“Swim, eat, drink, work, read, talk, read, fish, fish, swim, drink, sleep,” is how a character from Ernest Hemingway’s novel “Islands in the Stream” describes Bimini, the sleepy Bahamian island only 50 miles from Miami.
With miles of nature trails and white-sand beaches on an ocean that is a dozen shades of blue and green, you’ll find Bimini is a tranquil, friendly, secluded haven and a renowned fishing paradise. This enchantment belies its raucous history of piracy in the 1800s and rum-running days during Prohibition, but it may have been this very fusion that attracted one of its most talented and rowdy residents — Ernest Hemingway.
Hooked by Big Fish
In 1935, Hemingway and a friend decided to sail from Key West for Bimini to chase rumors of giant tuna and marlin. What they hooked was a shark, which he shot with a revolver, accidentally shooting himself in the legs in the process. Undeterred, he recovered, and set off for Bimini again on the Pilar, his 38-foot Wheeler sportfisherman, this time to make the island his home.
A passionate fisherman, writer, fighter and drinker, Hemingway found a perfect playground for his rowdy antics in Bimini. He stayed at the Compleat Angler Hotel, which had a bar under the stairs from which the owner served her guests Bloody Marys and gin and tonics in the afternoon. Local lore tells he had a standing offer of $200 to any Bahamian who could go three rounds with him in the ring. During World War II, he hunted the waters for U-boats aboard the Pilar.
Islands in the Stream
Once you absorb Bimini’s tranquility, rugged environment and deep blue offshore waters, you’ll understand how the island inspired him to write his sea trilogy “Islands in the Stream.” His protagonist, Thomas Hudson, who came to Bimini in search of tranquility, ends up tracking sunken German U-boats in the Caribbean. You can retrace Hudson’s mission by diving to the wrecks of an array of ships around the island that were sunk by German submarines during the war.
In His Footsteps
According to locals, you won’t have much difficulty following his footsteps; unsurprisingly, every bar on the island claims he was a patron. You can visit his other Bimini home, the Marlin Cottage, which is almost unchanged since he stayed there, and the Bimini MUSEUM is the custodian of his stories and memorabilia. You can get a flavor of his passion for fishing at the International Game Fish Association, the descendant of the Bahamas Marlin and Fishing Club, which he co-founded.
A visit to Bimini to track Hemingway’s footsteps will offer you a unique opportunity to understand the place that fueled a legend. As his grandson, John Hemingway, wrote in 2012, “to know this island, in my opinion, is to get a taste of the kind of atmosphere that inspired a talented writer to go beyond himself and create works that would stand the test of time.”