Bimini Bahamas

Feb 22nd, 2006, 04:03 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2006
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Bimini Bahamas

I am planning a trip to Bimini in the Bahamas. Can anybody share their experience of Bimini? What is the best/inexpensive way to get there via Fort Myers, Florida?

treesha is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2006, 05:09 PM
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My wife and I have visited Bimini about a half dozen times over the past 4 years to do reef fish surveys. We always enjoyed taking the 20 minute flight with Chalks, but that is no longer an option. My heart goes out to the Biminians and Chalks staff who lost their lives. You can still take Continental's Gulf Stream over their, and land in South Bimini. A short ferry-boat ride will take you to North Bimini, to Alice Town. We never had any problems on Bimini and the people were very friendly. When we visited in December/January, we had a few Kahliks and participated in the midnight Junkanoo on New Year's Eve, marching down Kings Highway. Tum Tums Junkanoo Group started their Junkanoo at 6 p.m., a group of school kids who made the extravagant customs from scraps found on the island. Their performance was great, and lends a lesson for U.S. school systems to emulate. We dove with Keefe's Bimini Undersea Dive Op., and dove the Bimini Road and Turtle Rocks for fantastic experiences, and rented golf carts from Capt. Pat's Island Golf cart, and toured the entire island, including heading north past Bailey Town, to isolated reefs and mangrove forests. Several times we stayed at the Bimini Big Game Club and Marina, which was nice. We did find a perfect beach and place to stay on that beach in Bimini, but I will not divulge it...somethings have to be kept the "Best Kept Secrets." Unfortunately, a huge land developer bulldozed the mangrove marshes north of Bailey Town, where we explored with golf carts. They may have even put up a private fence, so you may not be able to go to the northern section anymore. If any readers know differnt, let me know. I woke up early in the morning and walked down Kings Highway, just to smell the sweet Bahamian bread being baked. By the way, if you saw the movie "Silence of the Lambs", the plane that Hannibal got off of was Chalks Airlines, and the street he walked down was Bimini's Kings Highway! Unfortunately, the Compleat Angler bar/hotel burnt down, which was Ernest Hemmingways favorite haunt. My friend who owned the place and bar tended, was killed trying to save the place. The fire must have been terrible. I memorized most of the shallow and beautiful reefs, if you don't scuba dive. For great snorkeling, try: Atlantis Road, Rainbow Reef, North Turtle Rocks, Middle Turtle Rocks, and do not miss snorkeling the wreck of the Sapona.You can also seek out the wild spotted dolphins, on their own terms with Keefe's dive op. Hope this helps. Robert
Robert is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2006, 05:34 PM
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I know this is a long thread added on to my Dolphin Encounter reco on the above posting, but it shows the beauty in meeting wild dolphins on their own terms. Here's from my scrambled notes on Bimini's Dolphin Encounter on Bimini. Some of it is from the Marine Biologist's mouth: With Bimini Undersea, we had a long briefing before diving with Melony. The spotted dolphin pod was in control; if they want to come, they come. If they don’t want to come, they don’t. Don’t be disappointed. They enjoy the time with snorkelers, and if they don’t show up it’s not because they don’t like you, it simply means they had to feed or do something that is more important at the moment than interact with humans. 80% of the time we find dolphins. Even if we find them and they come to us, you never know what the trip will be like. Sometimes they’ll show some interest in us and come up and say hi, but then are gone. We will leave the harbor and go around the left side of the island, heading north, we will pass a rock which they call North Rock; it looks like a submarine and has a light post on it. After we pass it you will feel the engines slow down because we’re in the dolphin grounds. It’s about a 40 minute ride. The pod of spotted dolphins live in an audio world, all our submarine technology is based on their sonar. We know from running our subs that our guys can tell a British from a Russian submarine by the sound imprint of the engine. Stop thinking about it in human terms, it is more of a picture of the boat, the sound is turned into a visual image. The pod knows our boat when we’re out there. We never change our behavior, because when you change your behavior, dolphins don’t know what to expect and they get a little wary, so if we do the exact same thing everytime we interact with them, they know who we are, our boat, they know we go to the exact same spot at the same time of day. On the am trips we do the same trips as the PM trips. We run the exact same course at the exact speed, about 8 knots, so they know who we are, where we are, and what to expect from us. 8 knots is a nice, comfortable cruising speed for dolphins and it makes a comfortable trip for humans as well. Then, we run a triangular course, which we do every time. If we see dolphins a half mile to our starboard, we don’t rush over to see them. If they don’t want us to see them, we don’t force the point; they’ll simply disappear. If they want us to see them a half mile away, it’s because they wanted us to see them. It’s uncanny, but if the D want us to see them a half-mile away they will remain visible. If there right there in the water with you, they can disappear in an instant. You think because they must breathe on the surface that that couldn’t happen, but it can…they can disappear in clear, gin-colored water in a heartbeat. So, we stay on the course. The first leg of the triangle is a northern leg; it goes away from Bimini, so if you’re nervous about not seeing land, we’ll be about 8 miles from the island at the end of the turn. So, the island looks pretty small on the horizon; I hope that doesn’t make any one nervous. Then, we run south again. It doesn’t mean the trip is over. We need to be watching for D while we run this course. They’ll come to the surface for air, or leap out of the water doing SeaWorld jumps and stuff; they’re wild animals and are having fun. If you see a big cannonball type flash in the distance, let us know. If you see anything that merely looks different, let us know, even if you’re unsure you saw the pod. We will watch that area really close to see if we see them again.
