We departed Highbourne Cay on Tuesday afternoon, January 11, and arrived at Norman's Cay in two hours. We dinghied over to Rene and Stacy's Pipe muh Bligh for happy hour. And what a happy hour it was! We were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets that we have ever witnessed.... and that's saying a lot considering the sunsets in the Exumas! We leapt to the front of Pipe and took turns taking photos of each other with the most unbelievable backdrop ever!
The next day we hopped in our dinghies to explore the island. Most of the island is private, but there is a local bar on the south end of the island, MacDuff's (also known as Norman's Cay Beach Club). MacDuff's has a captive audience for the cruisers in the anchorage since it is the only restaurant on the island. Although the food and beer was quite expensive (I had an $18 cheeseburger and LA had a $20 freshly grilled mahi-mahi burger), it was quite tasty, especially since I got a night off from cooking! Beer, Kalik (the local Bahamian beer), were $6 each. It didn't take us long to run up a $60 bar tab. We're going to be broke soon if we keep up these expensive lunches!
The next day, the wind was blowing like stink, 20-25 knots, so we didn't get off the boat. I took the opportunity to do my first load of laundry on the boat. Do I have a washing machine? No. Am I worried about this? No again. I came prepared to do my own laundry in the Exumas, as laundromats are few and far between. I have a 5-gallon horse feed bucket that I bought at the local feed and seed store before I left that is perfect for my washing activities. I use a toilet plunger to agitate the clothes (no, it has never been used in a toilet!). After the clothes are agitated, I wring them out, rinse them in fresh water, wring them out again, and hang them on a clothesline in my cockpit and on the lifelines (and anywhere else I can) to dry. They dry quickly in high winds... I just have to make sure that I use PLENTY of clothespins so they won't fly away to parts unknown! And, to make things interesting, I have a lovely assistant, LuLu the kitty! She likes to grab the clothes and play peek-a-boo. And, I have gorgeous scenery all around while I am agitating, so don't feel too sorry for me thinking about me doing my laundry in a bucket!
About Norman's Cay.........
Norman's Cay is one of the longest islands in the Exumas. It is approximately 4 miles long and only 1000 feet wide. A beach stretches almost the entire length of the western shore. There is a long airstrip on the island. Speaking of the airstrip.......
Photo Credit: Boston.com
Norman's Cay has quite the colorful history. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Norman's was used as the base of a very profitable cocaine smuggling operation owned by a South American known as Carlos Lehder. Lehder was a smuggler and in 1978 he began moving Medellin Cartel cocaine from Norman's Cay to airstrips in Florida and South Georgia. Lehder's armed guards patrolled Norman's Cay by helicopter and with dogs in jeeps, intent on keeping intruders off and away from the cay, including, in two incidents, American journalist Walter Cronkite, and an MP, a Member of Parliament for The Bahamas. The airstrip quickly became a hub of activity which aroused suspicions. It was during this period that Lehder's new plane crashed on the flats of Norman's Cay while doing a routine fly-by. Not long after, the DEA began an investigation and organized a task force called Operation Caribe to target Carlos Lehder. Agents disguised as boaters feigned mechanical breakdowns in the anchorage while others set up surveillance from nearby Shroud Cay. On September 14, 1979, a raid by 260 Bahamian police officers netted 33 Germans, Americans, and Columbians. Lehder was apprehended attempting to flee in a small boat. However, a Bahamian official warned Lehder's people of the raid and the cay was spotless. Lehder was released uncharged after a Bahamian police official reportedly received a suitcase containing $250,000 from Lehder. Lehder's men were released and were back on the island in 48 hours.
After the failed raid many allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the police surfaced. One irate DEA official stated that Lehder not only "owned Norman's Cay... he owned the whole damn country!." Some very famous names were associated with Lehder's operation including Fidel Castro, Manuel Noriega, and Robert L. Vesco, the fugitive American financier who was living south of Norman's Cay on Cistern Cay. NBC reported that Vesco was involved in the operation and he and Lehder had been paying $100,000 a month in bribe money to keep the operation running. The DEA began to choke off Lehder's cash flow by arresting his pilots and confiscating his shipments. On January 8, 1981, a 39-count indictment was handed down in the USA naming Carlos Lehder and 13 others. Lehder was not overly concerned as he continued to enjoy the freedom that Norman's Cay and the Bahamian government offered him. By 1983, Lehder had seriously curtailed his Norman's Cay activities and he began living as a fugitive in Columbia under the name Joe Lehder. He was finally captured just outside Medellin by Colombian authorities on February 5, 1987. He was extradited to the USA and on May 19, 1988, he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole plus 135 years.
Norman's Cay today reflects little of Lehder's lawless days except for a few bullet holes in the buildings on the south end of the island, a long airstrip, and the sunken plane in the anchorage. (reference for this story: The Exuma Guide by Stephen J. Pavlidis).
There is a little anchorage with great hurricane protection here. It is inside North Harbour and is referred to as "Norman's Pond" or simply, "The Pond". The entrance is very tricky and can handle a 6 foot draft at high tide. The waters around this area are very shallow. Did we attempt this?? Heck, no! We did take a nice dinghy ride into the "pond". Surprisingly, there were some houses there. It did not look as if the boats docked there had left the area in quite some time. There are three caves at the entrance to the pond on the western tip, one which has several rooms. We weren't feeling very adventurous that day, and looked at the openings of the cave from the dinghy.
The Tribute Island
Next to Norman's Cay is a tiny island with one lone palm tree. Under the palm tree is a teak bench with a remembrance plaque "for Ron and Aleda ...who loved these islands.....". The tribute is to Ron and Aleda Turner, who chartered their boat, Keewatin, in the Bahamas for 40 years. What a nice tribute to a couple who once cruised these beautiful waters. It serves as a reminder to us all that life is fleeting and the here and now is to be enjoyed to the fullest. We don't take this lifestyle for granted. We are happy together and treasure each day.
To view all photos taken at Norman's Cay, click here
Click here to go to next story.
Return to Travel Log