Roatan

Roatan lies about 40 miles (65 km) north of Honduras in the Caribbean. Roatan, Guanaja, and Utila make up the Bay Islands, with Roatan being the largest. It is 48 miles (77 km) long and less than 5 miles (8 km) wide at its widest point. The island is an exposed ancient coral reef rising 890 feet (270 meters) above sea level. It is located on the southern edge of the Meso-American Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea and in the northern hemisphere, and the second largest in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Roatan hosts 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of molluscs, and more than 500 species of fish.

We dove the Bay Islands in 1995 aboard a liveaboard dive boat. See the Guanaja and Cayos Cochinos pages for more images.

split-crown feather duster, Anamobaea orstedii

fan worm tube worm

Solitary gorgonian hydroid, Ralpharia gorgoniae

Giant basket star, Astrophyton muricatum

basket star

Common octopus, Octopus vulgaris

octopus

Sponge brittle star, Ophiothrix suensonii

brittle stars brittle stars on sponge brittle star on sponge

Cryptic teardrop crab, Pelia mutica, and yellowline arrow crab, Stenorhynchus seticornis

teardrop crab arrow crab

Caribbean spiny lobster, Penulirus argus

lobsters

Pederson cleaner shrimp, Periclemenes pedersoni, hidden cleaner shrimp, Lysmata rathbunae, and banded coral shrimp, Stenopus hispidus

Pederson cleaning shrimp shrimp banded coral shrimps

Stove-pipe sponge, Aplysina archeri, branching vase sponge, Callyspongia vaginalis, orange icing sponge, Mycale laevis, and variable boring sponge, Siphonodictyon coralliphagum

sponges sponge sponge on coral sponges on coral sponges on coral

Staghorn coral

staghorn coral

sea fans

sea fan

fire coral

fire coral coral and tangs

coral

globular encrusting tunichate, Diplosoma glandulosum, painted tunichate, Clavelina picta, bulb tunichate, Clavelina sp., and bluebell tunichate, Clavelina puerto-secensis

tunichate tunichates tunichates tunichates tunichates

Lettuce sea slug, Elysia crispata, tasseled nudibranch, Bornella calcarata, crisscross tritonia, Tritonia bayeri, unidentified nudibranch, Flabellina sp., unidentified nudibranch

lettuce sea slug nudibranch nudibranch nudibranch nudibranch

Common (Atlantic) bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus

dolphin

Creole wrasse, Clepticus parrae, and yellowhead wrasse (terminal phase), Halichoeres garnoti

creole wrasses wrasse

Silversides (ten species)

shiners

Yellow goatfish, Mulloidichthys martinicus, and spotted goatfish (night colors), Pseudupeneus maculatus

goatfish goatfish

Large-eye toadfish, Batrachoides gilberti

toadfish

Balloonfish, Diodon holocanthus

porcupinefish

Indigo hamlet, Hypoplectrus indigo

Stoplight parrotfish (terminal phase), Sparisoma viride

parrotfish

Porkfish, Anisotremus virginicus

Red hind, Epinephelus guttatus, and Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus

hind Nassau grouper

Blue tang, Acanthurus coeruleus

blue tang

Spanish hogfish, Bodianus rufus, and hogfish (intermediate phase), Lachnolaimus maximus

hogfish fish

Spotfin butterflyfish, Chaetodon ocellatus, and banded butterflyfish, Chaetodon striatus

banded butterflyfish

Smooth trunkfish, Lactophrys triqueter, and scrawled cowfish, Acanthostrocion quadricornis

trunkfish cowfish

Sand diver, Synodus intermedius

Slender filefish, Monacanthus tuckeri

tilefish

Neon goby, Elacatinus oceanops, shark-nose goby, Elacatinus evelynae, and glass goby, Coryphopterus cf hyalinus, and peppermine goby, Coryphopterus lipernes

goby goby goby

Rock beauty, Holacanthus tricolor, French angelfish, Pomacanthus paru, gray angelfish, Pomacanthus arcuatus, and queen angelfish, Holacanthus ciliaris

rock beauty grey angel queen angel

Yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus

yellowtail snapper

We returned in 2017 to set up the HQ9X amateur radio station at Chillax Roatan, in Sandy Bay near Anthony's Key, for the CQ WW CW contest, which we operated as HQ9X. The aluminum tower arrived damaged. Getting someone locally to straighten the bent cross-bracing and reweld the broken welds took most of the time we were there. We also needed to get the base hole dug. So the tower and beam will go up next time, and we operated the contest entirely on wire antennas.