Once we do spot them, we observe for a while. When they come, the boat is like a big red ball, this boat is so plush to them they want to come and play with it. We have an advantage because they love playing with boats and they know we want to play with them. They do want to come to the boat; that’s the reason we only stay out there for 2 hours; we don’t want to disrupt their whole day by bouncing that red rubber ball. The boat is a magnet; it draws them to it. So, we’re going to watch them from the bow, the bow pushes the water in front of it and they love to surf in the forward thrust of water…they’re surfing. If you look over the edge, you can actually lay on your stomach and look over the edge of the bow and they’ll be right there, they won’t swim away from you. And if you look at them, they’re not swimming, not moving their tail fins. They’re conserving their energy. Same with the back of the boat, they surf on the boat’s wake as well. That’s where they do all kinds of cartwheels. They leap out of the wake and do all kinds of somersaults. While we play with them, we’ll turn the boat in a circle; they like it when this makes the wake get bigger. Then, we slow the boat down and actually stop it. If the dolphins keep moving when we stop the boat, they’re not ready to play with us. People say why can’t we jump in? We’re moving at an idle speed of 2 knots, faster than a human can swim, so if I don’t allow you to go in the water it’s because I’ve seen something that won’t let you swim with them. If we stop the boat and they come up to us, then it’s time to jump in. If they don’t then it’s not time yet. And it’s really strange out there; there are areas where the D feel safe swimming in. Did the D come and coax us into a safe area to swim? We’re they luring their toy ball into their playgrounds? The Bahama Bank where we see them is 10,000 square miles of 20 feet of water with sandy bottom. At the end of it to the west is a sheer drop off into 3,000 feet of water. The water does this eddy thing because the Gulf Stream pushes water over that lip and it causes fish to gather up, the D main food source. So, they chose to live on the Great Bahama Bank with its clear bottom because it enhances their sonar capabilities. They send their sonar out and if they don’t get anything back, they know it’s safe to play. If they get a return on their sonar they know there is something to watch out for, like a shark or a school of fish. There’s a tide current out there moving east to west and a lot of time you drift along playing with the D and suddenly their not there; they’re actually back where you started playing with them. The reason is you drifted into an area where they didn’t feel comfortable in. We don’t know why these areas aren’t good for swimming. It means their not done with us; they’re waiting for us and we just need to move back to where they are. What happens is I’ll pick you up in the water and move you back to them. It’s strange, but if we contact D and they come up to the boat but move away from us. It’s weird, but we’ll follow them into an area where they feel comfortable in and then they’ll stop and it’s time to play. To us, we see no difference in their play area, but it’s time to play when they stop. To them, an area is not safe; to us, we don’t know the difference. An alien coming down to earth would think that the cities all look the same, but there are safe and unsafe areas in the cities, but for certain reasons we know not, there are certain areas where they feel it’s unsafe to play. If you try to play with them when and where they don’t want to, it’s frustrating for you; you’ll be in and out of the water. So, we make contact and have them lead us to where they want to play. They’ll give us a signal when their ready to play. There are some behaviors pretty easy to recognize, they make it so. They’re kind of fun to watch. One is a feeding behavior. Most of their feeding is done at night but during the day you’ll see them feeding, a sort of chips and salsa type of thing; snacks before the football game. It’s fun to watch; they’ll leap out of the water, the little fish running for their lives. When the D catch fish, at times it’s like a cat with a mouse. They’ll play with it for a while, bring it back and show it off. If you have a queasy stomach, it may be something you don’t want to look at. Their very proud of what they caught, especially the young ones, they get really excited when they catch the fish. We won’t drive the boat through the school of fish or anything like that, they obviously need the fish. A lot of behavior we see is mating behavior; they mate all year round and mate for fun. They do a lot of funky stuff with their pectoral fins, which has as many bones and muscles as our hands do. They can actually hug their children with their pectoral fins. You will see that so don’t get surprised. Another behavior we see is “thinking” behavior. D think half their brains at a time, because they’re conscious breathers, as mammals with our faces in the water, we