican waters. We know that even the legendary Blackbeard
(Edward Teach) who mostly pirated off the Carolina coast came
down to these parts during the American winter. The most notable
of those visits was the documented taking of the vessel Protestant
Caesar off Barbareta in November 1718. In 1684, Captain Jeremy
Rendell had a difference of opinion with the ship's doctor, John
Graham, on which route to take on a voyage. Rendell was turfed-off
his vessel and put ashore at Port Royal by Graham "giving
them a turtle net, and canoes with arms to suit for themselves,
the said island not being inhabited."
There are few publications giving particular detail about the
pirates of Roatan and geographical detail is not exact, owing
to the fact that Roatan was not formally mapped until 1775. It
was then that His Majesty's geographer, Thomas Jefferys, did an
initial survey at the zenith of British interest in the islands.
Interestingly, on Jefferys' map, Coxen Hole is called Calkett's
Hole and Oak Ridge as Falmouth Harbour. Port Royal, being the
centre of the British community at the time, is given prominence.
In 1775, the golden age of piracy was just a distant memory and
so all maritime records prior to this time are vague. Roatan,
and the Bay Islands in general, were referred to as "the
bay". Many accounts state that pirates sailed from Jamaica
"down to the bay" and then "off Rattan" or
"off Barnacho". Only Port Royal is mentioned by name
on Roatan, mainly because around that time (1638 to 1725) only
the Claiborne settlement, Fort Augusta, had been formally settled
and was a point of contact for mariners.
The National Maritime Museum in London has extensive records available
online for anyone who has the time and interest to conduct research.
The General History of the Pyrates is considered the authoritative
account by historians of the golden age of piracy. Written in
the mid 18 century by Daniel Defoe under the pseudonym, Capt.
Charles Johnson, the book makes frequent mention of the Bay Islands.
My favorite, however, is Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly
who was once curator of the National Maritime Museum in London.
Recently written, he details the life of the pirates and also
frequently mentions the Bay Islands.
Close To Call
Margins of Victory in Presidential & Deputy BI Elections
Bay Islands election results are still too close to call. On February
20, Honduras' two major political parties held internal elections
to decide who will represent National and Liberal parties in the
general election in November. In the Bay Islands department, the
trends were clear. Esperanza Liberal easily won their nominations
for all but one position. Among the National Party candidates, the
race was tight between two main tickets: Nuevo Tiempo and Trabajo
Voting began at 6am in 17 voting stations in schools throughout
the department. The 106 ballot boxes were in the care of Honduran
Navy personnel. The Puerto Cortez regiment secured the voting on
Utila and another 49 from Puerto Castilla were present on Guanaja,
JSG and Roatan.
Free buses with campaign stickers drove from town to town bringing
in voters to the voting stations. Several movements set up campaign
headquarters in Coxen Hole and kept track of vote turnout through
local representatives. Esperanza Liberal set camp in the Roatan
municipal building and the Trabajo y Seguridad team crowded into
their small Cooper building office. Nuevo Tiempo operated out of
the town's Chamber of Tourism offices. Status reports were coming
in by television, radio and telephone. Movement volunteers recorded
numbers pouring into the offices.
Early reports indicated that the race for National Party Deputy
was close between Nuevo Tiempo candidate Shawn Hyde and current
Deputy Evans McNab, running on the Trabajo y Seguridad ticket. After
almost all ballot boxes were recounted that night, unofficial numbers
indicated that Hyde won by 79 votes, only by only 2% of the vote.
Days after Election Day, candidate for the National Party Deputy
is still unclear.
National Party presidential race was also close. Preliminary reports
suggest that Nuevo Tiempo Presidential candidate Miguel Pastor won
the Bay Islands department over Pepe Lobo, leader of the Trabajo
y Seguridad movement by only 22 votes. In Guanaja and Utila, presidential
voting was almost even. Roatan Municipality voted by over 300 votes
for Pepe Lobo.
However, it was Jose Santos Guardiola that made the biggest impact.
Pastor's votes tripled those of Lobo in JSG, earning him the slim
margin of victory in the entire department.
