One Destination, Two Islands, Three Experiences
There are a certain amount of bragging rights that go along with long-distance cruising. However, not all boat owners have the desire or capability—boat size, fuel capacity, budget, vacation time—to cross the Atlantic or island-hop the Caribbean. Luckily, less than 50 miles from Miami lie the two islands that make up Bimini, Bahamas, and if you leave just after breakfast you’ll arrive in time for a delicious lunch of conch salad and locally baked Bimini bread. But in spite of its small size and depending where you dock, distinctly different experiences await.
The first rule of thumb when cruising to Bimini—or anywhere in The Bahamas for that matter—is to ensure your charts are up to date since the ocean side of Bimini is lined with reefs and sandbars. Nv charts, for example, recently released their newly updated chart set for Region 9.1 for 2015/2016 in paper and digital format, which includes Bahamas Northwest⎯Bimini and Berry Islands, Nassau to Abaco, and Grand Bahama. nvcharts.com
Bimini Sands Resort & Marina on the south island offers direct ocean access to a deepwater marina, where updated floating docks have water and power. The family-owned resort’s amenities include onsite Customs & Immigration, a fuel dock with the only diesel fuel on the island, and a new infinity-edge swimming pool where guests enjoy unrestricted sunset views. Two-story rental cottages line the marina—bring your own beach towels. For an even more laid-back and remote experience, the Bimini Beach Club Marina at the far south end of the island offers the easy-going vibe of a beach club and private beach but with the convenience of a pool, Mackey’s Sand Bar, and restaurant with a sushi bar—order the Bimini Sands roll.
With little more than 100 island residents, the south island is also home to a small airport and the Bimini Biological Field Station—known as “Sharklab” to the locals—operated by Dr. Samuel Gruber. The research facility studies the 13 shark species and offers visitor tours and even a five-day research experience for those who want to participate in actual research—the winter months afford opportunities to see endangered hammerheads. Former Minnesotans and Sharklab volunteers Katie Grudecki and Grant Johnson now head up the resort’s activities center and organize paddleboard and kayak adventures through the mangroves, excursions to Honeymoon Harbour, and snorkeling trips. Popular snorkeling sites include the Three Sisters rocks and surrounding reef; the legendary Road to Atlantis (also known as the Bimini Road), large, flat, rectangular stones on the ocean floor that look manmade; and the wreck of the concrete ship Sapona, which ran aground near Bimini during a hurricane in 1926. The ship’s colorful history includes being used as a casino and later as a warehouse for alcohol during Prohibition. After it ran aground it was used by the U.S. armed services for target practice and was also used in films and as subject matter in the book Thunderball by Ian Fleming. Today, Sapona lies in 15 feet or so of water, where snorkelers and divers swim through openings in the hull to explore the ship’s underwater compartments.
For hardcore fishing enthusiasts⎯or those who aspire to be,⎯head to Bimini’s north island and the Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina (BBGC) in the heart of Alice Town. Ernest Hemingway frequented the resort in the late 1930s, when he landed monster blue marlin. Soon after, sport fishermen from around the globe were lured there to try their hand in fishing tournaments, which continue to this day. Founded in 1936, the resort now includes rooms, suites and cottages for anglers, their crew and families, a swimming pool and pool bar, and the Bimini Big Game Bar & Grill, where eating on the deck affords a view of fishmen returning with their trophy catch.
BBGC’s location in Alice Town provides easy access to the Bimini Museum, where dusty memorabilia recall a time when rumrunners ruled Bimini’s waters, and photographs of visitors include Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King, Jr. A typed caption under a movie poster of The Silence of the Lambs notes that the movie’s final scene was shot on King’s Highway in Alice Town and locals were used as extras. Don’t forget to leave your $2 donation in the box before you leave, and then head up the street and stop by Taste of Heaven bakery for a mid-morning guava bun or carrot cake snack.
If an uptown experience with swim-up pool bar, fine dining, and the excitement of gambling sounds more appealing, then head all the way to the far northern end of the channel to Resorts World (formerly Bimini Bay), where you can choose between two marina locations that accommodate up to 232 boats and yachts: Fisherman’s Village Marina and the Mega-Yacht Marina. Fisherman’s Village offers upscale retail shops, a fitness center, restroom and shower facilities, and two dining options: Amicci’s Pizzeria (also a Starbucks) and the Healing Hole open-air restaurant and bar, which overlooks the marina. For truly upscale and five-star service, however, dock at the Mega-Yacht Marina, where you can keep an eye on your yacht while lounging at the pool. Resorts World has been in steady development since 2011 and will open a 200-room hotel by the end of 2014, with a lobby, three additional restaurants and banquet facilities to be complete by midsummer 2015.
Lest more experienced Bahamas’ cruisers still think they need to wait until Nassau for fine dining, Resorts World’s Executive Chef Jimmy Sakatos’ previous experience includes nine-year tenures at two of New York City’s five-star luxury hotels: The Carlyle and The Pierre. Each of Resorts World Bimini’s five restaurants have different menus, all inventive. From Hemingway’s in the casino (editor’s pick: Cobb salad) to Sabor overlooking the pool (editor’s pick: stuffed veal chop paired with Italian Ripasso wine) to the Healing Hole (editor’s husband’s pick: lobster tale and baked potato), you can’t go wrong. Sakatos’ menu moxie alone is worth the 50-mile trip across the Gulf Stream.
No matter which marina you choose on Bimini, take a break from your low-carb diet and indulge in several slices of the island’s namesake deliciousness, Bimini bread. You can find it on other islands and in Florida, of course, but in my opinion, it’s best on Bimini
By Liz Pasch for Southern Boating December 2014