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Mailbag, Harry Eiler & Navy Island!

07 Jul

It’s interesting how one thing can lead to another … I was delivering a pendant to Rory Flynn from a chum of mine (Dennis Mullen, a Canadian Ghostwriter, editor, branding expert, and tea producer) containing sand from Navy Island where her father lived in a house that according to several accounts was situated opposite the Titchfield Hotel, and people commonly say that Errol paddled a rowboat across the channel often to get to the Titchfield Hotel. Rory told me she didn’t think her father ever built a house on Navy Island. Oh! That was news!

The very next day, I received an email from Harry Eiler, out of the blue, and his topic was Errol Flynn and Navy Island. He wrote:

There is so much that is in error about the Errol Flynn house on Navy Island, etc. that I felt it is important to take pen in hand.

1.  The ruins of a ‘proper’ house at the eastern end of Navy Island is NOT what remains of a house built by Errol Flynn. The The house was designed and constructed during the late 1970’s by William (Bill) and Natalie Tritt after they purchased a lot from Jamaica Islandia, a Nevada Corporation, with Len Koutnik as principal stock holder. While all the other ‘cottages’ along the harbor facing Titchfield were considered as vacation – rental homes, the “Tritt House” was conceived and occupied year round by Bill and Nat and their young son.

Since there was no water available at that end of the island (rain catchments supplied water to the other homes), the house featured a roof that was used to convey the water into a large catchment under the house. Mr. Tritt was a boat builder originally from Santa Barbara and environs, and had contracted with Mr Koutnik to design and build a personnel carrier to bring staff and visitors back and forth across the channel to the mainland landing site. The boat never completed one trip, having sank at the dock before launch.

In time, the Tritts sold the house back to Mr. Koutnik and it was occupied by then island manager, Captain Robert (Bob) Hanley, wife wife, Karen, and their son. When Mr. Koutnik came into financial difficulties, he ceded controlling interest of Jamaica Islandia to Mr. Joseph (Joe) Casey who authorized some limited continuation of the elaborate plans of Koutnik under his son.

Casey’s son, Darren and his wife, Anna, of the local Chin family, lived in the house during his tenure as Island Manager. After Darren had unsuccessfully planned the sale of a large truck on the island (the truck was to be driven onto a large flat floating platform to be ferried across the channel when the platform shifted and dumped the truck into the marina), Mrs. Gertrude Casey, widow of Joe, had evidently had enough and accepted the offer by Mr. Henry (Harry) Eiler to lease the island and build a small resort, using much of the incomplete structures as best he could.

Harry and his wife, Alice, would now be developers and managers with full time residency on Navy Island.  While the attractive thatched-roof cottage with sliding walls was attractive as a vacation spot, full time occupancy with necessary business related needs required that they occupy Tritt House as their residence and offer their home, Look Back House, as one of the vacation rentals.

After the labor riot that demolished Harry’s plans and goals, Harry and Alice left Jamaica and the Tritt House was used by native manager Mr. Derek Samson and his family for approximately one year while Mrs. Casey attempted to continue some type of operation of the island.

At long last, Mrs. Casey foreswore putting any additional funds into Navy Island and the entire island was closed down. Sometime later, an American developer was interested in purchase of the Navy Island but decided that the conditions imposed by the local authority (that anyone could use the facilities of the resort in like manner as a guest) and the noise sounding well into the early morning hours from nightclubs in town were enough to discourage him from actually buying the island. Today Navy Island belongs to the Government with little to no chance of ever becoming the island paradise once envisioned by Mr. Koutnik and then further promoted by Harry Eiler. Ergo …

All signs, etc. to the contrary, Errol Flynn NEVER had a house on Navy Island.

He used his yacht, Zaca, moored to a dock where the Admiralty Club once stood, as his residence when on Navy Island ….  with a circular thatched room-hut built upon a living tree nearby as an outside rec area. It was from this idea that Len Koutnik arrived at the circular thatched roofed cottages that were purchased by Mr & Mrs. Eiler, Mr. Charles Leeds, three young men from Los Angeles and Mr & Mrs. Joseph Casey … in that order.

