The Heron H. passenger and freight boat, long ago
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Wednesday January 8, 2020

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MV. Heron H Loading cargo at Fort Belize City 1950s.

Loading a 1941 Dodge Panel truck at Fort aboard the Heron H in Belize City for transport to Puerto Barrios Guatemala 1967. JA Spoonaz: Love the mule and cart, use to love to get ah ride on them. We lived in the mid 50's across from where the Heron H docked by the Customs House , it would blow its horn and I would run and hide under the bed!!!

Heron H. On Dock 1971, The dockyard is Simeon Young Boatyard after it became obsolete. The Heron H. rotted away at that location. That's straight down Simon Lamb street to the river,. Corner of north Front St. where Farmcenter is now or Riverside Tavern. Next to the old lumber yard. The Maya Prince was docked beside Belcan Bridge for years. Photo courtesy Leopold Grinage.

A model of the Heron H. The first water taxi between Belize and the cayes in the Belize Museum. One of the only means of transportation to Honduras and the southern districts. Photo by Trevor Rama Taylor

Heron H. & Honduran at Fort George, 1967

The "Heron-H" was Belize's premiere carrier of passengers and cargo between the old capital and southern towns including Stann Creek. Right click image to open in a new window to see a larger more readable version of the article.

Heron H on the dock unloading it's passengers. Vernon Daniel: This was the boat that my parents Samuel A. Vernon and my mother Iris Vernon, my aunts and thier cousins, and many more people took to go to Belize City for high school, SJC SC.

Unloading a Land Rover from the Heron H, at Punta Gorda 1950-52. Photo by Paola Flores.

Sam Lieberman: I rode the Heron H from Belize city to Puerto Barrios in the fall of 1966. We were on our way to Panama driving my 1960 pink Rambler. here it is being strapped across the bow. I remember our little room on board with a built in bunk bed. The only amenity was an enameled metal bowl with a pitcher of water for washing up, step out the door and dump it overboard. This photo and the two below are by Sam Lieberman.

Notice the Sleeping Quarters on the lower deck.
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The Heron H. passenger and freight boat, long ago

The Heron H was a passenger and freight boat that went to the Southern Districts of Belize. Built by Dwight Hunter in the 1920's, this popular passenger and Cargo vessel was an essential means of transport from Belize City to Southern Belize prior to the construction of the Southern Highway. In the 1950's, Captain Jack was running it and the whistle blew at 6am. I remember the rice and corn beef they served on board. It was mostly white with Grey lines horizontally and copper red on the bottom. Mr. Buster Hunter and the Hunter family were the owners of the Heron H.

Leter, Captain was Fred Garbutt and his brother Oswald Garbutt was the captain of the Maya Prince. Famous Brown Man with his mule and cart was their brother as well.

There was that blaring sound from the horn whenever the Boats were arriving or leaving the Pier, and the clanging of bell signals from the Captain to the engineer below to throttle or slow down the engines.

Before the southern highway was completed, transportation from PG to Belize City was only by boat, including the Heron H., Maya Prince, Cubbs Arm, and Honduran, E.M.L. Transportation within Punta Gorda was mostly wheelbarrow which served as a sort of taxi for cargo, and bicycles (used mainly by men, and admired by women if you have one). Cars in town were very rare and could have only been shipped to from Belize City by boat. There were trucks for passengers, freight, and logging. There were Caterpillar tractors and a few Jeeps or Land Rovers for work uses (owned by chicle and logging people, I like the Espats.) But a nice comfortable car? PG never had such a luxury until Mr Carlton Johnson took the plunge and graced the streets of PG with one around 1960. Up until May 1962, it was still the only car there.

They made one trip a week. The boat would arrive on one day, offload and load on the next day and depart the day after that. Heron H arrived on Tuesdays and departed Thursday's (Mr John Noralez, Sr. was the 2nd captain in command. Mr Fred Garbutt was the 1st captain.) then Honduran arrived Fridays departed Sundays. There were locally constructed wheelbarrows transporting luggage from the wharf and red skirts on the Wharf to pick up mails. The journey by sea in those days took about 18 hours, stopping along the way at Punta Negra, Monkey River, Plascencia Seine Bight, Stann Creek then Belize City in the morning.