QTH QTH Paul on roof QTH: Paul on roof Paul and Dennis kitchen humingbird hummingbird hummingbird parrot Charlotte and parrot Paul and parrot iguana broken weld welding base hole digging base hole tower base Paul and Dennis Charlotte and Dennis Paul with wire antenna Paul soldering Paul with string amp Charlotte and amp Paul and Dennis operating Paul operating Paul operating

We returned with Rudy, N2WQ, to put up the repaired tower and antennas for the WPX CW contest in May 2018, again operating as HQ9X. The first order of business was to assemble the elements of the DXE (Bencher) Skyhawk antenna:

assembling the antenna noalox riveting boom-to-element clamps Dennis with elements attaching elements elements on the boom compensator

Assembling and walking up the repaired aluminum tower (a tough job with the rotor, mast, thrust bearing, and cables already in place):

tower sections tower assembly angtenna and tower on the ground thrust bearing walking up the tower the tower bolting the tower base coax conduit coax conduit and entry

We trammed the antenna up to Paul on the top of the tower:

Paul climbing tower Paul on tower bolting on antenna view to the north tower climber

Verticals for 40m and 80m, with radials:

40m vertical pinning radials checking resonance 80m loading coil

Dennis built the board and wiring for the VA6AM filters, the triplexer, and the switching network, and made the coax jumpers:

Dennis buildiing filters filters and switching network Dennis making jumpers

CQ WPX CW (19.1M points), operating a K3 and an ICOM 7610 with Alpha 99 amps:

Rudy operating Dennis operating Paul operating final score screen

Relaxing (cooling off) and victory lunch:

Dennis in the pool lunch

After the contest we spent a few days at CoCoView Resort for scuba diving.

CoCoView sign dive dock bungalows walking to clubhouse dock dock clubhouse clubhouse dive shop nitrox dive boat dive boat heading outsunset

The Prince Albert wreck, the DC-3 wreck, and two near-vertical walls are a shore dive away with well-marked chains and buoys.

Wreck of the Prince Albert:

wreck wreck wreck wreck wreck wreck rudder of wreck wreck queen angel on wreck interior of wreck wreck wreck wreck wreck on sand, fish wreck detail wreck wreck wreck wreck wreck gray angelfish on wreck gray angelfish on wreck wreck wreck

DC-3 wreck:

queen angel and DC-3 wreck sergeant major on DC-3 wreck wing of DC-3 wreck

Walls and reefs:

wall wall wall with red rope sponges wall reef Paul in cut sponges sponges reef wall wall sponge sponge

Critter portraits:

Fish:

Snappers: mutton snapper, Lutjanus analis, schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus, and yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus

mutton snapper schoolmasters yellowtail snapper

French grunt, Haemulon flavolineatum

French grunt

Angelfish: gray angelfish, Pomacanthus arcuatus, rock beauty, Holocanthus tricolor, queen angelfish, Holacanthus ciliaris, and French angelfish, Pomacanthus paru

gray angelfish rock beauty Queen angelfish French angelfish

Butterflyfish: foureye butterflyfish, Chaetodon capistratus, and spotfin butterflyfish, Chaetodon ocellatus

foureye butterflyfish spotfin butterflyfish

Surgeonfish: blue tang, Acanthurus coeruleus, and ocean surgeonfish (two color phases), Acanthurus bahianus

blue tang surgeonfish ocean surgeonfish

Trumpetfish, Aulostomus maculatus

trumpetfish

Sea basses (groupers): black grouper, Mycteroperca bonaci, rock hind, Epinephelus adscensionis, graysby, Cephalopholis cruentatus, harlequin bass, Serranus tigrinus, and tobaccofish, Serranus tabacarius

