Marking Time in Roatan

Wow, it has been almost 9 months since my last log entry. The main reason I haven’t made an entry in all that time is that we haven’t done anything really new and exciting. After Rob’s visit we went back to West End for a bit, then back to Coxen Hole, French Harbor, Calabash Bight to visit more with Ed and Julie on Free Radical, and then wound up in Port Royal. These are all harbors along the southern coast of Roatan. Our original plan was to cruise around the various harbors in Roatan for a couple of months and then head to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, where we would sit out hurricane season. The Rio Dulce is where most cruisers in the Northwest Caribbean sit out hurricane season. It is located up the Rio Dulce river in the mountains of Guatemala and is very well protected from hurricanes. There are lots of marinas but they get pretty crowded with all the cruising boats during hurricane season. Many cruisers leave their boats there and fly back to the States and others stay on their boats. We had heard that there was quite a bit of crime directed at the cruisers in the Rio, most of it petty, but a growing amount of violent crime. After seeing what a great hurricane hole Calabash Bight would be, and factoring in the negative things we’d heard about Rio Dulce, we decided to sit out hurricane season in Roatan.

Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras. It is long and narrow, running more or less from the West Southwest to the East Northeast. There is one main, paved road running along the island linking the towns of West End, Coxen Hole, French Harbor, Jonesville and Oakridge. Just east of Oakridge, the paved road ends and there are various dirt roads leading to other settlements on the island. Port Royal (usually shown as “New Port Royal” on maps) is a very large and nice harbor just east of Calabash Bight. There is no town or village in Port Royal, but there are maybe a dozen private vacation homes, owned by wealthy Americans and Europeans. There are also two resorts, Mango Creek, a fishing resort, and Royal Playa, a dive resort, in Port Royal. As there are no roads to any of these properties, all access is by boat from Oakridge. The climate is tropical and houses require pretty constant maintenance, else they deteriorate quickly. Since most of the property owners only visit for a few weeks out of the year, they hire caretakers to live on the property year-round and keep it maintained. Our friends Ralph and Tiffany had taken on a caretaker’s job in Port Royal, at the property known as Casa Gusto.

So, off we go to Port Royal, and there we stay throughout hurricane season. We had a list of projects we needed to do to the boat and Port Royal provided a very nice setting in which to do them. We replaced the propeller with a larger one, sized for the new engine we had installed back in Key Largo. We replaced all the screens in the hatches. We replaced all the hinges on the screens. We sanded and varnished all the exterior teak. We shined and waxed all the stainless. We scrubbed the hull numerous times. We stripped down and put a rebuild kit in the head. We did numerous other projects, large and small, all at a leisurely pace. The only drawback to doing projects in Port Royal is the ability to get supplies. To get from Port Royal to Oakridge, you have to go by boat outside the reef. In a good skiff or panga that can do 15 or 20 knots, it is only about a 15 minute trip. There is a hardware store in Oakridge that has a decent supply of stuff, but depending on what you need, you may have to go “down island,” which means going to French Harbor or Coxen Hole. You can leave your dinghy or skiff at a waterfront bar called BJ’s (more on BJ later) and from there you have to take a taxi or a bus. Taxis are expensive but fast, buses are cheap, but slow, take your pick. Of course if you can’t find what you need on the island, which is quite frequently the case, you have to get it shipped in from the States. If you are in a hurry, you can have it flown in via RAS (Roatan Air Service), which can be quite expensive, and you’ll have it about a week after it arrives at their Miami warehouse. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can get it via DIP Shipping, which costs roughly one dollar a pound and you usually get it two to three weeks after it arrives at their Miami warehouse. If you used RAS, you have to go to French Harbor to pick your stuff up. DIP Shipping will deliver it to your door, unless you live in Port Royal, in which case they can’t get to your door. They will deliver it to BJ’s, though, which is about as convenient as it gets in Roatan. Needless to say, we made many “down island” runs and we now know where to find just about anything that can be found in Roatan.

More about BJ’s. There is a waterfront bar in Oakridge called BJ’s Backyard, or just BJ’s for short. It is called BJ’s because it is owned by a woman called BJ, though I’ve no idea what the BJ stands for. It is sort of a Roatan institution. BJ is a native of the island, although she has at times lived other places, including the Florida Keys. Several books have been written about Roatan and BJ is mentioned in all of them. BJ herself seems to be a sort of Roatan institution. BJ is 59 years old and her significant other is an 80 year old man named Carmen who is from the Pascagoula, Mississippi area (Gautier I think, to be precise). Carmen has lived in Roatan I think since the 70’s, so he is an established local character as well. We have heard so many wild stories about BJ that we tended to discredit them, until just before we left Roatan, when another BJ story happened and now I pretty much believe all the other stories I’ve heard. One day we went into BJ’s and Carmen was there alone. We asked where BJ was and he said “Oh, she’s in the hospital under police guard.” It seems that an attractive younger woman from Trujillo, on the mainland, was in BJ’s one day having a beer. For whatever reason, she offered to buy a beer for Carmen. BJ seems to be quite territorial and definitely considers Carmen to be part of her territory, so she told the woman to leave her bar. The woman did not leave the bar, so BJ took a wire brush, like you use to scrub a BBQ grill, and hit her in the head with it (yes, with the bristle side, ouch). I assume that this put the woman in quite a foul temper, because instead of leaving the bar, she quite literally beat the crap out of BJ, and I don’t mean in a hair-pulling, biting, cat-fight kind of way, I mean in a bare-knuckle, knockdown, dra
g out, fistfight kind of way. Now I assume that this put BJ in an even fouler temper than she was before, so she got her trusty .38 pistol and shot the woman in the leg. Both BJ and the woman from Trujillo are taken to the hospital in Coxen Hole, but the woman walks out of the emergency room before even seeing a doctor and hasn’t been seen since. They kept BJ in the hospital for a couple of days. Since the woman didn’t press charges, they let her go home instead of to jail and when we saw her next she definitely looked like she had been in a fight. This story is just to give you a taste of the colorful atmosphere in Roatan.

