By Christopher Ludgate
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
Say the name Bimini and you kind of want to say it again. Maybe even sing it. It’s a fun word, and Bimini’s a fun place to visit with laid-back culture and great nautical adventure abound. While not tremendously known, this remote, and most western Bahamian Island with a name that simply means ‘two-islands’ in the old regional Lucayan language has a growing following, and it is surprisingly easy to get to.
Opting for an early morning journey on the open seas using the direct two-hour ferry to Bimini via the Port of Miami rather than a sea-plane, I flew into Miami International Airport for a quick overnighter. My midday flight provided a convenient opportunity to visit an old friend and then stroll some exhibits in the recently opened Perez Museum in downtown Miami.
It also offered the chance to bask in the late afternoon sun by the rooftop pool at Hilton Miami Downtown before enjoying some unique vegetarian creations from in-house Chef, Didier Pouzier, at Brisa Bistro with colleagues.
It was soon sunrise and time to check-in to my reserved business class seat on the FRS Caribbean for a 50-mile sail. Accessing the island sans passport is probably a big reason the ferry is so popular rather than flying into Bimini. Reservations are recommended, but one can skip the business class, frankly.
It was a festive crowd of varying demographics – some starting early with tequila cocktails from the cafeteria bars aboard – many opting for sunshine & breezes on the upper deck.
After de-boarding by the tiny customs hut, the herds hopped on the open-air extension trolleys en-route to our respective accommodations. The drive offered glimpses into the local bohemian scene of the eight-mile-island which is more golf-cart and scooter friendly than car heavy in terms of transportation offering just two main roads. Many vehicles are taxis, of course.
It was too steamy for biking. And I soon discovered that walking was a lonely idea beyond leisurely shopping or eats in nearby Fisherman’s Village, where I would later pick-up my golf cart from my new pal, Nashonta Hall, who hooked me up at Sue & Joy’s grocery and rentals.
The enormous lobby at Resorts World Bimini featured wide-open views of the glistening marina outstretched in either direction. Winding along it is the lagoon pool that begins with a swim-up bar and streamed along the waterfront. This is a unique type of resort; grand and full of amenities, but not grandiose like some Bahama Islands boast.
Jumping Ship in the Bermuda Triangle
The site was both haunting and fascinating, even from afar. As our vessel drew closer from southern Bimini into the Bermuda Triangle one afternoon, the intimidation began to thrill me more. I couldn’t take my eyes off it as I attached my safety gear, circling the SS Sapona shipwreck in our comparatively puny diving boat.
At one-third the size of the Titanic, the Sapona is still monstrous, but I didn’t feel too inferior as our captain dropped anchor about 30 yards out – what with the thrills beckoning – not yet.
The stranded WWI ship was one of the few in the world that was fashioned out of concrete. Its intended purpose took on an interesting history than intended.
“A floating casino, then a rum runner, a cargo ship, and then, after a doomed encounter that left it wedged atop a reef in a really violent storm, became a convenient bootlegger spot right off the US coast during prohibition where it is rumored Joe Kennedy had a stash,” Sean, our boat’s diving expert from Bimini Undersea informed.
The abandoned mammoth legend was also used for WWII bombing target practice until the Lost Squadron of Flight 19 disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle, December 5, 1945.
After signing my waiver and tightening up my flippers, I hopped into the clear blue variegated waters feet first after Sean. My adrenaline and the tide seemed to easily guide me towards the rusty weathered skeleton ship where I entered its body which has apparently become a thriving reef of its own with a variety of sea life thriving inside.
Maybe even more than our calming snorkel adventure earlier that day, it was beautiful, but my eyes were also drawn to the mangled guts of the shipwreck through my goggles. I could not ignore the strange haunting vibe.
I swam through and out the other side, mindful of the dangerous unseen sharp objects. A rudimentary ladder dangled above and sting-rays fluttered below me. I slipped my flippers off, tossed them to Sean, and began the climb atop to seize the opportunity to dare myself.
One thing is, when you get up there, there is only one way down, and it isn’t the dinky ladder. I guess I expected a smooth wide surface up there, as divers do frequent the area. But I found myself on a rusty thin plank that led to a smoother surface across it where thrill-seekers like me would take the plunge 40 feet down.
What spooked me was finding myself adrift at the immense bow – looking up it, hugging it – trying to get my flippers re-fastened as the currents picked up unexpectedly. It was useless to attempt to swim back that way.
Suddenly, I heard a shout, “We gotta get out of here!” And that is something you don’t really want to hear when using a shipwreck in the Bermuda Triangle as a playground.
