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The out island adventure of a lifetime

Swimming in the ocean with sharks and snorkeling a 96-year-old shipwreck in Bimini

I swam with sharks in the ocean and lived, unscathed, to tell the tale! I snorkeled in and around 96-year-old ship wreck as my summer adventures through the out islands continued with a visit to the westernmost island in the archipelago – Bimini. (Or should I say the Biminis as I have learned it’s two islands, North and South Bimini.)

Going in, the only thing I knew about Bimini was what I’d heard – that it’s the island of legends … you know Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King … the “Fountain of Youth.”

I dove into exploring the island, literally and figuratively, taking advantage of the Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board’s domestic tourism program – two fly free from Nassau, a program that has made visiting the out islands incredibly attractive and doable.

I flew into South Bimini where the airport is located, to take a ferry over to North Bimini where my chariot known as a golf cart (I swear this island has more golf carts than people) awaited to whisk me away to Hilton at Resorts World Bimini, where modern elegance meets Caribbean charm, and which was where I laid my head to rejuvenate at the end of each day.

My exploration of the Biminis started out quite tamely, with a stop at the “Fountain of Youth” on South Bimini on the way from the airport to the ferry to head over to North Bimini. Legend has it that explorer Juan Ponce de León learned from the Indians in the 1500s that Bimini was the site of the “Fountain of Youth.” According to the legend, the spring supposedly restored youth to older people who bathed in or drank its waters. It was a no thank you for me on that cool drink of water. A peek into that well, that was carved out of the limestone rock by ground water, sufficed. That well is thousands of years old well, after all.

The ferry ride over to North Bimini on the pristine water was so quick, it was over in “the blink of an eye” and I was back on land and headed to check into the Hilton at Resorts World Bimini. Before hitting the streets of Bimini, I took the time to explore the beautiful resort and left no nook or cranny unexplored and was delighted to find that there was activity that catered to every guest, whether it was serene relaxation you were after, to exhilarating adventures.

I would be remiss if I did not share that I had my first taste of the legendary Bimini bread that I’ve heard so much about – at nowhere else but RW Hemingway’s at the resort. It was recommended I have the grilled cheese sandwich made of course with Bimini bread (to which you can add either lobster, bacon or grilled chicken breast); I opted for the lobster which came sandwiched between thick-sliced Bimini bread with American cheese, and subbed out French fries for a salad (to ward off the guilt.) That sandwich was sheer decadence. My first taste of this island sweet bread was nothing short of delightful.

It was also the perfect way to fuel up to begin my Bimini adventures and I was off to see what the island is about – both on land and in the sea.

I headed out in search of Dolphin House Museum in Alice Town, which I was told is not to be missed. There I met Ashley Saunders, local author/historian and the builder who took me on tour of his unique structure made up of numerous shells, beach glass, sea fans and other natural resources which make it so unique. Brick-by-brick, seashell-by-seashell, bottle-by-bottle, Saunders’ hand-built Dolphin House which opened in 1993, and stands as an eclectic, ever-changing homage to the island.

Nearly 30 years later, Dolphin House stands an ever-changing mosaic; a living breathing art piece that tells a unique story of Bimini – infused with equal parts pride, passion, and creativity by Saunders in every placed tile, every recycled rum and beer bottle, every fragment of hardened coral rock and sea glass.

I took my adventures to the high seas on my second day with Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center having signed up for their Ferry + Sapona/Shark Adventure which meant snorkeling and swimming with sharks.

I was taken by boat out to the S.S. Sapona Shipwreck (about 30 minutes off shore) where I learned the history of the shipwreck from boat captain Alonzo. The Sapona was one of a fleet of concrete ships originally commissioned by former United States (U.S.) President Woodrow Wilson to serve as troops transport during World War I. The ship was completed at the end of the war and never saw battle. It was sold for scrap to Carl Fisher, one of the developers of Miami Beach. He used it briefly as a casino and then for oil storage, before it was purchased in 1924 by Bruce Bethell, a former British war captain and a liquor merchant out of Nassau. The ship was moved to Bimini and used as a floating warehouse to store and distribute his liquor supply during the Prohibition Era, earning him notoriety as “Bimini’s Rum King”. During a hurricane in 1926, the ship ran aground and was damaged substantially. It was then used as a bombing target for training by U.S. fighter planes during World War II. After a group of five torpedo bombers mysteriously disappeared while returning from a run to the Sapona on December 5, 1945, all target practice on the Sapona stopped immediately.

We dropped anchor near the wreck that sits in 15 feet of water, just a few miles off Bennett’s Harbour in South Bimini.

I opted to snorkel (as opposed to scuba diving) the 96-year-old shipwreck which is located within the Bermuda Triangle. The guides, ensuring safety, stressed the importance of not touching any part of the wreck if we decided to get close or go into the hull of the ship, due to fire corals (that get their name because of the fiery sensation experienced after if you come into contact with them) that can colonize hard structures. The water was pretty choppy, during my visit, and visibility was not its best, and I did get to see a baby sting ray, but it was still thrilling to swim inside the ship’s hull and take a look around, before snorkeling around the outside of the wreck. (Now I admit, as I was leaving the ship, the tips of two of my fingers somehow managed to graze a column and I had an underwater freakout. I had nothing to worry about though, I did not touch the coral.)

