Bimini Boppity Boo

After a lot of planning and prep, we head from Florida to the Bahamas.  After ‘the crossing’ our first stop is Bimini, gateway to the Bahamas.  But that turns into a longer stay than expected.

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One of our cruising goals has always been to winter in the Bahamas.  This is that winter. 

Planning and Prep

Our extended stay in Ft. Pierce was in large part to prep for the Bahamas.  This meant making sure everything is in working order on the boat (Dave’s job) and provisioning (my job).  Dave keeps everything always in working order, but he made sure all routine maintenance was completed and all navigation software updated.  He also ‘unpickled’ and recommissioned the boat’s watermaker, because you pay for fresh water to fill your tanks there at anywhere from 20-50¢ per gallon. 

As for provisioning, everything has to be shipped into the Bahamas and groceries are all 20-50% more expensive, so you try to take as much as you can.  I made a shopping list for a six week plus supply, then had to figure out where to store it all.  Two mega-grocery runs later (thanks to Jim & Tammy), we had a packed freezer and our guest cabin became a pantry for non-perishables packed into airtight bins.  Said watermaker helped in that we did not need to store gallons jugs of water. 

Approaching the island.

So what’s the big deal with ‘crossing?’  It’s a straight line 60 or so miles but the X Factor here is the Gulf Stream, the powerful current running from the Gulf of Mexico north along the East Coast.   The Gulf Stream is like that scene in Finding Nemo with Crush the Turtle, except Nemo took place in Australia and was actually the East Australian Current.  But it’s the same concept, just on the other side of the world.  And you don’t want to fight it the whole way across. Additionally, if you’ve got wind coming from the north, the two oppose each other and will beat the crap out of you.  So finding a ‘weather window’ means juggling not only wind and wave intensity but also direction.   

This year seems to have been particularly scarce on the weather windows.  We planned and unplanned several times while in Ft. Pierce as the weather forecasts kept changing.   Then a glimmer of a break appeared in the extended forecast – and held as it got closer.  We did some last minute shopping for fresh stuff, determined that the best route would be from Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini, and did a two-day hop to West Palm Beach and then Ft. Lauderdale.

On the way to West Palm, I logged in to Click2Clear, the online customs and immigration website for the Bahamas.    It took me almost an hour to enter all the required details.  Serial numbers, engine details, hailing port from a dropdown that had landlocked cities and multiple choices for Ft. Lauderdale all with different codes, detailed passport and people information.  Uploading copies of boat registration, passports, Roxy vaccinations and pet permit.  And then – it vanished from my screen with the ‘submit’ button in sight!   AAAaaargh!!!   I couldn’t find it anywhere.  Later that evening, I started over.  At least this time I knew what it wanted and it only took me 40 min to enter everything.  But then it took another 15 to figure out how to pay for our permit that had been granted. (Note to bureaucrats everywhere: if you need to produce an 8 min video to show people how to use your site, then it is neither friendly nor easy.)

Getting There

March 16, 2024

Weighing anchor shortly after sunrise, we rendezvoused with the third in our buddy boat crossing group — Crew Lounge —  right before Port Everglades inlet.  We knew we would have 2-3’ swells as we exited into the Straits of Florida.  What we didn’t know was how See Level would handle such swells from the beam, having never been in this condition before.  She handledf it beautifully, especially as we kicked it up to our fast cruising speed of 16 mph.  There was a little bit of a roll, but we gently rode up one side and down the other.  (Note: it eventually dawned on us that we have a niece who did this exact route from Bimini to Ft. Lauderdale on a standup paddleboard, which put things in a new perspective and made us feel like total wimps.)

Arriving in Bimini

First order of business once we were tied up at Bimini Bluewater Marina was to check in with immigration, which took Dave 10 min — thanks to my 100+ minutes on !@#$% Click2Clear. Next order of business was to figure out the cellular/internet access issue, as we need to be able to run weather and other boating apps.  This was where we learned how friendly and eager to help the locals are, as they gave us directions to the ALIV (the Bahama cell carrier) store.  This is also where we learned how bad the locals are at estimating distances.  We walked  ‘just around the bend’ to find nothing but abandoned structures guarded by cats, then someone else told us we had to keep going  ‘just past those two tall trees’ which turned out to be another  ½ mile further.  After about 1 ½ miles of the five of us trudging single file along the side of the mostly shoulderless road as golf carts, motorbikes, and vehicles whizzed past we finally found a tiny little convenience store which had what we needed.  However their credit card machine was out of order and none of us had enough cash.  So back to the boats we trudged to successfully complete the mission the following day. 