The Maya Prince, by the way, only substituted for the Heron H, while she went on dry dock for regular overhaul each year. Both vessels kept the same precise schedule:

Left Belize - Sat. 1 pm
Arrive PG - Sun. 6 am
Left PG - Sun. 4 pm
Arrive Bz - Mon.8 am
Left Belize - Tue. 1 pm
Arrived PG -Wed. 6am
Left PG - Wed.11am for Puerto Barrios. Return to PG - Thu. 6am
Left. PG - Thu. ? pm (Can't remember)
Arrive Bz - Fri. ? am. (Can't remember)

A regular transport between Belize City and PG in the 1960s before the Southern Highway was built. Israel Penglass was chief mechanic on that boat. It was a key form of transportation throughout Belize from Belize to other parts of Central America. The Heron was always always packed. many things were going on aboard.

I remember traveling on it to Stann Creek as a kid. My vague memory includes an overnight trip and sleeping on a bunk bed on the boat. Nice tasty food on request. There was the Belizean Queen as well, no?

The Captain, Mr Fredrick Garbutt, was from Monkey River, came to the City early 1900.His brother Oswald Garbutt also was the Captain,Andrew nd myself traveled to River '69 summer on that boat. When the "Heron" got in it's old age, it docked at Davis boat yard on North Front St. We used to jump off the Heron H into the murky river as it lay rotting in the Belize river at Davis boatyard.

We used to ride the Heron H quite a bit going to Mango Creek where my sister lived with her husband. The company was called Brown and Root I think. The Heron was always a pleasant ride.

We lived by the old Custom's House at Fort Point, right in front where it docked, and whenever the Heron H came in, it blew its horn and I would go hide under the bed!!!

My mom travelled on it when she was six years old, from Stann Creek to Belize City. Took like two or three days to get there.

It was a long slow ride! I remember when going back to Belize City from PG the loading of shrieking pigs in the cargo hole. Also we would sit on the deck on anything there. They had bunks for the first class passengers to sleep. I remember the galley and the dining area.

Ernesto Acosta Sr: I travelled on the HERON H the first time in 1947 & 1948 ... then almost every year afterward untill 1957 when i moved to Puerto Cortes... In those days the purser was John Ayuso from Ayuso Brothers at the Corner of New Road and Victoria St... the Chief Steward was Mr. Richard (Dick) Flowers... a wonderful trip back and fort stopping along the way until we dived under the waves of the Gulf of Honduras...

Tom Greenwood Sr.: My Dad was transferred as a customs boat officer to Punta Gorda and I often as a child travelled with him aboard the Heron H on the Belize city to Punta Gorda and back. No proper road transport at the time. It was an overnight run and absolutely beautiful. The moonlit runs I remember to this day.

David Ahuja: I was the Heron H that we used to get to Placencia. My family did summer vacations in Placencia in the early 1970s. I recall us loading up all our stuff/supplies and boarded Heron H. I recall sleeping in a room on a bunk bed on the boat. Listening to the hum and vibration of the engine. We always arrived in Placencia very late at night and I don't recall much unloading. I do recall being tired (I was may 10 at the time) and following people who carried the supplies in wheel barrows down the Placencia sidewalk.

Dot Noah: We rode the Heron H. every year from Belize to "False Bight" (now Maya Beach) for vacation when our grandmother had a coconut plantation there.

Elizabeth Enriquez: I went on it when it landed in Dangiga or Punta Gorda, it was a family affair kudos to the engineers like the late John B Noralez Sr.

Judy Locke Alpuche: Mode of travel to a from Punta Gorda slept in a berth, bunks.

Genevieve Flores: It was a very good experience unless if you get seasick You had your bunk bed, you could buy food in the cafeteria and relax.

Bernadette Burns: When the boats arrived at port, the captain didn't shout anything. You heard only the clanging of a heavy bell and the engine making some loud noises, the boat shaking and bouncing against the huge rubber tires when it bounced against the wharf, shouting from all sides, I found it scary. The passengers themselves would tell each other which port it was.

Hector Silva: One of the best stories coming out of the Heron H Purser Mr John Ayuso was, the rescue of a drunken passenger who fell overboard into the sea at night. - The only one who saw this was a man whom had a heavy stammer, So when he tried to report what he saw he couldn't. - -SO, Mr Ayuso slapped him on his back and shouted, " SING IT MAN ! " - " - So the man sang, " ONE MAN FALL OVER BOARD. " - ( So it was, that the Heron H turned around and saved the drunk man. ) Old Aubrey Buster Hunter who owned the Heron H and I think the Maya Prince also brought in a Boat by name the HONDURAN to substitute for the Heron H. - But mysteriously it caught fire down South. -Some claimed SABOTAGE. - But let us not forget the OCL for Bowman and SARAWEE for Don Areliano Kuylin. ( OCL for his three daughters - Olive, Carrie and Leonie. - SARAWEE for his Farm and Orange Grove. ) But on an occasion the Honduran was rented by the Hunters to fullfil their contract with government to carry the Mail. Both Aubrey Hunter and his daughter Audrey came to my office of Communications to inform the Ministry of this temporary arrangements. But something went wrong so the Maya Prince did the job. I think the Honduran's owner was Arthur Hoare.

