---- from the
Cleary Jones’ "Personal Minister"
By: Lorenzo Dee Belveal
In the early years of my Roatan involvement, when I was building Spyglass Hill Resort,
--- trying to get a road opened into the property and doing the other million things that clamored for immediate and constant attention, I didn’t need a lot of entertainment at night. By the time it got dark, it was time to dump a couple tall cold ones down, get under an improvised bush-shower (utilizing an 8-gallon jerry-can, a length of rubber hose and a garden spray-head), and then fall into bed. This because in the tropics, as we say, "morning soon-come!"
Hardly anyone in Punta Gorda owned a clock, or needed one. When one goes to bed at dark and gets up at daybreak, he quickly gets accustomed to the routine and is soon doing his sleeping on the same schedule - and for the same reasons - as the chickens do.
Beyond this rudimentary time-keeping system, there was nothing to seriously intrude on one’s sleeping schedule. Romantically inclined couples could be seen "walking around" here and there, talking quietly along the beach, and occasionally locked in steamy embraces, doing their best to push a coconut tree out of the ground. But the odds were overwhelming that, long before midnight, everybody would be in bed - their own or somebody else’s - ready to get a good night’s sleep.
Without movies, television, night clubs or flood-lighted athletic playing fields to permit night games, it’s easy to get into the habit of going to bed whenever it gets dark. And most islanders did. But there were exceptions to the "early to bed" rule. More often than not when folks stayed up beyond dark, the distraction was some kind of a church meeting.
A stranger to the custom might have concluded that the islanders had an insatiable desire for preaching - and they do. Any kind of preaching. Preaching and prayer-meetings took the place of almost every other kind of evening entertainment, for a large part of the island population. Preachers became major island personalities, with relatively large and loyal followings, considering the small canvas upon which they necessarily had to make their ecclesiastical mark. Each preacher soon became known for his own style of sanctified oratory, and drew crowds - or repelled them - by his declamatory skills, or lack of them.
A "visiting" preacher invariably drew big crowds (for such a small population total) at least for the first few appearances. The newcomers had to stand up against searching criticism and ruthless comparisons with the familiar, local, "island" practitioners. In due course, the collective decision would be rendered, and - depending on his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures - and his ability to convey his information to a congregation in an entertaining, convincing, authoritative or attention-getting manner, the aspiring "preacher-man" either prospered and went on to preaching full-time, or "fell by the wayside", as the saying goes, and took up another line of work.
Roatan has long had churches that carry denominational logos, but denomination isn’t very important now, if it ever was. It didn’t use to be the least bit uncommon for someone to attend a Catholic mass on Sunday (provided the visiting priest arrived from the mainland to officiate), and then attend a Pentecostal evening service on Tuesday, a Methodist prayer meeting on Thursday evening, and a Christian Science discussion group on Friday night. The Seventh Day Adventists do their thing on Saturday, and this brings the devoted attendee right back to Sunday morning Mass, where it begins all over again.
With this kind of religious exposure, small wonder that quoting biblical passages takes on an aspect of competitive sport, especially among the middle-aged and older practitioners.
Coming now to Mr. Cleary Jones, and the central personality in this account, I should begin by saying that I had known Mister Cleary and a lot of his family members well and pleasantly for quite some time. The Jones family, it also deserves to be mentioned, were the original founders and remain the principal populators of Jonesville Town, on the south side of Roatan, just west of Oak Ridge.
The Joneses, by numbers alone it’s plain to see, are a fertile bunch. Grandpa Jones, patriarch of the Jones clan, once impregnated a nubile teenager, when he was solidly into his eighties. Eager to "do the right thing," of course, Grandpa Jones married the nymphet and they were - predictably - soon blessed by the arrival of a "bouncing baby boy," as the islanders like to put it. This should give you an idea about the Jones genes..
Mr. Cleary Jones, an important member of the Jones clan, was a handy man to know. He could skillfully butcher a beef, a pig or a goat. He was familiar with the subtle arts of bootlegging-by-the-case-at-very-good-prices. He could quickly and expertly throw, hog-tie and castrate either a mature stallion or a half-grown bull calf. If required, he could take a trawler to sea and come back with its hold full of shrimp.
