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As far as the eye can see, a white beach curves like a shimmering scimitar, cutting a path between land and sea. Offshore, riding gently on the flat-calm, gin-clear waters, a cruiser lies waiting, rigged and ready for the call to the Gulf Stream and the business of battling marlin and tuna. Above the quiet beach an azure pool basks in the tropic sun, and paved walks wander between palms and bougainvillaea on the dunes. This is Paradise Point, on the island of Bimini, where a man tanned to the color of leather and alive with the energy that built a place most men can only dream of sits at a chessboard and raises his glass in a toast to a life that is extraordinarily good.
George Albert Lyon, the inventor of early automobile bumpers, big-game fisherman, skin-diver, astronomer, chess addict and one of the best men with a slingshot who ever drew a bead, is known as "The Commodore" on Bimini, as admired by his many guests as he is beloved by the natives. Now 75, he is, without doubt, one of the nation's most remarkable sportsmen. He is also, according to his friends (who include some of the country's most prominent men of government and business), a remarkable host. To be entertained at Paradise Point, which he built on Bimini several years ago, is an unforgettable experience—and until you get used to it, an exhausting one. For keeping up with the Commodore as he tears through a normal day is a sporting marathon that few city-bred constitutions are able to take.
Guests find a typical day can begin in the predawn darkness with the Commodore rousing the house to come look at a favorite star through his telescope on the roof. A swim in the pool or sea may follow, and after breakfast the day really gets under way. The morning may be taken up with deep sea fishing for giant tuna or blue marlin; or a skin-diving expedition, led by the Commodore, to the wrecks around the reefs and an hour of water skiing; and always a continuous chess game aboard either of the two fishing cruisers which act as floating bases for the day's sports.
After a lunch aboard of cold cuts and beer the party puts back to the main house, transfers to skiffs and goes bonefishing on the flats. The Commodore, a powerhouse of energy at all times, is even more driven in the matter of bonefishing. Some years ago a golfer named Sammy Snead dropped a line off Paradise Point and within 10 minutes hooked a record-breaking 15-pound bonefish. The biggest the Commodore has ever caught in 35 years of bonefishing is 11 pounds.
Should bonefishing be slow, guests can spend the rest of the afternoon harpooning sharks from a skiff. By the time evening cocktails are served (on a pine-needle-covered patio overlooking the pounding surf), the uninitiated guest might think that the moment for relaxation has at last arrived. Not so. With the drinks comes a trayful of slingshots, bags of steel balls for ammunition and an introduction to another of the Commodore's sports—picking off crabs from the rocks below.
Dinner is usually a sumptuous barbecued affair served to perfection on the west terrace. Things do relax a bit at this point; or at least they take a sedentary turn. In the evening the Commodore likes to take on all comers at chess (playing two games at a time) or show some of his incredibly beautiful underwater films (photographed by Ralph Bowden, the manager of Paradise Point). For those who are willing to try it, however, he is perfectly prepared to stage a midnight roller-skating jamboree around the second-floor balcony. Skates and boots to fit all sizes, male and female, are, like the slingshots, a permanent part of the Commodore's sporting equipment.
Because of his diverse and sometimes decidedly extraordinary sporting activities, Bert Lyon is at times mistaken for an eccentric. "The fact is," says Van Campen Heilner, a longtime friend of the Commodore and an author and sportsman in his own right, "Bert has a phenomenal lust for living and the guts to do what he enjoys doing—regardless of what anybody else thinks. He has a puckish sense of humor. He is an outrageous practical joker and will try anything once. For instance-he was 69 when he decided to take up skiing. First, he studied all the movies he could find on the European champions. Then he had himself pulled on skis all over the estate, sliding on the pine needles. When he thought he was ready he went up to Michigan, broke his leg the first time out and was flown back to Bimini in a cast."
Today Bert Lyon is chairman of the board of Lyon, Inc., largest users of stainless steel in the world (over 30 million pounds in 1955). Among other things, his company manufactures wheel covers for the entire automobile industry, equipping between 4 and 5 million vehicles annually. Several times he has retired for good, only to be seized with another idea that brings him back into business bigger than ever.
His discovery of the seven-mile-long, 300-yard-wide island of Bimini was made in 1923 in the company of his friends Harry Stelwagon of Philadelphia and Sam Adams, the joke maker of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Van Campen Heilner had a fishing camp on the sland in those days, and the four would fish there every year.
When he first went to Bimini, Bert Lyon had just perfected his automobile bumper and was playing around with many more ideas. He found the primitive island's atmosphere restful, and he particularly liked to sit for hours on a rock at Paradise Point (then British Crown land) working out the problems of his inventions. It was his dream to one day own this piece of land and build there a perfect, self-sufficient private world in which to work and relax.