I once received a letter to the editor asking if an underwater scooter could
be ridden all the way to the Bahamas from Florida. It came from a prison
inmate, and at the time, I imagined an elaborate getaway scheme bouncing around
his noggin. But at the core of the question sat an oft-overlooked advantage of the
Bahamas in relation to the United States. Proximity. Ease of escape. And water
clear and calm enough to believe that wading into the ocean and aiming an underwater scooter east could possibly work as a way to disappear from the authorities.
I have thought about that letter each time I've been to the Bahamas since, knowing
that there are more than 700 islands, big and small, surrounded by wonderfully
blue and vibrant water and some of the best diving on the planet. All this adventure awaits such a close distance from my Florida home that it takes longer to drive to the airport than to fly to even the most-distant of the main islands.
At a time when we're all rediscovering what's right under our nose, here's what
waits in the Bahamas: sharks. Piles of them. Almost every major island has its version of a shark feed, shark frenzy or shark rodeo. Off New Providence, you sit, forming a circle in the sand, then chain-mail-clad wranglers dole out one fish head at a time on a pole spear to 50 or more Caribbean reef sharks that bump and jostle for the handouts. Off Andros, they drop a frozen chumsicle into the water, and you get to see the true hierarchy of these apex predators in action. And the Long Island version just dumps the parts in the water above you, and the sharks duke it out in perhaps the most-primal, jaw-crunching frenzy of them all.
But sharks are just the appetizer. One of the best and perhaps most-unexplored walls on the planet drops straight into the abyss just offshore of Andros Island. Then there are dolphins off Grand Bahama and Bimini. Wrecks everywhere. Oceanic and inland blue holes, caves and caverns, and the wild ride of pass diving. The entire ecosystem is all supported and populated by a healthy coral reef. And somewhere, zipping through a forest of sea fans, past groupers lining up at cleaning stations and through Hollywood's undersea backlot, a dreamer rides a scooter to freedom.