Monday, June 2, 2014

Stranded in Paradise

On Tuesday, May 6th, we crossed the Gulf Stream to Bimini, our first intended stop in the Bahamas. Actually, “Bimini” consists of two islands, North Bimini and South Bimini, and the marina we chose, the Bimini Sands, is located in a very protected and serene harbor on the island of South Bimini. It was a great place to come back to each day after experiencing what the Biminis have to offer.

Whenever we wanted to cross over to Alice Town on North Bimini, we just walked to the ferry landing at Buccaneer Point (a 10-15 min. walk on a dirt road) and for a $2 fee we took a very short ride (literally two minutes!) across the channel separating the two islands.

Alice Town, the heart of North Bimini, is best explored on foot, and this we did on the morning of our first full day in the Bahamas. Just a short distance from the ferry landing at the edge of town we came across this ruins and quickly realized that it is the remains of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunt, The Compleat Angler Hotel, which burned to the ground in 2006 and has been left as is, an interesting monument to a bygone era in Bimini’s colorful history.

A little further along the main street, called the King’s Highway, we began to see some small, well-tended, pastel-colored shops and restaurants as we walked on the shady side of the street toward our first destination, the Bahamas Telecommunications Company office, to purchase a BTC SIM card for the unlocked cell phone we had brought with us.

Having completed that little chore successfully, we decided to reward ourselves with an early lunch. While searching for a suitable waterfront restaurant, we were greeted by a friendly looking Bahamian woman at the entrance to the Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina. Not sure whether it was open to the public, I asked her if it would be alright for us to go in and have a look around. With a big smile on her face she replied, “You can do anything you want, Mama; you’re in the Bahamas!” And that set the tone for not only that day, but every day we spent in Bimini.

A quick look around convinced us that this would be a pleasant spot to stop for lunch, so we did. To quench our thirst after our morning walkabout, we started off with some tasty local beverages, a Kalik beer for Ken and a Bahama Mama (of course!) for Sharon.

After a delicious lunch of Mahi Reuben (for Ken) and Conch Salad (for Sharon), followed by a photo op in front of someone’s impressive catch, we headed back to the ferry that would return us to South Bimini, deciding that we would leave further explorations of Alice Town and the rest of North Bimini for another day.

The walk back to our marina gave us an opportunity to reflect on our impressions of this little slice of the Bahamas (and more specifically, Bimini) and its people, based on our experiences so far. Of course the tropical beauty of these islands and the gorgeous turquoise waters surrounding them come to mind immediately, but what caught us off guard was the friendly, welcoming attitude of nearly everyone we encountered along the street in Alice Town. “Good morning.” “ How are you?” “Welcome to the Bahamas!” These phrases were repeated time after time as we passed local pedestrians along the King’s Highway on that first day.

Back “home” at the Bimini Sands, satisfied with the morning’s explorations, but hot and tired from the excursion as well, we settled into what would become our daily routine: early afternoon nap followed by a dip in one of the resort’s swimming pools or a walk on one of its beaches.

Thinking that we would only have a few days more before moving on across the Great Bahama Bank to the Berry Islands, we went back to Alice Town the following morning determined to find the famous Dolphin House, conceived and built by Bahamian visionary artist and historian, Ashley Saunders.

Still a work in progress, this extraordinary building, a combination of residence, museum, and gift shop, lovingly constructed out of a huge variety of found and/or discarded materials, is a tribute to this incredible man's love of dolphins and also of Bahamian history. We were lucky to find him there when we arrived unannounced, and he graciously invited us in for a guided tour.

Ending our tour in the downstairs museum and gift shop, Mr. Saunders pointed out various quotes written on the ceiling, including this one attributed to Ernest Hemingway which he said that he always makes visiting school children read.

Back on South Bimini we decided to take advantage of the free transportation (which we called the Happy Bus) provided by our marina to visit their sister establishment at the southern end of the island, the Bimini Sands Beach Club.

On this site, along with a rather nondescript marina, more beautiful beaches and another swimming pool, are two restaurants: one a fine dining establishment called the Bimini Twist, plus a casual local favorite bar and grill called Mackey’s Sand Bar. The latter is named after Col. Joe Mackey, owner of the famous Mackey International Airlines, who pioneered routes to the Bahamas back in the 1950’s and was also the previous owner of this property.

Monitoring weather conditions and forecasts (especially wind direction and velocity, plus wave heights in the ocean waters surrounding us) was an important daily routine. As long as we were securely tied to a dock in this safe haven, very breezy weather was welcome since it made very warm days more comfortable and kept away any troublesome insects. However, we were hoping for conditions more favorable to safe cruising so that we could make the 90 mile open water crossing from Bimini to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands as planned. Along with other sources, we utilized the Sirius XM Weather feature on our Garmin electronic GPS system to access marine weather forecasts, and so far what we were seeing did not bode well for leaving Bimini anytime soon.

Experienced cruisers we have consulted over the years concerning traveling by boat to/from/in the open waters of the Bahamas seem to agree on these three most important bits of advice: wait, wait, and wait (until the weather conditions are right). And each time (during what finally turned out to be our 17 day stay at the Bimini Sands) that we agonized over whether we were being too cautious by choosing to remain in our safe port, a boat would arrive with crew so beat up and exhausted by the adverse conditions they had just endured, our decision was validated once again.

Finally, we just decided to amend our cruise plans and cancelled the Berry Islands segment. We were having such a great time in the Bimini Islands, so why not just enjoy ourselves? So that’s what we did. Instead of rushing around to see everything of interest in just a few days, we slowed down the pace, adjusting our internal clocks to island time. Rather than feeling that we had to “go somewhere” each day, we began to realize that interesting things were happening right where we were, if we would just stop and take notice.