black gouper rock hind graysby harlequin bass tobaccofish

Fairy basslet, Gramma loreto

fairy basslet

Green moray, Gymnothorax funebris

green moray eel

Puffers: sharpnose puffer, Canthigasgter rostrata, spotted burrfish, Chilomycterus atringa, porcpupinefish, Diodon hystrix

sharpnose puffer burrfish porcupinefish

Gobies: neon goby, Elacatinus oceanops, barsnout goby, Gobiosoma illecebrosum, and masked or glass goby, Coryphopterus personatus/hyalinus (impossible to determine which)

neon goby goby goby

Blennies: arrow blenny, Lucayablennius zingaro, spinyhead blenny, Acanthemblemaria spinosa

arrow blenny spnyhead blenny

Damselfish: threespot damselfish, Stegastes planifrons (two adults, one juvenile), bicolor damselfish, Stegastes partitus, and sergeant major, Abudefduf saxatilis

threespot damselfish threespot damselfish threespot damselfish bicolor damselfish sergeant major

Parrotfish:

Stoplight parrotfish, Sparisoma viride (left: initial phase; right: terminal phase)

stoplight parrotfish stoplight parrotfish stoplight parrotfish stoplight parrotfish

Redband parrotfish, Sparisoma aurofrenatum (terminal phase)

redband parrotfish

Wrasses: pearly razorfish, Xyrichtys novacula, Spanish hogfish, Bodianus rufus, yellowhead wrasse (juvenile, two intermediate), Halioceres garnoti, slippery dick, Halichoeres bivittatus (intermediate phase), and Creole wrasse (initial phase), Clepticus parrae

razorfish Spanish hogfish wrasse yellowhead wrasse yellowhead wrasse slippery dick creole wrasse

Longspine squirrelfish, Holocentrus rufus

squirrelfish

Peacock flounder, Bothus lunatus

flounder

Inshore lizardfish, Synodus foetens

lizardfish

Chub, Kyphosus spp. (may be Bermuda chub, Kyphosus specatrix, or Yellow chub, Kyphosus incisor)

chub

Mojarras: silver jenny, Eucinostomus gula

mojarra

Saucereye porgy, Calamus calamus

porgy

Jacks: bar jack, Caranx ruber, and horse-eye jack, Caranx latus

bar jacks horse-eye jacks

Spotted drum, Equetus punctatus (juvenile)

juvenile spotted drum

Goatfish: yellow goatfish, Mulloidichthys martinicus, and spotted goatfish, Pseudupeneus maculatus

yellow goatfish goatfish

Hamlets: barred hamlet, Hypoplectrus puella, and indigo hamlet, Hypoplectrus indigo

barred hamlet indigo hamlet

Yellowhead jawfish, Opistognathus aurifrons

yellowhead jawfish jawfish

Atlantic spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber

spadefish

Lionfish: an Indo-Pacific invasive species, now found all over the Caribbean, red lionfish, Pterois volitans

lionfish

Spotted scorpionfish, Scorpaena plumieri

scorpionfish

Slender filefish, Monacanthus tuckeri

slender filefish

Smooth trunkfish, Lactophrys triqueter

trunkfish

Large eye toadfish, Batrachoides gilberti

toadfish

Longsnout seahorse, Hippocampus reidi

seahorse seahorse seahorse

Shrimps: banded coral shrimp, Stenopus hispidus, and Pederson cleaner shrimp, Periclimenes pedersoni

banded coral shrimp

Scaly-tailed mantis shrimp, Lysiosquilla scabricauda

mantis shrimp

Worms: Christmas tree worm (single, colony), Spirobranchus giganteus, magnificent feather duster, Sabellastarte magnifica, and spaghetti worm, Eupolymnia crassicornis

