THERE ARE SPECIAL PLACES in the world that, after experiencing them, seem to divide your life in two — the part before you saw the place and the part after, when your out- look, no matter what it was before, alters.
Antarctica is one of those places.
Douglas and I hadn’t started out with a plan to visit The Frozen
Continent when we flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina — our 20th
anniversary gift to ourselves. We’d planned to take a month off
work, unplug, then go where inspiration, four weeks, and our
Lonely Planet guidebook took us. Our only scheduled event was the
Argentina is vast — 3,650 miles long, with summer temperatures
hot in the north, and cooling rapidly as we meandered southward
toward Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Following tips from fellow
travelers, we rented bikes and cycled around massive turquoise lakes
of “glacial milk,” hiked in the El Chalten mountains, and climbed to
the top of the Perito Moreno Glacier. In Patagonia, we kayaked across
the kelpy Beagle Channel separating Argentina from Chile, on the
lookout for leopard seals.
In my dog-eared Patagonia folder, I had a note to myself, written 11 years earlier, in case I ever got to the southernmost town of
Argentina, called Ushuaia. A boating friend who had sailed there
had told me about a travel office that acts as a clearinghouse, selling
unsold “last-minute,” heavily discounted Antarctica trips on various
cruise ships. When Douglas and I arrived in Ushuaia, sure enough,
we stumbled upon it. In the window of Turismo Ushuaia was a sign
advertising two less-than-half-price tickets available for a 12-day
voyage to the Antarctic continent leaving — are you ready for this?
— the next day. It was one of those rare snap-judgment opportuni-
BY BERNADETTE BERNON
GOING WITH THE FLOE
roving predators, stationing a mate high up a mast as a lookout, and
endeavor to maneuver the boat in order to troll a single bait in front of
the pack without spooking them.
One of the focal points of these efforts was the docks of the
Bimini Big Game Club, founded in the 1930s as a dinner club and
relocated to its present waterfront location in 1947. The modern club
still retains much of the charm of its past, but has been updated and
expanded to feature activities that appeal to the whole family, not just
fishermen. A recent addition is the Bimini Bull Run, a chance to dive
with bull sharks right off the docks of the club (see Gift Guide, page
48). But if adventure and adrenaline aren’t your idea of a vacation, you
can paddle out across the main channel onto the flats for a morning
yoga session on a quiet platform, or kick back in the pool and wait for
the fishermen in your group to bring back fresh fish for dinner.
We brought our catch back to the docks at Browns for a meal in
their newly renovated outdoor lounge, starting with wahoo sashimi
that seemed to melt on your tongue. After cooking out on the grills,
we planned to head back to Bimini Bay to take in a beachfront fashion
show, complete with runway, part of the celebration of the inaugural
run of the new fast ferry from Miami. The ferry and the dredging of the
channel that enabled it to begin making runs across the Gulf Stream
are both part of efforts by the Genting Group to bring casino entertainment to Miami. After originally planning and being denied permission
to build a casino at the former Miami Herald property adjacent to the
ICW in downtown Miami, the company took a different approach.
“They said, ‘If we can’t bring a casino to Miami, we’ll bring Miami
to the casino,’” says Levine. Shortly after beginning ferry operations in
February, the Genting Group announced they would take over management of the Bimini Bay Resort, rename it Resorts World Bimini,
and expand the ferry operation from a few hundred passengers to
a full-blown cruise ship, capable of moving 1,600 passengers to the
island in just two hours’ time. The ship began daily service in late July.
Bimini, once accessible mainly by private boat or plane, suddenly is a
cruise-ship destination. “You can’t have an island 46 miles away from
8 million people and not have it be discovered,” says Levine.
But in February, that was all part of someone else’s future plans.
Our plans on day two were to tangle with some bonefish, and I
enlisted the help of Eagle Eyes Fred, a local guide. Fishermen rave
about the bonefishing in Bimini. The sheer number of fish will shock
a fisherman used to hunting the elusive “grey ghost” on the flats of
the Florida Keys, though the Florida fish tend to be larger. But on the
warm, gin-clear flats between the North and South islands, bonefish
bunch up so thick that their shadows look like a handful of oversize
rice cast up on the sand.
In my defense, it was really windy. Gusts to 35 and so on. And
precision casting of a lightly baited line to a spooky fish is best done
without having to consider if the wind will rip your measured cast 45
degrees off course. But you have to fish in the conditions you’ve got,
and I didn’t have time before our 2 p.m. flight to be picky. In the end,
Fred’s amazing eyes and my frustrated casting combined into three
hookups, all lost to mangrove snags. But not before the last fish put on
a blazing display of speed, flashing from 10 to 2 in an instant, which
made Stephanie turn around in her seat and say, “Did you see that?!”
I did, and much like our time in Bimini, it was over too soon.
Michael Vatalaro, BoatU.S. Magazine’s executive editor, fishes from a
24-foot Pursuit center console.