With that, the whole vibe changed, and I made my way back to the stern with all my might, advised to not go back inside to swim back through the guts. It seemed like forever free-styling back to our boat.
There is a reason why they say things can get unpredictable in those parts. Unforgettable.
Excited to explore the island and meet an acquaintance of mine, Ed Rickley, who runs Under the Sun Watersports rentals and was running the regatta up by Alice Town and Radio Beach, I just made it to the beach just in time.
The annual Regatta boats were raising their sails, just three remaining today, to vie for the top-spot. As reggae music played, spectators casually watched the sailors wield their sails and harness the wind.
Distracted by a piña colada stand on the beach behind CJ’s Deli, one of the top popular seafood shacks where conch-lovers delight in the island favorite, I soaked up the site. The rocky cove gave way to white sands and colorful sheer-covered cabanas. Jetskis and boats had claimed their front row views of the ensuing race in the shallow of the turquoise water stretching into a deep blue horizon.
The affable Rickley explained that the Class C Regatta “is an event that takes place on many of Bahamas islands, each competing to find their winners to later compete with the best of the other islands. It takes place over a number of months, not just a day.”
People had been keeping an eye on the sport all week, and today would culminate in an official Bimini winner.
The party was just starting, and it spanned along blocks in Alice Town.
Captain, our proud champion of this race, revealed that “we had to stop competing in the regatta for a number of reasons a few years ago,” citing that what re-launched their spot in the competition was “the community coming together with organizers in obtaining sponsors, so we have a lot of support from some good people. We need to train, plus these boats are not cheap to maintain!”
Noteworthy on Bimini
The freedom of having a golf cart comes with the carefree option to explore lots, but at leisure. It’s part of the joy of being on Bimini. The rules of the road apply – mostly anyway.
Whether you go to Edith’s for her famous pizza, or go on a search for some Bimini Bread at the stands, or sample the seafood shacks the cart will help you eat your way around the island in its culturally bohemian way.
Ernest Hemingway, by the way, lived and loved in Bimini. It is said that the instant he parked his boat, the Pilar, on its shores in 1935 he fell in love with the nature, culture, and fierce anglers of the island.
The frame of his house where he wrote the Pulitzer Award-winning Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream stands in Alice Town near Radio Beach. As a revered resident of the island, there is also a museum dedicated to him. Resort World’s Hemingway’s Restaurant, located next to its lively casino and rocked til 4 a.m., was my favorite of its many offerings.
In 1964, Bimini was favored by Dr. Martin Luther King as a tranquil and reflective place where he prepared for and wrote his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech given in Norway. He returned to Bimini on occasion and even had his own room in a resort on the island.
While driving around, I found the famed Dolphin House off of Queen’s Highway. It is on a side street named Saunders. It would be hard to miss this unique attraction built by Biminite author, Ashley Saunders. Just look for the house that is decorated entirely with recycled dolphin and ocean themed art. Visitors are welcome to go on a guided tour.
“The dolphins touched my heart, and made me an artist,” Sauders is noted to profess.
Sometimes the rain gives no choice but to go with the flow. Luna Beach, located a short walking distance or cart-ride from the resort is the popular sunbathing spot with partially open-air Luna Beach restaurant offering Mediterranean fare and a large bar under its roof.
The sky opened on an otherwise sunny, warm day and it was like an invitation for all to pile in to cool off, have a bite and a drink while the torrent passed, and then return to the beach with no worries. It was like a party. No drama, just some rain.
The restaurant features a more elegant menu and setting in the evening with a spectacular atmosphere.
Surrendering to ‘island time’, I balanced out my ever-ready adventurer with an easy-does-it attitude. I immersed myself in the adults-only infinity pool atmosphere on the rooftop one night decompressing beneath the moonlight, bathing in the rainbow of colors reflected from adjacent bar, Monkey Business, as I watched the illusion of pool water seemingly drop off the roof.
This night was a more serene scene. Other nights, the hotel venue hosts renowned DJs and live music events. The space is aptly named for the famed mob bosses shenanigans while they vacationed on the island back in the 1930s – unofficially.
During a stroll down in the lobby later I was pleasantly surprised with an open stage cultural parade featuring live music – completely unexpected, I loved it – a late-night happy-hour flowing, friendly people enjoying a happy surprise, taking in island time.
Hilton Miami Downtown: www.hiltonmiamidowntown.com
Resorts World Bimini: www.rwbimini.com
Bimini Undersea: https://biminiundersea.net/