Christmas tree worm Christmas tree worms fan worm spaghetti worm

Flamingo tongue cowrie, Cyphoma gibbosum

flamingo tongue

Queen conch, Strombus gigas

conch

Sand dollar, Clypeaster subdepressus

sand dollar

Sponge brittle star, Ophiothrix suensonii

brittle star

Tiger tail sea cucumber, Holothuria thomasi

sea cucumber

Crabs: yellowline arrow crab, Stenorhynchus seticornis, neck crab, Podochela spp., hairy clinging crab, Mithrax pilosus, white speckled hermit, Paguristes punticeps, unidentified crab

arrow crab neck crab crab hermit crab crab

Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus

lobster

Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbriocota

turtle

Lettuce sea slug, Elysia crispata

lettuce sea slug

Evening entertainment:

Folk dancers performing dances from diverse parts of Honduras:

folk dancers folk dancers

Fire dancers:

fire dancer fire dancer fire dancer fire dancer fire dancer fire dancer fire dancer

We returned for some more scuba diving and then to operate the ARRL DX SSB contest in 2019 with Igor, VE3ZF, as a Multi-Single entry. We needed to climb the tower to lengthen the drip loop on the antenna so that the rotor could turn through its entire range. And we tried putting up a Beverage to augment the BOG antenna, but it did not appear to be of much help. Conditions were not very good, but we had fun.

Paul about to climb Paul on tower rotor control box Igor with wire Igor Igor at Beverage termination Paul operating Igor operating Charlotte operating final score screen

We returned again for the ARRL DX SSB contest in March, 2020, for what was supposed to be a normal sort of DXpedition contest operation with Igor and also joined by Doug Grant, K1DG, and his wife Karen, followed by a normal sort of week-long dive trip for the two of us afterwards. That's not quite how things worked out! The first inkling that things might be a bit unusual was during our arrival into Roatan. The airport there has no instrument approaches, which I already knew since I had checked out of curiosity knowing we would be arriving during a period of heavy winds, rain, and storms. The is the first time I had ever been on a commercial flight in a big jet (a 737) that had to go around not just once but twice before managing to safely land. On the first attempt, we were in solid clouds all the way with nasty low-level windshear. The pilot tried a second time, and I had "ground contact" from my seat over the wing just as we went missed for a second time. The pilot got on the PA system and reported that he too had seen the runway at the last minute but not in time to land on it, the tower reported conditions were improving, and that we were going to try a third time. I was picturing us landing on the mainland, maybe at San Pedro Sula, and having to take the ferry boat over after the storms subsided, but on the third attempt we got in, quickly followed by the two other flights due that afternoon.

Paul and I arrived on Saturday, February 29th. Doug and Karen would arrive Monday, and Igor not until Thursday. We had a few relatively small antenna jobs to do before the contest. Dennis, W1UE, had been there for the ARRL DX CW contest a couple of weeks earlier, with Rudy, N2WQ, who owns the QTH. They had put up a top-loaded vertical for 160m and an inverted-V for 40m, the two bands where the station was weakest. We needed to put a temporary director V wire up for the 40m inverted-V facing north, make and put a loading coil at the bottom of the new 160m vertical to make it resonate within the band, run coax through the conduit to the new 160m vertical, mount and wire in two switches and relays Dennis had built for those two bands, and add choke coils to the coaxes for them. When Igor arrived he would try again to put up a low-band receiving antenna. So we had one tower climb to do, a bunch of work with the local electrician Hector and his crew to run cables and mount relays and the new loading coil, and some wiring.

Paul on the tower K1DG, Paul, and Karen KQ1F running wiring Paul making cables Hector running coax Paul and Hector Paul making coil running coax Paul measuring vertical 160M top-hat vertical measuring the director measuring the director putting up the director relays for 40m and 160m 40m inverted-V beam

With the able addition of K1DG to the team and the two new antennas, we improved our score considerably, to about 6.2M points, even though conditions had not improved over 2019.

K1XM VE3ZF KQ1F k1dg final score box the Grants in the pool

Monday after the contest, Paul took Igor and the Grants to the airport to fly home. Then we dropped off the rental car and moved over to Turquoise Bay for a week of diving and underwater photography. By this time we had been hearing about growing problems at home due to the corona virus COVID-19 pandemic, but we had been too busy to pay too much attention to it. Igor, Doug, and Karen all got home with no unusual problems. At the beginning of the diving part of the trip we also were not paying too much attention to news from the outside world. Like most diving trips, at an all-inclusive resort it was eat-sleep-dive-repeat. For the first few days, anyway.