Then it was on to “Shark Arena” (the place where Shark Week is filmed) where a number of different types of sharks are known to hang out. We again dropped anchor and I got excited the moment I caught sight of two sharks swimming just below the surface. We received safety instructions from Alonzo, on what to do and what not to do when we got into the water – keep splashing to a minimum, remain in my fins at all times and to keep my hands and fingers close while in the water. A shark can touch me, but I should not reach out to touch a shark.

Suited up in a lifejacket, and scared but excited, I descended the ladder to get into the water, very cautiously I might add, so I went fin first, then ankle, then knee as I tried to ease myself into the ocean … then the unthinkable happened – I lost my footing on a step and slipped all the way in. (Talk about an unceremonious entry; that was not at all how I intended to get into the water.) I made a beeline for the yellow rope that was placed in the water to hold onto, so we could simply put our masked faced into the water and observe the underwater scene.

It was amazing to see the many six-to-nine-foot sharks swimming around and that I was in the ocean with. Swimming with sharks was absolutely not something I ever thought I would do (and it certainly was not on my bucket list) and in a place that is known as “Shark Arena” no less, but it’s an experience that I’m thankful to have had. It was exhilarating and amazing at the same time.

It was a further spectacle when I got back onto the boat as the guides rewarded the sharks for their “good behavior” with fish and chum. I was absolutely stunned to see how many sharks had been in the water as they rose to the surface for their treats. (Before getting into the water with the sharks, the choppiness of the water made me lose my sea legs and I had been feeling a little “green around the gills”; I was told whatever I did, to not throw up in the water. They had a bin onboard if I felt the need to upchuck.)

On the way back to shore, I took in a flotilla of boats making their way to Bimini and learned that they were Florida residents making their way to the island to party for the day at the beautiful Radio Beach.

Upon returning to the dive shop, Neal Watson himself encouraged me to take a turn in the cage for an underwater view of bull sharks. I went into the ocean without a cage with sharks, so I was game. (I held onto the ladder and lowered myself step-by-step head underwater, with surface-suppled air, as my head went under the surface, I caught sight of the size of the large-bodied broad bull sharks, and freaked out. I was out of there!)

A stop to Charlie’s for Bimini bread was a must-do, to pick up a loaf for the road – ‘cause as I’ve found, there’s no bread quite like Bimini bread. And, of course, a Hemingway’s Iced Tea at RW Hemingway’s (tea, lemon, lime, honey, and club soda) at the resort was a nice way to wrap up my visit to the island that I had known as Ernest Hemingway’s favorite retreat, and the sport fishing capital of the world and also the island where Martin Luther King Jr., wrote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that he gave in 1964.

While in this island that is just seven miles long and 700 feet wide, I took time to stroll through Fisherman’s Village and Marina and took in the shops, visited the Straw Market like a true visitor, and enjoyed a bowl of scorched conch at Stuart’s, which is also known for their BKO (Bimini knock-out punch.)

Taking in Bimini the way visitors to my country do, was made possible by The Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board which provides the perfect vehicles to explore The Bahamas with their Bahamas residents two fly/cruise free from Nassau promotion – one free airline/Bahamas Ferries ticket from Nassau for pre-booked two-night hotel stays or two free airline/Bahamas Ferries tickets from Nassau for pre-booked four-night or longer hotel stays, plus individual hotel offer.

When visiting family and friends for the summer take time to get out and explore the island’s offerings, like a visitor. There’s absolutely no excuse to not take in all off the natural wonders of your home island and country.

Bahamians have been missing out on the natural wonders of our own country. The Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board two fly free initiative seeks to rectify that, allowing Bahamian residents the opportunity to get out and experience the country at a reduced cost and introducing them to the fact that from The Abacos to Inagua, there’s a collection of unspoiled islands that cater to true connoisseurs of island life.

The Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board’s domestic tourism program – two fly free from Nassau makes domestic tourism incredibly attractive and doable. The oyster that The Bahamas has become for me is continuing to be pried open and revealing its beauty. I find that I am absolutely loving the islands and the uniqueness that each offer.

Exuma. √

Bimini. √

Where to next? Eleuthera/Harbour Island? The Abacos? Andros?

There are three ways to redeem the fly free offer – directly with participating hotels, via Majestic Holidays and Bahamago.com.

WHERE TO STAY

Hilton Resorts World Bimini where modern elegance meets Caribbean charm, with a variety of elegant rooms and suites, redefining the Bimini experience.

Swim in paradise: Lounge at the ground-floor lagoon pool that spans the length of the resort giving guests a close-up view of the mega yacht marina and the luxury vessels that pass through the bay. Enjoy the adults-only rooftop infinity pool, a stunning fifth-floor pool that offers stunning panoramic views of Bimini Bay and the aqua ocean.

Dine in paradise: The Tides which features a breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner; The Sushi Bar; and Hemingway’s for gourmet burgers and refreshing cocktails.

Pamper in paradise: Revitalize the body and clear the mind with a luxurious day at Serenity Spa. The fifth-floor facilities boast floor-to-ceiling glass windows, offering breathtaking views of the sea.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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