Roatan - so far....(or off with its head)

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 20 Dec 2011 19:18
Two weeks ago we arrived in French Harbour, Roatan having had a cracking good sail (rare) up from Utila.   It was just as well really as the port engine was getting worse and we didn't feel comfortable using it.  We chose French Harbour as it has many of the resources we need.  Being home to a very large shrimping fleet there was a possibility that a machine shop may exist somewhere should mechanic Skip require one!
The yacht anchorage is in a lagoon behind the reef with a small island to the east housing the "Fantasy Island Resort" & two outer lying small cays to west near the entrance to French Harbour itself.  The friends we'd been in Utila with kindly took us on a tour of the important places ashore.  The town is a good mile away by dinghy.  The owners of one of the shrimp boat docks allow cruisers to leave their dinghies there in relative safety.  Following the track over a hill past a farm you would hardly believe that you would find a massive supermarket the likes of which we hadn't seen since our visit to Guatemala City many moons ago.  Further on is an Ace hardware store (equivalent to B&Q in the UK) and further still a shopping mall with yet another supermarket and the ubiquitous fast food outlets, shoe shops, mobile phone shops et al.  It was a bit like a kid being lost in a sweetie shop - we just couldn't remember what we needed as we'd done without certain things for so long did we really need them anyway - it was fun looking though!  Needless to say we did return a few days later with 'lists'!
Down the 'hill' back to the dinghy on the shrimp dock                          - some of the huge fleets -                                           and the shanty town
Besides the shopping we managed to get out on reef for a snorkel prior to the weather closing in and raining solidly night and day for several days.  We have been reliably informed that although this is the wet season that amount of torrential rain for so long is unusual. How many times have we heard that about extreme weather in places we have visited?  At this point several other issues arose.   We discovered that a few days previously the watermaker had decided to pour water into the galley bilge lockers instead of the water tank.   As if everything wasn't wet enough.  This was traced to a solenoid problem which took a day to sort out.  Then the large windows started to seriously leak in several places requiring basins, saucepans, & towels.  As if everything wasn't wet enough!!!  It appears that there has been a breakdown of the sealant used in several places although we have been very diligent about using the UV covers.  However, duct tape will have to do for now as the head gasket takes priority.
The anchor held for several days in various directions so the dismantling began.  At the time of writing this it has been a week.  The rear port cabin resembles an engine operating theatre.  The cockpit an external workshop.  The davits used for hanging & painting a heat exchanger.  Oil, rust, dirty rags and umpteen kitchen rolls.  At one point the heat exchanger, weighing in a around 30lbs, rolled off the seat and clobbered mechanic Skip on the thigh. This was quickly followed by the 'Admiral' falling A over B into the cockpit trying to avoid it, followed by an expletive relating to 'how can you do a major job like this without a workshop' or words to that effect.
The 'operating' theatre                                                                  - the spray shop -                                                         and the location!
Once the cylinder head had been cleaned up and the tolerances measured mechanic Skip wasn't sure that it didn't need to be 'skimmed'.  So off he went in the dinghy with said article to dubious looking places around the lagoon.  The guys at the shrimp dock had suggested a place by some laid up barges where he could find a good mechanic.   Some local chaps hanging about said he would be back later - back later Skip went.  The guy turned out to be a very knowledgeable old chap but didn't have the equipment on site. That was 'down island'.  However, he did inspect the cylinder head and said it was OK and didn't need machining.  Relief all round.
Whilst the engine is in pieces all leave has been cancelled except for essential supply gathering.  However, some friends arrived who had guests on board.  How could we refuse an invitation to get together for a sun downer or two and as it turned out dinner in a nearby restaurant.  Early the next morning they had arranged to meet the owner of the Iguana Reserve, whom they had known from previous years, for breakfast and invited us along.  Well, we needed a break and the Reserve was on our list to visit.  Sherman was a delightful character born and brought up on Roatan with many interesting tales to tell.  He has a lifelong passion to preserve the reef from developers and poachers alike, a cause his own father had died for in the 60's.  During the course of many revelations, intrigues and fascinating facts it turned out that he was related to many people we had met - including the guy Sterling who had helped us on Utila! 
Little did we know that Sherman sometimes patrols the reef at night in his launcha.  A few days previously some mischievous lads on a decrepit jet ski had annoyed boats in the anchorage at night by asking for food and water.  We'd seen them previously looking at Ajaya whilst we were not on board, but approaching fast in our dinghy from town.  The VHF radio sprang into action as the boats radioed to let everyone know there was mischief about.  We spent most of the evening keeping an eye on a white launcha near the reef - it was only Sherman keeping the poachers at bay!
Sherman (with cap) enthralling Skip                                                             - get in the truck -                                                                      to the resort!
Sherman loaded us all into his pickup and surprising enough we headed off to one of his favourite places for a large breakfast - a nearby resort complex.  It was good tho' and he did say he often went there to look at the view over the reef.  On our return to the reserve the Iggies had woken up, warmed up and descended from the trees.........................
There were other critters there -
These were free to wander. The monkeys, macaws and parrots were caged. On the waterfront there are large fish pens containing huge Tarpon and an even larger Barracuda which Sherman has appropriately named 'Torpedo'. Also in the pen are lobsters whose eggs have drifted outside the secure area in the current resulting in a welcome increase in the lobster population out on the reef.  Sherman is one of life's carers, a 'larger than life' character who makes you feel humbled in his presence. Long may he continue.