May 25, 2005 - June 15, 2005
As I write this, Indigo Moon is tethered to a mooring in spacious and well-protected Edgartown harbor off posh Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. We are enjoying blue skies and a refreshing cool north-easterly breeze while moored amongst several hundred boats, many of which are luxury yachts.
On one side of the harbor is the village of Edgartown where Steven Spielberg filmed the hit monster movie of all time, JAWS. Edgartown served as the small town of “Amity” in the movie. Most of the film was shot in Edgartown and the shallow waters just off the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
I can see Walter Cronkite’s mansion on a bluff not far away. Edgartown has been the home of the rich as far back as the early 1800’s when wealthy whaling captains and merchants lived here. Its “old-money” past is still evident today, with a big dose of “new money” too from the news media and show biz crowd. Just to name few, the Clintons, Bill Gates, Dan Ackroyd, Diane Sawyer, James Taylor, Michael J. Fox, Mike Wallace, David Letterman, Ted Danson, and Spike Lee allegedly live here. I’m told the place is also lousy with big-time television and film producers.
On the other side of the harbor is Chappaquiddick Island (“Chappy”), most recognized as the location of the terrible 1969 accident that occurred when Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge into the frigid waters and his young female passenger subsequently drowned.
New England is beautiful and boasts a rich nautical history. Melissa and I have really enjoyed our trip up the east coast and we will share those experiences with you soon.
But, for now, let’s finish up on our Bahamas adventures!
In the last report, we highlighted our journey from the Abacos down the Exuma Islands to George Town. This report will focus on our return trip back up from the southern Bahamas. We explored large, remote, outer islands with eastern shores that face the Atlantic Ocean proper. On the itinerary: Long Island, Conception Island, San Salvador, and Cat Island. Our return journey thereafter to the USA took us back through the Exumas and then Nassau and Bimini.
Part I: Long Island
Our last trip report left off with us departing George Town. At first light, we headed out of Elizabeth Harbor making our way to Cape Santa Maria at the north end of Long Island. “Buddy Boating” with us were Nick Chiapinni and Thea Bushell aboard the Morgan Out Island Ketch Blue Bonnet. We were thankful for another beautiful morning at sea.
Long Island is located east of George Town. Cape Santa Maria is situated on the north end of the island, a mere twenty seven miles from George Town. With perfect weather, it’s a “walk in the park” easy crossing, for sure. The crossing also took us over depths of several thousand feet, and I was excited to be able to try my hand at fishing again. Unfortunately, despite my efforts, we did not get a bite on the crossing.
It’s official. The fish and I are deadlocked: I will not stop fishing; they will not bite.
It was still early in the day when we reached Long Island. We anchored out in a cove just north of the Cape Santa Maria Resort. The north shore of Long Island is rimmed with dramatic cliffs that are exposed to the open Atlantic, resulting in very harsh erosion with large caves cut into the cliffs.
When we arrived at Cape Santa Maria, Melissa and I dropped down the dinghy and went exploring. We had already seen the Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort from afar and decided to do a “drive by” in the dinghy. Then, we'd head back north past the anchorage and see the Cape. The sea was very calm -- calm enough to be out in the Ocean in the dinghy.
Scenes from the Cape Santa Maria Resort:
While buzzing around the sparkling shallows off the resort's beach, I noticed a sizeable black spot on the bright white sand bottom. I deviated from our course to check it out. It was a very fine specimen of a young Tiger Shark, -- four to five feet long and young enough to still have very striking spots (young tiger’s with such markings are also known as leopard sharks).
Melissa has not yet overcome her fear of sharks and the Tiger Shark sighting has put an end to her snorkeling plans at Cape Santa Maria for the afternoon.
We were circling the shark when a vacationing couple from the Cape Santa Maria Resort sailed up on a little Hobie Cat sailboat. The guy fell off! We told him it was a tiger shark – one of the “get out of the water right now sharks.” He did.
Having enough shark excitement, we headed to the Cape. The cliffs are awesome. Also, we read about a cave with a thirty foot wide and twenty-five foot tall opening that is big enough for us to drive the dinghy. Sure enough we found it.
There was a hitch to taking the dinghy into the cave, though. The guide books said to be very careful not to enter the cave when rough surf or swells are present. Accordingly, we approached with extreme caution.
