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Boating in the Bahamas

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The Bahamas offer everything from big city night life and entertainment, casinos and mega resorts to tiny fishing outposts or settlements that rarely see a visitor. Those looking for nightlife, shopping, and the city scene should cast their gaze on Freeport and adjacent Lucaya or Paradise Island in Nassau. This article is aimed at the small craft owner who wants to expand his fishing horizons. No place is better for this than Bimini.

Even though Charlotte County is almost 250 miles from Bimini, the nearest Bahama island, exploring and fishing the Bahamas is well within the reach of many Charlotte County boaters. It is a matter of choosing the weather, good boat maintenance, and prudent boat management. Small craft of 20-25′ make the 45 mile crossing from Miami to Bimini on a regular basis. In fact, many boaters in our area travel longer distances on open water for a day of fishing. Yes – you can do it and this article will tell you how.

A mere 45 miles due east of Miami Beach lies a chain of small, low-lying islands known as the Biminis. These are the westernmost islands of the Bahamas, an archipelago of over 700 islands, cays, and rocky outcroppings. They are mostly low, sandy, and coralline, with few elevations above a hundred feet or so. The Bimini group consists of North and South Bimini, Gun Cay and Cat Cay to the south, and a smattering of small, uninhabited islets.

North Bimini is the center of population and activity, with about 1,500 residents, numerous marinas, restaurants, and resorts. It is now home to Bimini Bay, a mega development on the north end. People say the population of this single resort can exceed 5,000 during the summer. It is home to a number of marinas, restaurants, small shops, but most of all, fishing. Bimini is all about fishing. You can catch wahoo, dolphin, and billfish within a mile of shore. The reefs are filled with lobster and conch. A fishing license available at Bahamas Customs allows you to go after them all.

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Choosing the weather is crucial, as is time of year, and flexibility in your schedule. Summer weather is settled and I have spent weeks in the islands when the breeze never exceeded 15 knots and the seas were never more than a few feet. The prevailing winds in summer are from the southeast meaning you might catch spray on the way over but will have it at your back on the homeward leg. Fall witnesses radical change. It can be near calm some days followed by seas of 6-8 feet the next. Twice in the fall of 2012, we took Mad-Hatter to Bimini but had our return delayed by high seas. Of course, if you are going to be stuck anywhere, being in Bimini eating conch and lobster is a good place to be. If you are going to do this trip at any time other than summer allow for weather. If your crew must get back to Florida they can fly out via seaplane from North Bimini or from the airport on South Bimini. We did this twice last year and the mate and I stayed on the island a few extra days until the seas died down and then brought the boat home.

Launching Your Boat

Trailering your boat from Charlotte County to Miami is by far the toughest part of the trip. It is 200 statute miles from Murdoch Circle to Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne (3.5 hours depending on traffic). This is an excellent launching point for a number of reasons. It offers a very spacious launching facility with a number of ramps. Fenced and locked trailer storage is available on-site. This is important since trailer theft is high in south Florida. Years ago I met some stranded fishermen at the trailer ramp at Haulover Beach. They were bemoaning the loss of their second trailer in less than six weeks. Do not make the Bimini run without securing your trailer.

Crandon Park Marina offers a nice on-site restaurant, small ships store, and transient slips in case you want to spend the first night afloat at the dock and make your crossing the next morning. But it is not the only launching point. On the west side of Biscayne Bay lies world famous Dinner Key Marina. The ramp here is very large by our standards but trailer security is lacking. There are a lot of derelicts living in the area and they are notorious drunks and thieves. Do not go to Bimini and leave your trailer here. Another option is Bayfront Park in south Miami. It has a large ramp, ample parking, better security, no bums, but is well south of the city and a longer drive.

My personal preference is to launch at either Crandon or a facility in Fort Lauderdale. Lauderdale offers a number of safer places to launch and store your trailer and adds only a few miles to the trip. There are several marinas on Dania Cut-off Canal, just south of the airport, where you can launch your boat and store your trailer safely.

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sapona

Wreck of Sapona.

Making the Crossing

The idea of crossing the Gulf Stream, aka the Blue Monster, fills many boaters with trepidation. It need not be that way. If you can run your boat from Boca Grande to Marco Island you can cross the Gulf Stream. It is just a matter of prudence and preparation. First, fill all water and fuel tanks.

