Just off Jamaica: Floyd’s Pelican Bar

Jamaica is not, geographically, your ordinary Caribbean island in that it sits entirely in the Caribbean Sea. It shares this distinction with the Cayman Islands, the Dutch Caribbean and maybe a handful of sandbanks. Locals will tell you that the absence of a rugged Atlantic coast adds to Jamaica’s notoriously laid back vibe and, while the feng shui science of this may be yet to be proven, there’s no doubt that you struggle to find anything other than gentle waves lapping at soft sandy beaches as you travel around the island’s coast.

Pelicans hover and plunge into the sea around us, oblivious as our long, single engine boat whips across the across the water, sitting low, just above the waves. Out here there is no escape from the piercing sun just a continuous sea-to-sky blue on one side and jungle green on the other, punctuated by a line of white sand or an occasional building. We are aiming for a dot in the blue, one of the few clues of the horizon line between water and air. The spec takes shape as we get closer and like a sprawling settlement from Waterworld I can see that in fact it is a series of platforms and roofs perched on the top of the waves. Closer still and I can see the palm frond roof and a couple of lonely figures out in the sun. We are arriving at Floyd’s.

In 2001 Floyd had a boat and he wanted to smoke. Simple as that. About half a mile off Jamaica’s south coast he knew of a sand bar frequented by seabirds, Pelican Bar as it’s known, and rather than sit out there bobbing on the waves he took out some poles and some planks of wood and started building. In 2 months, in a few feet of water, Floyd had somewhere to smoke and meditate in peace. He shared it with his friends who brought some beers and Floyd’s Pelican Bar was born. Since then he has extended it, put in a hob for some cooking and now it is Jamaica’s best worst-kept secret.

A few friendly faces welcome you aboard as you step from your rocking boat onto the first platform and into the shade of the bar. From the brightness outside the blackness inside is impenetrable but as your eyes adjust and the coolness hits you, you cannot help but smile. Travellers from all over the world have had a hand in decorating Floyd’s and the hodge-podge nature of its design lends itself to the ad hoc and growing collection of decorations. Caps are hung around beams, flags are draped from planks, stickers adorn the sides of the bar. Number plates, bracelets, t-shirts… it is a story of its patrons. Most remarkable of all: every table top, every bench, across the bar and every floorboard is etched with names and dates. One or two would be an ugly shame. Thousands are a beautiful movement of one love.

“Movement” isn’t too grand a word for how it feels at Floyd’s. Not quite a commune of course, but so far from the mainland, self sufficient for the day, unique and generally removed from the world there is a sense that each day Floyd’s forms it’s own community. It wasn’t busy when we were there – us Brits, a french couple, 3 American women and some Canadians alongside Floyd and buddies playing dominoes. When it got too hot on the sun deck I picked up a cold Dragon Stout and sat at the picnic table on the far deck where there was a bit of a breeze. When I needed to escape the sun I got a Red Stripe and went back into the shade of the living room and regarded the pelicans out on the bar itself, enjoying their own little sea top retreat. People played and swam before drying in the sun.

It’s around 20 minutes on a boat back to shore. We journeyed out from Black River where you can book a boat for around $25 US for the journey. Not a bad spot for a day trip; at Black River you can also travel upstream to see the native crocodiles of Jamaica. I’d recommend doing that first though as once you’re at Floyd’s it is extremely hard to leave. In fact, we left when we did as we had run low on cash. It isn’t expensive – around $5 US for a beer which has been sailed out there. But it was a natural cut off for us to head back to reality. Oh and we saw a croc on the riverside on our return, so a little adrenalin shot to keep us buoyed. Funny thing though: you know you’ve been somewhere special when returning to Jamaica seems stressful.

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