There were reefs and rocks obstructing the entrance. I studied the surface of the ocean and the reefs. I slowly wove my way in between the rocks and reefs, sometimes with no more than a foot on each side of the outboard's propeller. It took us a good five minutes to go one hundred yards. Once inside, the cave was beautiful. The sun was beaming down and the beach was very nice. All was calm. All was good.
I am already thinking about how great the cave would be for a picnic or sun tanning. From Here to Eternity even flashed through my mind for a second.
We made it into the cave proper and crossed the fifty feet of water to the beach. The bow of the dinghy gently rose up on the sand beach. From the rear of the boat, I jumped over the side into thigh deep water to walk forward and drag up the boat. I turned around and looked back . . .and. . . EMERGENCY!
Out of nowhere, a big set of swells were coming in, and the first one was about ten feet away. I screamed for Melissa to jump out of the boat and get clear. The wave came in. With a vertical face, it slammed into the dinghy and then picked it up about two feet while pushing it up the beach six feet more. As the wave receded, the dinghy was slammed down on a rock.
The outboard was in the locked down position and would have been slammed down upon the rock but for Melissa's fast action. She pushed the boat around just in time to at least keep the outboard off the rock.
I don’t know how we did it, but in less than five seconds, I tilted up the motor and we spun the dinghy around with the bow straight out, all by the time the second wave hit. We were able to stand in shin-deep water on each side and hold onto and control the dinghy as the next thigh-deep swell crashed into the beach. After the second wave, we managed to be in the dinghy, with motor down and running, so as to power out and over the third swell and safely exit the cave. WHEW!
Very dangerous, it was. It took a minute for us to realize how lucky we were to have instinctively undertaken the precise and exact acts necessary to escape and avoid injury or worse. I was sure, by the tremendous impact of the dinghy on the rock, that its bottom was damaged. Amazingly, it had not a scratch. Our CARIBE “10 light” dinghy has been fabulous, by the way. A Yamaha engine with "one pull" starting was also a blessing.
After the Tiger Shark and getting into serious trouble in the cave, Melissa had enough excitement on Long Island for that day and wanted to just chill out on the boat.
I was not out of the game yet, though, and wanted to go snorkeling. I took our dinghy and Nick and Thea of Blue Bonnet took their dinghy, and the three of us we went out on the Atlantic side for some snorkeling.
The ocean was very calm and we enjoyed a nice snorkel near the caves. Armed with spears, Nick and I also snorkeled around a big coral head reef on the Atlantic side. Although we didn't find a good target for the spears, we did enjoy some unusually large, bright yellow Elk Horn Coral formations.
As we got close to the dinghies, we became aware of a four foot barracuda following us. It was the most persistent “cuda” I’ve ever seen. Nick and I literally swam backwards with our spears pointed at the fish as it kept following us, literally within an inch of the spear tips. I'm happy to say we managed to get back in the dinghies without incident.
Once in our dinghies, we were chatting about the barracuda following us. All of a sudden, I looked up to see a large swell coming in over the giant coral head -- those swells were soon to be breakers. We pulled anchors and got out of there quick. The tide was falling and those darned swells were sneaking up on me, again! So, it was back to the anchorage to call it a day.
The next day, we decided to dinghy over to Cape Santa Maria Resort for lunch. We swung by Blue Bonnet to pick up Nick and Thea and landed on the resort's beach. No Tiger Shark this time.
On the way in, as we rounded the rocks at the edge of our cove, I noticed a Beneteau monohull anchored at the far end of the bay. I had my handheld VHF and called for Nothing Else Matters. Sure enough, Kevin and Carolyn Dowd answered aboard their 331 Beneteau (yes, named after the Metallica song – how cool is that?!).
We had seen their boat at Black Point and met them briefly at the marina in George Town. They were out cruising, making their way from the Bronx in New York to San Antonio, Texas, where New Yorker Kevin inherited a ranch. I remember joking that he was sort of like a real life version of the characters in the Billy Crystal film City Slickers.
Kevin and Carolyn dinghied in to the resort too, and we had a nice afternoon lounging around Cape Santa Maria Resort for several hours.
One of my missions during our visit to Long Island was to find the dive master “Delbert” to coordinate a dive trip. Our friends, Robert and Mary Beth Johnson, from megayacht Rebecca, recommended Delbert as a great dive instructor and guide.