H.M. Bahamas Customs, Immigration, and Fishing Permits

Where to Stay

There are a number of good places to dock in Bimini. As you enter from the sea they are all to port in Alicetown. All have fixed docks but not all have 50 amp power. Water is scarce on Bimini and marinas charge by the gallon for it. Listed in order from south to north:

Brown’s – For years this facility slowly crumbled into the harbor until it was no longer useable. A rebuild a few years ago changed everything. Now it features a large number of transient slips with full power and water.

Weech’s – This is a budget operation with 30 amp power and limited water. favored mostly by sailboats.

Commercial dock – Home of Bahamas Customs and Immigration and commercial center of the interisland trade. Fishing boats tie up here when strong winds blow.

Seacrest Marina – Home of Captain Pat. Nice docks with ample power and water, good showers, hotel  and golf cart rental on site.

Bimini Blue Water – Home of the only fuel dock on the north island. 50 and 30 amp power. Good showers. Bimini Blue Water has a reverse osmosis desalinization plant and supplies fresh water to the marina, Anchorage Resort, and many locals who stop to fill up 5 gallon jugs. Run by Alissa Saunders, this is my personal favorite because of its location, facilities, and price – about half that of the nearby Big Game Club.

Bimini Big Game Club – Recently renovated and marketed as a Guy Harvey Resort, Big Game is the finest marina in Alicetown. It is home to a number of fishing tournaments, features 100, 50 and 30 amp power, ample metered water, restaurant and bar, liquor store, gift shop, and more. Good showers, grills, and on-site hotel.

What to Do

Bring bicycles or rent a golf cart.I often go by Goodwill or Salvation Army in Lauderdale, pick up a few bikes for cheap, and give them away to kids on the island when I return home. Be careful if you are doing this. Bahamas Customs can get upset about it but they have never said anything to me.

Explore the island on a golf cart.

Tour the island with the open air trolley.

Visit the Conch Salad Shack in Bailey Town. This open air venue is a great place to meet the locals and features a mixed crowd of locals, part-time residents at Bimini Bay, and those few souls who trek north of the Big Game Club. This is when you will appreciate your bike.

Dive wreck of Sapona.

Visit the Bimini Museum.

Shop at the local Straw Market. OK, fact is that none of this stuff is from the island. Most is not even from the Bahamas, but is made in China or southeast Asia and imported in bulk to Nassau. Yet, it is still worth a look around and a good place to get t-shirts for the envious folks left behind in Tally. I strongly discourage purchase of any items featuring or containing sea creatures. The reefs of Asia, Central America, and the Philippines are being decimated by divers supporting this trade. They use bleach to capture and kill the critters with devastating results or the coral and other wildlife.

Places to Eat (and drink)

Where do I begin? There are several liquor stores and you will not have any trouble finding them. I am a devotee of Bahamian rum and strongly recommend Ole Nassau Coconut Rum over the competition. Local Kalik beer is mighty fine after a hot day on the water but the locals love Bud Light. I bring several cases and trade it off for conch and lobster. Red meat is tough to come by too and is a valuable trading commodity.

Going price for 12 cleaned and ready to cook conch is $15, and that price has been steady for years. Lobster goes for $50-$70 a dozen depending on demand. Last time I was over there I got a heck of a deal on some huge snapper as well.

Fishing

People go to Bimini to fish and dive. I have been to some great dockside parties but if you want night life (other than what you create on your own) head for Freeport or Nassau. Of course, there was one night … no, I better leave that for another time.

Bimini hosts world class, affordable big game fishing at your finger tips.

Boating Resources

Though equipment, supplies, and spares are often challenging to find on the island, there are a few options available. First, on the south end of North Bimini in Alicetown there is a small general store at Weech’s Dock. This tiny room is crowded with a surprising variety of boat eguipment. I was happily surprised to find an LED bow light here when doing some repair work for my buddy Eslie Brown. What they don’t have, they can order from Lauderdale.

North of the power plant are a few general stores with limited supplies. King Hardware is your best bet here.

U.S. Customs and Immigration

Not too surprising is the fact that US authorities are often more difficult to deal with than those of the Bahamas, even for US citizens and registered vessels.

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