Hi All~


This Eletter with all the links to amazing never-before-seen photos is at:

http://www.ciekurzis.org/The Bimini Islands/The Bimini Islands.htm


The Bahamas 101 – The Bimini Islands



I have heard that every one of the 750 Bahamian Islands has a different character. The Islanders are all said to be friendly [so far that’s verified] but the differences can be vast concerning how each place “tastes”. I will endeavor to describe the flavor of the Bimini Islands, especially North Bimini, where we spent wo weeks.


I am also on a mission to find a place to have my grandchildren come and visit [with their Mom & Dad] somewhere in the Bahamas. Jessy, here’s a preview of what I can afford on Bimini.


Everyone In Bimini Wants To Be Like An American.


Being only 42 miles from Miami, one of the largest cultural centers in America, the Biminites are exposed to the best and worst of America. Many of them have spent extensive time in America and some have stayed, leaving relatives in both places.


Speaking of families, I will mention now that the 1000 residents of North Bimini generally fall into three families: the Saunders, the Browns and the Rolles (pronounced “Roll”). These families have intermarried, but the patriarchal roots are well know. More on these peoples later.


The first obvious sign that Biminites wanna be like Americans is that although they have basically one road on the island [King’s Highway] and it is two miles long, there are 200 cars trucks and buses on the island. (To be fair, that estimate includes South Bimini, a tiny fraction of the population of North Bimini, they have only a couple dozen vehicles as far as I counted.) some people have four or FIVE cars! And they DRIVE them . . up & down . . up & down . . up & down. Good thing there is fuel (a Gas Station??) available on the “Highway”.


Next are cell phones: everyone has them. Bahamas Telephone Company has a firm grip on the phone service here, so EVERY phone is a Batelco phone, and costs 40¢ a minute. Batelco also provides cable TV, which mostly consists of American TV [Oprah].


In a place where you could walk a couple hundred yards and holler to get the attention of any other resident, they have cars & cell phones; Because Americans have cars & cell phones [& Oprah].


The Character Of The Land.


Bimini is not a wealthy island. The water and electrical service to some structures consists of a garden hose and extension cord (lying across King’s Highway!). Food is expensive – three times the cost of food at a discount supermarket in Florida. Fuel is a third more expensive. Water comes only from a reverse osmosis plant, which is fairly costly, because most of the wells (in ALL of the “developed” Bahamas) have become tainted with saltwater because of overuse [more on this later]. (South Bimini is a site for one of the many “Fountain of Youth” wells Ponce DeLeon sought in the 16th century. I’ve seen four now. ;-] )


Jobs are not plentiful, but those willing to work do, and many make a living “hustling”. In short, hustling is “providing services for tourists” as tourism is just about the only industry in North Bimini and any other “visitable” island in The Bahamas. These services could be assisting a cruising sailor in finding the appropriate customs & immigration offices, providing a guided tour, scoring some weed, arranging transportation to ?????, etc. their slogan is, “Anything, anytime, anywhere.” (for a buck). Actually a needed trade in a tourism-fueled economy.


(Mentioned ‘weed’ above – the Bahamian Government has an advertised strong stance against drug use, and on the islands enforcement translates to this sign. On Sunday morning, you will find every resident at one of the TEN churches on the island, or on the beach getting high.) {We went to the Methodist service in the oldest (150 years!) church building on the island.}


So the ‘downtown’ area is slightly ‘run-down’, but that’s the way they like it for the tourists. There are interesting touches here and there, and the ruins of the Compleat Angler, the hotel made famous by Ernest Hemingway. At night, the bars are HOPPING. There are stores, restaurants, bus stops, travel agencies, political offices, and an INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. (Don’t be impressed – EVERY Bahamian island has an INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT!).


Before you feel sorry for the Biminites, realize that although the appearance is impoverished, there are Biminites with MONEY. You see, they have sold the north two-thirds of their island to a Cuban-American. He is a VERY good businessman, which means he rotates out his Cuban, then Haitian, then Mexican, then ??? workforce periodically to keep work standards and wages low and the fresh workers continue to push the project to completion. The “project” is to transform a narrow strip of barren land and mangrove swamps into hundreds of million-dollar concrete shacks and a thousand-slip marina. This will be ongoing for decades to come, but the residents have recently seen hundreds of acres of mangroves destroyed for this “development” and vow to not let any more succumb to The Man (a Mr. Capo). Very different from a “Bahamian construction site”.

