Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lucayan National Park

Today we went to the Lucayan National Park where they claim to have one of the most beautiful beaches in the world...  they may be right.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Browns Marina

We are now in Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama.


Our attempt to sail south east to Nassau and the Exumas was cancelled because this year's El Nino weather has caused constant, unstable weather.  All set to go, we had eased cautiously out of Bimini Sands and anchored in the South Bimini anchorage. It didn’t look good and it got worse. After ten minutes of rocking and rolling it was anchors up. Even at high tide, it’s a tricky entry up the channel into North Bimini where we returned and tied up on Browns Marina dock.

Phillipa the manager made “her” boys, Shirley Temples. A non-alcoholic drink and all was well. More of Browns later.

The forecast was good for our second attempt to leave Bimini. this time heading north. John had plotted way points on the chart plotter for a night exit as we came through the Channel after our first attempt to leave. When we arrived a month ago there were no channel markers and a large boat was grounded. Now only some of the markers were back, even so it is still tricky in day light let alone at night. Mid afternoon we anchored at Paradise Point, off Bimini Bay in the north of the north island. At 3am with the children asleep we set off. John skippered. I kipped ready to mother watch which started at 6am.

It was a testing 62 miles with testing squally conditions and children.
However, now we are here in Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama, somewhere completely different. A change, it’s fun and easy. The marina we had hoped for is closed so we are at the Marketplace Marina where John secured a discount rate.

Thanks to the Our Lucaya Resort five minutes from the boat we have been indulging in five star beaches and swimming pools. A sales company corporate shin dig provided elaborate sand sculptures, a band and pirate party. Although watching from the back the boys were loaded up with treasure.

The Abacos are on our horizon after a huge storm system passes over. For now a little reminisce.

Browns Marina, North Bimini.

Browns Marina is next to the Government dock, both mentioned in Hemmingway’s Islands in the Stream. From the cockpit we watch the loading and unloading of the large ferries and boats, and the local water taxi. It’s quiet now, after the influx during the Easter celebrations.

Ashley Saunders writes books on Bimini. His house near the Government dock-The Dolphin House has a small museum and displays his inventive mosaics.

Boat building has been in his family for generations. His brother Ansil builds the Bimini Bonefisher, an exquisite craft made from various woods including horse flesh wood and mahogany. It is almost too beautiful to launch in sea water.

On Dr Martin Luther King’s first visit to the island he wrote his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. His second visit to the island was at a more sober time. Saunders felt King knew the end was near, and, spoke movingly of his experience with King whom he took to a tranquil place in the mangroves to write his final speech, three days before his death. Whilst out on Saunders boat, fatigued King asked Ansil to talk saying he was tired of talking. Saunders recited a Psalm he had written. We were blown away when Ansil gave an impassioned recital of some of the poem. The air stood still. High energies surrounded him.

Still wowed by Saunders, en route home I met both Phillipa of Brown's Marina and Tammy, the baker at Taste of Heaven. I booked four guava duffs, all time melt in the mouth favourites. Locals call the bakery “Tammy Souse Souse” because of the lunch time souse (pickled) dishes she serves. Walking past the long wall of the Big Game Resort with a sea painting by Bennet Davis on the wall, past Jontras – my grocery, past our first marina the Bimini Blue Water Marina, the Anchorage Hotel and back to Browns, several locals greeted us and chatted.  Bimini was becoming home and more and more difficult to leave.

Who Dat?
In the Second World War pilots flying over the Bahamas amused themselves by radio-ing “Who dat?”, and replying“Who dat sayin’ who dat?”...etc etc. The Bimini Carnival over the Easter Weekend is the “Who Dat Homecoming”.
This reminded me of Fort Lauderdale in February which went Superbowl crazy. Miami was the venue. All America celebrated when the underdogs from New Orleans, whose nick name is the “Who Dat Nation”, won.

April was ebbing and the weather looked good to head north to Grand Bahama. Armed with four guava’ duffs we bid farewell to Tamy in Taste of Heaven, Jontra’s the local grocery, and all those we knew walking down the Kings Highway.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shark Encounter

Bimini’s proximity to the Gulf stream and the Bahama Banks provides a unique habitat for marine wildlife. Sharks thrive here. Grant, who had introduced us to the Bimini Boa, runs the Bimini Sands Recreation and Activities Team with his partner Katie. One of their ventures is a Shark Encounter. Out near a reef on South Bimini, Jack and James, and their parents were enthralled as Grant fed Caribbean Reef sharks and a Black Tip shark from the boat.

In his fascinating commentary Grant described the shark’s feeding and breeding, and how safe it is to swim with them. The previous week when Jim was showing us the baby lemon sharks James wanted to swim with them. This time both boys were safely clipped into Grant’s boat. Still, James wanted to touch the sharks.

