Sailing The Great Bahama Bank

Have you ever dreamt of an infinite underwater desert?

 

Have you ever seen in your sleep the bottom of the sea stretching for miles and miles beneath you, abandoned, all life gone someplace else, only you floating like a sleepy butterfly with your white wings spread just a few feet above it, always in the center of a vast blue circle formed around you by the unbroken horizon, for miles and miles, for hours and hours; and even at night under the sad cold light of the full moon you still see the underneath, this time not a flooded desert of sand but of snow (because the moon does this trick especially in dreams), for miles and miles?

Yes?

You had a Bahamian dream.

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You dreamt you were sailing across the Great Bahama Bank, this unique vast stretch of sand submerged in just a few feet of crystal turquoise waters, which explains the origin of the region’s name: Bahamas-Baja Mar-Shallow Sea.

The Great Bahama Bank in the west portion of the Bahamas stretches for more than 300 miles from north to southeast and 100 miles across from west to east, some 30,000 square miles of shallow tropical sea. The depths here vary from 6 to 30 feet and the water is so clear, so transparent, many times when you look down you doubt it is there at all. As if you are hovering in the air above sand dunes.

We sail from Bimini to the Berry Islands, some 80 miles to the east, across the great Bahama Bank starting around four in the afternoon. All night the winds are from south-southeast, light, and the full moon is out to watch over us. We sail on a close reach doing 6 to 7 knots, a couple of long tacks. Early the next morning we approach the first Berry Islands and cays.

The dawn reveals a strange view: a gathering of giants, silent, dreamy, floating in the sea. It is a cruise ship anchorage, here the giants sleep.  Fata Morgana gently, very quietly, passes between them, not to disturb their slumber. How big they are, completely deserted ghost towns. Where have all the people gone? One wakes up, makes a grand unhurried turn and heads east to Nassau. Another arrives with the same royal movement, and becomes still. We sail on.

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Half an hour later we arrive in Great Harbor, Berry Islands and drop anchor in a broad bay in front of a spectacular white-sand beach.

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Bimini, Gateway to the Bahamas

Beach, North Bimini

Beach, North Bimini, Bahamas

 

The Bahamas is truly a fascinating place. It is a country made of water, ancient lava, and sand. Of its 470,000 km2 of territory less than 5% is land: a chain of over 700 bizarre-shaped flat tropical islands and cays.

Bimini, the closest island to the United States mainland only 40 miles east of Miami, is our gateway to the Bahamas. We drop anchor in front of Big Game marina and clear customs and immigration in under one hour. None of the Bahamian officials has any intention of inspecting the boat; it is only a question of filling a few forms and paying the entry fee of $320 (even though it is printed $300 on the receipt).

We spend two days walking around South Bimini and visiting Alice Town on North Bimini.

Bahamian lizard

Bahamian lizard

In the Bahamas we were expecting to find luxurious hotels and resorts, crowds of vacationing tourists, and Johnny Depp chilling on the beach. Instead, we find ourselves in a sleepy settlement of a few hundred inhabitants surrounded by vast sandbanks, its small houses with boarded windows painted pale blue yellow and pink, the cars driving on the wrong side of the narrow streets without sidewalks.

Bimini Big Game Club

Bimini Big Game Club

There are about five or six shops in Alice Town of which four sell alcohol, a church, a school, a bank, and a little dark library, totally abandoned, with piles of wet books lying all over the place, the librarian is nowhere to be found.

Bimini library

Bimini library

Hardly any other tourists but us are to be seen walking around and the locals all smile and say hi, how are you. They look chill, and slowly, without pressure, decorate the town for the Christmas festival which begins at noon.

A small stage with huge speakers on both sides is being installed in front of the church. Across the street, on a vast green loan, a trampoline for the kids and tables where women sell homemade delicacies out of pans and pots are already set. Grilled fish, rice and beans, fried chicken, ox tail in tomato sauce: everything 10 dollars. Men are standing by in the shades sipping beers, waiting for the music to begin. There will be a live performance organized by the school and later, when the sun goes down in the Gulf Stream, everyone will dance and have fun.

Stage for the Christmas festival

Stage for the Christmas festival

We like this place. After almost a month of intense work on the boat we switch into a chill mode.

South Bimini beach and anchorage.  The boat anchored in the distance is Fata Morgana

South Bimini beach and anchorage.
The boat anchored in the distance is Fata Morgana

 

Ivo and a Bahamian friend talking about life on Mars in the little boat crossing from South to North Bimini

Ivo and a Bahamian friend talking about life on Mars in the little boat crossing from South to North Bimini

 

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Old house destroyed by storm, Alice Town, Bimini

Old house destroyed by storm, Alice Town, Bimini

 

 

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