Nick Pollard: I knew the Honduran; it would be discharging sacks of cement at the Customs Wharf while I would be loading the Hammet for Glovers Reef Lomonts.

Harriet Scarborough: I could have been on that trip on Heron H down south. For four years my sister and I made that trip at least four times a year when she attended Pallotti and I attended St. Catherine's. That singing took me back. It was a good way to make friends and to pass the time.

Gabriel Pate: I rode Heron H a couple of times in the late sixties myself. Recall leaving Belize city about 4pm and arriving in PG about 4pm next day. What I enjoyed the most was eating in the dining room. The simplest corned beef and bread tasted so delicious!

Anthony Westby Sr.: Her engine was a Atlas imperial i loved to listen to the sound of that machine when ever I travelled with my dad on the Heron H.

My Last Coastal Journey on the Heron H.

by Nick Pollard

The Heron H. was a wooden vessel which carried cargo and passengers from Belize City all the way to Punta Gorda and sometimes across to Livingston, Puerto Barrios. As very young boy I made two trips on the Heron H with my Dad in the 1950s, one was to Punta Gorda for a trade-union public meeting. Incidentally I got to travel on the Maya Prince only once from Belize City to Dangriga. Both were wooden vessels but I must say the Heron H was more comfortable. And so the years went by and the Heron H continued its journeys down the coast. There are stories of British MI5 hiding out in Punta Gorda in the 1950s and how they would search for large sums of Quetzales en route to the PUP. One story that intrigued me was the search of a large statue of the Lady of Guadalupe that was on board the Heron H. None were ever found.

It was the Easter Holidays for high school students and a family I knew well had gone down to Placencia Village and were staying at the Pink Mansion that belonged to the Anglican Mission. At that time in 1968 the narrow concrete walk way was already accessible. I was invited to stay with the family so I packed my duffel bag and made my way to the Customs Wharf near the Cockswain's building. Across the street was United Fruit Company's Office – that whole area haunted my memory as I recalled the struggle of the 1962 Union Poll between Norman Lanfiesta and Nick Pollard Sr. My Dad had started a new union the Christian Workers Union which won control of the Water Front Stevedores.

Holy Thursday was no different than it is today – so many workers getting off early and heading out of the city for the Easter weekend. I had already secured my space on the bow along with other students heading down South to Dangriga and Punta Gorda. A few of us were going to Placencia. I had my harmonica and so too did others and guitars. The loading of the Heron H took hours. It wasn't until sometime after 5:00 pm that evening that we saw the workmen unharnessed the large thick ropes from concrete posts which secured the Heron H when it moored near the concrete wharf.

The large caterpillar engine rolled over and we were pulling out of the harbour. It wasn't long before the bow pointed South and the Caribbean Sea breeze refreshed us. The sea was calm and the moonlight allowed us to see the shadows of the nearby Colson Range and Alligator Range. We sang songs like 'My Bunny lies over the ocean', 'Home on the Range', and our local songs 'When they cut down the old pine tree' and more. And then there was silence as most of the young people on the bow leaned back and dozed off. The skies were flooded with stars and milky ways. And then the engine slowed down; we were approaching the Commerce Bight Pier. It took a while for the Heron H to dock as the seas around Commerce Bight Pier are usually rough. Fortunately that night the boatmen secured the ropes rather early. We were docked for at least an hour; not sure about this but I believe the nautical distance form Belize City to Commerce Bight Pier is approximately 36 miles. We left the Customs Wharf nearer to 6:00 pm and arrived at Commerce Bight Pier after 11:00 pm. I don't remember but it was after midnight when we pulled away from the pier and headed to Placencia. The bow was quiet and the seas were choppy to moderate; I could feel when the Heron H rolled softly. I remember getting up to stretch my legs and making my way to where a few workmen were. I inquired when the Heron H would reach Placencia; it jolted me when they said about 4:00 a.m. This was my first journey to Placencia – had no idea what to expect. It wasn't long before the Heron H docked at a large wooden pier. There was no electricity; a lady who I later learned was the Village chairperson, Mrs Leslie had a lantern in her hand and she waited for the mail. Very few passengers got off and they all headed toward the only street that existed in the village. I followed them. Soon I came to the Pink Mansion and knocked on the door. I was greeted cordially and given a bed. Morning came rather soon and the family made up of Mom and Dad in their 50s and two daughters in their teens with two very young boys were complaining that the water from the vat tasted horrible. Back in those days very few homes could afford a vat to catch rainwater which they boiled for drinking. To take a bath the few families in the village relied on well water which was okay but the smell was somewhat like a slight hydrogen sulfide odour. There was a very large vat in the middle of the village that stored rain water. The roof had gutters to catch the water. Coming back to the family now, I offered to climb up to where I could look into the vat. Lo and behold there was a dead pelican in the vat. When I told them everybody got sick. I was able to remove the bird and with the help of a family living nearby we washed out the vat and got it ready for rain which never came. We had to take buckets to the village vat.

