The Wrecks of Roatan
A short history about the wrecks on Roatan. All are great for diving.
Whether interested in wreck diving, history, thrilled by sunken treasure, or terrified of being trapped in small, submerged rooms, shipwrecks have always been appealing to divers and non-divers alike. Around Roatan, the remains of partially sunken ships are common. And although the most frequently visited wrecks in Roatan were intentionally sunk for scuba diving, their histories are no less interesting than stories involving pirates, Spanish Galleons and sunken treasure. In studying Roatan’s contemporary wrecks, two things become apparent. First, stories evolve, becoming a web of fact and fiction difficult to decipher. And secondly, truth can be more interesting than fiction.
The Wreck of the Odyssey
Roatan’s biggest planned wreck is a 300-foot freighter called Odyssey. Owned by Hybur Limited, the Odyssey was being rebuilt when a catastrophic fire put an end to its freight-hauling career. Close ties between the Galindos, owners of Anthony’s Key Resort, and the Hydes, owners of Hybur Limited, made it an obvious decision to donate Odyssey for wreck diving. AKR spearheaded the effort to secure government approval, clean, prepare and sink the ship, while several dive operators around the island contributed to the clean up effort. Clean up was extensive, with approximately 50 truckloads of debris – including charred furniture, insulation and electrical wiring – removed over several weeks. Once clean, Odyssey was made safe for scuba divers. For example, hatch covers weighing several tons were welded on to strengthen the ship’s frame. On November 15, 2002, the ship was towed from French Harbour to Mud Hole, positioned over its future home, and sunk. Local video producer Tim Blanton spent that day shooting video. 70-80 spectators watched from sea and shore as lines were anchored to ensure the ship remained upright while sinking. The sea-cocks were opened, and water began to fill the ship. After several hours, and one dramatic moment when it listed to starboard, the Odyssey righted itself and disappeared beneath the surface. Blanton and Galindo were among a group of divers privileged to visit the Odyssey the following morning. Upon seeing the upright attitude and location of Odyssey centered between two coral heads, Galindo commented it was a “bull’s-eye”. The new home of Odyssey is off Mud Hole, resting on sand in 110 feet of water. The ship is massive, 300 feet from bow to stern, 50 feet wide and 85 feet tall. The size is also the most impressive thing about diving the Odyssey. Exploring the cargo area, along passageways the length of a football field, divers look tiny. Just two months after the sinking, several ‘Northers’ ripped through the north shore over approximately one week. Two of the massive hatch covers were ripped off by the power of the surge slamming into the hull.
Dixon Cove Wrecks
Two wrecks grounded close together within the confines of Dixon Cove are familiar to all Roatan residents. Pass by on your way between French Harbour and Coxen Hole in late afternoon, when the sun transforms one rusted hull into an intense and picturesque copper sculpture. Both wrecks have been decaying here since the 1970s. Stories abound. Some claim one ship, with a cargo of lumber, ran aground in a storm. The second ship came to assist, and also ended up on the reef. The lumber was off-loaded in a futile attempt to save the ship, and was collected by local residents. Others say the cargo was marble. One version maintains one was a Cayman-owned vessel run aground intentionally for insurance. Rumors persist that the ships were involved in the Nicaraguan revolution, then abandoned. Longtime residents report that the wrecks were two separate incidents. One did carry lumber; the other carried paint. Both ships caught fire and were abandoned, what remained of their cargos pillaged. During an attempt to tow the ships out to sea, they broke free and came to rest in Dixon Cove.
The Prince Albert Wreck
Along the south shore, the Prince Albert was the first Roatan wreck intentionally sunk for scuba diving. The tanker, owned by a group of Nicaraguans, left Nicaragua with a cargo of war refugees, headed for Roatan. After escaping its war-ravaged country and delivering the refugees, the ship remained in French Harbour, where it was stripped of valuables and left, partially submerged. Bill Evans, founder of Coco View Resort, saw an opportunity to remove a hazard and gain a wreck for the benefit of his diving guests. Securing government approval proved difficult for Evans, but not impossible with assistance from local businessman Albert Jackson. Evans hired clean-up and welding crews and set about the task of preparing it for sinking. Three weeks later, a local shrimp boat towed the tanker to Coco View. The sea was rough, and during the effort to transfer lines, they snapped and the ship ended up on the reef. Efforts over several weeks to release it were unsuccessful, and resulted in severe damage to the shrimp boat. Finally, in January 1985, a new steel-hulled shrimp boat owned by Jerry Hynds was commissioned for the task, and the ship was successfully pulled off the reef. A joint effort between the shrimp boats and the Coco View fleet tied the bow into the wind, then pumped water in until it sank. Soon after, a Coco View guest suggested that Evans name the ship Prince Albert, in appreciation of the assistance Mr. Jackson provided. Over a cuarter of a century later, the 140’ tanker is in remarkably good shape, sitting upright in 65 feet of water. It has significant coral growth. Eagle rays frequent the wreck, a resident moray stands guard near the stern, and arrow crabs and seahorses share space along the deck.
El Aguila Wreck
El Aguila, Spanish for ‘The Eagle’, is 230 feet long with a dual-deck cargo area. It’s final voyage, according to Samir Galindo, General Manager of Anthony’s Key Resort, was a run from Puerto Cortes to Haiti, carrying a cargo of concrete. It ran aground near Utila (there was speculation sabotage was involved) and was there for several years, partially submerged. Rocky Jones, from Utila, salvaged the ship and towed it into the harbour. A passing storm pushed the ship onto the reef, where Jones again salvaged it, this time intentionally sinking it partially so it wouldn’t be vulnerable to future storms. At the time, the only wrecks accessible to north shore dive operators were two wooden-hulled vessels sunk (naturally, not intentionally) years before, and the wooden hulls were quickly disappearing into the sea. AKR had been looking for a ship to convert into a wreck dive, and El Aguila proved a perfect choice. About 5 weeks passed between the purchase of El Aguila, the clean up (including removal of the original cargo – tons of now-hardened concrete) the towing and finally, the sinking. Galindo commented that sinking El Aguila was “a real challenge”, but the ordeal helped make the Odyssey experience such a well-organized success. When El Aguila sunk in 1997, it was upright in 110 feet of water. In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch arrived and battered the north shore, breaking it into 3 pieces. Galindo says with all the salvageable metal removed from the ship in Utila, the hull was structurally unable to resist the stress created by relentless current and surge. But Mitch provided a service to the wreck divers of Roatan. The 3 pieces created extra nooks and crannies to investigate. El Aguila sits a short boat ride from the AKR dock, protected by garden eels and one large but curious green moray eel.
Mr Bud Wreck
Roatan's newest planed wreck was sunk by Coco View Resort in January 2004 in front of French Cay in French Harbour.
These are not the only wrecks around Roatan – they are a sampling of the most high profile. Divers can find a former dive boat with its diesel engine intact in shallow water near the Sea Grape Resort. French Harbour channel near Little French Cay is home to the Island Fueler, a spooky wreck owing to turbid waters creating low visibility in the channel. Longtime residents can probably pinpoint dozens more. And while diving on a wreck is a thrill at any level, the stories of how the wrecks came to be only add to the allure.