History Repeated: Tender Trouble Times Two
“History,” a timeworn saying briefly assures us, “repeats itself.” Unfortunately for the Zartmans, this was the case with their dinghy delimmas.
What the adage leaves unsaid is the often strange and unexpected nature of that repetition. Who would’ve thought, when Danielle, my wife, and I first sailed into French Harbor, at Isla de Roatán, that eight years later we’d return on an almost identical errand? What made it considerably stranger was that the surrounding circumstances were so different.
That first time, our dinghy had been stolen while we slept at anchor in a mainland lagoon while en route from Guatemala to Isla de Utila. It’d taken several frustrating days of fruitless searching before we were finally steered to Sherman Arch’s boatbuilding operation at French Cay, on Roatán, the largest of Honduras’ Islas de la Bahía group. It hadn’t been too easy going ashore without a dinghy—we had to swim, towing dry clothes and any necessaries in Tupperware boxes, and fetching any supplies back out at great peril to their survival.
Only Sherman’s kindness had saved our cruise that time from being scuppered, but it’d done far more than just that. As a result of our misfortune, we’d been drawn into a unique and wonderful slice of Roatán’s island community. In his beat-up old Nissan pickup, Sherman had carted Danielle and me along to their many family events, where we’d met several generations of Arches and Jacksons, each speaking less English than its successor. But what goodwill their language couldn’t communicate their actions certainly did, and in short order Sherman had pulled a mold off a borrowed pram dinghy and laid up a hull for us inside of that. I learned a lot about fiberglass, watching Sherman and his fellows work; with less than half a dozen power tools and one worn-out wood chisel—honestly—they’d slice old fiberglass boats in half, widen, lengthen and repower them, then sell them as fishing boats, and they built magnificent fast fishing dories in a mold taken off an enormous dugout canoe.
When work on our dinghy lagged due to more pressing matters, it wasn’t a great cause for concern: Capella, our 27-foot Irwin sloop, was comfortably tied up to Sherman’s homemade fishing trawler, and his wife, Petrona, daily plied us with island delights: johnnycakes, breadfruit, fish, blue crab, and fried plantain, not to mention the most delicious grease-laden night of my life when a pig was slaughtered and most of it deep-fried on the spot in a big iron cauldron of lard.
We’d sailed on with much regret, one dinghy and dozens of friends richer than when we’d arrived. Our visas were long expired, and it was well into hurricane season; we had to fight our weary way east against the trade winds and so down to Cartagena, Colombia, by way of Panama. We harbored no expectation of ever returning to Roatán again.