Our friend and crewmate, Don, was becoming quite skilled at spotting opportunities to acquire fresh fish right on our dock from locals who had braved the angry seas. First he scored some Hogfish (which Ken turned into a delicious meal), and before we knew it he showed up with a big bag of freshly cleaned Conch. Of course, it required a bit of pounding to tenderize it before Ken once again created a mouth-watering treat.

On Friday, May 16th, day ten of our Bimini adventure, we began to switch our weather watching focus to planning for our return trip across the Gulf Stream to Florida. But with marine forecasts more troublesome than ever for the weekend to come (seas of 6-10 ft.), we began to notice large sport fishing boats arriving, actually surfing through the normally calm entrance to our marina and tying up to the docks near us.

Who were these crazy people, we wondered, and why were they venturing out in such angry seas? A few questions to marina staff revealed the answer: a big fishing tournament was about to begin, and we were going to have front row seats when they came in to weigh their catch. A couple of days before, a group of guys had shown up with a whopping 12 mahi mahi, so we wondered what these tournament contenders could produce to match or surpass that, if they dared to even go out fishing in such awful conditions.

As it turned out, only about half of the boats expected for the tournament actually showed up because of the poor conditions, but it was exciting none the less to watch them struggling to get out through the waves breaking at the marina entrance in the morning and then hearing them swapping tales of bravado at the end of the day as they weighed their catch. It was so rough, in fact, that the huge sport fishing boat next to us came back with a broken granite counter top!

By Sunday afternoon most of the tournament boats had left, and things were getting back to normal, everything, that is, except for the waves in the Gulf Stream, visible even without our binoculars, and appearing like a herd of elephants marching across the distant horizon. But on this day, we really didn’t care. It was May 18th, my 68th birthday, so we spent part of the day enjoying a walk on the beach, followed by a gourmet dinner at the Bimini Twist, culminating with a dramatic sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. Not bad, huh?

One of the things we loved about our marina was that you never knew what you would see coming and going from one day to the next, from high speed Cigarette boats with engine trouble, to ferry boats dropping off people headed to the airport, to tankers and freighters delivering goods, then turning around in the harbor and heading back out again.

Yet with all of these boats coming and going, and even with fish cleaning tables scattered along the docks, somehow, miraculously, the water in the marina remained clear and clean, home to a host of beautiful tropical fish, appearing almost like a saltwater aquarium. We regularly saw schools of little black-striped Sergeant Majors, some beautiful Rainbow Parrotfish, plus a couple of baby Barracudas. One day we even saw a Spiny Lobster sitting among the rocks in the water right in front of our boat! Obviously, he knew that lobster catching season was over and wouldn’t begin again until August

By now we were getting used to sunny, breezy days in Bimini, and were almost taken by surprise when it did finally rain one day.

But this front also signaled a change in the weather pattern, and as we studied the marine forecast for the next several days, we began to see that an appropriate weather window might materialize soon that would allow us to safely cross the Gulf Stream back to Florida. With that in mind, we discussed what else we still wanted to do and see before leaving Bimini.

We knew that there was more on the island of North Bimini than we had explored on foot, so we decided to rent a golf cart so we could venture further a field than Alice Town, through Bailey Town to the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina, the newest and most luxurious facility in Bimini. At the Port of Miami, we had seen the huge 1200-1500 passenger Resorts World Bimini SuperFast Ferry at its mooring and heard that it was capable of whisking people over to the resort in just two hours. So we were surprised to find it nearly deserted.

Apparently, the same rough conditions that had kept the “Docker” confined to our comfortable marina at the Bimini Sands had also kept the SuperFast Ferry from leaving Miami. Also at issue is the new jetty under construction near the resort which has run into delays due to legal problems.

Back in Alice Town, we went up and down some of the side streets that connect the Kings Highway to its parallel road, the Queen’s Highway which runs along the western shoreline of North Bimini, a view of which we had seen previously from the rooftop of the Dolphin House. But now we had the time to take a closer look.

While doing so, we stumbled across an interesting cemetery and ruins, wondering what tales they had to tell which we would never know.

Then it was back to the Bimini Big Game Club for one last lunch and a walk along their docks before dropping off the golf cart and heading back to South Bimini.

Oops, did we really forget to stop at the End of the World Saloon? No draft beer? Too bad.

We knew that the island of South Bimini also had more experiences to offer than we had the time on this trip to take advantage of, such as touring the Bimini Biological Field Station Shark Lab, where the role of the Lemon Shark in the tropical-marine ecosystem is researched. The day we stopped by, the team was just heading out, so we left them to their work.

That same day we passed by the entrance to the Bimini Nature Trail, but without our insect repellent handy, we decided to forego that experience. We did come across this little guy though, right at the edge of the dirt road we were walking along.

As so accurately predicted, the weather turned in our favor after 17 wonderful days stranded in paradise. With winds of 5 knots or less and only a light chop on the ocean waters, we decided to take advantage of the northward push of the Gulf Stream, and on Frday, May 23rd, we cruised comfortably all the way from Bimini to the Lake Worth Inlet and on to the North Palm Beach Marina, traveling a total of 92.8 miles in just about eight hours.

Since this was the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, we did encounter a few crazy, inconsiderate recreational boaters who waked us pretty severely as we entered Lake Worth, so we left all of that madness behind us and continued on to the welcoming serenity of Loggerhead Club & Marina -Vero Beach, our home port marina, the following day. Ah!













  1. Beautiful pictures!! What a fun trip.

    Jenny and Pete Wilson

  2. I loved reading this entry about my home away from home. It was an excellent representation.

    Nice meeting you and Ken today on board Docker's Inn!