Bailey the Lobsterman came by the docks and we bought a dozen lobsters for $80 to split among the three boats, which we grilled with everyone as a celebratory dinner that evening. (Pretty sure I heard our good friend Kurt’s eyes roll when he read that price.)
Just one of several neighborhood bull sharks that frequent the marina, thanks to all the stuff local fisherman feed them.

Exporing Bimini

Feb 16-25

Bimini is generally a brief stop and jumping off point to the other island chains of the Bahamas.  Our next stop would be Great Harbor Cay some 80+ miles away.  But we had been unable to get a reservation at the lone marina for the upcoming weekend and didn’t want to take a chance on an unfamiliar anchorage with a storm coming through, so decided to stay in Bimini.  But a few days kept getting extended by weather, and we ended up being there for 10 days.  It was longer than we would have liked, but we had to wait out the weather somewhere and it’s pretty hard to complain about being ‘stuck’ anywhere in the Bahamas. 

One of several days that kept us in Bimini, when the seas were quite angry.

The downtime was not a bad thing after dfthe frenzy of preparations.  We relaxed, enjoying daily walks on the beach looking for abundant beach glass.  On days of strong winds, we could marvel at the angry surf on the west side of the island while we were tucked in the protected harbor. One afternoon we took the dinghy over to a nearby sandbar exposed at low tide, just hanging out as the water crept in from all sides with the tide.   We adjusted to ‘island time.’

An afternoon on the sandbar.
Locals leave their small boats anchored on the sandbar, knowing they will be high and dry at low tide.

The island is famous for its Bimini bread, and we visited all three bakeries to sample it.  The hardest part was catching the bakery open because the hours are rather random. The bakeries were named Nate’s, Charlie’s, and Big Al’s, but all were owned and operated by women.  We had a conch salad and the local Kalik beer at Joe’s Conch Shack, where there were ginormous piles of empty conch shells and a couple hundred dollars worth of mostly American bills tacked to the walls of the shack.  This money-as-wallpaper was a recurring theme at many of the bars and restaurants, which seemed a little incongruous with the state of the buildings and homes and our perception of the local revenue.  And of course there was the obligate Rum Drink In A Coconut at a beachside bar along with sharing an order of cracked conch and fries (the Bahamian version of fish and chips)

Joe's Conch Shack.

At the northern end of the island is the resort area and where cruise ships pull in regularly.  We were a few miles south, but always knew when one was in port because there would be a swarm of rented golf carts on the road and all the souvenir shops and roadside stands were suddenly open.  The frequently overloaded carts were also frequently on the wrong side of the road because Bahamas is a left-side driving county, making walking along the dusty two-lane road with no sidewalks or shoulders perilous. 

A surprise favorite was a visit to Dolphin House, built by hand by one man from items discarded by construction sites, found on the beach or roadside, or given to him.  Sir Ashley Saunders (we’re not quite sure about the ‘Sir’ title), a poet historian with a masters degree from Harvard and community advocate.  He started building it in 1993 and it is an ongoing project.  The interior and exterior walls were like a three-dimensional I Spy game, and it was fun to see how artistically he had incorporated all kinds of pop culture ephemera.  There was a Hemingway room, tributes to MLK and British Royalty, license plates from every US state, and tabletops with currency varnished into them (there’s that money thing again…). He lives in one small section, and the rest can be rented as a very unique short-term AirBnB with a spectacular view of the beach.  It was well worth the visit.  

