story / editorial
in the Bay Islands
by Colin Woodard
research reveals the notorious pirate's sojourn
was the most notorious pirate of piracy's Golden Age, a cunning
strategist who terrified his quarry into surrendering without
a fight, a fearless outlaw who, for a time, had the Royal
Navy on the run.
Blackbeard - his real name was Edward Thatch or Teach - was
the most successful pirate to emerge out of the Bahamas in
the early 18th century, when Nassau was a fortified pirate
base. By the fall of 1717, he had built himself a pirate flotilla
capable of threatening not just shipping, but the colonies
themselves. From his flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge, he oversaw
the burning of Guadeloupe, and terrorized the Virgin Islands
and Puerto Rico.
And then, at the peak of his career, he vanished.
For three centuries, historians have wondered where Blackbeard
was during the winter of 1717-18. Now new research reveals
it was Roatan.
During the summer and fall of 1717, Blackbeard's pirate gang
- some 400 to 600 men, half of them of African descent - left
a wide documentary trail in their fleet's wake. While researching
The Republic of Pirates, a comprehensive account of the real
pirates of the Caribbean, I was able to track his movements
week-to-week and, often, day-by-day, from the testimony of
former captives and the dispatches of the Royal Navy frigates
charged with tracking his movements.
He had cultivated a terrifying reputation, going into battle
with burning fuses tied into his signature beard, so that
he appeared enveloped in hell fire. His men - including the
eccentric "gentleman pirate" Stede Bonnet, the scion
of a wealthy Barbados plantation family - had caused the HMS
Seaford, the warship charged with defending the British Leeward
Islands. No surprise: at 250-tons and 22-guns, the Queen Anne's
Revenge was as powerful as any frigate posted in the Americas,
but with twice the manpower.
Like other members of the Bahamanian pirate gang, Blackbeard
was motivated by more than simple banditry. Most of these
pirates were former sailors who saw themselves as engaged
in a social revolt against the ship owners and captains who'd
made their lives miserable. Blackbeard's colleague, Samuel
Bellamy, oversaw a crew who referred to themselves as Robin
Hood's Men. In an authoritarian age, the pirates elected their
captains, and could depose them at any time by a popular vote.
They shared their plunder equally and even provided primitive
disability benefits. On Blackbeard's vessels, Africans and
Native Americans could serve as equal members of the crew.
Surprisingly, popular opinion was often on the pirates' side.
Colonial authorities regularly complained to their superiors
that ordinary people regarded the pirates not as villains,
but as heroes. The people of Virginia, Governor Alexander
Spottswood fumed, have "an unaccountable inclination
to favor pirates." Books were written about them while
many were still active, and became bestsellers on both sides
of the Atlantic.
But in late December 1717, en route from Puerto Rico to Cuba,
Blackbeard suddenly disappeared from the historical record,
only to emerge, three months later, at Turneffe Atoll in modern
Belize. The timing was intriguing, as Blackbeard had vanished
just days after learning that King George I was offering to
pardon pirates who turned themselves in. Historians have speculated
that he may have been laying low as he considered his options,
perhaps concerned about the two Royal Navy frigates that had
been pursuing him across the Caribbean.
But documents recently unearthed in the British National Archives
show that's not the case at all. Blackbeard wasn't hiding
from British power, he was trying to attack it dead-on. And
he was using the Bay Islands as his winter lair.
discovered captive's accounts indicate that Blackbeard spent
the first weeks of 1718 in the Gulf of Mexico, prowling the
approaches to the Mexican port of Vera Cruz in the hopes of
capturing the Royal Prince, the flagship of the British South
Seas Company, and her escort, the HMS Diamond, a xx-gun warship.
It was one of the most audacious plans of his career.
of "Captain Letters" Volume 1597, contains letters
of Royal Navy captains who served during the period Blackbeard
was active. (Photo: Colin Woodard)
Royal Prince was what we would now call "a terrorist
target of symbolic importance," the first and only British
ship allowed to trade with Spain's American colonies under
a peace treaty signed by the two nations a few years before.
King George and his court attended her launching ceremony,
after which they were feted on board. Her lucrative trade
mission was so important to British prestige that the King
himself chose to serve as the head of the South Seas Company
and the Diamond was ordered to escort her across the Atlantic.
Capturing either vessel would have shaken public confidence
in the navy's ability to protect the empire's vital interests.
But, as the letters of the Diamond's captain make clear, the
ships were delayed in Vera Cruz by disease and other complications.
