- Hemingway and Bimini: The Birth of Sport Fishing at "The End of the World." by Ashley Oliphant
Bimini is one of the 700 islands that comprise the Bahamas, and it is located just 50 miles east of Miami, a convenient trip for Ernest Hemingway. According to Ashley Oliphant in her book Hemingway and Bimini: The Birth of Sport Fishing at "The End of the World," Bimini befitted Hemingway because "he was personally attracted to the tropical worldview and the creative fuel that was so abundant" (37) on the island.
Oliphant's book is divided into seven sections each containing subsections, making it easy for readers to track her argument. A majority of the evidence she presents emanates from interviews with "native Biminites" including Natty Saunders, a centenarian who: "claims to be the basis of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, suggesting the widespread belief that Gregorio Fuentes was Santiago's real-life counterpart is not true" (98). Oliphant's study piques readers' interest with speculation that the island's Bimini Road, an underwater rock formation, is a remnant of the Lost City of Atlantis, and an assertion that previous denizens used slaves to conduct their farming tasks: "In fact, many of the current families on the island are descended from the population of emancipated slaves" (30).
Additionally, the author's research reveals that starting in the fifteenth century several "compelling historical figures, including Christopher Columbus, Juan Ponce de León, Blackbeard, Zane Grey, Al Capone, Howard Hughes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jimmy Buffett" (19) all visited the island. I would not count Jimmy Buffett as a historical figure, but Bimini is where Dr. King: [End Page 161] "wrote his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize" (212). The top fishermen in the world argue Grey, famous for Riders of the Purple Sage, did "more to publicize the world's greatest marlin centers than anyone else" (47).
After the historical section of the book, Oliphant describes the reason Hemingway was attracted to the island: marlin. She points to noted writer and pioneering sports fisherman S. Kip Farrington, Jr. who, in 1937, wrote in Atlantic Game Fishing: "The three factors responsible for Bimini's prominence as a fishing center are, to my mind, the great depth of the water, the rapidly moving Gulf Stream current, and the abundance of fish which serve as food for the big fish" (41). The author also reveals that Hall of Fame fisherman Van Campen Heilner "fished out of Bimini long before most of today's famous fishermen had ever heard the name of that place" (43), which helped attract men and women trollers to the island. Because women trollers fished Bimini's deep waters, Oliphant highlights the fact—with text and photos—that Hemingway welcomed women to the island, challenging the myth that he was a misogynist and did not respect women.
Before Hemingway fought half-ton marlin in Bimini he fished for northern pike and rock bass in the Des Plaines River near Oak Park, and in the summers he traveled north to Walloon Lake to land trout, the species Nick Adams hooks in "Big Two-Hearted River." He first set his sights on billfish (marlin, sailfish) in 1932 in Cuba, and from the moment he boated his first marlin he wanted to secure the largest one in the world. To accomplish this feat, he followed the advice of Farrington's article in American Big Game Fishing by: "hitting the gym in the weeks before for strength training and soaking his … hands in brine twice a day for a few weeks before the trip" (73). Papa augmented his training sessions with rounds of boxing, which he introduced to the locals. The intense training program helped Hemingway and inveterate anglers hook big fish, but Bimini was infested with sharks and marlin and tuna were eviscerated by the time they made it to the stern of the boats. Regardless, Hemingway would not allow a shark to outwit or outmuscle him; his "strategy was...