2.  The Ghosts of Navy Island. Yes, there is more than ONE ghost … or so the stories go. Early in the 1960s, there were stories that a pirate captain appeared to Mr. Koutnik and Mrs. Mia Smith when they were in Look Back House at the Bottom .,..  using the master bedroom of the Eiler’s home at a time when the house was unoccupied … otherwise. The ghost was friendly, dressed in his usual bucaneer garb and seemed to be in search of his crew. He passed through the wall and went away. A second sighting of a similar vision was reported by a guest staying at one of the cottages during the time the Admiralty Club was operating. However her sightings were not reported and these may have been prompted by excesses in island rum or ganga.

A second ghost seems more creditable. During the time the Hanleys were living in Tritt house, they used the artist’s studio as a study and put up photographs of friends to make the room more cozy. Among the pictures was a portrait of Linda, sister of Mis Smith, co-developer of Jamaica Islandia, and one time resident of the island for about a year after her divorce in California. Linda had also worked for Harry Eiler at Artel Publications as a typist for about a year plus before this. One day, with a boyfriend in Port Antonio, Linda was instantly killed in an automobile crash en route to the local airstrip to return to the USA for a visit. Years later, the Hanleys were entirely alone on the island … except for some night watchmen who traditionally fell asleep as the evening wore on.

All the other cottages were vacant.

One night, a visitor came to Navy Island to see the Hanleys … which meant he had to walk the long stretch along Royal Palm Lane, past all the cottages along a path dimly lit by a few diesel fuel tiki torches. Along a stretch between the jungle on one side and a mowed area on the other, he saw a lovely young lady also walking along the path. However, as he neared, the vision seemed to disappear from view. Upon entering the Hanley’s home, he immediately told Bob and Karen that he saw a young lady on the road outside their home.

The Hanleys immediately said that this was impossible since there was no one else on the island.  Entering the studio with pictures, the friend looked over them in casual conversation and, suddenly, he pointed to the picture of Linda, saying, “That is the girl I saw on the path”. Linda had been dead for about two years before this event happened.

Yous, Harry Eiler

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I followed his email asking about the photo of Flynn sitting in the yard area in front of some windows with a makeshift desk writing at what has been assumed was his Navy Island home within view of the Titchfield Hotel.

Dear Dave … That is NOT Tritt House …  the windows are different (Tritt house had swivel windows with wooden louvers beneath) and there was no grassy area immediately outside …. the deck was cemented (or at least used cement blocks) right flush with the house.    I have been to Comfort Castle… but cannot for sure identify the house. Flynn was long dead before any construction was made on Navy Island …. except for a shack occupied by his watchman and the make shift room beneath a thatched roof surrounding a living tree. He did own the Jamaica Reef Hotel on Titchfield and he may have rowed across to Navy island … frequently … but there was no operating bar at the time … only the area he used as a ‘rec room’ near the present ruins of the Admiralty and the moored Zaca.

Alice and I were at the Jamaica Reef Hotel .. successor to the Titchfield Hotel … before it burned down and for the first few years of occupancy at our home, Look Back House, on Navy island, we often would enjoy the music and lights from the hotel directly across the channel ….. before it burned down.

We had no electricity at the time …. only candles and kerosene lamps … so the activities at the Reef were our TV in the evenings. Btw. The photograph of Flynn at the Port Antonio Marlin Tournament mentioned on one of your blogs, was a copy from of an original owned by Errol Chung, who owned and operated the hardware store adjacent to the mainland landing site of Navy Island.

Yes, you may indeed published anything I have written …. except “Terror in Paradise” and :Magnificent Roque:  which still need some polishing.

I have never seen any pictures of our lovely home, Look Back House, since the day we left Jamaica.    I think I would cry with remorse to see it overgrown and in shambles …..  in fact …. seeing the jungle encroach upon everything that I was attempting to do only brings sadness to all the wonderful memories of what was for me … and many,… truly a Paradise.

Best regards, Harry

From Harry Eiler’s writings, Copyright Harry Eiler, 2014:

NAVY ISLAND

Just a few hundred yards off the Northeast Coast of Jamaica lies lovely 64-acre Navy Island which stretches across the harbor of Port Antonio making it one of the safest ports of call in the Caribbean during a hurricane. Once given to Sir Thomas Lynch for services to the British Crown, the island was originally called ‘Lynches Island’  In the early 1700’s, the Royal Navy wanted to ensure that neither Spanish nor French men-of-war would threaten their newly acquired foothold on Jamaica.  They built Fort George with 22 cannons mounted on ten- foot- thick walls at the end of the peninsula protecting the entrance to the West Harbor.