I would like it understood that I knew and appreciated the full parameters of the man I’m talking about. While enjoying a productive and mutually pleasant personal and commercial relationship, I had never seen Cleary within shouting distance of a church of whatever kind, type or classification; neither orthodox, consolidated, modernized, mutated nor reformed. For all his other qualities - and he had more than his fair share - I did not know him as a religious man. A reliable and respectable man, but without benefit of obvious theocratic assistance in attaining this admirable result. Therefore it came as something of a surprise when a young man wearing a severe black suit, string-laced low-cut Italian dancing shoes, and an Anglican clerical collar, presented himself at the front door of Spyglass Hill one afternoon, and handed me a note from my good friend, Cleary Jones.
The missive introduced the bearer as Reverend Martin Oglethorpe, D.D., a minister of the faith according to the catechism and dogmatic representations of the Church of England, as presided over by Queen Elizabeth-II, herself. Subordinate to Her Royal Highness, The Church of England has long been and is still operated for the glory of God and the currently reigning monarch, by His Eminence, the Archbishop of Canterbury. So, while the Queen is actually the top squeeze in the British church, the Archbishop is the guy who minds the store, and spells out the "messages" for the faithful each Sunday, along with whatever cautionary caveats and explanatory footnotes he feels appropriate at the time
I was extremely surprised to find a British clergyman cracking his knuckles on my front porch, which is a long way from London, as either the crow - or Pan-American Airlines - flies. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. The Bay Islands were once a British colonial territory and - although ceded to Honduras a couple hundred years ago - the "Crown" likes to touch base with the former members of the empire from time to time. (Never know when you might need them, maybe.) Perhaps Reverend Oglethorpe was just checking things out for the "Home" office, to make sure the right number of islands still showed up for counting. Anyway that was how I rationalized his visit at the time.
Cleary’s Jones’ note to me began with firm assurances of his warmest feelings of neighborliness and confraternity for me, and then went on to state that "my personal minister, Reverend Oglethorpe," had some pressing ecclesiastical business pending in the vicinity of Camp Bay, and needed transportation to that point. Since there were no roads on Roatan when this transpired, providing the transport called for a boat ride. I had several boats, some free time on my hands, and a huge curiosity, so I was happy to accommodate him.
I got a couple bottles of beer out of the ice for me and a bottle of Coca Cola for the Reverend, and we went down to the boat dock and got underway.
I was more than a little bit puzzled by Cleary Jones’ identification of the Reverend Mr. Oglethorpe as his "personal minister." From the gentleman’s speech alone, it was abundantly clear that he was a born, bred, and devoutly practicing Englishman. Indeed, it seemed to me that, had he spent another six weeks in "Old Blighty", he would not likely have been able to talk at all. In view of this, I was curious about how me had managed to forge such a close connection with my friend, Cleary, as to become his "personal minister." He had never mentioned visiting England to me. In point of fact, I didn’t think Cleary knew the difference between Picadilly Circus, and Barnum & Bailey. I tried to probe this mystery with discreet but pointed questions, to no avail. The Reverend’s precise connection with Cleary Jones remains a mystery to this day.
The half-hour trip to Camp Bay Beach was, nevertheless, an interesting one.
In furtherance of my quest to find out the reason for all of religious attention Roatan comes in for, I quizzed the Reverend Mr. Oglethorpe as to his plans on the island. Would he be conducting revival meetings? Building a church? Was he what we might consider a fiddle-footed missionary - or more of a settle-down-and stay-here "Resident Pastor"? Did he speak in "tongues" in the manner of Sister Jean? Did he consider Roatan a particularly sinful island that needed concentrated ministerial attention? If not, to what else might he attribute the superfluity of bible-thumpers that constantly came, went, and remained on our rustic little island?
I posited many kinds of religiously- and church-oriented questions like these. For the most part, I must say, the Reverend was more than a little bit non-committal. The answers he provided me were brief and largely unresponsive to my queries. He vouchsafed me that he didn’t plan to be doing any preaching on Roatan, but instead was just visiting friends. No, he did not intend to build a church. He described his trip as "field study" which, to the best of my understanding is not, per-se, a major religious category, but can cover a very broad area of activity if one chooses to apply it in the macro sense. He firmly assured me in the most unmistakable terms, that he did not speak in "tongues," and considered anyone who did, a pure charlatan.