Besides the narrow concrete street that passed through part of the village the rest was mostly bush. Placencia was a fishing village in 1968; I don't recall if it was already in the lobster business. I met one guy my age, an Eiley who showed me around. I saw a about three Smacks on the beach. Smacks are small sailboats with wells in which the fish are stored alive. The bottom of the vessel has small holes which allow for oxygenated water to enter and keep the fish alive. My friends cooked good food so I was happy for that and hot coffee. We did some hand line fishing; as fast as we dropped our lines we caught red snappers all over a pound and a few as large as two pounds. I had a great time and caught the Heron H on its way back from down South. Never had a clue that it would be last time I journeyed at sea on this historic wooden vessel. I believe it was towed up the Belize River somewhere by River Side Hall and left to break up. After the Heron H and the Maya Prince broke up - guess they were no longer seaworthy and very costly to run, no other business man attempted to put another vessel until years later an investor from Placencia started runs with a vessel named Fury.

Model of the Heron H at the Museum of Belize. Photo from George Clarke Collection.

A lateral view of the famous Belizean transport boat Heron H. The shipwright model was built by the legendary Belizean Garifuna artist and seaman Peter Sanchez of Punta Gorda, Belize.

A historic shipwright model of the legendary Hero H by by the Belizean Garifuna artist and seaman Peter Sanchez of Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize.

The Heron H

by A-Baan De of NiHi-Hollywood, PG

Heron H was not only a landmark for transport in the early ‘50s and ‘60s. For many in the South, she was a life-changing agent. She was life, mixed with comedy and tragedy; joy and pain; loss, hope, and great expectation. Heron H was the pride of sea transportation for decades, sailing from PG Big Wharf and leaving behind a thunder of cheers from a waving crowd.

But sailing was not always a joyous occasion. Amidst the smiles and cheers, there were weeping and bawling and groans of pain. I watched keenly as friends clung to each other for support. Love ones embraced, unwilling to part. Others sobbed and waved goodbye at their departing friends and relatives. The thing about departure was that it removed friends and love ones from common pathways. They would never be able to see each other again, never be able to share each other’s company, never be able to sit and talk to each other again, never! never! never! Departure was like death. So in that sense Heron H was, at least to me, a destroyer of life. Many left PG, inexorably and often abruptly vanishing without returning, as if they ended their lives with PG.

Sunday morning in PG was a good day for sailing. Bright and beautiful, the day dawned with a dignity of motion and calmness. There were flats of green grass and trees everywhere. A morning sea breeze, sweeping over the horizon, poured over the little stocks of timber houses. I watched the sun’s glare reflecting upon the flat sea.

Heron H stood proudly at the end of Big Wharf. She was big, white, and elegant, a true marvel to behold. The captain, a short stocky individual, leaned back on a wooden stool at the upper deck and quietly watched the slant of a fat rope attached to the pier. A buzz of activities came from below. Dock hands were working frantically, swinging sacks of rice and cargo into the hold of the vessel. Others were stowing luggage and cartoon boxes in their proper places.

After a few minutes, the captain turned his head. His eyes swept the length of the pier. In the distance, a stream of passengers was heading towards Heron H with hurried steps. Some were carrying wooden “grips,” tagged “Balice” in one hand. While in the other, they carried smaller bags. Others held small packages, neatly wrapped and tucked under their arms. Some balanced huge baskets on their heads. The baskets contained cassava bread, baked food, stuffed clothing, skillets, bowls, scrubbing boards, stunted “mawta sticks,” pots, skillets, dishes, cooking utensils, and other things that might come in useful to them. Still a few carried wide cartoon boxes with small openings on the sides, from which protruded the heads of ducks and chickens, their eyes terrified and their combs scarlet.

