For the past year, Marilyn Nasirun and her husband Craig have been “hanging out” at Coe Wood public beach in Bodden Town.
They started hanging out at the beach after stopping one day to cool off after a hot day’s work at their farm, and saw how much fun a group of older and younger men were having on the beach, with their naps and stress-free living. Now they make it an everyday event to stop and “hang.”
But do not consider this husband and wife team as beach loiterers. Her husband works, she’s a retiree who farms, but when it comes to chilling on the beach, they both agree that they see no wrong in it, at least for those who cause no harm.
Now they and other beach users have been left wondering if they can use the beach, play their music and sell their fish, socialize as they have always done and not see themselves as loiterers.
New signs appeared on the beach last week when the Public Works Department’s Recreation, Parks and Cemetery Unit posted a town ordinance on the bathroom walls aimed at reducing loitering, loud music, commercial activity and littering in the area, based on previous police reports.
Some beachgoers have objected to the warnings.
“Caymanians are beach people from birth, and nowhere says it stronger than Coe Wood public beach in Bodden Town. Its a pity that a few individuals make it uncomfortable for others,” said Ms. Nasirun.
“It’s nice to get away from everyday life,” her husband adds. “It’s cool, it’s nice and it’s Cayman heritage. This is the best beach in Bodden Town. Lying out here is a good stress-reliever. It’s nice to get away from the day-to-day problems and responsibilities, whether you’re working or not,” he said.
A spokesperson from the Recreation, Parks and Cemetery Unit says the town ordinance has been posted on all the public beach spaces.
The Cayman Compass called various government ministries for comment but had no responses as of press time.
“The police fully support the signs being put there,” said Jacqueline Carpenter, public relations officer for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. She said the police have received many complaints about all the things listed in the ordinance, in that location – about the loud music, people loitering and different levels of antisocial activities.
“There is some low level of illegal activity, public drunkenness and nuisance issues taking place on the beach,” Ms. Carpenter said.
In the past there have been reports of assaults and disruptions on the beach, claims that portable rest rooms were being used for prostitution and alleged drug deals out in the open, all of which had disturbed the long-standing tranquillity of Coe Wood beach.
At the time, these issues were the talk of the town at every community police meetings, and residents were calling the police on a daily basis to do something.
In 2013, Bodden Town’s former Assembly representative Osbourne Bodden suggested that police could be asked to enforce the loitering laws, and if that was not done, the government would be forced to employ security guards. “The beach is nice now, just a group of older men who go there to relax and play a game of dominoes and the guys who sell their fish,” said Twyla Vargas. Occasionally, she said, there is some wrongdoing that needs to be taken care of, but mostly the beach is relatively quiet.
The atmosphere on Coe Wood beach on Friday afternoon was one of community unity. Under the shady coconut trees young men discussed the day’s activities. Under the grape trees a group was enjoying pizza, chicken wings and a game of dominoes. Kids played under the cabanas with their families as happy laughter mingled with fresh sea breezes. At the top of the beach, local fisherman Olson Levy sold fish to passersby and kept them entertained with tales of adventures at sea. Music played from a phone kept the domino players entertained.
The coastal community has long celebrated its relatively laid-back nature, and those who “hang out” on the beach say it has been this way since their childhood – a place for them to unwind, socialize and enjoy the beach.
“When I was a little girl, this was all we had to do: Hang out on the beach and throw mangoes in the sea,” Ms. Nasirun said. “The fishermen fixed their nets and tended their boats. The music is not an everyday thing; occasionally someone will have a birthday party. I think the music can be played, but not too loudly to disturb other people using the beach.”
Ms. Nasirun also said a lot of people cannot afford to go to the clubs so they buy a few beers and go to the beach. Occasionally, she said, there is some disagreement, but that happens everywhere, whether on the beach or in the clubs.
“Since hanging out on the beach, these guys [indicating those at the beach] have saved two lives,” she added.
“They run us off the beach as locals and then in no time we will see other nationalities making it their traditions and nothing spoken about it,” said a young man who identified himself only as Thomas.
“I love the sea life, I love boats and swimming, and I will always be hanging out by the seaside. I will never stop,” he said.