In about a month, Andy and I will celebrate our three-year anniversary of setting sail on Gratitude. There are many, many things we could NEVER have predicted about this chapter of our lives, but one thing we knew when we set out: This adventure would change us. We knew that there was no way we could attempt something of this magnitude without it affecting who we are, as individuals and as a couple.
In early December 2021 we returned to the Bahamas for the first time since 2019. It is still the same beautiful country we remembered, but our experience of it has been night-and-day different – in the best possible way. We are more relaxed this time around, better equipped to adjust to “island time.” We don’t sweat the route planning as much as we did the last time, trusting that we will be able to find a place to anchor or moor the boat each night, or to find a grocery store when we need one. And being more relaxed means that we really are able to enjoy ourselves and our surroundings in a new way.
Entering Bimini with New Eyes
The last time we were in Bimini, in March of 2019, we were brand new to the cruising life, full of anxiety about the things we didn’t know and what could go wrong. On our way to Cat Cay, near Honeymoon Harbor, we realized that a big storm was bearing down and we’d blown an impeller. This felt, at the time, like much more of an emergency than it actually was. (For one thing, we can manage just fine on one engine. For another, we had a spare onboard the whole time, we were just looking in the wrong place.) I’m a little sheepish to admit that we hired a (very pricy) water-taxi to take us from our anchorage at Cat Cay over to Alice Town, in North Bimini, to see if we could source a new impeller. We didn’t find one, and we ended up sitting at a bar called Big John’s, having a drink and watching everyone else at the bar actually having a good time in the Bahamas while we fretted about how to solve our engine problem.
This time, we sailed into the channel to North Bimini on Thursday, December 3, after a beautifully sunny Gulf Stream crossing from Ft. Lauderdale. And Andy caught a mahi en route.
We called a couple of marinas on our way out of Florida and found an available dock at the Big Game Club Marina. Upon arrival, Andy smoothly docked Gratitude and we headed for Customs and Immigration. That process has changed a lot, with Covid restrictions, but we had all our health visas and paperwork in order. The customs officer was very accommodating in guiding us through the new check-in process, called Click 2 Clear. (We needed his help, as the website navigation is NOT intuitive.)
Then we fired up the stove onboard and sautéed that mahi with plenty of olive oil and seasonings. It was sublime (can’t get any fresher than hook-and-cook!) And after such a satisfying passage and dinner, we decided that, rather than immediately pressing on toward the Abacos the next morning, maybe we should stay and have a look around Alice Town.
A Perfect Day in Bimini
Though we had a good night’s rest, we were both happy to have a day without any big commitments or passages to complete. Friday morning was leisurely, hanging out on the boat and asking around for advice on what to see. We rented a golf cart at the marina office and went exploring.
It didn’t take long to get to our first unplanned stop, pulling over to gaze at the gorgeous shoreline on the western side of the island. The roads here are more like cart paths, and while there are a few cars, everyone drives slowly and with care. Palm trees framed an undeveloped shore line, turquoise water merging into the bluer depths of the Atlantic. Andy had been waiting a long time to gaze on that water.
For our second stop, we took some local advice and went to Radio Beach to check out Sherry’s, a roadside seafood shack. I had the grilled lobster with plantains, while Andy had the jerk chicken wings. We ate with a view of the sand and the ocean.
Then it was back to the cart to search for the Dolphin House, a museum and labor of love by artist Ashley Saunders. Once we started looking though, we discovered that it’s impossible to miss! The Dolphin House is a three-story dedication to dolphins, with the most amazing tile, glass, seashell, and “found treasures” forming walls and windows.
Ashley himself conducts tours and points out details you might miss otherwise. The first floor is the gift shop and Ashley’s private quarters. The second story is the museum, with a kitchen, living area, 2 bedrooms, and a bath. The third floor is still in progress, which gives you a glimpse into Ashley’s creative process. Then you climb to the roof, which has the most spectacular views on Bimini.
Once our tour was over, we knew where we wanted to go next: Big John’s! For nostalgia’s sake, we wanted to sit at that bar again in our more laid-back frame of mind. It was a short cart ride away. As we sipped our tropical drinks, we snapped a few photos and reminisced about how far we’ve come. I was overcome with thankfulness, almost awe, at how much more enjoyable cruising has become. We have more knowledge, more experience, and more internal resources than we did at the start. And rather than becoming jaded, we’ve developed a new way of seeing. I feel ready to take on the rest of the Bahamas (or perhaps the whole Eastern Caribbean) with our new eyes and minds.
The pandemic blew us off of our planned course, which was disappointing. But now, what was going to be a 2-year sabbatical has morphed into a sail-as-we-can lifestyle – at least at this point. A true silver lining.
Diving in Bimini
Before we left Bimini, we (okay, mostly Karen!) decided we needed to book a scuba trip. We did it very last minute, so our choices of sites were limited. We ended up visiting a wreck and then diving with sharks. Yes, we’ve seen sharks before while diving – not a big deal, and not frightening. But this experience was different, and if we had it to over, we wouldn’t do it again.
The wreck we visited was not the most exciting dive site ever. We did see a couple of turtles, and a couple of schools of colorful fish. The main value for us was just getting back into the water, having the opportunity to practice basic diving skills.
But about those sharks…. We’ve seen sharks (one or two, at most) on multiple dives over the past few years. They keep their distance and are uninterested in divers who behave knowledgeably (for example, not thrashing about or spearing fish). On this dive, though, there were multiple Caribbean reef sharks swimming on the surface from the get-go. Our dive master reassured us that if we followed the rules, we’d be fine. We trusted him, and he was right, in that we were all fine at the end. But… there were just too many large sharks at this site for us to feel good about having done this dive. We also didn’t feel good about the the dive master giving them a fish “offering” at the end, after we were all safely back on the boat.
Next Big Stop: The Abacos!
We moved on from Bimini to the Abacos, where we had reservations at a Marsh Harbour marina for our Christmas trip home. Our next post will cover our time in the Abacos, but we’ll close this one with some photos from our stops along the way to Great Abaco.