Blackbeard, thinking he had missed her, gave up prowling prematurely
and sailed to the Bay Islands for rest, repairs, and recuperation.
The Bay Islands had been a favored pirate hideout for decades,
being far from the prying eyes of officialdom, but close to
the Belizean coast, where vessels trading in dye-bearing logwood
made easy and lucrative targets. Coxen's Hole is named after
the buccaneer John Coxon, who is believed to have been based
here in the late 17th century, and Henry Morgan's men stopped
at Roatan for water during their Panamanian campaigns. Charles
Vane, one of Blackbeard's counterparts, set up camp on Guanaja
for five weeks in early 1719 after his crew voted him out
of office in favor of Calico Jack Rackham.
Blackbeard's arrival at Roatan in early February 1718 was
witnessed by William Wade, the captain of the sloop William
& Mary, which was anchored in what was probably Coxen's
Hole, loaded with valuable logwood. There "came in a
ship pf about 40 guns and a sloop of 10 commanded by
Thatch having in all about 250 men (70 or thereabouts being
Negroes)," Wade later reported. In addition to the Queen
Anne's Revenge and Stede Bonnet's sloop Revenge, the pirates
had two other vessels they had captured. They forced Wade
to dump his valuable cargo overboard, then beached his sloop
to act as a makeshift dock to allow them to clean their vessels.
The Revenge and Queen Anne's Revenge - two of the most famous
pirate ships in history - underwent refits on the shores of
of Blackbeard with sword.
pirates stayed at Roatan for several weeks, seizing whatever
vessels stumbled into the anchorage. They told Wade "sundry
times" that they "doubted not but to take and have
Majesty's Ship the Adventure," a 36-gun frigate that was
at the time the largest British warship in the Americas. When
they finally departed in mid-March, they burned the captured
vessels they had arrived with, but gave the William & Mary
back to Wade, who salvaged much of his cargo and limped back
to Jamaica to tell his tale.
The pirates were sailing for the logwood coast of what is now
Belize and Guatemala, but off the shores of Utilla a most peculiar
thing happened. A small sloop tried to attack them. The Dolphin,
a passenger vessel, had sailed from Vera Cruz the month before,
but her crew had mutinied and turned pirate. Unfortunately they
took Blackbeard and Bonnet to be helpless merchantmen. When
they finally closed with one of the sloops that evening and
hailed her crew, asking whence they came "their reply was:
from the sea," recalled a passenger, Martin Preston. Then
Blackbeard's men fired muskets at the upstart pirates and forced
them to surrender.
Learning that the Dolphin had been in Vera Cruz, Blackbeard
interrogated the crew for information about the Royal Prince
and HMS Diamond. He learned that the Diamond's crew had been
weakened by tropical diseases. Preston reported the pirates
"often threatened" to take the frigate.
Preston reported the pirate then sailed for Belize, where he
reentered the historical record. After a spectacular raid of
the logwood fleet there, he would sail to North Carolina, ditch
Bonnet, his flagship, and a large portion of his crew, and ultimately
accept the King's pardon from that colony's corrupt governor,
Charles Eden. He lived in Bath, NC for several months, marrying
a local girl and overseeing an underground piracy operation
with the collusion of colonial authorities.
Blackbeard met his end in November 1718, when the governor of
Virginia orchestrated an illegal invasion of North Carolina
to capture the mafia don. He was killed in an epic hand-to-hand
battle with Royal Navy sailors, and his head was carried to
Virginia to be displayed on a pole. His presumably extensive
treasure horde was never recovered.
story / editorial
/ local news
Document then Release
Islands Second Ever Catch-and-Release Fishing Tournament took place
on July 4 and 5
catching was documented by island volunteers and photographs taken
of the fish was to verify the type of fish caught. In the end it
was honor system that assured the accuracy of catching the fish.
A registration fee of $300 was taken from the five boats that registered
at the event.
On July 4th, the weather, strong winds and high waves, prevented
three boats from going out. On July 5th the wind subsided and all
five vessels went out into waters surrounding the island.
When it was all over, the first place and a prize of $1,500 went
to Emilio Ulloa, a La Ceiba captain, who caught the tournament's
only fish. Ulloa's Blue Marlin was caught in the morning on July
5, 1-2 miles north-east of Pumpkin Hill. After an hour-and-twenty
minute fight the fish was brought in on board to remove an embedded
hook. The fish measured 92" from the tip of the beak to the
base of the tail. "This is my first marlin ever," said
While Honduras has several deep sea fishing tournaments taking place
through the year, none of them are catch-release and Marlin and
Sailfish killed in these competitions are usually just discarded.
