Idyllic and tranquil are the two regular descriptions of Jamaica’s Western point of Negril.
This exposed region hosts a seven mile beach of white sugar sand and the proverbial “gin clear water” of this reef protected district. Negril beach and the nearby West End Cliffs supports a number of small family run hotels and a few larger all-inclusive resorts. October 21, 2012 5:00PM local Kingston television news began reporting the stalling of the 90 L weather front at 200 nautical miles due south of the island, the name Sandy was uttered. Mid-October brings the usual tropic afternoon thunderhead cloud formations to this part of Jamaica. They build with a light sea breeze and the Westmoreland Parish mountains beyond the Great Morass wrings the moisture out of the passing formations with a dense soaking at two or three PM each day. All are prepared for a ten minute rush to shelter from the front and then back to the most gorgeous late afternoon sunsets. October 24th was no different. Yet this day. the tone changed at two o’clock.
I spoke to the hotel owner, who had anxiously walked the beach near the moored dive boats and non motorized watercraft. He asks: “Do you believe the reports?” I had been monitoring several online weather services and the numerous models. Stormcarib.com has become a staple for me. We both knew the answer. One hour later all his boats had steamed east to the town of Lucea, and the safeharbor sheltered up the nearby river. The beachboys, 15 in total, organized and hauled the windsurfers, pedalboats, hobiecats and all to the grassy areas well beyond the beach. Next came the chaise lounges numbering in the hundreds. When the season is in full swing these chaises reach from the cocopalms to the water’s edge and carpet the several hundred yards of frontage. In the three hours before sunset, all were stacked and stored beyond the hotel’s buildings. Tensions began to mount as several communications of the storm preparations were placed under the hotel room doors. Occupancy was at 79% and the staff at 100%. The beach scene was an eerie vision: light waves lapping the shore, a glimmer of sun filtering down through intermittent breaks in the purple-gray thunderheads and a handful of humans roamed the water’s edge. The lighter side of the whole circumstance came when all was secured by the beachboy staff. The soccer ball was produced and the goals drawn in the sand for a rollicking game by the most hearty staff.
Soon the Ground’s Keeper crew emerged, as they proceeded to pull the weakest limbs from the cocopalms and surrounding vegetation. The tractor and wheelbarrows were filled. These precautions included the open air dining rooms, where the potted planters were brought in from the perimeter of the exposed regions. These folks knew their jobs and silently all were carried out. The night of October 23, Tuesday, the diners found wonderful meals and rum punches flowed. The eyewall of Sandy stood a mere ninety miles south of Kingston, Jamaica. All models determined a direct hit at hurricane strength within 20 hours. As the gusts of winds began to pick up to 25 tp 30 knots, I knew the beach was prepared to take the brunt on the next day.
Wednesday, October 24th started with a break in the overcast and the sun poured onto the beach. Sadly, there were no chaise lounges. All was packed in preparation. The Beach Vendors were absent. Typically a vendor would pass every several minutes, but they were long gone. The Health Club was boarded up tight and the Spa had sent all home to their families. Lunch and dinner were sanctioned to the buffets in the two largest dining halls. A memo under each door required the verandah furniture to be brought inside of each room.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Negril is a low land area, more like a sandbar between sea and swamp. The saving grace is the reef offshore approximately 3 KM out and sheltering most of the Seven Mile Beach and Bloody Bay. On a calm day, no waves break on the coral several feet beneath the surface. On the morning of Wednesday, October 24, the gusts were picking up, and the seas were encroaching the sands. The guests were gathered at the one swim-up bar; it was an active site. The beach bars were long closed and secured down. Kingston TV reports were on full storm mode; anchors were taking the reports of the police and field reporters. Sandy was making landfall in the eastern portion of Jamaica and east of Kingston was experiencing the hit at 80 mile per hour winds. In Negril, the winds rose and the seas churned higher, but the rain that was promised did not come. Mudslides have ravaged the slopes of the hills in other areas in past storms. Folklore prevails here in Jamaica. There is a perception, call it a destiny, that storms with female names will pass-over the island. Hurricane Gilbert, Ivan and others lingered with infamy.
By 4:00 PM the rains came and the seas rolled, the cocopalms bent in the 60 mile wind gusts and the night concluded with sand blasting across the ground and walkways. Most guests braved the elements to find dinner and then return to the security of their rooms. Thursday, October 25 let the world know that Sandy was focused and raging to the north. On Negril beach the licking was to begin. The Jamaicans explained it perfectly: Hurricane Sandy was a ” Woman with a Tail”. The seas continued to build and the reef did its best to protect. Yet the waves threw fifteen foot monsters against the West End Cliffs and the Seven Mile Beach was strewn with seaweed and erosion swept away sand and shore. Negril still fared the best on this Birth of Sandy. Other parts of the Eastern Regions did not do as well. St. Anne Parish, Portland, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio all had disaster events and loss of life. Electricity, roads and bridges were out. Still, Negril never lost power and the roads stayed open. This was a blessing to an area of the world that evokes peace. The path of Sandy could only have hoped for that fate.
Port Antonio to the East on Jamaica
Read Full Post »