La Prensa initially reported that Lobo had won the Bay Islands and
Pastor had taken only four departments nationally. Bay Islands Voice
unofficial reports show a Pastor victory in the Bay Islands by 22
votes or a 0.6% margin. Overall, Lobo won a national majority to win
the National Party presidential candidacy. "I think it will be
difficult for Pastor supporters to get behind Pepe Lobo because there
was so much animosity between the two of them during the campaign,
but now is a time to unite," said Nuevo Tiempo supporter Kirby
Warren Jr., who voted in West End. Julio Galindo won his candidacy
by a comfortable 65% of voter support.
For the Liberal Party, voting followed one clear pattern: Esperanza
Liberal dominated the polls. Political newcomer Dale Jackson won the
Liberal Party nomination for Roatan mayor, while his running mate,
current Roatan Mayor Jerry Hynds won his party's nomination for Deputy.
Utila Mayor Alton Cooper easily won his nomination for re-election.
In Guanaja, Rafael Zapata won his nomination with a staggering 89.9%
of the Liberal alcalde vote. The one exception to the Esperanza Liberal
landslide was the win of the current JSG Mayor Kirby Ducker who won
his candidacy with the Jaimista movement. Nationally, Mel Zelaya easily
won the presidential candidacy over leading opponent, Jaime Rosenthal.
There were estimated 4,771 ballots counted for the National Party
in the Bay Islands; 773 of those were classified as either blank or
invalid. An estimated 513 people, or 13% of the voting public, voted
for their local alcalde, but did not vote for a National Party Deputy
candidate. In Guanaja, 594 Liberal votes were cast; Liberal voting
statistics for other municipalities were unavailable at the time of
going to print.
Cooper, 35, is not a typical Bay Islands Mayor. Not just because
he wears cowboy boots and drives an off-road motorcycle to work.
He is articulate, charismatic and accessible. He has overseen some
of the more rapid developments Utila has ever seen. The island that
had once lagged behind in the department, has surpassed Guanaja
and JSG and is catching-up to Roatan. Not in scale perhaps, but
certainly in the quality of life.
Mayor Cooper was raised and educated in Utila. He became a ship's
mate working abroad and came back in 1993 to become the first Utilian
to be certified as a SCUBA diving instructor. He founded his own
dive shop a year later and worked in real estate for a few years,
before, in 2001, he was elected Mayor. A father of three, Mayor
Cooper has been married to his wife Lisa for 16 years. He has easily
won the nomination from the National Party to run again in the 2004
Islands Voice: How has Utila's budget evolved over the last
Mayor Alton Cooper: I've been working around the Lps. 5 or
5.3 million every year since I've been in office. (
the early 90s, our budget has been around Lps. 5 million; in the
last administration it had fallen to around Lps. 3 million. But,
there was a situation before where the prior municipalities had
a huge advantage as far as the dominos planos. (...)
B.I.V: It looks like you compensated from the lack of revenue
from the dominos planos in other ways?
A.C.: Yes, well we've definitely tried to get the people
in the habit of paying their taxes, collecting water bills. If someone
goes a long while without paying their water, of course we cut their
line and there's a fine. And I think a lot of people too are confident
that I am using their tax money appropriately and so there's been
willingness for the people of Utila to come ahead and pay their
B.I.V: Is it good to be Mayor?
A.C.: Yes, it's good in the sense that the decisions you
make can really make a difference. There is a huge responsibility
for one thing. You sacrifice your family a bit. This is a full-time
job. Your business suffers a bit. (
) I have been Mayor for
about three years. The first year and a half or so is not necessarily
lost, but you're learning the laws and the way things work. You're
trying to make the necessary contacts with the different national
B.I.V: At one point, you were a bit hesitant to run again?
A.C.: There was a lack of support from the family. It's difficult
for the wife and for Mom and Dad. They asked that I not get involved
in this anymore and I turned away. But, a lot of the people around
me just came forward and said "We're depending on you".