[The mangroves are the next-best-thing to a freshwater estuary, and the only place in this part of the world where many, many species procreate and live. To destroy the mangroves would interrupt the food chain and collapse the ocean ecosystem. But The Man hasn’t figured that out OR he doesn’t care.]

Many other Americans are involved in “real estate” on Bimini and other Bahamian Islands. Invariably, the phone number on the (Bahamas) FOR SALE signs is one in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Sad that the people here have lost a lot of control over their country.


Progress on The Bahamas: #1   #2   #3   #4   #5   #6   #7   #8   #9    #10


The Man has worked his way into his position by making promises. Many say he doesn’t keep them, but I saw proof both ways. The several schools had only a barren field for outdoor sports and nothing much for inside stuff. The Man is finishing a gymnasium at one of the schools, but the outside athletic field is only this far along after seven months of ‘work’. Excuses keep the children on a scrubby side of a hill for outdoor sports.


He also promised a new fire engine. This old, rusty truck isn’t even kept near downtown by the aged wooden buildings, but up at the resort, to protect the million-dollar concrete shacks(?). But it was brought down one day to battle an out-of-control trash fire. They saved the pine trees.


The Good Peoples Endure.


While on Bimini, we met Patrick Prince (P.O.) Brown. P.O. is a former Nassau gang-member who has returned to his hometown to turn his life around after some jail time. He works construction (occasionally) but is a poet and musician at heart. He has a rare personality mix of being VERY street-smart, and yet naïve about the world outside his experiences. His poetry is mostly based on his battling/exposing his past and injustices by The Man with a gospel-based goodness that reads true. [My favorite concept is he believes in the ultimate failure of the establishment – “Babylon” in street lingo.]


Karin transcribed his music, and we were given permission to investigate a commercial use for it. If anyone has an interest, please contact me. {The “studio” where P.O. makes his CDs}


P.O. has a natural teaching skill, and I hired him to teach me to retrieve and clean conch and bark and juice coconuts. These tasks can be done entirely by hand (or mouth!), as he taught me, or made a little easier with simple tools. (A conch hammer was our only purchase on Bimini!) He is quite a character, sometimes climbing the highest palms in town just to clear away the dead branches and spruce up the place.


Now coconut and conch have become our primary diet. Added to the canned victuals aboard Windigo, we make some gourmet treats impossible without the freshest ingredients.


I also befriended Nathaniel Clement “Piccolo Pete” Saunders, the oldest living resident of Bimini. At 94, he is the patriarch of the island, and what a storied life! From having a white uncle and a white adoptive father, to many years supervising on a plantation in the US, military service, decades as an entertainer, and political service. His entire family was killed by a hurricane when it destroyed their home on this location in 1926 when he was 14 years old. Although he resisted at first, the local constabulary ‘forced’ him to participate in rum-running during prohibition, and he made a bundle.

Now he repairs bicycles and gives them to island children, hires a few unfortunates to do work around his “Club” [where he now lives], and plays ‘Uncle’ and ‘Grandpa’ to the island residence. If your watchband comes undone, Natty can make it done again! What a character.


Ansil Saunders (nephew to Natty, along with P.O., of course) has just about the only manufacturing business on the island. A former political leader in “the Struggle” (for independence in 1973, and after), Ansil builds wooden “bonefish” boats of native woods. He is the last wooden boatbuilder in all of The Bahamas and man, what beautiful boats he builds. His brother Tommy lays 12 coats of varnish and several of paint on the hulls to make these some of the best-built vessel I have seen.


Randy Rolle has retired in his hometown on Bimini Island after playing baseball for the Atlanta Braves.


Chiquita Rolle has just returned to Bimini after running a service station in St. Petersburg for a year (a place where I actually bought fuel! Small world. . .) is the ONLY person on the island without a nickname – but she does call herself The “Black Banana”!


We also ran into the Governor of The Bahamas in what was described as a rare visit to Bimini. Very cool British-type pomp & circumstance.




I will now reveal my technique for finding out so much is such a short period about this place. I do so as an introduction to the dogs of Bimini. Confused? Read on:

Very early in our visit, I rode a century on my bike. It was a Sunday, and once back in a former life, a 100-mile ride was de rigeur on a pleasant Sunday, so this didn’t seem to be that unusual; except remember the King’s Highway is only about 2-miles long. That’s right, I made 22 trips up & down the island on that Sunday. 44 times past every place in town. I met EVERYBODY, saw EVERYTHING. It was grand, and now I intend to repeat this stunt at every applicable island to warm up to the place.