I found Delbert, but he was booked up and could not take us diving. He assured me, though, that we could easily dive the deep walls at Conception Island on our own. He explained that there are three commercial-grade moorings at three reefs that drop down coral-covered walls to over 150 feet. According to Delbert, there would be no problem for us to grab a mooring and dive off our own boat. No bad currents; no surprises.
We were all pumped up! Nick was ready for a good dive, and Kevin and Carolyn were excited too. So, the plan was made. We all sail tomorrow for Conception Island, dive the walls and then spend a couple of nights there. Conception Island is a short eighteen mile hop farther east into the Atlantic from Long Island.
Part II: Conception Island
As we left Long Island, I was elated to be headed for a deep dive in the Bahamas. I got out the rods and reels and began to troll. Anytime the depth sounder goes deeper than 500 feet, it signifies that we are approaching the magical “one hundred fathom” depth of 600 feet, where good fishing begins. Of course, I viewed my efforts as hopeless tenacity.
When we were about five miles off of Conception Island, the starboard rod and reel began singing as line was stripping off the reel. FISH ON! Melissa took the helm. The water boiled about two hundred feet behind the boat. Then, we see an end over end airborne cartwheel: It’s a brilliant neon-blue-backed Mahi Mahi!
I warn Melissa: “This one is not getting away, not even if I have to jump on his back and fight him with my bare hands -- so be ready to come back and get me!” Melissa laughs. I don’t think she knew that I was dead serious.
No need to dive in, though. Once the fish was at the transom, Melissa took the rod and kept the fish away from the boat while I manned the gaff. A perfect gaffing and a second later the fish, the gaff, and the rod were all safely in the cockpit of Indigo Moon.
Three minutes later, the fish was cleaned and dressed and ready for the ice box. The back steps of Indigo Moon make a straightforward fish cleaning station, complete with the shower for cleanup.
Wow, the spell is broken. We will catch fish on Indigo Moon!
Having already cut up the Mahi Mahi into nice steaks and placed it in the fridge, we headed for one of the moorings Delbert recommended for a good wall dive. Blue Bonnet anchored a couple of miles to the north in the anchorage where we would all go at the end of the day. Nothing Else Matters caught a mooring about a half mile to the south. Nick and Thea came in their dinghy and picked up Kevin and Carolyn and they all came aboard Indigo Moon, which would serve as the dive boat.
We dove 97 feet down the wall and enjoyed seeing a wide variety of coral, giant barrel sponges and all sorts of colorful tropical fish. It was a very rewarding experience for Melissa and me to finally be enjoying a truly world-class dive from the decks of Indigo Moon.
After the dive, we anchored at a wonderful cove on the west side of Conception Island. Unbelievably, the water was even clearer than anything we’d seen before. A very large Nurse Shark and a Stingray cruised the bottom, hoping for fish cleaning and the bits that might fall overboard, but, alas, my fish (boy that sounds nice to say). . . ahem. . . MY fish was already cleaned.
Everyone was invited to Indigo Moon for fresh Mahi Mahi on the grill. As the sun was setting, our guests began to arrive. As part of the celebratory dinner, we decide to go all out – we cranked up the generator and turned on all the air conditioners. The mosquitoes and heat had been too much the last few days, so the a/c was a treat for us all. The dinner party was great fun.
The day was perfect. Two major goals had been achieved: 1) landing a Mahi Mahi to share as a great meal with friends; and 2) enjoying a top-quality deep wall dive from our own boat. How apropos that it all came true at an island named Conception.
The next day, Kevin and Carolyn sailed toward Cat Island to begin to make their way back to the USA while Nick and Thea joined us for a walkabout on the Atlantic side of Conception Island.
As is the familiar drill now at most of these southern islands, we find a trail that crosses the island from the anchorage on the west, protected side over to the east side where reefs, rocks and beaches face the Atlantic.
Here are some views of the Atlantic side of Conception Island:
Part III: San Salvador Island
Our next destination is San Salvador and Nick and Thea on Blue Bonnet want to go too.
San Salvador is a good forty miles east of Conception. It is also the farthest out of line to the east in relation to the chain of other Bahamian islands to the south. And, perhaps not coincidentally, it is where Christopher Columbus first landed in the New World. We were excited about sailing to the alleged spot of his first landing (there is a bit of rivalry amongst these outer islands – all wanting to claim to be Columbus’ first find).
