Henry Morgan Rescue in A Screaming Norther

Port Royal Roatan, Honduras

March 21, 1986

Richard L. Watson, 6/23/2019

On March 21, 1986 our 44 ft. trawler yacht Quiet Dawn crewed by me, Betsy A. Churgai and Rene Ribera from Fiddler's Bight, Oak Ridge, Roatan were in Port Royal serving as the shore and snorkeling boat for the magnificent, square rigged sailing cruise ship Sea Cloud.  Sea Cloud is a  316 ft square rigged ship built as a private yacht for Marjorie Meriwether Post and E.F. Hutton in the 1930s.  She has been converted into an exclusive cruise ship.  In 1986, she made many visits to Port Royal , Roatan and we took her passengers to town and snorkeling.  

Sea Cloud in Port Royal 1986

Quiet Dawn at Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

The Storm Arrives

In the afternoon, a very powerful cold front came through the area,  It was blowing way over 50 knots.  The Sea Cloud was straining at her anchor in the harbor and listing heavily due just to the wind in her rigging.  The heavy cross bar anchor chain was as straight as a solid rod. Sea Cloud began to drag her anchor.  I radioed the captain of the  Sea Cloud to tell him that I knew were there was a deep hole in the bay where his anchor might hold better.  He said, lets give at try.  As he got underway, he was almost unable to turn  to the left because of the wind and looked like he might go aground in shallow water.  I told  him that I would push his bow around with Quiet Dawn if necessary.   He agreed, but Sea Cloud finally began  to turn on her own and I led him to the hole, but the anchor missed and he started to drag again.  He decided to get all passengers on board and go to sea.  A great many sailing ships were lost in harbors due to dragging anchors and no engine  to save the day.  Sea Cloud had two engines, but the rudder being between the propellers, instead of behind the propellers had no prop wash across the rudder and had little turning power until it was moving briskly.  That was close, but Sea Cloud made out to sea to safety.

Radio Call for Help

Shortly after Sea Cloud was safely out to sea, we received a desperate call for help from Oak Ridge's Reef House Resort dive boat Henry Morgan.  Henry Morgan had taken guests diving at Pigeon Cays to the East, near Barbaretta and while motoring had lost all power in their single engine.  They were rapidly drifting out to sea to the south away from the protection of the island in rapidly rising seas. Henry Morgan was a 40 foot inboard powered boat with a huge open cockpit and very vulnerable to being flooded by the rising waves and sinking.

Henry Morgan

The Decision

There was no  boat other than Quiet Dawn close enough to rescue Henry Morgan and the 16 or so people on board.  We had Rene on board as a crew member because Betsy had been clobbered by a steel shrimp boat wheel house door that slammed into her head the day before while we were adjusting its steering compass.  I asked Rene if he would go with us on this very dangerous mission It was way too rough for Quiet Dawn to be going to sea on in that weather.  I will never forget his answer.  "Mr Richard, I sure don't want to go out in that sea, but if I was out there I sure would want someone to come to rescue me.  I will go with you."  First we had to leave our 13 ft Boston Whaler at the dock, because we couldn't tow it and the Henry Morgan in such weather. Our 9 ft whaler was in Oak Ridge on shore, so now we had no life boat.  If Quiet Dawn went down in that terrible weather we would be doomed.  We were going to attempt to rescue the Henry Morgan.

Out to Sea in the Screaming Norther

At 1615 we put out to see at full power on both engines heading southeast toward the Henry Morgan.  Fortunately a ship of about 200 or 300 ft based in French Harbor, Roatan passed near the Henry Morgan and agreed to stand by till we arrived.  That was a huge help as we could see the ship on our radar, but not the little Henry Morgan.  It got rougher and rougher and the rain came in torrents. We couldn't  see anything except the ship blip on the radar.  When we were within a mile of the ship, we asked them to aim their spotlight at us.  We couldn't see that either.  Finally we saw the dim glow of the running lights on Henry Morgan.  Now it got tricky.  Henry Morgan was lying beam on to the huge seas and the crew and tourists were bailing with their lunch dishes as the waves came on board.  If I had better visibility, I would have preferred to go head into the waves with Quiet Dawn and pass just in front of their bow to pass the line, but I was afraid that we might collide.  We prepared a  towing line and Rene was ready with it on the back deck while I went up on the flying bridge to see better for the close pass by the Henry Morgan.  We were now beam on to the waves too which was extremely dangerous for Quiet Dawn.  We were rolling so hard that I could barely keep my footing with my feet as far apart as I could get them and still steer.  The wind and rain was so loud that Rene on the back deck could not hear me only 15 or 20 feet away on the flying bridge.  Rene tossed the line and they caught it and made it fast to the bow of the Henry Morgan.  Back in the cabin Rene said, "Dem mans catch dat line like a cat catch a fish."  The Henry Morgan was under tow at 1900, three hours after we left Port Royal.  

The Long Tow to Safety

Now we were towing Henry Morgan and going straight into the wind and seas to get in the lee of Barbaretta Island and safety.  Since we were towing from a docking cleat and I had no idea what our line was attached to on Henry Morgan, I ran the engines only at 1300 rpm far below our normal 1800 rpm.  We had to watch the radar for 30 minutes to see if we were gaining.  We went up over the waves and  crashed down into the trough of the other side very hard,  even though we were barely moving.  My dog threw up in the cabin, Rene threw up and I threw  up over my shoulder out the wheelhouse door.  Betsy took the wheel while we recovered.  In about two and a half hours were were in relatively calm water in the lee of  Helene Island.  Finally at nearly 0100, 9 long hours after we started out to rescue Henry Morgan , we were approaching Oak Ridge, Roatan.  

The End of the Trip

As we approached Roatan, I called the manager at Reef House on the radio and asked him to go over to my friend Calvin Bodden's house and get  Calvin to come out the narrow unmarked pass through the reef at Oak Ridge to guide us in.  Instead, he sent a young kid who didn't know what  he was doing and  who did not come outside of the entrance.  That was no help at all.  So even though I had never gone through that dangerous unmarked entrance at night, I decided to do it with directions from  Captain Pandy on the boat that I was towing.  As soon as we got in, the kid in the skiff managed to run over my tow line and get it tangled in his outboard.  We got the Henry Morgan under tow by a small boat to its dock and we  went to tie up at BJs Backyard where we were docking at the time.  We all collapsed into bed.

The Next Morning

The next morning Rene went home and we started to clean up the boat.  I found that none of  running lights were working.  We had been coming down off of the waves so hard  that the filaments in every bulb that was on was broken from the slam.  Wow.  Well, we only then found out then that a  couple of our Oak Ridge friends, including  Hanky Hynds, the owners of Reef House and Pandy were on board along with over a dozen tourists.  We  all  have a story to tell now.