There are many doggies on Bimini, just as there is everywhere. Dogs are Man’s Best Friend, after all. But dogs HATE cyclists! Funny thing is that even the dogs are laid back in The Bahamas. Not once was I chased, molested, attacked, or snapped at. I was barked at once; I think that was because I came around a corner (one of two “jogs” in the King’s Highway) a little fast and startled the puppy – later on, we were the best of buddies.


The lizards are twice as big as Florida and Alabama lizards, and these curl their tails!


Giant termite mounds abound in the remote areas.


The starfish are HUGE and colorful!


The bugs are taken care of by the constant breezes. Nice!


Fish everywhere, conch in the shallows, and the birds are tamer than in the US.


Oh yes, the goats – in front of the meat market? Hmmmm.


Other Activities.


I had lots of kite flying experience with my kiteboard kite. Flew it in various winds from different beaches. Also flew it from Pedigo a few times. Trying to work out a system to sail Pedigo at least downwind with the thing. Karin even got into it on the biggest beach.


We hiked around East Bimini, a mangrove-bound sister island to North Bimini; and cycled South Bimini, an island to the south [duh] that has one marina, two resorts, and a few dozen residences. This is where the airport runway for the South Bimini INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT is. (The North Bimini INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT only accepts seaplanes.)


Karin also reorganized the Bimini Memorial Public Library and Museum (and let me rename it – ha). It was a sorely needed task!


We stopped into the marinas occasionally for a shower ad a game of ping-pong [TABLE TENNIS for my friend Cliff].


We had to undo a couple hundred twists from our anchor chain. How this got this way ,I’ll never know!


Island Geology.


I’ll use this last section to show the pictures from Cat Cay, an island in the Bimini chain 20 miles south of North Bimini. We anchored here for several days waiting for the weather to be right for a Grand Bahamas Bank crossing.


The Bahamas banks (and islands) are made of aragonite, named after Viggo Mortensen’s character in Lord of the Rings. Just kidding about the Viggo part. This aragonite is calcium carbonate, heavier and harder than calcite, has less cleavage, and occurs less frequently. It is basically the remains of dead creatures, their shells to be exact, deposited over hundreds of millions of years. So many epochs, in fact that many, many ice ages passed in that time; when the world’s water supply is frozen up in an ice age, ocean levels can drop hundreds of feet. So these deposited mounds of aragonite were formed, eroded by water, eroded by wind, rained upon, submerged again, “inhabited” by billions of more creatures which die when the ice age drops the water, over and over and over again. The Bahamas are a big deal in world geology!


Some of the stratifications in the sedimentary rocks resemble the Wisconsin Dells area, on a 1:100 scale! Trekking around Cat Cay was a challenge when the tough scrub brush reached out to the sloping rock cliff; at times it was easier to walk on the submerged rock shelf in the water.


Along the way, coral reefs built up in certain places alongside the aragonite, one of them becoming the reef along the eastern side of Andros Island, the third longest barrier reef in the world.

Vegetation caught hold on the exposed rocks and cycles of forestation produced soil in places. Wildlife flew here or swam here or was brought by visitors. A slow, painstaking process for sure!


Blue holes are sought after features in all the Bahamas, Caribbean and Central America. Divers marvel at their structural beauty. These flooded very, very deep vertical caves have ocean connections and if explored at the wrong tidal cycle, can trap a diver for the duration of the tidal flow, usually six hours. Unfortunate if the diver has only single tank of air! The formation of these structures is now understood to have been formed during an ice age, when the ocean level was very low exposing much of the island. Rain eroded the vertical shafts down and down until it reached the height of the island and joined the ocean. When the ice melted and ocean levels rose, these holes filled with seawater and are now very deep pockets on dry land or in shallow water.


[This is similar to what has happened to the wells in The Bahamas; earlier I mentioned that they were ruined by overuse. The “wells” in the Bahamas were just very deep pockets in the islands, filled with eons of rainwater, ‘floating’ on top of the seawater connection at the bottom of the pocket. If the water was used at a reasonable rate, the pocket acted as a cistern, and held rainwater for the next usage. Overusage of the freshwater in the pocket caused the seawater to reach up close enough to the top of the well to mix with the freshwater. Once mixed, there is no going back; it is brackish forever.]


Because of the water-level controlled creation, and constant erosion, the highest point in The Bahamas is just over 200 feet. There are NO RIVERS in The Bahamas; I find this to be most fascinating, coming from a place where there is nowhere WITHOUT rivers.


