A Travellerspoint blog

Alicetown, Bimini

sunny 75 °F

Well, we finally made it to Bimini. We set out to go to the Bahamas on 11/18/08 and actually arrived on 04/09/10, a mere 507 days later, more time than Darwin needed for the Beagle to get to the Galapagos and more time than Capt. Cook needed to sail to and discover the Sandwich Islands.

This was our second try to cross to Bimini this trip. We were going to leave on the Saturday before Easter, but arriving on Easter Sunday seemed like not such a good plan what with customs, immigration and all. So, we left on Easter Sunday. The wind was forecast from the ENE, which seemed workable, at 15 knots. In the event when we were about 10 miles off shore it became clear that the winds were from the east, dead on, and the 15 knots had morphed to 25 knots. There was no line we could have sailed to get across the Gulf Stream and hit Bimini. So with heavy seas, high winds and no plan, we retired back to the Marathon City Marina which we had just left.

That was OK because there were some water projects that required a Home Depot. I had been getting a great deal of longitudinal input (married men will understand these code words) from Carol about the taste and smell of the water in our tanks. She didn’t like it; I had never noticed. So in goes an inline filter from the tanks to the main faucet in the galley. I also jerry rigged a two stage filter for using hoses to fill the tanks. I also had to reinstall the foot pump that Carol uses after it became loose and would not work.

With time on our hands we worried about our potential vulnerabilities. All boaters obsess about the weather and, away from the internet, most people in the Bahamas listen to Chris Parker on their Single Side Band Radios, one of which we have. We had not been able to hear him stateside, too much static, maybe, we thought, there was too much interference from cell towers and such. We hoped for better reception in the Bahamas but that put a heavy burden on HOPE. So, we decided to sign up for the XM Marine Weather service and to have the antenna installed to download the information to our two laptops. What a mess. I spent two full days on the phone with technical support centers trying to get either computer to work, one with Windows 7 and the other with Windows XP. Eventually both did work despite the efforts of all involved, sort of a spontaneous digital healing. This was the first time I had had to deal with unstable software since the days of Sears using IBM’s O/S 2 operating system. Getting XM Weather was a wise choice; we still cannot receive Chris Parker and an internet connection here is the impossible dream.

Thursday, 04/08, was the day; the winds were, more or less, correct for the trip. We had about 36-hours before a storm front was due to arrive. There was no way to lay down a plot line …. too many variables, some of which themselves would vary over the course of the trip. The one rule that seemed to apply was not to let the course over ground be smaller than the bearing to Bimini, e.g. Bimini is at 060 so steer 080. It is better to head up from the south than to have to head down against the current from the north.

Everything went about as it should have until we got to the Bimini channel waypoint. I have only mis-entered the coordinates of a way point once; this one I got wrong twice. I thought that this error was the reason that I could not find the channel markers. Wrong! Seven of the eight markers went to buoy heaven during a hurricane so, we hung around off shore to watch some boats exit the channel. Then we took the plunge. It turned out OK but there were some surprisingly shallow waters where deep water was supposed to be the deal (to be fair to the chart publishers they did mention shifting sands).

I’ve cleared customs and immigration countless times around the world. This was the first time that I have done so with papers hand written in triplicate using carbon paper and lots of official stamps. Fortunately, it was a painless process, no lines and no hassle when we had written stuff on the wrong lines of the forms.

The water here is beyond beautiful and no picture I will ever take can convey that beauty. It is clear from the darkest blue of the very deep water to the aquamarine shades in the shallows. The west side of the island is mostly a white sand beach, and relatively high ground: probably 15~20 feet above mean low water. The view across the Straits of Florida is memorable.

Bimini seems interesting but not in any way that would compel us to stay for an extended period. It’s predominately a black island, but I probably knew that. It’s interesting to be in a minority and not a problem because everyone, so far, has been very nice.

There is not much in the way of money here or good jobs to bring money onto the island. Some government positions, a few with utilities and some service jobs at hotels, etc; that’s all. Tourism seems to be the only way that new money comes onto the island.

