Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Posed to Bay Islanders, a question that would elicit interesting responses would be: “What Bay Islanders no longer among us do you most admire, whether you knew them or not?” I expect the list would be intriguing. Taken from a Guanaja resident, with the perspective of a life spent on Bonacca Cay, names of persons also known to Roatanians and Utilians might be included. At the same time, names completely unknown beyond Guanaja, or even beyond Bonacca Cay, could be on such a list. It is then easy to imagine similar results with a list provided by a lifetime resident of Roatan or Utila.

The names of certain individuals, female and male, tended to spread across all of the islands. While others were admired and known best only close to home. A small sampling of my own list, albeit Roatan-centric, would include Captain Myrl Hyde, Mister Cleveland Tennyson, Doctor Sturdy Woods, Miss Edith McNab, Miss America De La Cruz, Miss Francis Arch, and Captain James Ray McNab. Some of their names would have been more widely known, while not so with others. Of these, I had the privilege to know the first six personally, to varying degrees, whether meeting them first as a child or as an adult. I never met Captain Ray, who passed away in 1959 at the age of 42 from cirrhosis of the liver. I was told about him from an early age and to this day still talk about him.

James Ray McNab was born in French Harbour on 12 April 1917. He was known to everyone as Ray, a common practice being to call someone by their middle name. As I understand, his mother gave birth to twins. The other was still born while Ray’s right arm was crippled in some way. In each full-body photo I have seen of him, his right hand is placed deep in his pant pocket or is otherwise hidden from the camera. A black and white photo of he and his first wife, Nona, comes to mind. They are both young and smiling, he dressed in khakis and she in a summer dress, standing on the seaside in French Harbour with tall coconut trees rising behind. Ray is holding Nona tightly with his hidden right arm.

Ray lost Nona in April 1944 when she was 26 years old, in a boating accident off of Brick Bay. He was then 27 and became a single father of two young girls and a four-year-old boy named Scott. Some years later, after Ray had remarried, he hand crafted a sailboat for Scott that was outfitted with cloth sails. Once, the sailboat took a few quick strong gusts of wind down in the Wash, behind where the Buccaneer Inn was later built. It crossed the reef line, kept heading South and was soon out of Scott’s sight. The following day, a ‘Carib Craft’ arrived in French Harbour to sell fresh bread kind: bunches of green bananas and plantains, cassava, cocoas, breadfruit. The sailboat was placed in the bow of the massive, unpainted dory; the Carib fellows had happen on it somewhere between Roatan and Hog Islands. The Carib Craft itself had come out of one of the Garifuna towns to the East of La Ceiba.

Ray was a farmer who worked grounds “up in the bush”. There is a story of his finding someone he knew stealing a bunch of plantains from his ground. This friend had not been doing well and that day went home with the bunch of plantains as well as a half-sack of freshly dug cassava. He was also a preacher, who traveled on horseback along footpaths to preach to congregants in settlements on the North Side of Roatan that were too small to have full time preachers. He named his favorite horse “Trigger”. Through it all, Ray was a seaman. In the 1950s he Captained the Roatan-built wood hull the “Edith Mc”, a cargo boat perhaps 60 feet in length. A long-standing run of the Edith Mc would be French Harbour to Oak Ridge and Coxen Hole before heading over to La Ceiba. The return trip would visit the same island ports, concluding in French Harbour, its home port. On one of these return trips from La Ceiba, off of Utila on a Friday afternoon, the Edith Mc came across a man paddling a dory towards Roatan. Ray and the crew knew the man, who was from Utila. When within earshot of him, Ray yelled where he was headed. “Captain Ray”, the man hollered back, “I’m headed to Coxen Hole to listen to ‘Bye Bye Love”. Word was spreading that the Everly Brothers’ song had made its way to the juke box that was in the capital of the Bay Islands.

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