On the island, the British constructed a small gun battery to provide early warning and a cross-fire capability to cannonade any hostile ship attempting to enter the East Harbour.  In only a matter of a few years the island was newly christened “Navy Island” unofficially and retains that name today.

However it is not at all an historical fact that its current sobriquet is its proper name, except by popular conception. The island has also been called, “Flynn’s Island”, from the time that swashbuckling movie star, Errol Flynn, once used the island as his personal Paradise.

It was during the British occupation as a Naval Station, that Captain Bligh landed in Port Antonio and off-loaded his cargo of breadfruit trees.  Afterwards, he beached his ship on the shallows off Navy Island while the crew removed the barnacles and other growths that had accumulated on the wooden hull during their long trip from Tahiti.  Later, the Royal Navy abandoned its fortifications and the island proceeded from several private hands until Flynn sailed into the harbor one fateful day. Errol Flynn acquired the island during his expansive involvement in Jamaica, especially the Port Antonio area, when he purchased the Titchfield Hotel (later to be renamed The Jamaica Reef Hotel), Navy Island and plantation properties to the east in 1946-1947.

However, the financial demands of his scandalous lifestyle included alimony to three ex-wives; unpaid income taxes and huge legal fees, left him broke..   When he died in October 1959, he was virtually penniless except for his yacht, Zaca, and the heavily mortgaged ranch properties.

Flynn was forced to sell his interests in the Hotel and Navy Island long before his untimely demise. He had only his yacht Zaca  and his heavily-mortgaged ranch properties ..and was trying to sell the boat when he died.  At the time of his death the movie star was barely fifty years old,  … however his health and body reflected so much abuse so that he appeared many years older.

During his tenure, Errol kept Navy Island as a “Garden of Eden”, planting Royal and Coconut Palms and introducing exotic birds and other animals. Len Koutnik, a California developer, saw Navy Island almost by chance during a return flight from Brazil soon after Flynn had sold it.

Mr. Koutnik, like Flynn, fell immediately in love with the property and formed a  Nevada corporation, “Jamaica Islandia”, with Mrs. Marianna Smith to promote and develop the island.   Alice, my wife, and Mrs. Smith had been housemates years prior and during our frequent visits to her home we gradually became involved in the exotic project of Islandia. In 1967, Alice and I had been married less than a year when we had opportunity to join Len and Marianna for a second-honeymoon in Jamaica.   Our trip was made glorious by the attentions of these two perfect hosts and we became thoroughly enchanted right from the first day when we breakfasted at Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay with actor John Mills and his wife, Mary.  They had been expecting Sir Noel Coward’s chauffeur to pick them up at Montego Bay; however the car never did arrive and they joined our entourage as far as Ocho Rios where Mr. Mills hoped Tommy Sands could arrange further accommodations. We proceeded on to Port Antonio.

Since there were no accommodations on Navy Island, we stayed at one of the villas at San San and … commuting daily to the island.  Once we left mainland Jamaica, we could put aside all the unusual odors from Musgrave Market; forget garbage littered everywhere in the streets; put out of mind pitifully unfed mongrels covered with mange.  On Navy Island we could spend the day in mind-boggling solitude and beauty, …enjoying an idyllic existence of private beaches, manicured walks through towering jungle growth on each side, and gentle, constant breezes that cool throughout the heat of day.

There were no buildings erected except an inconspicuous wooden affair that served as the home of the permanent Jamaican caretaker. Flynn and his guests would stay aboard his ship, Zaca, which was moored to a make shift dock near the south-central part of the island.  Adjacent to this mooring, Flynn constructed a thatched-roof building using a living tree as its central pole.  The remainder of the island was laid out into gardens and boulders were brought in to protect the small, intimate beach now known as Trembly Knee Cove.  These large stones protected bathers in this secluded beach from prying eyes. In Jamaica…not too frequently … the full moon turns Navy Island into a dazzling diadem… gilding all the swaying palm fronds with delicate silver.

