Published: March 12th 2007February 24th 2007
Ruins of one of Lehder's many drug running planes, crashed in the lagoon.
We left Allan’s Cay and continued sailing down the Exuma island chain to Norman’s Cay, which has a sordid history since the time of pirates (where it derives it’s namesake), to the bootleggers of prohibition, and then the drug smugglers of the 70’s and 80’s. Currently it is a sailor haven; with a protected anchorage, several small islands with wonderful beaches, and even Mc’Duffs restaurant which was just about to open when we were there.
We learned Normans past from the book "Turning the Tide: One Man Against the Medellin Cartel" by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick and Peter Abrahams. It tells the story of Richard Novak, a diver who wanted to make Normans his new home, and of Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas (leader of the Medellin Cartel) who wanted to make Normans his own personal nation. Lehder took advantage of the location of Norman's Cay, which is between Columbia and Florida, to set up a large scale cocaine smuggling operation. In time Lehder had ousted all of the residents, convinced all of the Columbian cocaine growers to use him as transportation, and converted Norman’s into a small military run operation. During the night they would use the runway to land incoming
We dinghyed up to the ruins of the drug running plane, but didn't snorkel because of the resident hammerhead sharks.
planes, quickly unload and reload repackaged cocaine, and then send it on its way to Florida for sale. Sometimes they had a total of nineteen planes complete this in less than two hours. Lehder had set up an efficient operation that shipped so much cocaine that he had to stash it around the island, including in the caves at the entrance to the pond (a very sheltered harbor on the north end of the island). It also produced enormous amounts of money used to pay bribes and to support the lifestyle of this eccentric man.
The one man who Lehder could not get kicked off the island was Richard Novak, a professor of German and an avid diver with hopes to set up a research facility on Normans because of its unspoiled reef which is home of the mating migration of hammerhead sharks. He refused to give up and almost lost his life many times along the way as he helped to collect evidence and report on the activities of the smuggling operation. After many attempts working with the DEA, the state department, and the Bahamian authorities they successfully closed down the Normans operation and
extradited Lehder to America
The runway that Lehder used to transport cocaine from Columbia to Florida.
where he is serving life in prison plus 135 years with no possibility of parole. While the largest smuggling operation known in history is gone from Normans, there is still a lingering air of its history on the island.
We enjoyed exploring the island, including the runway that Lehder used to run his drug smuggling planes and the ruins of one of the cargo planes which had crashed in the lagoon at the center of the island. Although we didn’t get a chance to snorkel the plane wreck (which we hear is a fun experience) because two hammerhead sharks had been spotted in the area, and hammerheads have the notorious reputation of being quite aggressive. Personally, we have had enough run-ins with sharks to last a lifetime. But we did enjoy our visit at the small, deserted, single-palm treed island in the middle of the lagoon which reminded us of “Gilligan’s Island”.
There are more photos below