Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Sink boat at Tulum.

Dixon Cove Is Home To Two Most Photographs Wrecks In The Caribbean

From its obscure beginnings as a dime-and-a-dozen wreck, Tulum has become the most photographed wreck in the Eastern Caribbean. Likely a million of cruise shippers visiting Roatan have taken a picture of it and hundreds of thousands of visitors arriving at the Galaxy Wave Ferry Terminal have taken snapshots of the rusting marine carcass.

Tulum rests in the channel entrance to Dixon Cove, the biggest tonnage harbor in Honduras, just a stone’s throw from Harris Stamp Cay, a hundred meters west of Mahogany Bay Cruise Ship Terminal, and two hundred meters from Galaxy Wave Ferry Terminal.

Tulum’s story goes back to 1979 when Roatan was a little known luscious green island.  Islander Luey McLaughlin was at work as one of the managers at Anthony’s Key Resort [AKR] when he spotted a vessel in distress. Tulum was on her way from Puerto Cortez to the Dominican Republic, she was loaded top to bottom with pine lumber and leaning heavy to her side. “The locals were jumping in, fishing out all the lumber that was floating,” says Julio Galindo, who was also an AKR manager at the time.

“I drove to Allan Hyde as he had a boat capable of towing such a big vessel,” said McLaughlin. There were no phones on the island and driving to deliver a message was the quickest way to communicate in a situation like this.

“She was leaning very heavy,” remembers Shawn Hyde who was a teenager at the time of the incident. Shawn is a son of Allan Hyde, who ended up salvaging Tulum. Capt. Denny Jones went out with one of Allan Hyde’s shrimp boats and towed Tulum to Coxen Hole harbor. There she remained for many months before being towed to French Harbour.

In the 1980s and 1990s most of the paint rusted away

Tulum’s cargo of Honduran pine lumber was unloaded in French Harbour and sold on the mainland. The money was put into an escrow account to pay for salvage and other claims. Some people say that the Tulum’s owners botched an insurance scam and that the captain just opened the wrong ballast valves.

“A bad storm was on its way and it was decided to tow Tulum to a safe harbor in Dixon Cove,” said McLaughlin. Back then Dixon Cove was a secluded place, filled with mangrove with almost no one living there. “There was nothing here, just mangroves.”  The towing operation got complicated and the boat drifted onto the reef. “The way she sunk caused no hazard as far as entrance to the harbor,” said McLaughlin. “The Honduran Naval came and discharged the bunker fuel in her tank.” Once the bunker fuel was drained the ship no longer caused a danger to the reef or waters.

A couple of years later, US Navy special forces came to see if it was worth it for them to practice salvage operations on Tulum. The early 1980s was the time of the Nicaraguan Contra war and the US military was running many covert operations out of Honduras. “The hull was already fractured and they decided against it,” said McLaughlin. Ultimately, the Navy Seals did  their training with a boat named Wendy that was floated from Coxen Hole and towed away into deep waters south of the island.

In the 1980s and 1990s most of the paint rusted away and by the early 2000s a hull was still visible and its metal crane still standing high. One could swim inside the hull like it was a gothic cathedral. The hull bent and collapsed under its own weight around 2006. “If people didn’t cut the hull up for scrap metal she would still be there,” said Shawn Hyde. A few times over the years locals boarded Tulum to salvage scrap metal for resale.

The strongest part of the ship, and the part most resistant to salt water, storms, and scavengers,  was the engine.  It remains intact, still visible to passengers entering Dixon Cove.

Written by