We spoke to a local dive master in San Salvador and cut a deal to go diving off Indigo Moon the next day, with the dive master serving as guide and photographer.
Finally, with all the planning and preparation complete, it was time to hit the water. Luphol took pictures for us with his underwater digital camera:
Unfortunately, Luphol was unable to capture a picture of the eight foot hammerhead that cruised twenty feet over our heads. It was an impressive sight and surprisingly, Melissa was not the least bit afraid. For some reason, Melissa is more afraid of sharks when she is out of the water than when she is in the water. I guess that’s a good thing. She’s says if one ever starts coming toward her while in the water, it will be a different story.
Eager to explore all the sights on San Salvador, we rented a car the next day and made the rounds. We drove completely around the perimeter of this large island. Interestingly, the rental contract for the car had a clause that forbade us from driving outside the perimeter of the island. We got a good chuckle out of that. Lawyers - gotta love 'em, right?
We visited the monument commemorating the location where Christopher Columbus first set foot in the new world:
I was especially disturbed by the disrepair of the monument, and, quite frankly, how woefully inadequate the monument was. The pitiful information plaque at the base of the cross was marred with a trowel-load of cement. Adjacent flag poles were bent and bare. In my mind, the discovery of a new world and land other than Europe deserves a much better tribute.
There is also another monument nearby that was constructed when the Olympic Games were held in Mexico City. Considering San Salvador is the entranceway to the New World, the Olympic Flame made a stop here on its way to the Mexico games. This monument was also in disrepair, all of which made me feel sad for Columbus and his efforts.
We had fun, though. Melissa and Nick recreated the Olympic runner carrying the Olympic torch up to the monument’s flame pot.
I declared myself to be an “old flame” as I stood atop the monument.
From there we drove further and visited the ruins of Waitling’s Castle, built in the 1600’s.
After walking the ruins of Wailting’s Castle, we headed to the Dixon Hill lighthouse. This lighthouse is the same vintage as the lighthouse in Hope Town in the Abacos. We gave it a look and saw little differences in the two. The lighthouse at Dixon Hill is still hand-wound and kerosene-burning, just like the one in Hope Town.
After our tour of the lighthouse, we continued on our counter-clockwise trip around the shore of the island. Next stop: Club Med. Yes, there is a very sexy Club Med resort here. It is primarily a destination for French tourists and the resort’s first language is French.
Here's a look at the first-rate resort:
Part IV: Cat Island
Our next destination was Cat Island to the northwest which marked the beginning of our journey back toward the USA. Since leaving George Town, we saw fewer and fewer cruisers and the surroundings were more pristine.
Let’s face it. People = Problems. We found that as the number of boats gets thinner, folks seem to be friendlier and it is easier to get to know one another. When you are the only other boat in an anchorage, if someone is in the mood to wave or say hello, it has to be to you.
Our crossing from San Salvador to Cat Island was a particularly rough one. Nick and Thea aboard Blue Bonnet left at first light and Melissa and I were about five miles behind. It was a downwind run with the breeze blowing about ten to fifteen knots. We decided to put up the spinnaker.
After about an hour under sail, Nick called on the VHF: “Buddy, I see you have the spinnaker up; we are just now getting gusts over twenty knots, some up to 25.”
Well. . . the spinnaker is appropriate for 15 knots and under. I immediately called for Melissa to start the engines. Before we could do anything, the first gust hit! It was a real fight to get the spinnaker down. It took all my weight, hanging on the spinnaker sock to get the sail under control. Luckily, nothing was broken and we suffered no injuries.
I will also say that Bob Meagher III, of Doyle Sails in Ft. Lauderdale, made a very strong and durable spinnaker for me. Despite being “shock-popped” while collapsing and refilling in 25 knots gusts, the giant purple sail had not one thread out of place.
As the day progressed, the seas got rougher with an end result of solid six to eight foot following seas. At one point we reached 12.5 knots surfing down the face of a wave. That’s a little too “sporty” for my blood.
It was late in the day and we were glad to get around to the calm, lee side of Cat Island and we anchored near the small community of McQueen’s.
The next day, we moved north to an anchorage right south of Arthur’s Town at the north end of Cat Island on the west side. Arthur’s Town is a very small community. It boasts being the town where actor Sidney Portier lived for a while as a young child.