In May, Omoa and Tela alternate a tournament each year. Roatan hosts
a tournament in September and La Ceiba in October.
International deep fishing tournaments that start each year in Costa
Rica, then go to Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, have been bypassing
Honduras and the Bay Islands since there are no catch and release
"The fishing is right there, just a hop, skip and a jump from
the island," says Patrick Flynn, organizer of the event who
is planning on organizing next year's tournament in late September,
early October. "When the weather is better and the event doesn't
interfere with the West End Fishing Tournament".
Blue Marlin on the deck of the USS Ulloa. (Photo: Andres Viara)
found itself leading the way in the bay Islands archipelago yet
again, this time in organizing and conducting a environmentally
correct fishing tournament.
"We're winging it, but its all about having fun," says
Patrick Flynn, a Utila businessman who organized the Utila tournament.
"Utila has something else that can be offered other that
just diving- sports fishing."
While Jim Engels, now deceased owner of Utila Lodge, had organized
a catch-and-release tournament back in the 1990's, the practice
didn't stay on. Over a decade later Utila Lodge was hosting the
tournament again and on the July 3rd captains meeting there was
an excitement and anticipation of history-in-the-making in the
air. The participants were excited about trying something different.
"It's selfish to just kill the fish like that. On the last
tournament we had to kill a [juvenile] 80 pound marlin,"
said Carlos Martinez, a businessman from La Ceiba who has been
fishing for 20 years. "This [catch-and-release tournament]
Cargo Boats Missing at Sea
Trader, a 85' long- 115 tone cargo boat, disappeared while
bringing building supplies from Puerto Cortez to Roatan. The
boat departed Puerto Cortez at 7am, July 24, on what is typically
under 24 hour passage. At 2pm, Silver Trader's captain Reyniero
Zavala, made a last contact with via cell phone with his sister
on Roatan and told her about worsening weather conditions.
On July 25, after Silver Trader failed to arrive at her Los
Fuertes dock and failed to answer radio and cell contact,
a plane and several boats were dispatched to look for the
missing vessel. "We are making all kinds of efforts to
find out what happened. We will get to the bottom of this,"
said Erwin Dixon, owner of the disappeared vessel.
Built in 1992, Silver Trader was converted this year from
a Lobster boat and was on her ninth trip from Puerto Cortez.
Four crew and possibly passengers were on board the disappeared
vessel which is presumed sunk.
Cases of boats disappearing without a trace have happened
around the Bay Islands before. In December 1971, French Harbour
based boat 'Nighthawk' with Captain Darwin Jackson and 11
crew and passengers disappeared between Roatan and Belize.
Despite expensive searches no trace of the boat, cargo or
passengers were ever found.
Government Builds a Water Desalination Plant
new potable water system will not come cheap. A continual expense
of paying staff of four to be responsible for maintenance of
machines, changing purifying filters and supplying electricity
to lift the salty water 56 meters to the surface, could make
one liter of Utila's water cost, bitter not sweet.
Also the long term environmental impact of continually and increasingly
dumping salinated water and impurities close to the Utila reef
have to be studied more. In the long term, risks to Utila's
marine environment and the potential impact on the tourist industry
could far outweigh the benefits.
A less high-tech and less expensive option of reducing Utila's
water demand could be building rain water collection systems,
water cisterns and artificial retention ponds. This is a more
viable, certainly more cost effective, less energy consumption,
and less knowledge dependent solution to stabilizing the deteriorating
Utila's mayor is optimistic about the outlook. "Even though
this is a project that needs a great initial investment, it
is a sustainable solution for Utila," said Mayor Alton
Cooper. The 15 liters a second maximum output of the desalination
plant can provide adequate water to up to 10,000 people, a number
that Utila's population is expected to reach in 2032. According
to the SETA engineers, Utila's potable water problems could
be solved for the next 25 years.
Utila's plant is one of 18 water treatment facilities that the
Spanish government is funding in Honduras - total costs, Euros
20 million. It is the second, after Municipality of Amapala,
location to receive a desalinization plant. Coxen Hole on Roatan
is planed to be the next location to receive the water treatment
plant with work beginning this fall and Trujillo and Tela stand
in line to fallow.