The dive operator, Subway, has several dive boats catering to both guests at the resort and cruise ship customers, though on separate boats. And they actively hunt invasive lionfish. Usually when they catch lionfish they cut them up and feed them to groupers or moray eels, perhaps trying to teach the native fish to eat the lionfish, rather than serving them for dinner. Most of the diving is off hte north side of Roatan. There are a lot of big groupers present. The underwater terrain features a lot of volcanic canyons and walls.

Charlotte on dive boat going out Paul on the surface Paul with camera rig Paul with camera rig Charlotte with camera rig Charlotte getting back on boat camer rinse tank

lionfish spearing a lionfish

North-coast reef scenes:

sponges sponges barrel sponge and fish Charlotte and wreck divers on wreck divers on wreck Charlotte with fish fish wall brain coral

Critters:

Neck crab, Podochela sp., and channel clinging crab, Mithrax spinosissimus

neck crab

Banded coral shrimp, Stenopus hispidus, and Pederson cleaning shrimp, Periclimenes pedersoni

banded coral shrimp Pederson cleaning shrimp

Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, and spotted spiny lobster, Panulirus guttatus

spiny lobster spotted lobster

Flamingo tongue, Cyphoma gibbosum

flamingo tongue

Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, and green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas

hawksbill turtle green sea turtle with remoras

Christmas-tree worms, Spirobranchus giganteus, social feather duster, Bispira brunnea, and bearded fireworm, Hermodice carunculata

Christmas tree worms feather duster worms bristle worm

Lettuce sea slug, Elysia crispata

lettuce sea slub

Creole wrasses, Clepticus parrae

creole wrasses

Spotted burrfish, Chilomycterus atringa, balloonfish, Diodon holocanthus, and sharpnose puffer, Canthigaster rostrata

spotted burrfish balloonfish puffer

Papillose blenny, Acanthemblemaria chaplini, and puffcheeck blenny, Labrisomus bucciferus

blenny blenny

Longsnout seahorse, Hippocampus reidi

seahorse

Queen angelfish, Holacanthus ciliaris, and French angelfish, Pomacanthus paru

angelfish French angelfish

Foureye butterflyfish, Chaetodon capistratus

butterflyfish

Peacock flounder, Bothus lunatus

flounder

Black grouper (two color variations), Mycteroperca bonaci, and Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, with neon gobies, Elacatinus oceanops

grouper grouper Nassau grouper

Indigo hamlet, Hypoplectrus indigo, and barred hamlet, Hypoplectrus puella

hamlet hamlet

Harlequin bass, Serranus tigrinus

harlequin bass

Spotted drum (juvenile), Equetus punctatus

spotted drum

Longspine squirrelfish, Holocentrus rufus

squirrelfish

Goldentail moray, Gymnothorax miliaris, purplemouth moray, Gymnothorax vicinus, green moray, Gymnothorax funebris, with neon gobies, Elacatinus oceanops, and spotted moray, Gymnothorax moringa

moray purplemouth moray moray moray

Fringed filefish, Monacanthus ciliatus

filefish

Large eye toadfish, Batrachoides gilberti

toadfish

Emerald parrotfish (IP), Nicholsina usta, yellowtail parrotfish (IP), Sparisoma rubripinne, redband parrotfish (TP), Sparisoma aurofrenatum

parrotfish parrotfish parrotfish

Bicolor damselfish, Stegastes partitus, and yellowtail damselfish (juvenile), Microspathodon chrysurus

damselfish damselfish

Ocean surgeonfish, Acanthurus bahianus, and blue tang, Acanthurus coeruleus, with juvenile Spanish hogfishes, Bodianus rufus

surgeonfish blue tang

Schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus

schoolmaster

Fairy basslet, Gramma loreto

fairy basslet

French grunt, Haemulon flavolineatum

grunt

Ironically, we had originally planned on returning home on Monday, March 16, but flights on March 17 were so much cheaper that it was more cost-efftective to stay one more day. Or so we thought, anyway. Honduras went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 16. Roatan had no COVID-19 cases on the island (it still has none as of now, April 18), but with limited medical facilities there, it could quickly have become overwhelmed. Roatan closed its airport and ports, allowing no one to land or take off from the island. Restaurants, taxi service, buses, ferry boats, and rental cars were shut down. A curfew and many other restrictions were imposed.