Yachts Akimbo and Bonnie were already there. Add Indigo Moon and Blue Bonnet and that’s four. Then along came another catamaran, a 43 foot Fontaine Pajot (also a French built catamaran), named Honemeaux (pronounced Honey-mow). Our French made Lagoon catamaran might as well be the “Chevy” and Fontaine Pajot the “Ford” of the French production catamaran builders.
So, there are five boats and ten people. Turns out that by sheer coincidence we have arrived on the weekend of the Cat Island “Rake and Scrape” Music Festival. Rake and Scrape music is characterized by a trio of electric guitar, drum (not drums), and a hand saw. The Festival includes food booths, a “ Battle of the Bands” for Rake and Scrape Bands from throughout the Bahamas, and regional "big-name" acts too.
It’s a real big deal and the most awaited annual event on the island. In the anchorage, we all started plotting on the VHF radio as to how we could get to the festival, about eight miles away.
In the “small world” category, the other catamaran, Honemeaux, is from Mandeville, Louisiana. As far as I know, our two big cats were the only ones ever in the New Orleans area. We saw Honemeaux docked now and then while we were still in Louisiana, but never found anyone on board.
It was fun to finally meet the owners, Wayne and Millie Buras, and we laughed about having to come 1,500 miles all the way out to the Bahamas to see them. Moreover, Wayne is a practicing attorney and also a graduate of LSU Law School, just like me. So, it was fun. The globe seems to be littered with Louisiana lawyers on catamarans!
By sunset, we were all ashore on a small beach, trying to get a ride to the Festival. We stood around, watching a fellow try to get his pickup started. The guy had a pint whiskey bottle full of gasoline and was trying to coax his engine to life by pouring sips of fuel into the intake. No luck.
Al and Linda from Bonnie walked to the main road and hitchhiked. They were picked up by the first car that passed. The rest of us managed to ride in two shifts along with band members for one of the Rake and Scrape groups. A van had appeared to pick up the band at a nearby residence where they were staying.
Here is a pictorial, blow by blow of our Rake and Scrape experience:
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, along came the next female vocalist. She can rival Etta James any day, and I am sorry that I did not catch her name.
Anyway, she called young girls up on the stage for a dancing exhibition. The singer began a great number called “Island Girls” singing “Island girls. . .we like to wind it up. . . we like to stir it up. . . we just can’t get enough. . .”
As the number went on, one at a time she would have the young girls step up and dance. The crowd went wild! It was very entertaining.
Melissa and I both commented that we can not remember ever seeing such well-behaved gathering of young people, nor such a polite crowd. The people of Cat Island are truly wonderful.
We did notice that, contrary to popular American child-raising methods of today where it seems an army of obnoxious kids are allowed to run wild in the name of so-called “healthy development”, old-fashioned discipline still works really well in the Bahamas.
During the show, to the left of the stage there was a fenced-off Kiddy Corner where little kids were playing. Bahamian policemen and policewomen were out in numbers. Next to the Kiddy Corner, two policewomen stood at parade rest, watching the crowd. Suddenly a big kid came running by. He was chasing a much smaller kid and giving him “the business,” pushing and shoving as they disappeared back into the depths of Kiddy Corner.
One of the policewomen turned and went in pursuit. As if herding goats, she used her night stick to sort the “heavy” out of the group of kids. Once she had him separated out, she backed him up to the fence and held the nightstick tight to his chest and read him the riot act. The other kids stopped and listened, much like the old E.F. Hutton commercials. There was no more trouble out of any of them. Kids are made to behave and to respect authority, just like in the "old days" when I was kid. It was very pleasing to see.
Our stay at Cat Island was, all in all, yet another perfect adventure and we did not want to leave yet. But, hurricane season was upon us. Our time in the Bahamas was running out and we had to move back toward the USA. So, we all headed back across Exuma Sound. In the fleet were Bonnie, Blue Bonnet, Honemeaux and Indigo Moon.
Part V: Exuma Land and Sea Park & Norman's Cay
Our route: cross Exuma Sound (really part of the Atlantic Ocean) and pass through a cut in the area of Cambridge Cay which is part of the protected Exuma Land and Sea Park located in the Warderick Wells area. A sixty mile crossing, this passage required leaving at first light.