There are 450 varieties of shark some of which have been here for 450 million years – The dinosaurs appeared 230 million years ago.

Watch a video of our shark feed below.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

South Bimini

“Ain’t no time zone here”, smiled a Bimini local. It’s true. This place is really special and we’re falling more in love every day.

An excursion from North Bimini to South Bimini introduced us to the tranquility and magic of the south island. Eco-tour guide Grant met us at the dock.

He and his girlfriend Katie have established an Activity Centre at the Bimini Sands Resort encouraging eco-explorations and a Nature Trail introducing tourists and locals to wildlife of the island including the Bimini Boa, a rare and beautiful snake.

Later that afternoon, Sean, the manager of the Bimini Biological Station, or, “Sharklab”, explained the work of the centre.

Their research includes tagging lemon sharks and studies of the Bimini shark population by marine academics assisted by a team of volunteers.

The shark pen tour had been at low tide, a few hours before. Our appetite was whetted. We wanted to know more about this island.

The next day Seraphim motored down to South Bimini.

After leaving the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina we learnt of the destruction building the resort had wrought upon the mangroves, essential nurseries for marine life. When the dredgers fail to use “curtains”, silt from the construction clogs up the sea grass beds, home to juvenile fish, shrimp, lobster and conch so important to Bimini fisherman and restaurants. Bahamian politicians with incentives from the developers  allowed the original site to grow almost out of control until pressure from international environmentalists forced a preservation order on East Bimini which means no resort golf course but the survival of indigenous wild life.

Even at high tide with slow rolling three foot waves, the shifting sand bars make the entrance to the Bimini Sands marina on South Bimini, a heart-in-mouth experience.

But once in, it’s great. Fishing off the dock, a swimming pool two minutes from the boat, a stunning beach five minutes away plus the other resort site the Bimini Beach Club and Mackey’s Bar.

It is a marina for cruisers rather than a boat park for weekend hoppers from Miami.  First on the to-do list was laundry, epic laundry.

The scores of nappies loaded in Fort Lauderdale for James were running low. Small’s, the only grocery on South Bimini did not carry them.  The supply boats bringing goods from Fort Lauderdale and Nassau arrive on Thursday. So Friday morning was a good time to cross back to North Bimini on the water taxi for essentials. Brown bread and parmesan rolls ordered from Tammy at Taste of Heaven Bakery, re-victualed and nappied up, we headed back to the ferry/water taxi. I was relieved that new friends Linda and Chrissie golf carted us to and from the dock. It’s a comparatively short walk but in 90 degrees on a dusty road with children it can become a task. Especially after one of my meltdowns when I sob that it’s all too much and want to go home. John ducks and dives through these monthly crises til an hour or so later the sun is shining in paradise, physically and metaphorically.

The mundane was forgotten when Jim the assistant manager of the Shark Lab waded out with us to the pen where young sharks were swimming. Jim fished out a lemon and then a nurse shark describing their characteristics, life style and idiosyncrasies. Touching these creatures was thrill for Jack and James. When John commented that they felt like sandpaper, Jim told that “back in the day”, sailors used their skins to sand the decks.  Jim has worked, voluntarily, at the lab for almost three years since he graduated.

On Saturday, Jim was fishing for bone fish off the beach, on his day off, at the Bimini Beach Club. On the horizon is the wreck of the Sapona, on the edge of the Bahama Banks. She was a concrete vessel used for hooch. Numerous schooners were sunk on the Banks in the hurricane of 1926.

Inside Mackey’s Sand Bar there is sand on the floor and on the wall photographs of Bimini in the 20s – 50s including the harbor full of schooners, proof that the island thrived during Prohibition.

The phrase the Real McCoy comes from those spirited days when Bill McCoy was known for his undiluted liquor. Predictably there are photos of the famous writer and big game fisher with quotes from his work. Being on a Hemingway Island I messed with long sentences linked by “and” with the odd comma but after a few breathless goes, let it go.

It’s a bus or taxi to the Bimni Beach. Tony who sometimes drives a bus for the Bimini Sands, has eight children from four girlfriends. He looks after the children during the day and escapes to the bus in the evening and Sundays.

On our trips into Alice Town we met various taxi drivers. The tram was not as reliable as we had hoped so we spent more than we had hoped on taxis. $20 return.  The best taxi is Milton or Scooper Taxi. Someone smashed one of the other taxi drivers windows.  Our concern over a taxi war turned to amusement when we heard from a South Bimini taxi that our windowless friend  is a “lover”. It was probably the fury of a scorned girlfriend. The taxi driver grinned over the “lover”. “I tell him man you got to slow down, but he don’t do dat”.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Easter in Bimini

Bimini celebrated Easter with song and dance. Jack’s first Easter egg hunt of three was around the large swimming pool in the marina. In Alice Town there was a Junkanoo Carnival.  The tourist officer at the Ministry of Tourism told me Junkanoo was on Friday and Saturday, and pointedly, church on Sunday.