The living room/kitchen was chock full of...anything your could imagine.
Sir Ashley himself was our tour guide at Dolphin House. Every inch of the exterior was shells, salvaged tiles, and all kinds of 'trash' like bottles and shards of pottery.
Dolphin House on the left, the local Baptist Church on the right.
View from The Hemingway Room

Being there over a week did give us a chance to see what regular life was like for the locals, with an economy based solely on tourism.  A couple supply barges came in one day, unloading cargo containers with goods that a line of cars was waiting to pick up.  They appeared the next day in the form of better stocked stores and souvenir stands.  A fuel ship anchored right off the marina for two nights after filling the marinas diesel supplies.  Most nights we could hear the blare of music from local bars and beach shacks, oddly except for Saturday night for some reason.  People gave a friendly honk of the horn as they passed people they new, and strangers received a friendly wave.  Everyone said hello as we passed on our Roxy walks, and we completely lost count of how many people asked if she was a chow.  We felt the ‘island time’ culture, with shops keeping irregular hours – I think more tied to when the cruise ships were in more than catering to the locals.  

One thing visitors must divest themselves of immediately is their concept of a grocery store.  We are spoiled in the US, with ‘supermarkets’ that stock 37 varieties of soup and an entire aisle of breakfast cereal.  Stores there are maybe as big as a typical American living room, dark and cramped, with narrow aisles and shelves packed the day after the supply barges arrive and not-so-much later in the week.  Prices were quite high — $10 for a loaf of bread, a pineapple was $8, and $5 for a can of tomato sauce.   They do take American dollars — in fact prefer them — but will then give you change in a ix of US and Bahamian money.  (Of course, the US doesn’t reciprocate in the currency acceptance.)  The only bargain we found?  A vending machine at the marina that had candy bars for $1.  Dave was thrilled, and it set off a perpetual search for candy — which was actually reasonably priced everywhere.  And yes, Dave shares with me. 

But Bimini is hardly the flagship of the Bahamas.  While the resort area to the north is in a touristy-sterile kind of way, the rest of the looked like it had seen better days.  So many of the buildings were abandoned shells with hints of what the town might have been like in its heydey.  Apparently once upon a time it was developed as a major fishing and resort town, and there were still ruins of old inns and resorts from 100 years ago and historical markers proclaiming where Hemingway and MLK once vacationed.  Faded lettering on faded facades with collapsed roofs hinted at restaurants, shops, and professional services.  Trash accumulated at the roadside, probably because there was really no place for it to go until it could be shipped off the island. I can’t say there was anything quaint about it.  More like tired, with a hint of past beauty and elegance in its youth.  However,  people like Sir Ashley, proud to be Bimini natives with roots going back to the days of rum running, could be found and everyone was friendly and welcoming.  Time will tell, and hopefully there will be a renaissance for the island. 

The historical museum, no closed indefinitely.
Ruins of a former resort hotel when Bimini was the destination of the famous. Earnest Hemingway was a frequent guest.

The one only true negative happened on our second to last day there when Roxy was bitten by a stray dog on our morning walk.  We had seen the dog before and he seemed dog aggressive but afraid of humans and had backed down quickly when he charged over to us before.  But this day he came  from behind and we hadn’t even known he was around.  He ran  silently right past me and bit Roxy on her back leg before we could react, then ran away as we yelled and turned towards him.  A couple locals saw it all and were concerned about her.  It wasn’t a bad bite – just a single puncture.  There is no dog rabies on the island, so that was not a worry.  I cleaned it up well, but she was punky and seemed sore for the rest of the day and the next. I’m happy to report the boo-boo is healing fine and she seems none the worse for wear from it.  I think we were more traumatized than she.  

So while our extended time there was hardly wasted, it was not the Bahamas we had come to enjoy and we were ready for more exploration and natural beauty.  Time to move deeper into the several island chains, starting with Great Harbour on the Berry Islands.  And hopefully no more boo-boos – for anyone, human or canine.

Pops’ Stats Corner*

  • No of Days: 10
  • Travel Days: 1
  • Miles Traveled: 62.8 (54.6 nm)
  • Candy count:  3  (Snickers, Mentos, Starburst)

*Pops is the family’s affectionate name for Dave’s dad.  He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked.  This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.

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1 thought on “Bimini Boppity Boo”

  1. Lobster Rescuer

    Boo hiss to dog attacks!!! So thankful Roxy apparently none the worse. Beautiful photos

    And yes I was aghast at people paying for lobster! Lobsters are walking around freely on the bottom of the ocean

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