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Outdoors: Breaking down best of Bimini

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http://jacksonville.com/print/463670

Outdoors: Breaking down best of Bimini Source URL: http://jacksonville.com/sports/outdoors/2011-03-26/story/outdoors-breaking-down-best-bimini

By Jim Sutton ALICE TOWN, BIMINI — The islands of the Bahamas are as varied as the cities of Florida. Nassau might as well be Miami Beach. Paradise Island could be Las Vegas. Larger Out Islands would bring to mind Pensacola. The smaller ones might mimic Cedar Key in flavor. But Bimini is different. You'd need to mix the history of St. Augustine with the angling aura of Key West, then stir in a big pinch of Cassadaga for some spooky smokiness. Bake it all under a tropical sun and what you get is an original piece of geography, history and genealogy that runs much deeper than pretty beaches, rum cocktails and "dem boneyfishes." Though Eleuthera was settled earlier, Bimini is the island where history shows. Much of the infrastructure from its rum-running heyday remains. The island's 1,600 inhabitants are largely the progeny of African slaves, freed by Great Britain in the early 1800s. The people revel in their roots and embrace island history. They speak the King's English, but you'd better listen carefully. If you really want to sample the depth and color of the island dialect, shank a cast to a tailing permit with charter captain Bonefish Ebbie staring over your shoulder. The island is seven miles long and 700 feet wide. You rarely hear of the pretty beaches, but they are a two-minute walk through town, crossing its only road, The King's Highway. The island is steeped in strange occurrences and stories. There's a complex pattern of limestone rocks off the coast that many believe to be the remnants of the road to the lost city of Atlantis. A Healing Hole is a spring of fresh water percolating out of a salty mangrove swamp. It's said to have special minerals in it that heal body and mind. Then there are the ever-present ghosts of rum-runners and other smugglers of more modern contraband. History recaptured We were there to see the resurgence of one of the islands' more historic fishing icons, the Bimini Big Game Club. Founded in 1936 as a supper club, it morphed into a marina/hotel and over the years has hosted both the famous and infamous. Ernest Hemingway, Zane Grey, Howard Hughes, Michael Lerner and Ted Williams are at the top of that iceberg. But the storied club had fallen on hard times and disrepair. Enter renowned artist and patron of all things marine, Guy Harvey, who gathered together the financing and vision to rescue the club. It was an historic renovation more than reconstruction, with attention paid to the architectural integrity and ambiance of the original facility.

3/28/2011 8:55 AM


Outdoors: Breaking down best of Bimini

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http://jacksonville.com/print/463670

It's resurgence is an economic boost to this tiny town. We were there for another reason, too, celebrating the anniversary of the world record (12-pound test) bonefish catch 40 years earlier to the day. Angler Jerry Lavinstein has passed on. But his guide, Ansil Saunders, is still poling the flats at 79. A party and parade were thrown in his honor. He was given a plaque that included a photo of the angler, the fish and captain that the grandfather of Bimini guides, himself, had never seen. He told the story of that day on the water, how the fish spooled the spinning reel twice before being turned the final time after an hour. It weighed, he said, 16 pounds, 3 ounces, though the IGFA recorded 16 pounds even. "I don't know where the other three ounces ever went," he said. Saunders is just one of a set of remarkable brothers who have garnered world acclaim for guiding, boat-building and chronicling the history of the island. There's a long list of royalty, raconteurs, movie stars and angling legends who fished on the bow of Ansil's hand-laid boats. The first to come to mind most often for him seem to be Martin Luther King Jr. and some Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. The club The Bimini Big Game Club has reopened for fishing, but it's more. Harvey and his partners want an eco-destination. Education will be as much a part of the plan as recreation, and guests can set that ratio themselves. Phase II plans include guest lecture series, interactive sessions with Harvey or members of his research institute and field trips to the Bimini Biological Field station, one of the premier shark labs in the world. The Bimini Big Game Club has 51 rooms, 75 slips, retail shops, charter services, a restaurant and a dive program run from the 60-foot glassbottomed dive boat, the Bimini Blue. But if you really have to fish, the Gulf Stream is a rifle-shot away. Wahoo, dolphin and blue marlin are the main targets. On the inside, bonefish feed in clear mangrove shallows. There are just four local guides running charters, so the miles of flats are pretty much your own. The connection Northeast Florida has some Bimini connections now, including Vaughn Cochran of Black Fly Outfitters. Cochran has partnered with Harvey to outfit the fly shop at the Bimini Big Game Club and a series of other Guy Harvey Outpost properties in the works. He has managed several fishing lodges in the Caribbean. He's a popular artist and can shame mortal men with a 10-weight fly rod. A younger Cochran toured with Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band playing banjo, bass and washboard. Bimini is the closest of the Bahamas Islands to Florida. At 50 miles off the coast, it's an hour run over with a calm day and hefty horsepower. Some anglers trailer boats to Fort Lauderdale or Miami and make the crossing. There's a new way to fly as well. AirGate Aviation now has direct flights from St. Augustine to Bimini. It's the only area charter to that island. There's one scheduled flight each Saturday. Groups of four or more can book flights on demand. St. Augustine has a customs office, so there's no secondary stop along the route to clear entry or exit. From St. Augustine, it's a 90-minute flight. Bimini's gotten better and closer too.

3/28/2011 8:55 AM


Outdoors: Breaking down best of Bimini

3 of 3

http://jacksonville.com/print/463670

For information on the Bimini Big Game Club, go to www.biggameclubbimini.com. For fishing information, contact Vaughn Cochran at www.blackflyoutfitter.com. For AirGate Aviation, go to www.flyairgate.com. Links: [1] http://www.biggameclubbimini.com [2] http://www.blackflyoutfitter.com [3] http://www.flyairgate.com [4] http://jacksonville.com/sites/default/files/editorial/images/images/mdControlled/cms/2011/03/27/805965693.jpg [5] http://jacksonville.com/sites/default/files/editorial/images/images/mdControlled/cms/2011/03/27/805965642.jpg

3/28/2011 8:55 AM


Outdoors: Breaking Down Best of Bimini