Embassy Officials, land donors, president Mel Zelaya, and Mayor
public wells that have been supplying potable water to Utila's
East Harbour have become more and more salinated to the point
where they fail international standards for salt content in
potable water. According to Mayor Alton Cooper salt water intrusion
has deteriorated the water in the municipal wells to the point
where it is unfit for drinking or washing.
In 2003 UPCO bought desalination equipment, but failed to deliver
on a promise of a desalinated water plant. Utila turned to the
Spanish government and its offer to construct a desalination
plant with its SETA engineering group. The plant cost around
Lps. 60 million and was constructed on Western Path land donated
by Lester James.
The Utila desalination plant is far from simple. Two 56 meter
deep wells pump salt water to the plant, run it through filter
membranes then submit the water to a reverse osmosis treatment.
The pure drinking water is placed in a cistern while the unusable,
contaminated water is pumped out to sea.
Energy Company Hikes Prices to Record Levels. Utilans Cry
a symbol of UPCO's wasteful and unrealistic spending and lack
of planning a galvanized water storage tank is now used to store
brooms and building materials. Desalination equipment, worth
tens of thousand of dollars, stands unused, rusting away. The
UPCO's idea of bringing in wind power has blown away and wind
turbines never arrived.
While a few Expats invested in solar energy, escalating energy
prices have failed to attract entrepreneurs offering to lower
energy consumption and generate options for individual energy
consumers. No government program supports the import, purchase
or installation of solar panels, solar water heaters, etc. Several
Utila residents have invested in alternate power despite these
Jan Masella, an American Expat living by the old airport, has
invested $10,000 in setting up her own solar system to become
less dependent on UPCO. Masella has nine 180 amp solar panels
and a dozen deep cycle batteries, a system set up by Chris Howard,
owner of Utila's cinema.
In 2005 UPCO was bought out and the new owners have been struggling
to keep the company going and on track. The original two .750
Megawatt generators purchased by UPCC have now all disintegrated.
A 1.5 Megawatt and in February 1.25 Megawatt machines were brought
in by Commercial Laize.
According to Turner, after 30 years of UPCO operation, in 2032,
the Utila Municipality will have an option to purchase UPCO
and take over its management. Whether UPCO will manage to make
it to 2032 is a matter of speculation. "If the UPCO management
can't provide electricity at better prices, let someone else
manage it- that is what people tell me," says Julia Keller,
member of the Citizen Help Committee, owner of Jade Seahorse
restaurant and liberal party internal candidate for mayor. Keller
believes that a UPCO collapse is unavoidable.
A ten member Citizen Help Committee organized by Keller asked
the Commicion Nacional de Energia, a controlling and regulating
body of energy producers in Honduras, to come to Utila for an
audit and inspection of the UPCO books and accounts. On July
2 thru 4, the five members of the commission toured UPCO facilities
and looked at the company's accounts.
In general energy generation situation in Honduras is complicated
and getting worse. In a country with ample and fast running
rivers has the best potential for hydro power in Central America.
According to Turner, who constructed and operates a hydro power
plant in La Esperanza, Intibuca, there are 70 renewable energy
plants permits waiting for approval at the ministry of the environment.
Only six are operating, four of them bio-mass, and not a single
renewable plant license has been granted in six years. While
ENEE pays 6.7 US cents per kilowatt to his Hydro Electric plant,
a fossil fuel plant in San Pedro Sula will get 33 US cents.
"It takes three months to set up a bunker fuel plant and
three-and-a-half years to set up a hydro electric plant,"
desalinization machinery at UPCO power plant.
case of displaced anger has hit the 2,870 permanent Utila
inhabitants. Customers of Utila Power Company (UPCO), the
islands sole energy generator, are unable to figure out whom
to blame for their skyrocketing energy prices. Utilans in
July paid 9.55 Lps. per Kilowatt-hour. While in 2002 UPCO's
energy price to customers was 19 US cents per Kilowatt-hour,
July's price approaches 50.3 US cents, and at the moment Utila
has the highest energy prices of any island in the Caribbean.
Even Guanaja's BELCO, for several years the most expensive
energy producer in the Bay Islands, was left in the dust.
Amongst all the finger pointing few people realize that high
energy prices are a consequence of high world fuel prices
and basic mistakes made while UPCO was setting up its operations
on the island in 2001. Utilans and UPCO investors have no-one-but-themselves
to blame for failure to scrutinize the decisions about the
UPCO's financing structure, UPCO power plant's location, fuel
supply inefficiencies, unrealistic plans for wind generation
and desalination, pre-paid meters and inefficient energy grid.
