Fish, festival, frolic at unlicensed Hellshire Beach
The fact that the Hellshire Fishing Beach in St Catherine has not been licensed for swimming appears to be of little consequence to scores of Jamaicans who either go there for relaxation or to eke out a living.
The proximity of Hellshire to the Corporate Area has made it one of the most popular public beaches in the island, with scores of persons there each day and bursting at its seams on most public holidays.
Chairman of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen's Co-operative Christopher Brown says with the beach not licensed, a sign was erected to inform people to swim at their own risk, but this was torn down recently by a man of unsound mind.
Even so, Brown, who heads the organisation that is primarily responsible for the management of the fishing beach, says persons ignored the warning sign when it existed.
"Right now we don't tell anyone to swim," insisted Brown.
No plans to charge
He indicated that it is usually free to enter the beach and added that his co-operative does not have any plans to charge a fee on a regular basis anytime soon.
"We chose not to collect. We could have gone the route a long time ago to put in the facilities to be a licensed beach, but they said we would have to collect, and we don't want to collect," said Brown as he noted that several persons earned their living from the patrons who visit the beach.
He pointed to one business operator who charges $100 for the use of her bathroom at her makeshift house located on the beach. Others offer the Hellshire special of fish done in any style with festival, horseback riding, the rental of beach toys, plus juice and liquor of every kind.
"This is what makes Hellshire special as you can enjoy the beach, eat some good food, listen to music, or just chill out," said one patron, who told The Sunday Gleaner that he tries to visit the beach at least once each month.
Although she migrated several years ago, United States resident Genevieve Gill has fond memories of Hellshire, where she spent many holidays as a little girl. The memories are what pulls her back to the beach whenever she comes home.
But the beach that Gill knew as a child is quickly eroding. As a result, instead of building sand castles on the shore, 10-year-old Andre Bell was forced to gather sand to build his castle in a section of a restaurant that is positioned dangerously close to the sea.
With no lifeguards on duty, it is often left to the fishermen and business operators to help those who sometimes find themselves in distress in the deceptive sea.
Edwin Lotian, a veteran fisherman who has called a house on the seashore his home for most of his life, remembers at least 20 persons drowning in the area over the years. According to Lotian, he has participated in several missions to rescue persons in difficulty in the sea.
Lotian said that while Hellshire has been the scene of some grief, he also has some fond memories of the place he has called home for decades. The veteran of the beach pointed to one of the high points of his time at Hellshire as he said he would never forget being given the opportunity to play a part in the Jamaican film Country Man which featured several local fishermen.