And I am going to go ahead and do it again. Whatever I do, I put
my heart and soul into it. (
) I think most people appreciate
what I've done. I've made some mistakes; there's no two ways about
it. But, I've also learned from those mistakes. I think what I will
be able to accomplish over the next four years will definitely be
Why does Utila has the lowest voter registration of the entire
A.C.: Within those 1,600 registered voters, there are many
people who aren't on the island. On any given day on Utila, you
could find about 8,000 people. It's a floating population, a transient
population. There's only about 2,500 permanent inhabitants between
Utila and Eastern Harbour. But again, there's a lot of people from
the mainland over here working and there's a lot of tourism.
B.I.V: In the 2001 election, only 800 people voted. Have
there been any attempts raise voter registration?
A.C.: We went ahead and did a campaign a few months ago and
we managed to do 50 vote transfers. Only about 26 or so came through.
) It's not easy.
What would you consider as your major accomplishment while in
A.C.: There have been several. One would be a water cistern:
75,000 gallon water cistern. The fact that I am running water lines
to Utila cays and the acquisition of a desalination plant. This plant
is worth $2 million. With that, our problems should be solved as far
as water. It comes with a 500 kilowatt generator. I've accomplished
to get the properties necessary to build a visitor's centre. We are
also building a health center. (
) I've managed to get computers
in our schools. (
)I think the water and the desalination plants
would be my greatest accomplishments.
B.I.V: What is your biggest failure as a Mayor? What weren't
you able to accomplish?
A.C.: I think the one thing that I didn't accomplish was getting
the bars out of town. As far as loud music and discos and everything.
I tried to implement an ordinance and tried to give the bars a certain
amount of time to get out of town and establish their business somewhere
else. That was definitely unsuccessful. I think in order for this
to happen the municipality is going to have to acquire the land to
donate to these people. The fact is that properties are just too expensive.
) It's difficult for neighbors to have to put up with this
all the time.
B.I.V: What are the major concerns right now for the population
on the Utila cays?
A.C.: The major concerns for these people are health and education,
education being priority. As far as health, they would like a nurse
or someone down there, someone to give them immediate treatment. I
think they're happy, but the kids down there can only do to school
until sixth grade and then they have to come up here to attend school
B.I.V: What can you offer this population?
A.C.: The only solution to the problems at the cays is a road.
Right now, we have power lines to the cays and this was something
that my administration was able to accomplish. We are in the process
of running water lines to the Utila cays. I will do everything possible
in the next four years to build a road to that area. I think where
the road would go is far enough back away from the beach and it would
cause minimum damage to the environment. (
) I would hope that
construction would start within a couple of years, about 2007.
B.I.V: Do you see Utila growing as a tourist destination for
backpacking tourists or maybe for a spectrum from backpacker up? What's
A.C.: I am hoping that this island will continue to be a backpacker
destination. For one, our inhabitants really benefit from this type
of tourist. A lot of other places don't really appreciate backpackers.
We do. We do appreciate them very much. These people, they come to
Utila. They need a place to sleep, eat; they go out to the bars. They
buy souvenirs just like anyone else. Really, you don't need to spend
your money on a lot of advertising to attract this type of tourist.
It's just word of mouth. You don't really need a huge investment in
terms of hotels or whatever to be able to accommodate these backpackers.
However, I do think that different parts of the island will open up,
such as the north side. The areas will be able to cater to upper-class
or middle-class tourists. That's my vision.
story / editorial
/ local news
Money Train by Thomas Tomczyk
Small Businesses in Utila & Guanaja Receive
over $300,000 in Grants
Kordovsky received a $3,000 grant, scaled down from a $30,000 request,
to help remodel his art gallery and workshop. He bought about 900
feet of mahogany lumber, paint and tools to improve the overall
look of the space.
Projects benefiting tourism industries were given priority. A point
system favored islander and Garifuna applicants and projects offering
work places to single mothers. The more ingenious projects on Utila
include a climbing wall and a motorcycle rickshaw taxi service.
Munchies Restaurant, one of the oldest buildings on the island,
is getting a make-over and a brand new kitchen.