With only the slightest hint of first light, Melissa and I raised the mainsail in the dark, pulled anchor and motored out of the anchorage past Bonnie. Al and Linda were on deck readying Bonnie for departure. A true yachtsman, racer, and New England sailing purest, Al shouted in brisk northeastern accent: “Tern those Gawd Damned Engines Awf!” In New England it's routine to set sail directly from anchor without ever starting the engine.
A few yards past Bonnie, I killed the engines and began to sail. Al shouted again: “That’s Bet-tah!” We laughed hard and still get a big kick out of that. “That’s Bet-tah” has become a "catch phrase" for us that is applicable anytime anything takes a good turn.
By 6:00 a.m. the fleet was underway. I could see Bonnie and Blue Bonnet a few miles behind. Honemeaux was nowhere to be seen yet. Akimbo had bugged out before dawn and was headed south to a different destination.
All of us had fishing lines out, trying to “make groceries” as the Cajuns say. No luck. Al came on the VHF radio: “Anybody getting any bites?” I answered, “No.” Within a split second of my release of the VHF microphone, the port rod and reel went singing. FISH ON! Melissa and I have it down now. She headed up and handled the boat under sail while I reeled. Once the fish was close, Melissa manned the rod as I got the gaff. All of a sudden, the starboard reel went singing too.
We hurried up and got the first fish in the boat and focused our efforts on the second. A perfect double play! Word goes out on VHF: Mahi Mahi on The Moon tonight!
Later in the day, Melissa and I enjoyed yet another splendid dolphin show when a pod swam up to the bows of Indigo Moon.
Turns out that both Blue Bonnet and Honemeaux caught a Mahi Mahi too. Al and Linda caught no fish; however, their expert handling of the beautiful yawl, Bonnie, resulted in at least a two mile lead as we all approached the Exumas.
We had another great “Mahi Mahi fest” aboard Indigo Moon with all the fleet aboard. Everybody brought fish and delectable side dishes and we had a great feast and wonderful visit.
The Exuma Land and Sea Park is a protected area where fishing is prohibited. As such, the reefs tend to be in better condition than many others which are mostly all over-fished. The next day Al and Linda took us to some of their favorite spots where we all enjoyed some first-rate snorkeling in the park area near Cambridge Cay. We also snorkeled at a reef called the “Aquarium.” Melissa and I both declared it to be the best snorkeling in the Bahamas.
Sadly, it was again time to turn our efforts to returning to Florida. It was June 5 and we were officially in hurricane season; thus, already violating my admonition that we would never be down south for any part of it. We said our goodbyes to Al and Linda on Bonnie with whom we really enjoyed visiting and hope to see again in New England. They are very interesting folks. Wayne and Millie on Honemeaux had departed early morning and we didn’t get to say bye, but hope all our wakes cross again.
As we got ready to pull anchor, a rain squall passed through.
One of the stops we missed on the way down to George Town is Norman’s Cay. This Cay is THE epicenter of drug-smuggling history in the Bahamas. Here are the basics: In 1979, a sham corporation owned by Carlos Lehder, a Columbian, purchased half of the 650 acre island. He had already been buying up smaller parcels there, starting his acquisition plans a few years earlier in 1977. Once the major acquisition was complete, Lehder lengthened the already existing airstrip and began importing massive amounts of cocaine from the Medellin Cartel. Norman’s Cay became the transfer hub of all such cocaine distributed to the USA.
From Norman’s Cay, fast boats could transport the illicit drugs to Florida. Small planes could quickly reach airstrips in both Florida and South Georgia, blending in with all the busy weekend tourist traffic between the USA and Bahamas.
Original landowners who tried to remain on Norman’s Cay were run off. I was told that when a few steadfast residents stood up to Lehder and declared they were staying, Lehder retorted: “Good, when we kill you we will put a nice marker on your land to commemorate that you owned it and would not leave.” The residents finally fled and Norman’s Cay was a full-fledged drug-running compound.
A few years ago, a major motion picture was released titled BLOW that dramatizes the story of how the cocaine trade was started in the late seventies and early eighties. Johnny Depp and other accomplished actors do a fine job of portraying the insanity of it all. The movie also includes a brief segment set on Norman’s Cay. I am told that most all cocaine found in the USA in the 1980's was transferred by Lehder's organization from the airstrip of Norman’s Cay.
In the bay at Norman’s Cay, the skeleton of a DC-3 rests in the shallows where it made a crash landing. Legend has it that the cocaine-laden plane lost power upon takeoff and the pilot had to ditch in the shallows. The pilot got out alive, but he was shot to death on the beach because he ruined the cargo of cocaine.
