Our last stop in the Exumas on this trip was the interesting island of Norman’s Cay – former “empire” of Carlos Lehder, a notorious Colombian cocaine smuggler. In the 70’s and early 80’s, he developed Norman’s Cay as a trans-shipment port to cocaine-loving loving Americans and it became a multimillion dollar business, from which many people profited. His well-guarded (trigger-happy) property was apparently a debauched playground for Carlos and his friends, buyers and suppliers. Carlos is in the clink now, serving multiple life sentences after being extradited to the US from Columbia in 1987. His property was confiscated by the Bahamian government who had, at one time, profited from their association with Lehder, and provided protection in return.
Normans’ Cay is now just another sailors’ haven – a pretty cay in the Exuma chain with lovely beaches. However a few scars remind us of it’s not-too-distant lawless history – a sunken drug-running cargo plane in the lagoon, bullet holes in the ruins of Lehder’s estate and his air strip on the island.
We anchored inside the lagoon near a “Gilligan’s island” with one palm tree with a wooden bench underneath. A few other boats were anchored there too – many more in the lee anchorage on the west side of the island. We were a little exposed and pushed about a bit by current, but the holding and depth was good and it was an ideal stop-over for exploring the lagoon.
We awoke to yet another glorious, sunny day. I mention this because I very consciously take stock and savour the idyllic weather, as if storing it for our inevitable return to a less perfect climate. We packed another picnic lunch. The Plan: to explore the lagoon creeks and ocean beaches of Norman Cay with Claude and Marie (on their paddleboards) and Pat and Celine in their cute inflatable Hobie kayaks. We had our dinghy, and motored over to the drug smuggling downed aircraft, its rusting fuselage piercing the turquoise lagoon near our anchoring spot. We took some pictures above and below water, but did not get out to snorkel. Although we did not see any, this location is hammerhead shark habitat.
We then followed the others across the banks which got gradually shallow until we were all walking through ankle-deep water, pulling our various modes of transportation. While doing so we started to see conch and Claude’s route took him through a veritable conch farm.
We decided to harvest some for dinner so picked the dozen largest ones we could find and put them in the dinghy. We carried on through streams between sandbanks, again enjoying the wild isolation and unspoilt scenery. We pulled our vessels up on the beach near a deep swimming pool-lagoon, and walked across plains of soft-ridged sand to the ocean beach. I picked up sand-dollars, and some sea urchin shells.
We returned to swim in the deeper lagoons. Marie and I had been beach combing so were slower than the others in getting to their swimming hole, by which time they had discovered that they were sharing it with a 2.5 foot barracuda, presumably been trapped there when the tide went out. I swam only long enough to snap a picture of him before leaving him in peace and choosing another lagoon for our swim.
We made our way back after lunch to our respective boats, but then took the conch to the dock to clean. Steve received a lesson from Claude and Pat on shucking and cleaning the conch while I acted as videographer! Local fishermen make it look easy – it is not! The skinning and cleaning is more time-consuming than the shucking.
I had time for a wander around the island too. It still has a certain spooky mystique to it. The ruins of Lehder’s homes, killer-guard-dog pens and storage outbuildings are still in evidence. A beach-bar called MacDuffs, popular a few years ago, is now closed and crumbling. A house near the dock is occupied –but does not look exactly like a family home – pick-up trucks, beer cases and garbage are the main signs of occupation. A resort is being built at one end of the island, and a barge-towing tug had entered our anchorage the previous evening to unload some heavy machinery. Let’s hope it does not go the way of so many resorts in the Bahamas. Nearby Wax Cay is an example of another failed project – a large resort now uninhabited and crumbling. I also hope they do not burn the mangroves and destroy shark habitat as has happened in North Bimini.
Claude, Pat and Steve had done the difficult job of cleaning, peeling and chopping the conch. I used the results to make conch salad for dinner, following Marie’s recipe – finely chopped conch, onion, green pepper, tomatoes and celery, with fresh squeezed lime juice and orange juice and Tabasco or added jalapeno peppers for spice.
We ate it as a starter prior to spaghetti dinner aboard La Toison D’or, Pat and Celine, like Claude and Marie, have plied these waters for many years, in sailboats and their current cat, so we enjoyed the exchange of cruising yarns to end yet another memorable day – our last in the Exumas (at least for several years). We planned to leave at 6:30 am the next day to make the 54 nm trip to West Bay, New Providence, our first overnight anchorage en route to Bimini.
The last three days in the Exumas had been among the best. We had perfect weather and great adventures with friends.
View our photo journal for Norman’s Cay.
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