By Alexander Britell
There is a calm on these mystical waters, blue, silent. Somewhere among the mangroves there is a sanctuary.
Ansil slowly drives the flats boat, the one he built with his own hands, negotiating the green, taking us on a watery path only he knows until he stops to peer at the sky.
In the mangroves, rushing water turns to pond-like stasis; it is a curious sensation, to be in the middle of the ocean and be totally still, the sort of place where silence itself comes to find silence.
The engine turns on again and we move forward, surging through the worn-out canopy of the mangroves until we reach it.
Here, shielded by this peculiar coastal forest, is where he went.
We are in this corner of The Bahamas following the trail of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who came to Bimini seeking just this kind of ethereal tranquility.
In 1968, King joined his friend, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr, a longtime visitor to Bimini, and needed a bonefishing guide. They found Ansil Saunders, already a bonefishing expert at the time and today one of the world’s legendary bonefishermen.
King had already been to Bimini in 1964 with Powell, during which time he wrote his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and it was during the 1968 trip that he wrote his famous “Sanitation Workers” speech.
Saunders took King here, through “Bonefish Creek,” where today there is a small observation deck and a bust honoring Dr. King, hidden away among the mangroves.
“When I stopped the boat, there were some birds overhead, the tide trickled by, snappers were running under the mangrove roots and a stingray was burying and reburying itself,” Saunders recounts. “Dr. King looked up and said, ‘There’s so much life here … so much life all around us. How can people see all this life and yet not believe in the existence of God?’”
One can’t escape the feeling that this is a holy place, the sort of place touched by someone who was transcendent.
We motor on, the boat against the blue, as we duck our heads here and there to evade mangrove branches.
An afternoon of bonefishing follows: moments of quiet, waiting for the fish, the ones Ansil seems to be able to see without looking.
The bonefish is no ordinary finned creature; it is abundantly tough, and catching it is a bullfight with a fishing rod. Finally we catch one, and the rugged dance begins, the fish making its bold escape, powerfully pulling the line, for a moment seemingly toying with us.
We catch him, release him, and try in vain to find another.
It’s easy to see why King found inspiration here. There is an otherworldly energy in the water of Bimini, an oasis in the middle of the Stream.
You can still take bonefishing tours with Ansil, on the boats he builds himself, or join him to see the creek where King himself once found the spark of creativity. They are afternoons that have a way of sticking in your memory.
Saunders is a man who seems ageless, who speaks with a clarity and a vigor that uplifts his audience.
If you ask him about his time with King, a lifetime in an afternoon, you will be rewarded.
As he stands on the boat, King’s bust in the background, the mangroves catching his every word, his voice gets grander and the sentences begin to boom, and for a moment you can almost hear King, channeled, a flats boat made into a pew.
And then the motor turns on and we rush on again through the mangroves.