Also, legend has it that money became irrelevant to the smugglers, because they had so much of it. It was all about thrill, suspense and power. Some of the money was buried in bails of several million dollars, only to be dug up months later and found to be eaten by worms, etc.
One simply can’t imagine the insane world that must have existed at Norman’s: unlimited money; unlimited cocaine; and, no rules. It’s hard to believe they could live for more than a week under that scenario.
We have spoken to other cruisers who were sailing back then and were run off the island by the cartel during that period. After innocently anchoring off the Cay and dinghying to the beach, they were greeted by machine gun toting guards who ordered them to pull anchor and leave immediately. It was a scary time. One couple and their boat disappeared.
Bahamians apparently made more money in those years than they did in the entire previous history of the country combined.
So, how did it all end? The DEA raided Norman’s Cay in 1979, but found nothing. A corrupt Bahamian official had warned Lehder. The Cay was spotless when the raid took place. Lehder is said to have turned over a suitcase containing $250,000 to a Bahamian official and Lehder was released. A frustrated DEA declared that Lehder did not just own Norman’s Cay, but instead owned “the whole damn country.” Fidel Castro and Manuel Noriega are said to have been involved as well.
The DEA was not giving up, though. By 1981, indictments were handed down and Lehder was a wanted man. By 1983 he had not been to Norman’s Cay for over six months and was hiding in Colombia. His men had ransacked Norman’s Cay. Ultimately, Lehder was captured by Columbian officials and extradited to the USA where he was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to life without parole, plus 135 years for good measure.
So, strangely, this little island named Norman’s Cay is undoubtedly the second-most historically relevant piece of dirt in the entire Bahamas (in my mind a very distant second, of course, to the soil where Christopher Columbus found the new world).
Having already digested all the information above about Norman’s Cay, I was interested in exploring the drug-running ruins of the Cay.
After anchoring Indigo Moon and Blue Bonnet off the Cay, Nick and I went ashore.
Here is the photo tour:
It's all over now. The rightful landowners have returned, and the island is now safe and no different than any other Bahamas Cay. New construction is underway and it looks like it will be developed further. Norman’s Cay still has a haunting aura, however, against the backdrop of all I learned.
Everywhere I looked, I imagined all the drama and violence, and what it must have been like to witness Lehder’s drug-crazed reign. As Nick and I were walking toward the airstrip, we heard a small twin engine plane taking off . . . sound effects adding to my already hyper imagination. Hairs (what few I have) stood up on the back of my neck!
For me, the visit to Norman’s Cay was equally intriguing and disturbing. Standing on that runway, I thought of all the terrible consequences the flood of 1980’s cocaine visited upon the lives of millions of Americans. It put a knot in my stomach.
Part VI: Nassau
Having made the rounds of the southern Bahamas, we set sail for Nassau, the most logical and quickest route back to the USA. While in Nassau, we rode out the fringes of Tropical Storm Arlene, as the wind blew hard for three days.
While in Nassau we visited the Atlantis Casino and Resort. The development incorporates huge aquariums into its design. One is so massive that it borders the entire outside wall of the main casino. Tunnels and underground passageways provide a subsurface view of the large aquarium filled with a plethora of sea life. Also, smaller aquariums featuring single species are built into subterranean walls. It’s awesome.
In the main tank:
There is more to Nassau than just Atlantis. We went to downtown Nassau too. Here is a sample of what we saw:
Blue Bonnet was in a marina across the Nassau Harbor. Two large bridges cross the Harbor and connect Paradise Island to the main island of New Providence and the City of Nassau. The Harbor is really more like a river. It is a channel about five miles long and only a mile or so wide, that runs between Paradise Island and Nassau. Open on both ends, the current rips through the harbor.
Our marina was in an inlet out of the harbor and there was no current inside. But, where Blue Bonnet was docked the current ran through so fast that it felt like they were underway at times despite the fact that they were tied to the dock!
Also, our friends Kevin and Carolyn Dowd on Nothing Else Matters showed up in Nassau too and we all had lunch together. It was fun.
One day Melissa and I walked over the bridges and down the harbor to see Nick and Thea aboard Blue Bonnet. We took some pictures along the way.