want to hold our breath…it’s instinct. And, D our mammals. When they go underwater, they want to hold their breath. They breathe like we do and their lungs have that automatic connection, they think about inhaling and exhaling, it just happens. But, unlike us, they have to come to the surface to breathe in oxygen. D breath too but they have to use their muscles to do it and that takes thinking. When they sleep they only sleep with one brain at a time so they can consciously breathe and watch for predators as well. So, if you see a sleeping behavior, definitely we won’t bug them. Usually, they’re paired up in shallow dives going together in one direction; they’ll go that way for awhile, turn around in a group. You’ll see them go off in the distance, doing that sleep behavior, then wake up and back to us. It’s not a lost cause if were not playing with them directly. Some of the older D takes naps and they come right up to the boat, mingle with people, and be methodical and slow. They are curious about you and want to play but are sort of groggy. The way to tell spotted D’s is by their spots. Young ones have no spots and the older they get they get more spots. The oldest ones we call “fused” where they run together, looking like a white with grey spots and the young ones start getting spots under their chins first, then on their bellies, moving up their sides. You can tell how old a spotted D is by the spots; spots are like fingerprints, the pattern doesn’t change so you can pick out a distinct pattern of spots as babies. It gets hard as they grow older because there’s more and more spots around it. But, you can still pick out the same pattern. About 4 years old they start getting spots under their chin, and the females start getting mature and having babies around 10 to 12 years, and they’ll have spots all around, on their back too.
The juveniles are real fun, with no spots or just a few. They are so ready to play all the time. Some of the moms will bring their babies, and don’t be disappointed. The only time you may observe the babies are from the boat and when you enter the water, they’ll take the little ones away. At times the moms bring their babies up to the bow of the boat and play with them. Mom will leap into the air, the baby will try but end up doing a belly flop. The babies get proud when the do this and will come to the boat to see you and show off, "Did you see what I just did?” When they get excited, their bellies get bright pink.
Once they give us the signal that it’s time to come into the water, you must go get your snorkel gear on, because when they want to play, it’s not tomorrow or in ten minutes….it’s right now. We will play with them with the boat, and then the captain will put the boat right next to the D’s and I will give you a signal that the boat is in park. You get focused and it’s exciting, like global awareness. Don’t leap or do a cannonball into the water; sit and slip into the water. The percussion will spook the D’s. Once in the water, we will point to where we want you to swim, where the dolphins are. Everyone must be on the same side of the boat, stay together. I need to follow the dolphins and must stay focused on where they are, can’t have people on all four sides of the boat. The D also like it better when they know where all the humans are, they feel more in control and will stay around longer and they won’t leave as quickly. Once you see D in the water you must vertically swim in the water. If you submerge they love it when you’re underwater. They come up to observe you and go and tell their friends, “She’s the one with the rapid heartbeat.” They’ll describe you to their friends by your sonar picture, not by how you look like, “The one with the blond hair.” It’ll be “The one with screws in her knee.” Or “the pregnant one.” If you don’t know whether or not you’re pregnant the D will come up and sonar hard on your stomach. They love you underwater, if you can’t get under, stay over people who can because the D will gather around a free diver and all must come up for air. They are very intelligent and observe all, so when they come up they will be eyeball to eyeball with those floating on the surface. If you begin swimming circles on the surface, they will swim circles with you. If you stick your head up and yell excitedly, “Did you see that D circle around with me!” they also will stick their heads up and chortle with you. It’s cool…they totally mimic you. So, work together as a team. It’s that global awareness thing again; they are fast swimmers and can swim away from you at any time. They can’t see behind them but sense when you’re there, if the head is away from you and you see the tail, it’s swimming away from you. Don’t follow it. It will leave you by yourself and return to its group. So, when you see the tail fin…stop and go back to the group. The D will eventually return to the group. For some reason you got on its blind side and it couldn’t see you. If you want to come back to the boat for whatever reason, raise your hand.