A couple of months before the end of our stay in Roatan, Ralph and Tiffany decided to take a trip to the States. Actually, Tiff was already there, visiting her mother, when Ralph got a call from a former client in New York, where he had a marine services business. The client wanted Ralph to come back and install a Webasto heating system in his boat and was willing to pay enough that it was hard to refuse. The only problem was that he couldn’t leave Casa Gusto for two or three weeks with nobody to look after the place. That is how we got our first job in Roatan. Ralph hired us to look after Casa Gusto while he was gone and we moved ashore into the “casita,” the caretaker’s cottage next to the main house. It was a pretty easy job, Ralph had already taken care of most of the main problems, so all I really had to do was keep an eye on the battery bank (there is no electricity in Port Royal), keep an eye out for termites, and hunt for “wee-wee’s.” Wee-wee’s are cutter ants and they can strip a tree completely bare of leaves in just a couple of nights (they are only active at night, so that is when you hunt them).

About the time Ralph was planning his trip to New York, Terry and Patrice, the owners of Mango Creek Resort, were planning a trip to Colorado, where Patrice is from. They had made arrangements with a couple who are friends of theirs to look after Mango Creek while they were gone. Unfortunately, their friends decided to back out, due to the political turmoil happening in Honduras. Now they needed somebody to look after Mango Creek for a month while they were in the States, starting just a couple of days after Ralph and Tiffany were due to get back from the States. That is how we got our second job in Roatan. There were no guests booked for the time that Terry and Patrice were gone, so we wouldn’t have too much to do. Mainly we just had to live on the property (we stayed in one of the guest cabanas on the water), pick up the staff by boat on Monday mornings and drop them off on Friday afternoons, make regular “down island” trips for groceries, and handle any problems that might arise. The biggest problem that arose, however, was a personal problem. We got fat. Dalia is one of the cooks for Mango Creek and she prepared all our meals for us. She was trained by a chef from the U.S. and she is an excellent cook. Nancy helped create a recipe book for her of her favorite recipes, so of course, we had to try each and every thing in the recipe book, some of them more than once. I’m glad the job was only for one month, or else I would have had to buy new clothes. We actually quite enjoyed our time at Mango Creek. We watched movies every night on a big-screen TV. There is a real bristle dart board in the bar/restaurant, so I tossed lots of darts. One of the grocery stores in French Harbor sells Guinness, so I filled the fridge behind the bar with Guinness. Ralph would come over and we’d drink Guinness and toss darts. Mabel, Tai-tai, Randy, Perry, Manuel and Carlos, the rest of the Mango Creek staff, were very nice and we really enjoyed meeting and working with them. Take a look at the Mango Creek website,, to see some pictures of the place. We were at Mango Creek over Thanksgiving, so we decided to get together with some of the other gringos in Port Royal and have Thanksgiving at Mango Creek. Ralph, Tiff and Max from Casa Gusto, Keith from Royal Playa, Kim and Joe from KiJo, along with their daughter and son-in-law, and Nancy and I had a very nice Thanksgiving dinner. Everybody brought a dish or two. Nancy cooked a Butterball turkey she found at the big grocery store in French Harbor and Dalia baked us some rolls.

By the time we finished up our tour of duty at Mango Creek, hurricane season was about over, so we started making plans to leave Honduras. We took the boat over to Calabash Bight for a couple of days to visit some more with Ed and Julie. Then it was back to Port Royal to say goodbye to Ralph, Tiff and Max. We had planned to leave on Saturday, December 5th, but Tiffany bribed us into staying one more day by making us a pecan pie. She had made the pumpkin and pecan pies for our Thanksgiving dinner and the pecan pie was really incredible (so was the pumpkin pie, but pecan is my favorite). She had found a recipe that didn’t require Karo syrup, which is very non-standard, but I think I may actually like it better than the traditional recipe. Pecan pie is definitely worth staying an extra day for.

We really weren’t too sure where we were going from Roatan until just a few days before we left. We toyed with the idea of going to Jamaica or the Cayman Islands, and then back to the States. We also considered going back to Mexico on the way back to the States. We knew we wanted to wind up back in the States for a while because we want to put some solar panels on the boat, get the boat hauled out and new anti-fouling paint put on the bottom, and various other projects that are much easier to do in the Land of Plenty. We just weren’t sure what route to take to get back. We finally decided on a direct route without any stops. We would sail directly from Roatan to Key West and we left on Sunday, December 6th.

We enjoyed our time in Roatan. The climate is great and we made lots of friends. We got a lot of little boat projects done and did a lot of diving. The only thing we won’t miss are the sand flies.

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