Big Wharf slowly came alive, buzzing with sounds and fury. Wheelbarrows groaned under the weight of valises and wide boxes. “Brown and Root” bumped and rattled over the wooden planks. It quickly emptied its load and then sped back like a telegram. “Pimenta” twisted its spine to obtain a firm stance, and with every movement of its strong legs drew its cargo of boxes and luggage in a slow, laborious trot. Men plodded along Front Street, making their way towards Big Wharf. Their stout bodies bent forward as they moved slowly with heavy, laborious steps. Their board-stiff khaki pants sizzled as they passed by. They, too, carried large packages in their hands or on their shoulders, which seemed to be slowing them down. Their faces were grim, their eyes dark and silent, as if nursing a grudge or perhaps reflecting on their departure from PG. Life was quiet at home. But with no jobs, no money, no employment, except “ketch n kill,” things were particularly dreadful for them. Meanwhile in the North, life was bustling. The sugar industry was flourishing, seeking to swell its troops of workers. Many labor-seeking workers in the South, and elsewhere, were leaving their towns, hoping to strike their future fame and fortune in the North.

The chant “Go North young man, go North” seemed appropriate here. For those bold young men leaving PG, it echoed hope, anguish, and pain. Inside, they harbored a sense of deep fear- fear of the unknown, fear of the unthinkable, fear of change, even fear of life itself, living in an environment so distant and different from quiet PG. That fear was unsettling and was often demonstrated whenever Heron H sailed from Big Wharf.

Meanwhile, down in the engine room, a big Atlas engine stood idly, well-greased and full of fury. The beast wasn’t making a sound. But within a few hours, it would be fired up and called into action.

At 11:00 am sharp, the captain ordered his men to loosen the fat rope from the pier. His voice was stern and husky. The dock hands obeyed. Instantly they proceeded to unfasten the rope and then thrust it into the air. I perceived the rope reeling and writhing in its ascent. Then it fell down, down, down, shattering the glass-smooth sea, like the drop of a large stone. The captain then snatched the metal clapper and sounded the bell. Immediately there was a loud “clang-clang.” Then came no sound, except the murmur of the engine, urging Heron H backwards.

I watched that vast pearly white ton of timber, heavily freighted, pulled away gracefully from a waving crowd on Big Wharf. Passengers, all dressed in their Sunday best and standing on the upper and lower decks, waved furiously. Those standing on Big Wharf waved back, again, again, and again. There seemed to be no ending to their waving.

Amidst the waving came heart- wrenching cries. A woman was wailing and screaming, “Oh mi haat, mi haat; Oh God, mi sugga plum, come bak please, pleeeeaa.” Her pleading voice died mid-word as her mouth twisted into a cry. Her lower lip quivered as she bit into it. Finally, she managed to utter the words of her last goodbye, “Goodbye hussy Walta, no fuget fu write mi airmail, dahlin, sweetie pie! She blew him a long, hard kiss. Then she stood motionless in the hush that followed, as though she was trying to draw comfort from it. She lowered her face and cupped her hands under her chin, her eyes glued to the unsteady sea. I watched her closely as her brown “polka-dot” dress covered her in neat folds. Her soft curly hair drooped around her pallid cheeks, like seaweed around a rock. Her eyes were wet. She remained still, motionless, as her bare feet buried her into the soft soles of her “cha-cha-cha.” She was a painful figure to watch. Head down, hands and eyes fixed, lifeless, she hung in there like a dying rose.

Others were troubled by the scene on Big Wharf. Some were still waving, but quickly the waving ceased, and they started dissolving in tears. Then came a wailing and bawling, which grew louder and louder with a sizzling pain: “Ayoo Numah, ayoo Nana Jane, ayoo Tia Koncha, ayoo Felecita, ayoo Mum, ayoo becina, ayoo Komits, ayoo Don Justo, ayoo Peinina, ayoo Labugana, ayoo Belicina, ayoo Seine Bightina, ayooooooooooooo!” Everyone on Big Wharf joined in a solemn chorus of “ayoo’s.” A thick veil of clouds covered the sky, and behind it the sun shown feebly as if struggling to mute the sounds of grief and pain. A grief-laden crowd stood at the end of Big Wharf. Their souls were wounded. Their voices were deeply saddened with grief and pain. I was moved by their solemn voices. The morning salt wind quickly swallowed their cries.

The murmur of the engine quickly turned into a roar. The powerful cylinders pushed up and down, slow at first, then with steel against steel, it gathered force to propel Heron H with hundreds of pounds of thrust. A dark stream of smoke burst from her funnel as the vessel plowed forward, bidding to raise its mighty voice in three long-drawn farewell cries. I watched Heron H sailed away until it became a white speck among the distant mangrove. Finally, it disappeared before my very eyes, as if swallowed by the sea.

Top photograph courtesy Noel Escalante

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