One of the major economic activities with tourists seems to be sport fishing. This picture notwithstanding, I don’t know if Bimini was the island in the opening section of Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, although he wrote most/all of it here. If it isn’t, it certainly could be. The western edge of this island is remarkable. The water depth goes from 30 ft. to 3,000 ft. in maybe a mile and only a couple of miles from the beach. And, the deep waters of the Gulf Stream are where the big fish are to be had. A powerful sport fishing boat can leave Alicetown and be in very deep water in less than 30 minutes. Many of the marinas and one restaurant have 8”x10” pictures of folks with their catches of the day, some of the blue fin tuna going to 1,000 pounds.

The cruising guides mention this store or that restaurant, a bakery or a bar. When you check the place out what is on offer is, maybe, a front room with a couple of tables or a closet sized space with some shelves and not too much in the way of merchandise on them. Carol noticed that all the inside workers are women, not men. Coming from the America of huge malls and Super Wal-Marts, it’s hard to understand that this level of retail activity can provide for and sustain some 1,700 souls, but it does.

There is only one main road: the King’s Highway, which runs the entire length of the island, not more than 7 miles. It’s easy to imagine that this was once a horse and a wagon path. There are a few cars on the island but these are certainly out numbered by golf carts, gas powered, not electric.

It seems like about one of every ten buildings is abandoned and simply on the way to being completely destroyed by water and heat. Only a few buildings seem to be maintained and those not assiduously. Maybe the answer is that there isn’t enough money to get the job done or done economically. There is only one real estate agency on the island and not many For Sale signs.

This house was an exception. It’s a very nice house, very well maintained. Our guess, from the lions rampant, is that it was the residence of some British official before independence.

One of the places we found was an abandoned resort at the very south end of the island. In modern terms it was like finding a Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan. From what I've seen of the island, if I were staying here, this is the place I would have wanted to be. The story is that some 30 years ago the family owners came on hard times and squabbled among themselves and it then fell into disrepair. Now, it is completely overgrown. It must have been special: several acres with the best views on the island. Now only one unit is occupied and that one looks like its ready to go.

We rented a golf cart for a few hours to tour the island. This took about three hours with lots of stops for pictures; it’s not a very big place. Some things we saw, or didn’t see were:
• No public school, although when we asked, folks said that there is one, the building just isn’t what we would expect.
• No parks or playgrounds for kids with swings, slides, etc.
• No obvious source of electrical power generation, although there is electricity.
• No obvious source for fresh water and only a few buildings have cisterns. The marina at which we are now moored has fresh water showers and a fresh water swimming pool.
• Only one gas station; it’s at our marina.
• No franchises of any kind. But, there are two stores called Honey Buns, one north and one south; maybe we’ll read about that IPO in the near future.
• It was interesting to see that at least one bar has a no smoking policy.
• The island is well churched, maybe 7 or 8 that we saw, including, of course, an Anglican church.
• Most boats moor in the harbor on the east side of the island; this boat is an exception.
• There are free range goats, supposedly from the wreck of a Haitian refugee boat.

In the Florida Keys killing a conch is a capital offence, Key West billing itself as the Conch Republic, without actually having any more conchs. Here, plainly, not so much of an issue; there are piles of shells along the shore and they are used for borders and fences. Conch fritters are as common here as French fries are in the states. Carol had a conch and lobster omelet for breakfast one day; the chicken needed no pity from her and the conch and lobster got none as she cleaned her plate.

Most of the northern end of the island, maybe a quarter of the total area, has been purchased for a development: Bimini Bay. There are a lot of houses and condos built there already, although some seem to be spec houses, unfinished inside. The cost of entry is pretty high …. $2.0 million for a ½ acre lot; since every construction supply except sand for the concrete has to be brought in by boat, the cost of a house would probably be astronomical. We both like the deal on our 18.8 acres a lot better and we don’t have to worry about getting wiped out by a hurricane’s storm surge.

This has been an unusual winter, one not conducive to sailing. We waited out a hard freeze in Brunswick, the weather in Vero Beach, the weather in Key West and the weather in Marathon. Now, again, we're waiting out the weather in Bimini. We’re not sure about the next leg of the trip. We need to go east but there is a stalled high pressure area to the north and the forecast is for winds from the east at 15~20 knots through 04/15. To go east we have to cross the Grand Bahama Bank, running 15~25 feet deep. The wind on the bow in relatively shallow water with a fetch of some 70 miles would make for a very rough passage. I've read Milton and I do not agree that, "they also serve who only stand and wait," but waiting we are.

Posted by sailziveli 09:56 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating

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