We had the good fortune to experience several of these magical evenings during our first visit toon the “enchanted island” and I knew,  … .like Flynn and Koutnik before us  ,… that Navy island was would become a part of my life from thereon after.  My two years on Guam in the Air Force had given me a terminal case of ‘island fever’. Alice and I discussed purchase of lot and house with Len and Marianna; the terms were acceptable and we decided to build the second house on Navy Island as our vacation home and rental.

During the last several days of this first visit, we planned and designed our new round vacation home with thatched roof.  It was to something akin to that erected by Flynn but was to contain butane stove and refrigerator, two bedrooms and no exterior walls so that all the charm and scents of the garden … as well as the refreshing breeze … could waft through the house unimpeded.

That was in September 1967 and we spent the first night in our new home, alone on the island except for Neil and Myra Kilgore, resident Managers, in March of the following year.

Harry provides some photos, too. All Copyright Harry Eiler, 2014:

 

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Thanks so much, Harry!

— David DeWitt

 

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  1. rswilltell

    July 7, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Harry; Thanks for this great article/posting. Polish up those other two stories and get them out here for us to read. Ralph

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  2. Gentleman Tim

    July 8, 2014 at 12:49 am

    From a fellow GBer & Fan of Flynn, thanks so much for all the wonderful info & imagery, Harry!!! Much appreciated & enjoyed!!

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  3. David DeWitt

    July 8, 2014 at 2:34 am

    Here are a couple more pics from Harry Eiler of himself at Look Back House on Navy Island.

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    IMG_20140707_222318.jpg

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  4. Inga

    July 8, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for this very interesting post!

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  5. Lollie

    July 9, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Wonderful info! Thanks Harry & David.

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  6. timerider

    July 9, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Now this sounds more like the Errol Leslie I have envisioned! Anchoring like any sea going adventurer with only a thatched dwelling but the Zaca as the mansion. The house on Mulholland was semi permanent to this man’s soul. I remember those days long ago, no TV no computers and just the sound of gulls the smell of the sea and the distant growl of an outboard motor on a small dingy in the bay of the eastern ocean as a boy! I do run on …. Oh well thanks Harry, I need the Tartus right about now and want so badly to go back there!

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  7. Tina

    July 17, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Hi David;
    I am rather confused! Harry Eiler states that Errol NEVER had a house on Navy Island. What about the reports we received from the people, John Teitloff and Dennis Mullen who were there and took even pictures of the house?
    In that case could you please ask Harry who’s house is this??? If it was not Errol’s. I have many pictures all from Dennis and John from their trips to navy Island. They were so sure!

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    Errol-Home-2009-Kitchen-Navy-Island3.jpg

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    • David DeWitt

      July 17, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      According to Harry, this house, that everybody assumes is Flynn’s house is actually not a house he built or lived in. It apparently has a sign on it saying it’s Flynn house but it is actually Tritt House, and at one point Harry and his wife lived in it for a time, as well as others but not Flynn. Those who visited the house assumed it was Flynn’s home based on the fact it has a sign on it saying so, and local stories. Yet, we know local stories are often made up. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I don’t doubt Harry’s word. He has very detailed memories and information about Navy Island. I’d like someone to look at Conrad’s Memoir book to see what references to Navy Island it contains. I don’t have that book with me, I think, in Myrtle Beach.

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  8. David DeWitt

    April 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    A chum, Dennis Mullen, who has visited Navy Island and the “Flynn House” asked me to contact Robb Callahan about what he might know about the existence of a house Flynn lived in on Navy Island. I sent a photo of Errol sitting at a typewriter in the yard of a house that looks very much like the ruins of the house on Navy Island. He replied twice and I put his comments together below:

    Hi David, I hate to break the Flynn fans hearts…but Harry is 100% correct. I’m not sure about the picture but it looks like the first house Errol had on the property. [His Ranch in Port Antonio.]

    David, I want to go into this a little deeper. I was under the same impression that most of the Flynn fans were. I also thought Errol lived on Navy Island. But according to a conversation I had with Pat many years ago on one of my first trips to the property he never did. What she told me matched exactly what Harry said. They would dock the Zaca and Errol had a shack on the island. On rare occasions they would entertain at the shack. There was some kind of a BBQ pit built. But for the most part they never went to Navy island. Also there is a rowboat on the island that people think was Errol’s. According to Pat it wasn’t his. Somebody painted his name on it for tourists. I hate to be the bearer of bad news.

    I told Robb, Well, it’s better to know the truth sometimes!

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