On Guanaja, Terry Zapata received a Lps. 540,000 grant with which
he is finishing construction of the Hotel Lighthouse Inn. Zapata
began building the structure to replace his rental apartments which
were destroyed by Hurricane Mitch. "I had a building started,
but I didn't have the financing to finish it," said Zapata,
"That is when I heard about the grants. It was a good chance
to supply the materials I need." The Lighthouse Inn will be
located on Pond Cay, a private cay on the south side of the island
owned by Zapata and his brother. The 6-bedroom hotel is near completion;
Zapata hopes to have it operational by Semana Santa. "We should
finish the roof soon and we need to level the floor and put in the
windows, but it is coming along," said Zapata who, five years
ago, opened the Best Shop restaurant on Bonacca. Each bedroom will
have a king-size bed, TV, phone and private bath; Zapata also plans
to offer Internet services to guests.
Zapata applied after encouragement from two friends who attended
the CHF information session on Guanaja. There were some initial
questions about his application, but after visits from CHF officials,
Hotel Lighthouse Inn was approved. According to Zapata, each project
is watched closely by the CHF administration in La Ceiba. "We
get weekly visits from inspectors who check on the project and see
that there is progress. They take notes and pictures, so their office
is aware of the status."
Bay Islands projects received 31.3% of the IDB national grant. The
other recipients were: Omoa: Lps. 1,24,578 (6 grants); Tela: Lps.
3,195,762 (13 grants); La Ceiba: Lps. 3,952,430 (14 grants); and
Trujillo: Lps. 4,319,359 (16 grants). According to Ramirez, Guanaja
will receive another set of grants in the next couple of months.
How successful can a "free money" project be? The devil
lies in the detail, and the next months will show how different
recipients spend the cash.
Antonio Alvarez's Moto & Bike Taxi Service in Utila.
and Guanaja residents seem to be teeming with energy. The sound
of electric saws and hammers lasts well into the evening. Over
the last six months the two Bay Islands municipalities received
a healthy injection of cash ($310,000) through a CHF grant, part
of a small business development project of International Development
According to Yanu Ramirez, Ministry of Tourism Coordinator of
the Technical Development Unit, in 1998 World Bank gave close
to $1 million for small business grants. So far $990,000 has been
distributed. The money was funneled through the Ministry of Tourism
and managed by independent NGOs: in the case of the Bay Islands
- CHF. The grants were to help small business owners grow to accommodate
tourism development in Honduras' North Coast; the maximum grant
size was $30,000.
Even though Utila and Guanaja were among the recipients, Roatan's
two municipalities were not included. According to Tatiana Perez,
Director of International Cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism,
in 2002 Roatan was not included in the overall Proyecto Tourimo
Costero Sostenible and its subproject Micro Business Loan because
the Central Government felt that PMAIB was providing sufficient
assistance to the island already.
Applications and proposals were accepted without fees and all
local residents were eligible. According to Ing. Michelle Fernandez,
Coordinator for Utila Municipal's Tourist Unit, a workshop to
generate ideas was held and all the recipients were obliged to
attend several workshops in business management. "We went
to them [local business owners] individually, asking them that
they should apply," said Fernandez. "The first time
people were very skeptic about the possibility of receiving the
money." Once a first group of three projects was awarded
the grant money, the applications started pouring in: 77 in total.
On Utila, the first three grants were awarded in June 2003, the
next 12 were given in November. Ralph Zelaya 49, has applied both
times and in the second round received the second largest grant
in the Municipality. $26,000. Zelaya is building a 20 room bed
and breakfast above his house in Sandy Bay. With two beds to a
room, Zelaya's three story structure could turn into the island's
biggest sleeping accommodation. "My boys and I worked for
no wages. Not a penny. Every penny of CHF money went to pay for
the materials," said Zelaya.
The most ambitious of the CHF projects funded on Utila is the
construction of the Utila Culture Museum. Julia Centero-Keller,
33, is the recipient of this $30,000 grant. On a piece of their
own 40 by 50 foot centrally located property, with her husband
Neil Keller, the couple envisioned a museum to house artifacts
from Utila's past. The two story, 3,500 square foot museum is
being built on the main street, just 100 meters uphill from the