Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
The usual bustle of cars and pedestrians at the French Harbour crossroads has long been a good representation of who inhabits Roatan. The intersection used to be commonly known as “Monkey Apple Gully,” and I believe one can still see the now near-dry stream bed after which it was named. From that intersection the wide variety of island lives pass through daily and from there, as Roatan residents go on about their day to day lives, the many stories of Roatan unfold.

Follow the pick-up truck that is heading into French Harbour a mid-May morning in the early 1990s. Its flatbed filled with large, rolled mounds of freshly tarred shrimping nets. The pungent smell of the tar wafts through the air behind the truck as it passes Eldon’s grocery store to the right and then the Yacht Club to the left. Then at the rise just beyond, with a hill now to your left and the FUSEP office on the right, there is a clear view of the harbor below and beyond, the keys lined up to the left beyond the entrance.

The harbor is dominated by steel-hulled shrimpers docked side-by-side at wharfs lining the shore, outriggers reaching to the sky and stabilizers hanging at the tips. They are all being repaired and outfitted for the approaching shrimping season.

The shrimping industry has waned significantly in the past few decades. At its height from the late 1970s to early 1990s it dominated the island’s economy with up to 200 active vessels and six processing plants throughout the Bay Islands. And just as today the Roatan hospitality industry can trace its origins to the 1970s with establishments such as the Buccaneer Inn, the French Harbour Yacht Club, Romeo’s Restaurant, the Reef House Resort, Anthony’s Key Resort and Foster’s, so can the Roatan shrimping industry trace its origins to the early 1960s with vessels such as the ‘Lady E’, the ‘Mr. B’ and the ‘Three Brothers’.

Roatan shrimping industry traces its origins to the early 1960s.

The Lady E, named after a Ms. Estelle from Florida, was a second-hand wood hull brought down from Miami in 1962 by the Hyde family and the first shrimper in French Harbour. This family was already long active in exporting coconuts and coconut copra from Roatan to the United States on the island-built wood hull freighter the ‘Judy’, under the supervision of their patriarch Mr. Myrl Hyde.

Following on was the wood-hull Mr. B, which arrived in mid-1965. The Mr. B was named after a Mr. Burdick, and like Ms. Estelle, a Florida acquaintance of the Hyde family. Outfitted with a 43 Caterpillar engine, the Mr. B was custom-built by DESCO Marine in St. Augustine making her the first ‘brand new’ shrimper to arrive in French Harbor.

Having first hand witnessed the fledgling shrimping business that had even earlier sprung up in Bonacca – a story for another time – one of Captain Myrl’s sons, Mr. Allan Hyde, was instrumental in this means of a livelihood coming to Roatan. He eventually spent time captaining each of these two shrimpers.

The Three Brothers arrived from Tampa later in 1965. A second-hand boat, she had also been built by DESCO Marine with her previous name being the “Old Glory”. She was owned by members of the McNab family who brought her down out of Tampa and was named after Mr. Delmar McNab’s three sons: Delmar Jr., Carl and Bob McNab.

Mr. Delmar, among other enterprises, was the proprietor of the ‘McNab Store’ on French Harbour Point. The Three Brothers docked at the wharf behind the store, with Mr. Bob captaining her initially.

Special thanks to Mr. Truman Jones and Mr. Irwin Dixon of French Harbour for their kindness and congeniality in sharing their knowledge of French Harbour and Roatan.

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