The original Bahamians were known as the Lucayan Indians, discovered by the early European Conquistadors, who captured the able-bodied for enslavement on Hispanola, killing the rest. Wiped them out more thoroughly than the Incas, Aztecs, or Mayans. Nothing remains to piece together their society. I found in the aragonite what appears to be a small footprint inside a larger footprint. The toe prints are clearly visible. Is this a petrified track from the Lucayans?


More interesting are the creatures I saw living in the crevasses in the rocks along the shore of Cat Cay. For the life of me they look like the trilobite fossils I collected on the shores of Lake Michigan as a kid. Can anybody look this up for me? (I don’t have fast browsing internet long enough or often enough to do this.) They are ‘cemented’ to the rock by a moss-like fringe that appears to be the edge of their body. Lots of them had the little piles of white elongated things that could be eggs? Larvae? Poop?


Sea snails: small, regular, and giant, are abundant everywhere on these uninhabited islands. Island construction continues . . .


Hermit crabs are profuse on all the Bahamian islands. Here, a rare mammal track crosses several crab tracks in the sand. On Cat Cay, it seems many of the larger hermits outgrew their shell, and got caught out in the sun shopping for a new home. The birds feast on these unfortunates.


This ends the tours of the Bimini Islands, and now a feature I intend to place at the end of every eletter for our cruising friends:


Cruising Notes.


This new section is NOT a substitute for cruising guides; I’ll just try to supplement their information with up-to-date local knowledge and some tidbits a book publisher may hesitate to print.

Remember: this advice is FREE, is well worth the price, and there’s a money-back guarantee.


When sailing to Bimini, start out as far south as you can.

We left from Carysfort Reef, and just barely made it as the wind made an “unexpected” shift as we made landfall. EXPECT THE SHIFT! It will happen.


To make the crossing enjoyable for all [are you listening first timers?] do not be in a hurry; sailing south in the Hawk Channel for a day or two is nice, gets you lined up, and can easily be done during the night.


Ignore all the old blah, blah, blah about staying right next to the shore of South Bimini for the entrance to North Bimini; there is a newly marked channel. Just reach whatever first approach waypoint you have- the one well south of the tip of North Bimini ‘cause there is a nasty reef there, and then look for the buoys marking the entrance. To make this entrance easier, DO NOT do it with a strong wind with ANY westerly component. The breakers over the nasty reef get . . . nasty.


Once in the harbor, look for the yellow & pink Customs building. It is at this Government Dock. Docking here is free for check-in. The door to Customs is around the west side of the building. It’s $300 for boats over 30-feet, $150 for those under 30-feet. ASK for a fishing license here – it is included in the cost, but I a separate form.

After you are done there, go to the little building just north of the Customs door to Immigration. Be patient, this office is not always manned; just hang out until the man comes around (don’t worry, he’s just down the street at his girlfriend’s place). Get the forms that everyone onboard must fill out.

That’s it – now you don’t need assistance from a “hustler”!


A shoal-draft anchorage is immediately north of the two [adjacent] marinas. A much better (for your boat) anchorage is a mile north. This makes for a longer trip to “downtown”. Follow the daymarks of the well-marked new channel north; at the last set of markers there is a deep anchorage to the west near the shore. Leave enough room along the new seawall to the north for this is where a small tanker visits to provide fuel for the Bimini Bay project.

Also leave enough room by the dock on the shore; a nice man named Carlos Martinez owns this developed empty lot and uses it to dock his boat and have a play area for his kids. (His vacation house is across the street.) While he wasn’t around for our visit, the caretaker of the lot Charlene Brown, allowed us to not only leave our dinghy on the shore and access the road there, she let us lock up our bikes on the lot.

Not that we asked initially, but we spoke with her at the first opportunity. We find that getting kicked out is slightly more probable if you ask, so we have developed the policy to care for all lands, public and private; treat all peoples with respect; and never ask permission. Occasionally we are told “no” later and then we move. Most of the time we live our lives in a careful and respectful fashion and are allowed to do what we do.


The east side of Cat Cay is called Dollar Harbour. It extends quite a way from the shore at the southern tip of the island, and gradually narrows in. It goes more than halfway up the island. There is one hump that has 5½ feet of water over it at low tide. It is very small, and the seven-foot draft of Windigo found it. We floated off as the tide rose.


When the wind kicks up from the east, the open west side of Cat Cay is very comfortable. Stay well off the southern tip [Seas follow it around and swells come north from there a ways]. Tuck in close to shore halfway up the coast – you’ll see the dark water right off a sand beach. This spot is only minutes from the Gun Cay pass that you’ll go through to cross the Great Bahamas Bank, which you’ll hear about in the next eletter!



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