He said he was in no position to judge the volume or degree of sinful activities being engaged in on Roatan, but he said he "doubted" it was much better or worse than "anywhere else", which struck me as pretty generalized and reticent, if not downright evasive response at the time. A minister of the gospel - any gospel - is supposed to have settled attitudes on sinning, both quantitative and qualitative! At least I have always thought so. On the matter of too many island missionaries, Reverend Oglethorpe said he had no idea. Maybe they have been invited, he suggested hopefully, which I took as an indication of his lack of basic island knowledge. I have never heard of a missionary being invited anywhere - except to go home. And even this is unusual. Missionaries just go where God sends them - or so they insist whenever I ask them.
With all of these things to talk about, the trip up to Camp Bay went altogether too rapidly, even though I cut back to half-throttle, in order to give us more time for conversation.
Camp Bay lies inside a fairly large opening in the north shore’s barrier reef. In years past, coconut and banana boats used to run through the cut in the reef, pull up to the Camp Bay dock, and load their produce. No more, though, because a storm took the dock out, and nobody has seen fit to replace it. This being the case, there was no very good place for me to land the Reverend.
To complicate things, when we arrived in the area, there were waves from three to four feet high running inside the reef and breaking menacingly up on the beach. This made it impossible for me to run my boat up onto the sandy shore, offload the Reverend, push back into the sea and go back to Spyglass. I explained this to him.
"What am I going to do?" he inquired plaintively.
"My advice, Reverend, is that you remove your shoes and socks. I have a plastic bag here that you can put them in. Then roll up your pants legs as far as you can, Sir" He followed my explanation with increasing consternation. "When you are all ready, Reverend, I will make a high-speed, looping pass at the beach, with the idea of putting you in the shallowest water possible, without grounding my boat."
"I want you to stand on the rail of the boat, with your shoes and socks in the plastic bag in one hand, and your briefcase in the other. When I am as close to shore as I can get you, I’ll tell you to jump. You do it! And as soon as you touch bottom, you start running up the beach. Once you get into dry sand, hang a left - and walk right along the beach. Inquire of anyone you see, for the people you wish to visit."
From the way the Reverend first studied the moderately choppy water, and then turned to look searchingly into my face, I was able to gauge the misgivings he harbored concerning the procedure I had carefully spelled out. But he followed my instructions to the letter.
Removing his shoes and socks, he placed them in the plastic bag I provided him. Then he rolled his pants up above his knees, and positioned himself on the starboard rail where I had indicated. He held the plastic bag high in one hand and his black, genuine close-grained leather, briefcase at maximum altitude in the other. When all was ready, I fully opened the throttle and began a diagonal run toward the beach. As the water depth diminished, I felt the keel bump the sandy bottom once - and then again.
The Reverend Mr. Oglethorpe was in position, both arms aloft and holding the shoe bag and briefcase. His eyes were twice their normal size and as round as ping-pong balls. When I yelled "Jump!" he did. I swung the rudder to turn the boat back into deep water.
The Reverend made two or three long-legged hops toward the shore in fine shape. Then, when everything was going so well, a wave, augmented by the wake from my speeding boat caught him squarely in his buttocks, and knocked him flat, face-down, into the sea. He totally disappeared under the water, but promptly resurfaced and continued his energetic clamber up onto dry land.
My last sighting of him was when he was walking up the beach to look for his friends. He turned, paused, and waved dejectedly at me. I waved back at him.
-----No, this won’t do. This ending is not precisely true. I saw the Reverend again.
Actually the last time I saw Reverend Martin Oglethorpe was in the Hotel Paris, in LaCeiba, Honduras, about ten days after our encounter on Roatan.
I was sitting in the Hotel Paris lobby, reading a newspaper, when a couple entered from the street, stopped at the desk to collect their room key, and then continued upstairs. At first I did not recognize the Reverend. Instead of the black suit and "backwards" clerical collar, he was now wearing a pair of well-tailored gray slacks, black tasseled loafers, and a brightly flowered Hawaiian-style sport shirt. An attractive young lady was firmly attached in the crook of his left arm, and they chatted animatedly as they passed near my chair.
