25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

First Speedboats and First Vehicles


W
ho was the first Mestizo to build his house, first fish trap, carved his first dorey and constructed his first wheelbarrow? Those answers will remain unknown, but we will continue with this series of firsts- men of vision who helped mould San Pedro to what it is today.

FIRST SPEEDBOAT- A speed boat is something that today we take for granted. Jump into a small speed boat, perhaps a mahogany skiff and in twenty minutes you are at your dive spot making deep skin dives looking for lobsters. Or perhaps you jump into your large speed boat equipped with diving gear and in forty minutes you are at the world famous Blue Hole ready to take your excited visiting divers for a breathtaking dive. Finally you might board into one of the water taxis and in one hour and twenty minutes you are already disembarking at Belize City ready to consult with your personal doctor, lawyer, or whatever business takes you to the old capital city.

A speed boat is something that today we all take for granted. It is just there. But it was not always like that. Back in the 1940s people in San Pedro had to patiently await the services of El San Roque, a cargo boat that travelled between San Pedro and Belize City mostly with coconuts for export. Later on in the 1950s it was the Elsa P, captained by Felipe Paz, lovingly known as Tio Pil. The Elsa P took orders from two or three local business owners and sailed to Belize City shopping for the grocery stores. And because there was no other mode of transportation, passengers could get a ride to the city for 50 cents.

Vernon Hammon, a U.S. citizen who retired in San Pedro, was about to inaugurate a resort known as the Reef Colony Club. Well obviously he needed transportation to communicate between San Pedro and Belize City and for that he used a speed boat. It was a small boat, about 18 feet long with a 40 horse power outboard engine so it moved really fast by the standards of the 1950s. Well this speedboat which he used to commute from San Pedro to Belize City was also called the Reef Colony and was captained by Cruz Nuez (+) and Libby Azueta. Scores of Sanpedranos traveled this speedboat for free- students, sick people, any emergency or simply one desiring to go to the city and it coincided with a trip of the Reef Colony. No wonder Vernon Hammon and his wife Terry were very much liked by all the people of San Pedro. Kudos to Mr. Hammon for introducing the speedboats to San Pedro.

Fast transportation was first by sea rather than by air or land and that is understandable for an island that is so linked to the sea. The first speed boat was owned by one Mr. Vernon Hammon and Terry Hammon, a U.S. couple who came to Ambergris Caye in the 1950's. bought a lot of land and went into real estate. Obviously Mr. Hammon needed good transportation to go to the city for his legal transactions. Also he was about to inaugurate a resort known as the Reef Colony Club. Well obviously he needed transportation to communicate between San Pedro and Belize City and for that he used a speed boat. He, therefore got himself a wooden skiff, large and beautiful, , about 18 feet long with a 40 horse power outboard engine so it moved really fast by the standards of the 1950s. It had 2 big outboard motors and he named it "Reef Colony" after the resort he was working on.


Mr. Chico Gomez and Mr. Oscar Aguilar on first jeep

The boat was painted all white with-red trimmings and San Pedranos looked at that skiff with admiration and amazement. They had never seen anything like that before. Cruz Nunez Jr.. and Libby Azueta used to captain it, and they Made frequent trips to Belize City, giving free rides to some lucky San Pedranos. Mr. Hannon did not mind and during emergencies, Cruz was willing to move the "Reef Colony" day or night. to take ill patients to the city for medication. San Pedranos remember that skiff with or great fondness.

Scores of Sanpedranos traveled this speedboat for free- students, sick people, any emergency or simply one desiring to go to the city and it coincided with a trip of the Reef Colony. No wonder Vernon Hammon and his wife Terry were very much liked by all the people of San Pedro. Kudos to Mr. Hammon for introducing the speedboats to San Pedro.

It was from then that San Pedranos longed to have their own speed boats and looked with optimism to the day when they could lower the sails of the boats or throw away the paddles and Put an Outboard hind a skiff. Soon, Armando Graniel a great fisherman, had " The Veloz" (speed).

For everyone who takes a ride by speedboat to Belize City or Chetumal, Mexico for granted, I want to take you through this ordeal, I mean this ride. You board the Elsa P at four in the morning, when the stars are still shining brightly. The sails are hoisted; Tio Pil is at the stern at the rudder and ropes in hand. The few passengers, from two to ten, would find a comfortable spot where they would spend anything from four to ten hours, depending on the strength of the wind. Just before the northern point of Caye Caulker, the first rays of light would appear on the eastern sky and passengers would awake from a slumber and take a satisfying stretch.

Anybody who was smart enough to take along some food would take it out and enjoy some tea with milk inside a thermos. I tell you a potted meat sandwich or some bread with a piece of Dutch cheese felt like a sensational breakfast at a five-star restaurant. This journey lasted about five hours if the wind was strong and filled the pockets of the sails. On a calm day when not even the foam on the reef was visible, it could be a tormenting ordeal, I mean ride and you would begin to see the buildings of the city at about one in the afternoon and then see the vehicles at about two p.m. and arrive at about three in the afternoon. Oh no, there was nothing like a same day return! Half an hour before arrival, another ordeal- putting on of shoes. On those short four-hour journeys of windy days, the passengers who did get a bit wet would be changing shirts, or skirts, combing their hair and trying to look presentable for the magnificent city. FIRST VEHICLE- 600 golf carts, close to 125 taxis and many private cars and trucks. WOW! And which was the first vehicle? Well, an oil exploration company brought a few trucks and tractors to the north end at Basil Jones ' but they never hit out grassy Streets. It was Caribena Fishing Cooperative which needed a vehicle to transport blocks of ice for the fishermen and to carry boxer of frozen lobster tails to the main pier for exportation that brought the first vehicle to San Pedro. It was an olive green Land Rover and the first driver was Oscar Aguilar, plant operator at the cooperative. This was the first vehicle to start killing the streets' grass and grinding our coral sand to dust and making large potholes on the streets. This was the commencement of San Pedro's traffic nightmare.

Just about the same time there was a yellow jeep belonging to Jerry McDermott driven by Cruz Nunez Jr., called the Yellow Cab. This was was used for personal transport. Can you guess how many speedboats we have on Ambergris Caye today? I say some 500. And cars and vehicles?About 1,000? Wait a minute. I see an application at the Transport Department for a limousine. And San Pedro High is thinking of a school bus. Give me a break!

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