Bahamas: Island dreams are just a few hours away
By TC Palm
Jun 25, 2011 - 4:33:52 PM
The following article is from TCPalm.com and is a feature on Talkin' Tourism's Gary Guertin:
Boaters find travel easy; Flahama a state of mind
Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas — There has always been a strong connection between Treasure Coast boaters, anglers and divers and the nearby island nation of the Bahamas.
Its close proximity is a strong selling point — just 68 miles to Grand Bahama Island. Its crystal clear, pristine and warm waters welcome visitors. And the diversity of marine life available to catch, observe, spear, collect and dine on has captured the imaginations of many an outdoors lover. Friendly Bahamians reinforce one's decision to travel there with an eagerness to please.
The hardest part about traveling there is deciding when to leave.
For Gary Guertin the bond between boaters and the Bahamas has always been a no-brainer.
As host of Talkin' Tourism — a weekly radio show broadcast each Friday morning on WPSL 1590AM and at WPSL.com — Guertin can be heard championing how easy it is to travel back and forth across the Florida Straits for a tropical paradise getaway.
Last week, Guertin and wife, Misti, traveled with the Knapp family of Palm City aboard their 42-foot Sea Ray to Grand Bahama Island. For the fourth time in the show's history, Guertin broadcast the show live from the Bahamas out of Port Lucaya Marina.
"It was a great trip," said Guertin. "Cruising at 20 knots we made it from St. Lucie Inlet to Bell Channel at Grand Bahama in five hours."
In stints as general manager at two Stuart marinas and as past president of Martin County's Tourist Development Council, Guertin has worked since 1995 to develop a close working relationship between the Treasure Coast and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. The effort has resulted in Guertin achieving recognition by the Bahamian government to designate area marinas as launch points for "Boating Flings," a program that promotes travel by groups of boaters from Florida to the Bahamas and back.
This spring, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism designated Sailfish Marina at the gateway to the Manatee Pocket as one of its two Florida launch points. The other is in Fort Lauderdale.
"Boaters can stop by Sailfish Marina and pick up all the forms necessary to prepare their check-in process into the Bahamas," Guertin said. "You can pick up customs and immigration forms, vessel declaration and passenger manifest forms to get it all done before leaving on a trip."
There is a $75 fee to register with the Boating Fling program, but up to 30 boats with a minimum length of 22 feet can sign up for pre-arranged dates of travel. Boaters assemble the night prior to departure and have a captain's meeting to get to know one another and go over a few procedural/informational items necessary for the trip, Guertin said.
For the uninitiated boater, the program offers a safe and comfortable option for island travel without having to go it alone. Guertin said the boating group will maintain visual contact with one another to build confidence for inexperienced crossers.
The Guertins are also immersed in Bahamian culture as publishers of the Bahamian franchise for Coastal Angler Magazine Coastal Angler Magazine-Flahama distributing 10,000 free copies monthly between West End on Grand Bahama and San Salvador, as well as online. They have even coined a term to define the convenience of the connection between the Treasure Coast and the Bahamas — "Flahama."
"It's a great state of mind, really — a country with no borders," said Guertin, who has even copyrighted the term. "It's a natural bridge between South Florida and the Bahamas."
Guertin said Flahama's "Independence Celebration" actually kicks off July 4 with the United States' celebration and wraps up July 10 with Bahamian Independence Day giving residents of the imaginary nation a whole week to celebrate.
For more information about details including the summer schedule of Boating Flings organized by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism visit www.Bahamas.com and search "Boating Flings."
Gary Guertin of Stuart, co-publisher of Coastal Angler Magazine's Flahama edition and host of WPSL 1590 AM's Talkin' Tourism radio show broadcast every Friday at 10:05 a.m. on WPSL and at WPSL.com, recommends five must-see and do's if planning a trip to Grand Bahama Island just 68 miles from St. Lucie Inlet.
Check in at Old Bahama Bay, then:
1. Paradise Cove: Near West End on the way to Lucaya and Freeport. Awesome snorkeling place, safe, shallow, beautiful and see Dead Man's Reef.
2. Port Lucaya: Entertainment, straw markets, shops.
3. UNEXSCO diving experience: Shark dives, dolphin experiences, the dive supervisor, Cristina Zenato, is known as The Lady Shark Whisperer.
4. Garden of the Groves: Gorgeous botanical gardens, waterfalls, tropical vegetation, great restaurant.
5. Lucayan National Forest and Ben's Cave: See 7,000 year old Lucayan indian bones and a rare species of bats in the cave.
Bonus: Tano Beach for "knock your socks off" conch salad at Tony Macaroni's Conch Experience, the consummate preparer of roasted conch and conch salad.
Since 2001, some regular travelers to the Bahamas have grumbled about increasing security check-in procedures put in place by U.S. Customs and Border Protection policies. Florida boaters can use the Local Boaters Option to help ease check-in procedures somewhat.
Boaters can pre-register with U.S. Customs allowing them in some cases to clear and declare upon their return simply via telephone. Sometimes, however, a face-to-face interview at a U.S. Customs Port of Entry will be required.
To learn more about it and begin the process of registration with the required online application visit www.cbp.gov and search for SVRS (small vessel reporting system).
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