The United flight from Roatan to Houston that Monday, which left Roatan four hours late, was the last flight out to any American city, or anywhere else for that matter, for several days. Having heard no communication from United, we checked with United by telephone that evening and were eventually told that our flight would come in empty to take American customers back to Houston according to the original schedule. However, when we got to the airport Tuesday it was deserted, mostly closed, and mostly locked up, with no United representatives around, or anyone else, for that matter. So we went back to the hotel.

Unable to tie up the phone there on hold with United for hours to try to figure out how to get home, Paul texted one of his sisters back in United States. After several hours on hold herself she was able to rebook us on a flight ten days later. So we were stuck. The beaches closed, the dive shop closed, and we were confined to the hotel compound. We quickly made arrangements to get prescription medicines filled on the island and got a few other supplies like toothpaste we would need for ten more days than we had planned for. As it happened a dive club group from our local area was stranded with us. We were stuck in a relatively expensive place to be stranded, but at least it was safe, clean, had potable water, food, air conditioning, generator power, security guards, and people who spoke Spanish and could therefore translate the government mandates and announcements better than we could.

Meanwhile, three different Canadian airlines quickly brought planes in empty and repatriated all the Canadian guests, but no American carriers did so for several days. A couple of American customers who really had to get home booked themselves onto a very costly charter flight and got out via Miami. The Czech Republic even got a flight in and brought their citizens out via a roundabout route. So the hotel got lonelier and lonelier as people managed to get out and get home.

There wasn't much to do. It was lonely, boring, and frightening all at the same time. The dive shop was locked up, the dive boats sat at the dock, the empty beach was cordoned off, we were confined to the hotel compound, and the strict curfew meant people so inclined could not hang around at the hotel bar and watch movies. We read a lot of books from the bookswap, edited the underwater photos, worked on software, and messed around on the internet on our computers when the internet bandwidth was good enough. We got very tired of that hotel room. I even spent a bunch of time photographing a woodpecker excavating a nest in the palm tree right outside the window. Our wedding anniversary came and went sadly without our usual celebration. We just hoped that the repatriation flights that were scheduled would actually fly, and were happy when the first of them left for Houston on schedule. Our repatriation flight back on the 28th was surreal, to put it mildly. We were in the last group to get out of our hotel, so they closed up when we left. The last repatriation flight out of Roatan was on March 31st.

I was never so glad to see a 737 come in and land safely as I was that empty plane! Applause rang out in the waiting area in the airport as all the anxious, stranded customers saw that we had a good chance of actually leaving at last. After we had all boarded, which was immediately since the plane had no arriving passengers, we had another scare when the pilot got on the PA system and announced that the plane had a mechanical issue and our departure was going to be delayed. There was a problem with the pitot-static system, which would mean that the plane had no working airspeed indicator. We feared that United was either going to have to bring in a different plane or a mechanic to fix that one, but after an anxious half hour we were able to depart. We arrived in Houston with no problems and only about ten minutes late. Houston was deserted, so we quickly were able to clear customs and connect with our almost-empty flight home.

When we got to Boston, the airport was almost completely empty, but our airport shuttle van ride home, which we had rebooked once we were relatively sure we would be able to get home, was faithfully waiting for us outside baggage claim, and we finally got home for our mandatory 14 (more) days of quarantine. So I made us face masks. Strangest DXpedition in our careers to date!

hotel room closed dive shop docked dive boats closed beachfront empty pool woodpecker 737 stranded passengers making facemasks

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Last modified 16 January 2021