In its 2001 business plan UPCO estimated its capital project
at $4.1 with 75% of that sum coming from Honduran banks. According
to Jack Yeh, a Yale University graduate student conducting
research on Utila's energy habits, one gallon of fuel is used
for every 12 kilowatts of electricity produced. According
to Ron Turner, UPCO's GM, the company looses around 20% on
their distribution lines. Another disadvantage Utilans face
is that UPCO never managed to secure a government subsidy
for consumers using less than 300kw a month. Roatan's RECO
and Guanaja's BELCO both pass this government subsidy to its
While Robert Blenker, the original UPCO GM, who with Tennesse
Valley Authority presented UPCO as a company looking in to
the future yet failed to resolve some basic, but critical
to the company's operation fundamentals.
The prepaid meter and an additional 1.5% commission at the
bank were never fully accepted by the consumers. "The
problem with pre-paid meters [in quickly escalating fuel prices]
is that if you pre-paid at the beginning of the month and
price increases in the middle of the month, the customer looses
money," said Richard Warren, President of RECO.
1,500 gallons of diesel a day are needed to keep the plant
operating and every month UPCO customers spend around $200,000
paying for their electricity. One of the beneficiaries of
the pre-paid system is the HSBC bank that picks up a 1.5%
fee. HSBC who also holds around $1.3 million UPCO debt, is
not ready to give up its monthly commission estimated at around
This inefficient shipping method made energy on Utila even
more expensive than on the more remote Guanaja. UPCO fuel
is brought in from Cortez on a truck, then shipped via boat
to Utila, then trucked to UPCO's generating facility's small
fuel storage tank some four kilometers away.
story / editorial
expects to not subsidize fuel to customers within several months,
become profitable in five years
investment in new machines and overhauling of old generators wasn't
cheap. According to Richard Warren, Kelcy Warren- RECO's CO and
owner, and Richard Warren's cousin, has spent $11-12 million in
purchasing and maintaining RECO until now and another $5 million
will be spent by September. "He's [Kelcy Warren] got the resources
and he's willing to spend them," said Richard Warren.
RECO is in the process of looking at finding alternatives and long
range plans for power generation on the island. The estimates obtained
by RECO for an underwater cable from the mainland range between
$35 and $85 million. "That still doesn't solve our dilemma
where to get energy from the mainland," said RECO GM.
A year-long study has begun on and offshore on the east part of
the island to determine feasibility of installing wind turbines.
Still, with wind power not being constant, RECO's GM estimates that
only 30% of installed power can be counted on all the time.
RECO has currently four co-generating partners: Coral Cay (200 Kw),
Anthony's Kay (300 Kw), Osgood Cay (50 Kw) and Henry Morgan (300
Kw), all producing as much as 850 Kilowatts. While RECO's current
peak demand is currently around 10.5 Megawatt, the company believes
it could rise overnight to 15-16 Megawatts if all requests for power
were fulfilled. Energy generation is critical for RECO and Richard
Warren promised to buy back excess power from all, even small local
generators. "We are in no position to refuse any source of
energy," said RECO's GM.
RECO's general assembly and new board election is planned for August
of the "problem parcels" on the north shore of SGM
is not the old RECO, UPCO is not the old UPCO, BELCO is pretty
much the same. Some things change and others remain the same,
and nothing changes more quickly than the world crude prices.
According to Roatan Electric Company (RECO) officials, if HonduPetrol
fuel prices will remain unchanged and the RECO fuel surcharge
will increase from the current Lps. 0.88 to Lps. 3.84 a Kilowatt-hour
by September. Still entire RECO's customer costs (currently 4.22
Lps.) will still be lower than current energy costs on Guanaja
(Lps. 8.39 a Kilowatt-hour) and Utila (Lps. 9.55 a Kilowatt-Hour).
Richard Warren, RECO's president predicts RECO will not be making
a profit for another four, five years. "We are looking at
20 years into the future and we want to say then that it was a
good investment," says RECO president.
to RECO projections peak energy demand on the island is expected
to double in 11 months starting in November. The present demand
of 10.5 Megawatt will grow to 19.5 Megawatt as six new shopping
centers and resorts will come on line. To prepare for this increase
demand a brand new Wartsilla 4.5 generator was brought to the
island on July 12 and is expected to be placed online by end of
October. With RECO's own 7.3 Megawatt unit available and another
6 Megawatt rental units from Grupo Laeisz.