The time had come. Tropical Storm Arlene was now north of the Bahamas and we set out to make it to Chub Cay in a day, then to Bimini the next day. The day after that, we planned to be back in Florida and our four month Bahamas adventure would sadly be over!
We said our goodbyes to our friends Nick and Thea on Blue Bonnet. Nick’s kids and grandkids had flown in and they were all headed back to the Exumas for a fun family vacation.
Part VII: Chub Cay and Bimini
Early the next day, Melissa and I got underway and slipped out of the Nassau Harbor:
We made it to Chub Cay and planned to refuel for the 70 mile crossing of the Great Bahama Bank to Bimini. Guess what?! Chub Cay was closed! The marina was shut down and there was enough heavy equipment working to rival an interstate highway job!
There was a young lady there at the marina office and she said: “We are closed until March.” I was able to contact the dock master on the VHF radio and he agreed, grudgingly, to sell me ten gallons of fuel, and that was it. However, I wanted twenty gallons – to fill four of my five gallon jerry cans. The dock master explained that all the fuel was needed for the equipment. Though disappointed, I was ultra-nice about it and genuinely thanked him for anything he could spare.
But, there was another catch too. The electricity was off and no fuel could be pumped. It was about 3:00 pm. HOT! DUSTY! FLIES! We waited. Having scant fuel, we dare not run the generator.
Five-o-clock p.m. came and went, along with the young lady who locked the marina office and left. I continued to monitor VHF 68 where all the local banter was taking place. At about 5:45 I heard the construction manager call: “Dock master; when will those fuel barges get here?!” The dock master answered: “Thursday or Friday.” The construction manger was not happy and gave the dock master a bit of a “dressing down.”
About a minute later, I heard the fuel pumps click and the power was on! I called the dock master on the VHF and he said he would be right there. When he showed up, I guess he was still stinging from the scolding handed out by the construction manager. He said: “get your other cans too; I’ll fill them for you.” He got a ten dollar tip! Moral: be nice.
We barley made it out of the harbor in time to anchor at sunset.
The pile driving equipment on Chub Cay ran all night right near the beach, but we were too tired to take much notice. We left in the very first hint of light in the morning, headed for Bimini.
By late afternoon we reach Bimini.
The next morning we set out across the Gulf Stream. Just like our crossing over, the crossing back was flat calm and the Gulf Stream was undetectable except for current.
So, what was it like returning to “civilization” after sixteen weeks “out there?”
It was strange and somewhat uncomfortable to be back in the USA. Our cell phones came to life. Newspapers. CNN. Internet. Traffic. Yada Yada.
Giant stores filled with too many goods, too many choices, and too many marketing messages. It was immediately clear that here in the USA we are battered with mega everything! I immediately felt that low amperage undercurrent of the USA lifestyle: “hurry up -- you need more stuff.”
I had also forgotten about the fact that we Americans seem to feel we need the media to alert us, second by second, twenty four hours a day, as to what we should believe is important and newsworthy.
In the southern Bahamas, all we cared about was the time of high and low tide, and receiving weather faxes via the Single Side Band Receiver. What a wonderful freedom it was not have the news media and advertisers in our lives at all for a while.
I had not seen CNN for sixteen weeks. Upon our return to the USA, there were TV’s in a little delicatessen, all playing CNN. The reporting was just plain nuts – a fierce scavenger hunt for the worst in life, all magnified by reporters utilizing an endless stream of ludicrously overzealous adjectives. It all struck me as vulgar. More importantly, it struck me as tremendously unhealthy. Despite our initial adverse reactions, naturally we adjusted quickly to being back in the USA.
After returning from the Bahamas, we spent a month in Ft. Lauderdale tending to the boat and getting read for our trip up the east coast. We left Ft. Lauderdale and motor sailed north for three days offshore in the Atlantic, making landfall just below Cape Hatteras at Beaufort, North Carolina.
As I finish this installment, we are getting ready to make way south from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City. Thereafter, it will be on to the Chesapeake Bay area as we make our way slowly back down the east coast. We plan to be back in Fort Lauderdale by November to ready the boat for our intended journey south through the Caribbean to Venezuela and beyond for next hurricane season.
In the fullness of time, we will produce a report on our trip up and down the east coast. Thanks again for the continuing flood of e-mails and offers of help and support as we continue on this remarkable journey.
We love this cruising life on Indigo Moon. For now, life is good!
Until next time, Fair Winds - - -
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