How did you decide on Utila?
I'd been sailing the Caribbean for several years, and as much as I favored places like The Abacos, I wanted to avoid a ritzy island atmosphere. A friend of mine in Louisiana suggested the Bay Islands off of Honduras, and I took a week off of work to fly down and explore them. I visited Roatan and Guanaja before becoming completely smitten with the people on Utila. The atmosphere was like the 30s and 40s in America. I heard about a house for sale, and I went to take a look. It was a 20-minute boat ride from town to the south end of the island, and after three hours of talking with the owner, we shook hands. I came back a few days later to close the deal.
So you bought a house rather than build one?
Yes. The owner, a missionary, had put all his experiences with living in tropical climates into the building of the house. There are no roads from town to the bottom of Utila because the interior is so swampy, so like people, all building materials have to arrive by boat. The house is 2.5 stories, 4,750 square-feet, 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, a caretaker's house and a 160-foot dock with two-story thatched-roof palapa bar at the end. It has a 38,000-gallow cistern for collecting water, a water purifier and the house is powered by solar-, generator- and electrical-power. Being retired, I bypassed a one or two year building process and started living the island life almost immediately. As a foreigner, I'm allowed to own ¾ acres of land in Honduras, so since the lot is 2.5 acres, it was divided into three lots, one of which I own, and two of which are owned by a Honduran company I established.
What is it like to be a "local" on Utila?
Everyone knows everyone else on this small island, so it's like being a part of an island family. Everyone's in the same boat, so to speak, so people help each other. When someone's going to town, they ask around to see if anyone needs anything. Every few days, I stop at the post office and end up bringing some mail down to my neighbors. Very few people take credit cards on Utila, and checks are nonexistent, so when the freight boats arrive from the mainland, it's not uncommon for someone to deliver my supplies to my dock. In that case, I'd settle my bill the next time I went to town, or the next time the boat was in the area, my friends would come ashore and we'd settle up over a beer. The people who live in the cays just south of Utila are wonderful people and being invited into their homes and developing relationships with them has been very rewarding.
Describe your perfect day on Utila. My companion Mary Ann and I pack a lunch and take the dinghy out to Water Cay, an uninhabited island in the cays just south of our house. We string up some hammocks and enjoy our private island for the day. Another perfect day would be having some visitors come down from town, firing up the barbeque at the palapa bar and having a few beers and some good conversation. For days like those, I have two iceboxes. One for the ice and another that starts and stops just enough to get the beer a few degrees from freezing. That must be the coldest beer on the island.
What have been the biggest challenges of living on/moving to Utila?
I'm a retired mechanical engineer, so I've been used to things happening in a timely manner. When you're moving to the islands, especially Utila, you have to know that the infamous "mañana" doesn't mean "tomorrow" but rather "not today". It's a pace of life that you have to accept and embrace. If you run out of fresh milk, it may be two days until the next supply boat arrives in port, so you also have to learn to do without certain conveniences.
What's the biggest difference between being in Utila as a resident vs. as a traveler?
The people who come to Utila are not jetsetters, and they don't have massive yachts. It's known as more of a laidback, backpacker destination, where shorts, a t-shirt and bare feet are the recommended attire, and days are spent learning to dive in the surrounding reefs. Tourism brings a lot of money and jobs to the island, and everyone who visits will be treated well. As a resident, there is an even deeper level of trust and friendship.
What advice do you have for someone hoping to find their ideal island home?
Take the time to look around. Pay attention to how geography affects life on the island and get to know the lifestyle of the residents to see if it suits you. Also, if you intend to buy a house, find a real estate agent you can trust and a good attorney to close the deal.
How much time do you spend in Utila?
With my 3 sons and 8 grandchildren in Louisiana, I'll spend several months there, and then come down to Utila for a month or two at a time. We have a property manager who takes care of the house and our animals (a toucan, a parrot and a black lab) year round.