Sometimes the D’s just want a boat ride because it was an unsafe place to swim or just because they want a fast speed. If I see you here and the D are over there, the first thing I'll do is give the D a bow ride. Just group together and you’ll hear the boat go vroom…I’m not leaving you. It’s likely I’ve picked up the D and I will be bringing them back to you. I’ll holler, “Look in the water!” Don’t keep staring at me in the boat; the D will be swimming around underneath you and you’re looking at me. Free dive down and you’ll attract them to you again when I bring them around. If I zoom away then come back, but the D don’t follow me back, it’s because they weren’t comfortable where we were. They started to move on, have to meet up with grandma or grandpa, or whatever. That means I will pick you up when I come back. Everyone comes back on board and we go interact with the D again. If they are done playing…they will simply be gone. It’s a strange thing that they can disappear like that. I still don’t know how they do it. Their right there then suddenly disappear. If we had a good swim, we’ll come home early. If it was only for 5 minutes or so, we’ll try again.
Two types of D: bottlenose and spotted. Bottlenose get big, spotted about human size. BN were at first very shy and wouldn’t play with us at all. BN do well in captivity. Through the years, BN have gained some rapor with us; we put people in the water with them and they now stick around. Sometimes we get really intense BN experience where they come right up to you. If we find a group mixed together, spotted and BN, they are a lot bigger and sort of intimidating. Their twice your size and weight so its kind of cool but they are shy.
Robert is offline  
Mar 11th, 2006, 10:52 AM
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vikingno is offline  
Mar 11th, 2006, 01:05 PM
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What interesting posts, Robert. I am sorry about your friend. I remember visiting the Compleat Angler. I also remember diving with Bill and Nowlda Keefe some years ago. A very good dive operation. Seeing Bill free dive was a thrill.
cmcfong is offline  
Apr 11th, 2006, 08:26 AM
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I vacationed at the Compleat Angler in 1990 and had a fine time. I was saddened when I read it burned down last December. The Compleat Angler not only is historic due to Hemingway spending time there in the mid-30s (apparently some of To Have and Have Not was written in Room 1), it was a handsome building in its own right. It was also where Sen. Gary Hart and Donna Rice spent some romantic moments before Sen. Hart self-destructed politically. Cong. Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem, the most prominent black elected politician pre-1970, spent much of the late 60s in Bimini dodging American legal authorities and enjoying the alcohol and company at the Hole-in-the-World? bar at Bimini. I enjoyed many things about Bimini. It is very laid back. The food, especially the conch and the sweet bread, was delicious. The only thing I didn't like about Bimini was that it had quite a few irritating panhandlers for an island whose population is no more than 2,000.

As for getting to Bimini, I took the Chalk Sea Plane from Miami.
GeorgeW is offline  
Apr 11th, 2006, 08:42 AM
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Correction- the bar I mentioned is called The End of the World Bar.
GeorgeW is offline  
Apr 11th, 2006, 01:56 PM
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Robert, thanks for that wonderful post. Just fascinating.
joan is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 06:19 AM
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Robert: Thanks for that great post regarding dolphins. It's one of my life's "Must Do"s that I meet some wild dolphins. I actually researched a bit about a program (week long) offered (don't know if it was the same as the Keefes') in which you live aboard the boat and sail about searching for dolphin pods. It seemed very conscientious about appropriate and positive encounters with wild dolphins. I would also love to spend some time on Bimini. I always wanted to visit the Compleat Angler and am disappointed it burned down, but even more saddened to hear its owner died in his efforts to save such a historical place. Hopefully, I won't miss any more precious experiences before I can manage to get there. (Another, long story)
Tuxedocat is offline  

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