At first glance I considered speaking to him, but thought better of it. He saw me and I caught the flash of recognition in his face. Then he quickly looked the other way and hurried his lady up the stairway. It seemed clear to me that, whatever errand of mercy claimed his attention then, he viewed it with some degree of urgency. He was obviously not interested in renewing our all-too-brief acquaintanceship.
It occurred to me that one of the most rewarding aspects of the soul-saving profession is the realization that this world is constantly overstocked with sinners. A man of the cloth who keeps his eyes open, wherever he finds himself, must have no trouble at all in reaching out and touching a questing, searching, suffering soul, who craves some kind of counseling or even more direct personal attention.
What a warm and wonderful realization for a "man of God ‘ to constantly live with.
How about Cleary Jones, you ask? Well,now - I’ll tell you about him.
Like I said, Cleary was one of my favorite island bootleggers. The import duties on whiskey, gin, brandy and hard stuff like that, especially, are so damned high in Honduras, it comes close to taking all the enjoyment out of drinking. It’s only natural then, that some enterprising islanders with the blood of pirates running in their veins, would find a track that leads around the Customs Office, but not into it. Cleary Jones was one of these enterprising and imaginative people.
Belize City was the Islanders’ favorite place to go for duty-free shopping.
By buying the contraband in Belize, bribing the Administrator of Aduana in Coxen’s Hole, unloading the cargo on the north side of the island, and delivering it under cover of darkness in small boats and dories, Roatan stayed constantly well-supplied with drinking materials, without duties, and consequently at affordable prices.
One year in the mid- or late 70’s, I don’t exactly remember any more, a new Jackson boat called the "Nighthawk" was being hurried to completion in French Harbor. The idea was to get it ready for its maiden voyage - to Belize - to bring back a cargo of contraband liquor, candy, groceries, presents for the kids. Lots of stuff! For the Christmas Holidays.
While the "Nighthawk" was being readied for sailing, our "representatives" who were making the trip stopped by to visit with their "customers" and prepare the orders that were to be filled in Belize. (A duty-free port, as previously noted.) Cleary Jones stopped by Spyglass, and we put my order together. Then I gave him the money we estimated it would take to pay for my purchases. The business finished, I shook his hand, wished him good sailing – and never saw him again.
What happened to the "Nighthawk" and all of its passengers remains a mystery. The story most people subscribe to blames pirates for the disappearance. Consider the situation:
It was a brand new boat, about a hundred feet long. Maiden voyage. There weren’t many people on her, but what passengers there were, were all carrying a lot of money, in anticipation of their pre-Christmas shopping spree. The weather was ideal.
But the "Nighthawk" never got to Belize. The most likely scenario is that a pirate boat came alongside her, (maybe a known boat, faking engine trouble or something else) put a boarding party over the gun’ale, robbed everybody, then killed them. This done, the pirates then probably ran the "Nighthawk" up one of the several rivers, bayous and inlets that scallop the coast between Belize City, and Honduras border. Then they would have tied her securely to a tree or anchored her, doused her with fuel and set her afire.
Being new construction, she would have burned like torch down to the waterline. Since she had no cargo she should have been riding high in the water. She had some empty 55-gallon fuel drums on her deck, along with new mooring lines and deck tackle. Lots of this stuff floats, but nothing with the "Nighthawk" stencil on it was ever found along the Belize coast, where seasonal rains should have promptly washed the flotsam out to sea and into easy view.
The "Nighthawk" is a genuine Roatan mystery. The "Nighthawk" certainly didn’t sink. She was full of new, dry wood She wasn’t laden. She was floating like a cork. She had an experienced captain and crew, and several well-experienced seagoing passengers, including Cleary Jones and Albert Jackson’s father - who had built her.
So what happened?
Every Christmas the islanders remember that trip. Small groups of old seagoing men sit and talk about it. They are still wondering what happened. All of the usual possibilities are examined once more, and when there is nothing left to suggest, the consensus always comes out the same:
"Pirates got her."
Then everybody has another drink. Quiet and reflective. Each full of his own thoughts.
Lorenzo Dee Belveal, Author