If one strolls through West End along Half Moon Bay, especially on a Sunday afternoon, there is something new and exciting in the water just in front of the Sundowners Beach Bar, so exciting that already some have been spotted running down the beach to have a closer look. Believe it or not, a Summer Olympic event has come to Roatan thanks to the combined efforts of a few people with a similar dream, and that event is “One Man Dinghy Sailing” in a small yet agile sailing boat called a Laser.
Back in the day of the Loafers Bar at the far west side of West End, The Etches family dreamed of starting a sailing club but the location of the bar proved to be too much of a late night club rather than an afternoon hangout so the idea never came to fruition. When Loafers was sold and the now famous Sundowner’s Beach Bar was created, the plan was different-start early and close early in an attempt to grab those looking to spend the day at the beach, have a drink and some food, maybe a bonfire and then close at a reasonable hour, allowing the late night clubs to pick up the continuing party crowd, keeping all those involved in the project to a more normal life and schedule. With this being the foundation for a successful island business, the idea of a sailing club once again was possible. A chance meeting with William and Lowie Crisp, who were interested to buy some beach front property with the same idea to start a sailing club, sealed the deal and a partnership was formed and thus the plan for The Bay Islands Yacht Club was launched.
After some research, it was decided that the Laser was the sailing boat of choice, partly because of availability and affordability, but mainly because Laser sailing is an Olympic event with several already established clubs throughout Central America. The choice provided future possibilities which could include competitions with other countries, as well as the opportunity for a sailor from Roatan to train for the Olympics!
Advertisements were posted on Laser forums, looking for some boats, and a response came up on Sanibel Island off the west coast of Florida. It seems that an old sailing club was being dissolved as the owners had decided to retire, buy a large sailing boat and spend the rest of their days sailing around the world.
Aaron Etches called a friend in Fort Meyers to take a preliminary look and the report was that, if the boats cost $5000.00 new, they were now worth $50.00! However, with a little work, they were still seaworthy. Working on a limited budget, Aaron and his father decided it was still worth the trip to have a look for themselves. There were 12 boats available scattered all over the property, dating from between 1972 and 1983 with two trolleys and some assorted spare parts and sails. The owners were asking $1000.00 per boat, way out of the planned budget. After consulting with William, it was decided to at least try with a low ball offer of $4000.00 for 10 boats and the two trolleys. To Aaron’s surprise, they agreed to $4500.00. The deal was done and arrangements were made to get them to the island.
Upon arrival to Roatan, Aaron enlisted Denny Cooper to get the boats back in shape and in the water. In the end, with shipping, repairs and initial investment, the boats ended up costing about $ 800 each. In order to cover initial investments and pay for ongoing repairs and new parts, it was decided to offer very affordable yearly memberships for singles, families and businesses, as well as daily rates for visitors and vacationers. There is currently one sailing instructor, Joanna “Jo” Carlow, who can teach up to three students at a time. Aaron is now looking for a second instructor, as demand is now higher than available time. All money charged for the lessons goes to the instructor.
Half Moon Bay can be a tricky place to sail. The winds shift often and gusts are not uncommon. Every Sunday, Sundowners hosts a family BBQ along with sailing races. Aaron sets the temporary buoys and draws a race diagram on a large chalkboard on the beach to study. The turnout has been fantastic though sometimes puzzling. A few weeks ago, a gentlemen, who appeared to be on holiday, inquired if he could participate in the races. Of course, replied Aaron, informing him the fee was just $25.00 for the day. The money was paid and the new entry selected a boat and spent twenty minute re-rigging the boat. Should have known then, smiles Aaron. The start of the race was announced, which is currently Grand Prix style. The mysterious sailor took off, finished the race and was having a cocktail at the bar by the time Aaron, who was second place, hit the beach. After some digging, it was finally learned that all the Bay Islands Yacht Club members racing that day had been soundly beaten by one Mark Foster, former Commodore of the USA’s second oldest yacht club in Corpus Christi, Texas and two time world champion in J 80 (a larger sailboat) competition!
The next steps for the Bay Islands Yacht Club is to try to get international status, allowing members to sail at any other internationally recognized yacht club and to begin to upgrade the equipment with some newer boats. The Bay Islands Yacht Club wants to stress that this is not and will never be a business for profit. If Sundowners can sell more food and drink from the bar, they are happy. If William and Lowie have an opportunity to sail when they want, they are happy. But what it is really all about, is simply giving folks young and old to have an opportunity to learn and to sail in a fun family atmosphere on the island of Roatan. [/private]