A S S O C I A T I O N OF U N D E R W A T E R E X P L O R E R S
ROATAN EXPRESS and FANTASTICO
May 10-11, 2003
The ROATAN EXPRESS was a 180-foot long offshore supply vessel used as a freighter by Jackson Shipping of Tampa, who ran it on a regular route from Honduras to Tampa. In 1992 she sank un-expectantly, taking the lives of the captain and one passenger. At the time, she was carrying several trucks and numerous shipping containers that contained general provisions. The shipping containers floated off and sank away from the wreck. The ROATAN now sits upright and intact in 180fsw, 84 miles west-northwest of Naples. Numerous goliath grouper now reside on the wreck, which normally hosts good visibility due to its distance offshore.
A crew of five divers motored out to the wreck early Saturday morning. As part of the second team, I descended to the wreck to find about 50 feet of visibility, reduced in part due to the presence of abundant sea snot in the water. I prepared to shoot some video only to find that the camera in the housing had its autolock engaged. Since I couldnt capture any footage I stashed the camera and my buddy and I proceeded to poke about the wreck. The number of goliath grouper has really grown, with perhaps 50-60 specimens now residing amongst the vessel. Peering into the bridge, it was wall-to-wall grouper, with about a dozen monsters hanging inside. I dropped down and proceeded to enter the interior. This wreck presents another unique penetration hazard, that of confronting a 200-pound fish obstructing your path. Since there were two grouper guarding the main corridor that led to the engine room hatch, I turned left and finned into the galley. The interior is really starting to deteriorate, as cabinets and fixtures that were attached to the ceiling only a year ago have now collapsed.
I passed the washing machine after tossing a bowl into it that needed to be cleaned. China dishes and glasses can still be found scattered under debris and partially covered in the nasty sediment that coats every surface in the interior. Jars, utensils, and other supplies can be found in the cupboards and closets. In the far aft corner of the galley I happened to look down to spy numerous bottle necks poking up from the sediment. Looking very familiar, I pulled one up to find that it was a still-corked bottle of champagne (well, California sparkling wine). It appeared there was a whole case of the stuff partially hidden in the rust-colored gook. I signaled my buddy to come over and proceeded to extract some of the bottles from the sediment. Passing them to him, I could plainly hear some unmistakable laughter bellow forth from him. After passing the bottles to him, and grabbing two to three more, I patiently waited for his light to reappear in the rapidly deteriorating and gloomy interior visibility. After recovering about 10 of the bottles in this fashion, I continued to explore the wreck more. Passing the water fountain and fire extinguisher near the hatch to the forward lounge, I turned to find two large jewfish blocking my path. I slowly finned towards them, hoping the would move out of the way. They finally cleared out, but they must not have received proper cave training based on their fin technique and the cloud of sediment they left me in. After goofing off on the main deck level, I swam up to the second deck.
Pulling the exterior hatch open, I peered inside. Several goliath grouper were inside, trickling down from the stairwell to the bridge. To the left, two grouper and one large cubera snapper nervously swam from side to side, billowing out a nice cloud of sediment. Swimming forward, I came across all sorts of debris from the wreck: fire extinguishers, bike parts, copious packs of Winston cigarettes, clothing, video tapes, etc. In the starboard forward compartment, two supply closets line the forward bulkhead. This is where on other dives cases of liquor were found. Numerous other bottles still lined the sediment covered bottom, and I picked out two bottles of J&B scotch whiskey and proceeded to exit the wreck. After depositing the bottles with the remainder of our hooch on the top of the bridge, my buddy and I boarded our scooters to take a couple laps of the wreck.
Flying over the deck, we quickly came upon the five or so trucks clumped on the extreme stern. Dropping down to view the running gear, goliath grouper fled our intrusion; there seemed to be goliaths everywhere. After entertaining ourselves for a while longer, we gathered the rest of our equipment and departed the wreck.
We opted to motor in to the wreck of the FANTASTICO to anchor up for the evening. The FANTASTICO was a Honduran freighter that sank in the March 1993 No-Name Storm, 53 miles west of Naples. She now rests on her starboard side in approximately 110fsw. Completely intact when she originally sunk, her midship cargo areas have now totally collapsed. A couple of the guys we were diving with had the unique opportunity of diving the wreck soon after the sinking. They found a completely undisturbed wreck, aside from the damage inflicted from the actual sinking. Papers still floated about the bridge and every surface was still clean from growth. Now, the wreck has been quickly incorporated by the marine environment, and hosts a healthy abundance of fish.
My buddy and I dropped in, scootered down the anchor line, and proceeded the short distance over to the wreck. I spent the majority of the dive shooting video of the exterior, though conditions were less than spectacular with around 30 feet of visibility. After chasing some of the goliath grouper around, I finned into the bridge to try and capture some shots. I then dropped down into the wreck and did a nice swim thru several compartments, eventually exiting the hatch on the stern. Cage lamps, portholes, and emergency gongs can still be found inside the wreck. She is slowly collapsing on herself, as there are areas that are no longer accessible in the lower (starboard) side of the wreck superstructure. After we played around a while longer, my buddy and I concluded our 55-minute sojourn on the wreck, and ascended to wrap up our decompression in 77-degree water, amidst schools of small amberjack and barracuda.
It was a pleasant weekend out on the water, one that was far overdue on account of the miserable weather we have experienced this spring. I am anxiously looking forward to more great diving in the near future.