Swimming with Dolphins

Swimming with Dolphins

dolphinsYou have one final check to make sure your mask forms a good seal, breathe through your snorkel, then plunge into the water. Everything is a mass bubbles before you can peer down to the seabed, some thirty feet below. Suddenly three shapes come rushing towards you out of the blue. As you dive down three excited dolphins head straight towards you and bank sharply to swim alongside, dodging each other to be the closest to you. So close that you are peering straight at a dolphin’s eye just inches away!

Some people disagree about swimming encounters with dolphins, especially those dolphins in captivity. However, these aren’t captive dolphins but a school of wild dolphins around Bimini in the Bahamas. Furthermore, you soon work out it is the dolphins that are deciding when to swim with you - and not the other way around!

Bimini was the main location for Hemmingway’s Islands in the Stream (there are two islands, South Bimini and North Bimini) and a hide away for many famous Americans, from Frank Sinatra to the Apollo 11 astronauts (they relaxed on Bimini just before going to the moon). Martin Luther King also went fishing on the ’bonefish flats’ whilst he worked out what to say for one of the speeches of the 20th century. You know the one .... I have a dream. All of this on a flat archipelago of around 10 sq. miles, so narrow in one place you can throw a stone across it.

When Columbus first landed in the New World in 1492 it was somewhere in the Bahamas. They also heard a legend about a fountain of youth at a place called bee mee nee. In 1511 the Spaniard Ponce de Leon went in search of the fountain of youth, but he missed Bimini and accidentally discovered Florida. He also encountered a vast shallow sea only around 30 ft deep, the Great Bahama Bank that he called Baja Mar, the Spanish for shallow sea - the Bahamas.

Perched on the edge of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream (Florida is only 50 miles away) Bimini was an ideal location for pirates to lie in wait to plunder Spanish galleons filled with gold. Captain Morgan used it as a lair and many others, including Blackbeard. If you have seen one of those films with a buxom female pirate in the lead it is probably based on Anne Bonney or Mary Read, two pirates of the fairer sex that used to hang out in the Bahamas. What the films don’t portray is that they used to surprise the enemy by fighting topless!

After the demise of the buccaneers sponging become a viable business on Bimini. But there was always the option for illicit trade, including gun running in the American Civil War, booze during the 1920’s prohibition period, and drug running in the 80’s.

For sea fisherman Bimini is a place of pilgrimage with the chance of the ultimate catch - a Blue Marlin. The characters and fishing exploits were made famous by Ernest Hemmingway and on one occasion he caught a huge Blue Marlin that was set upon by sharks, leaving a mutilated prize. Based on this experience Hemmingway put pen to paper and wrote one of the best ever short stories, The Old Man and the Sea.

’Papa’ Hemmingway also liked his booze, drinking at the Complete Angler, and you can still sample the atmosphere today. When there is live gumbay music the Complete Angler is packed with dancing couples, Biminites, fisherman, students, wealthy boat owners and pretty women, creating a distinctive atmosphere. The kind of joint Indiana Jones would stroll into.

Bimini is a great place to relax and unwind with idyllic tropical beaches and being a few hours by boat from Miami many Americans turn up on extravagant boats out of a Miami Vice plot. The Bahamas has been the location for many films. Even if you are not a diver and have never been to the Bahamas you might be familiar with the amazingly clear waters and the marine life through underwater sequences for James Bond films like Thunderball as well as films like Cocoon.

You can fly in by plane but the best way is to arrive by seaplane, Boy’s Own stuff, on the Pan Am Airbridge. As the seaplane climbs up the ramp out of the water the terminal may look oddly familiar. The terminal area was used for the final sequence when Hannibal Lecter was about to have ’someone for lunch’ in The Silence of the Lambs!