The Anglican Church is one of eight on this seven mile long by half mile wide island. The congregation turned out in their Easter Service Best.

After a two hour Easter Service (a stretch for us let alone James), the children were given Easter baskets for a sedate egg hunt around the Church yard.

Later new cruising friends from San San joined Jack and James for a crazier egg scamper around the marina playground followed by lunch beside the infinity pool whilst the children splashed in the cold water. A delightful day.

On the beach and the boat we marvel at the colours of the sea. From palest turquoise it moves through the spectrum to azul and cyan in the deeper water of the Gulf stream. A phenomena known as the Bimini Colour Change.  It’s how I imagine the stairway to heaven.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Islands in the stream

BIMINI, Bahamas

The Bahamas are so close and yet utterly different to the States in all ways.  Less than 50 miles from Florida across the Gulfstream, Bimini has a strange captivating charm.

Bimini claims to be the sports fishing capital of the world. These tiny islands on the edge of the Gulfstream and The Bahama Banks have attracted sports fisherman for decades.

Six hundred pound fish which fight for hours such as Marlin and Sailfish team just off these “Islands in the Stream”. Ernest Hemingway’s book was based on his three seasons here between 1935 – 37.  The house he first describes, The Anchorage, still exists as a hotel attached to the Bimini Blue Water Marina where we stayed on our arrival to the “Gateway of the Bahamas”.

Two days later another cold front passed through providing a good opportunity to catch rain water to fill the tanks, one of Jack’s favourite games.

The small Bimini museum is a fascinating guide to the colourful history of the island. There are pictures of the rich Americans who made homes here and attracted royal, wealthy and famous guests. Hemingway and one of his four wives, Pauline, are photographed with Baron and Baroness von Blixen of “Out of Africa” notoriety.  The photographs taken in the 1930s show fit hunters and their ladies who have no hips and long legs. The real boom time was during Prohibition when Bimini harbour was littered with liquor cases. The ultimate booze cruise, when schooners from Europe loaded with alcohol anchored in the harbour, unloaded and fast boats (rum runners) sped the illegal drink across to the US.

The north island is seven miles long and almost a half a mile wide at one point. A beach runs along the Atlantic side. Jack and James played with new friends during a cruisers gathering outside Shelley’s beach bar in Alice Town.

An evening of indulging in Shelly’s conch fritters, up-and-down island banter, the magnificent sunset and driftwood bonfire. CJ’s, next door was John’s breakfast sandwich venue.

Bimini’s main islands are North and South Bimini. North Bimini has two faces, the village of Alice Town for island life, and at the other end of the island Bimini Bay Resort and Marina.

As with many islands golf carts are the vehicle of choice. During our $40 worth of golf cart rental we discovered the Resort and Marina.  John’s careful questioning elicited the useful information that although it is $3 a foot per day, it is $1.20 per foot if you stay a week, not many people know that.

Even though it is a minimum of 40 feet, it was still the same price as Alice Town but includes restaurants, (selling grouper fingers – mmm), an infinity pool, uber pool, children’s pool (pee pool), children’s playground, children’s play room and non-stop WIFI.  We headed up the new deep channel cut through the shallows for a week on Wahoo Pontoon. Now we have the best of both worlds. A $6 tram driven by Humphrey or $10 taxi with Max takes us back to Alice Town, through the villages of Porgy Bay and Bailey Town. I window shop at the expensive Bimini Bay shop fronts but we head to Alice Town to shop.

Tamy runs the Taste of Home bakery, a green building where she sells many goodies. Our favourite are her Parmesan and Garlic rolls.

Just before Easter the local school sold hot cross buns. A pupil, Paulette showed us through the school grounds to the Bimini mummies working hard over the buns.

They were delicious, and literally hot.

One of our most charming father and sons moments occurred when John made a coconut sailboat for the boys, and accompanied by happy squeals set it afloat.

This Easter weekend our tranquil resort has become Miami in the Stream. One of scores of sports fishing boasts powering into the marina was 900 horse power Down Time. It took just 1 hour 20 minutes to reach Bimini from Miami, top speed is 55 knots with  a cruising speed of 33 knots.  Seraphim’s 50 horse power and sail took eight hours with our cruising speed of 7 knots. Sleigh riding down a big wave our top speed is 12 knots.

We’re off to see Junkanoo, the local Carnival in Alice Town.
There are at least eight churches to choose from.  Wishing you all a Happy Easter.