Shroud & Norman Cays

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 4 May 2010 21:02
We left Warderick Wells after five nights and headed for Shroud Cay a few miles away to the north, still in the National Park - just. You get the feeling that visitors are now looking longingly at their fishing gear just waiting to cross the park boundary so they can stream the lines again. We are no exception, not that we've been at risk of causing a fish shortage in the Bahamas, but like all fishing enthusiasts everywhere we live in hope that the next time we'll hook the big one. As we are just about out of fresh veg, being two weeks out of George Town a nice big juicy Mahi Mahi would be appreciated. In fact a nice big juicy anything would be great (except a Barracuda of course).
Our trip to Shroud Cay was uneventful. We idled along making some fresh water (we make about 3 galls per hour) finally anchoring roughly mid way between an entrance into the mangroves (much of the central area of Shroud is mangrove covered) and friends who were in the mooring field nearby.
The north route we were going to take through the mangroves is about a mile long and after a few twists and turns leads all the way across the island to the Exuma Sound side. Because of this geographical entity water flows off the Bahamas Bank through the mangroves, out into the ocean and back again, meaning that there is quite a strong tidal flow backwards and forwards. We had hoped that we had timed our arrival at the entrance just right. But no. It was just wrong. Being low water there were sand bars we needed to negotiate to make any progress towards the Sound side and we had tide flowing strongly against us. Eventually we had to climb out of the dinghy, lift the engine leg clear and start to walk over the sandy parts dragging the heavy dinghy with us. A short marital discussion took place as to our rate of progress as we each took a line to pull the dinghy over the shallows. The word 'futile' began to come to mind but we pressed on. Even two canoeists hurtling along with the strong flow had to stop and drag their craft over the banks going in the opposite direction, but their journey was almost over. Ours was only just beginning!
We shouted over to them asking if the water was any deeper further up. The response was encouraging so we persevered. Once the dinghy was actually floating again - bearing in mind there was about 3 knots against us, we quickly climbed back in, put the drive leg down into the water and tried to start the engine.  Meanwhile we were going backwards so threw the dinghy anchor into the water to halt our counter-progress.  The engine wouldn't go despite many pulls on the starter cord. More serious marital discussions followed before we agreed that the trip had a certain balance of fate attached to it - edging steadily towards failure. A committee decision voted that we abort the trip and head back. Of course we then had to re-negotiate those sand bars that we had just hauled the dinghy over to get out of the mangroves. This area is full of natural beauty which was rapidly becoming lost on us. Finally gaining deeper water again we let the current take care of the dinghy whilst we stayed on the sand banks with the painter until we could finally climb back in and attempt to start the engine again. It still wouldn't cooperate, but at least we were heading in the right direction, back towards the Bahamas Bank side and in the general direction of the mothership. A quick change of spark plug whilst anchored did the trick and with the engine now working beautifully (!) we returned to Ajaya feeling disappointed that our attempt to find 'the east side of Shroud' had failed miserably. However, a rum punch and good conversation with friends onboard later that afternoon soon revived our spirits and the court-martial of the mangrove expedition leader was suspended.
The passage through the mangroves with the sandbars just visible..........
The next day, not ones to be easily thwarted, we set off for the mangroves again having moved Ajaya closer to the entrance.  This time we made it all the way through and found beautiful white sandy beaches with stunning views on to the Exuma Sound just where the mangroves made way for the Oceanside entrance. There were also pairs of nesting Tropic Birds (with the long white tails) putting on an entertaining display. It had been worth the effort, although we did have to punch an ever-strengthening ebb current on the way back which saw the little 4 horsepower engine revving hard and under threat of death should it fail.  With the mangroves moving past at a mere walking pace any longer spent on the ocean beach would have required more horses in our engine to drive us back.
The wonderful beach on the ocean side at Shroud                          View over the Shroud mangroves                                               Another view over the ocean from the hills above Shroud
Whilst at anchor we were reminded that our cruising lifestyle, whilst not in any way lacking in creature comforts (we think), could be easily trumped by the 100' long private motor yacht anchored a short distance away. It transferred its guests courtesy of a seaplane that landed close by before anchoring next to the yacht, taking a couple onboard, drifting downwind, revving the engine, turning into wind and taking off, wings dipping,  right over the luxury yacht.  Any future visitors to Ajaya please note - we think this a dangerous practice due to our mast height so a local airport and scheduled service makes much more sense.
The seaplane arrives......... collects  guests...                                                                 and then departs back to Nassau

Normans Cay 24:35.98N, 76:49.27W
Just a short distance north from Should Cay lies Norman's Cay which has seen bad events in past years. Most cruising folk pay a visit to this island because of its history. It's the stuff of books and films as Normans was used by the notorious Columbian drug dealer Carlos Lehder as a base for his operations for shipping narcotics from South America into the USA in the 1960s. He was a nasty man and had very violent men working for him on the island. It would have been a very brave person indeed to deliberately visit the island in those times as the events on this and some other islands helped give the Bahamas such a bad reputation for drug running and associated violence in the past. A visit to Normans by an unsuspecting couple ended in tragedy as their blood-stained yacht was found drifting nearby after such a stop off. Their bodies were never found, but it's also no secret that Norman's Cay pond is home to mating Hammer Head sharks so not too much imagination is needed in that respect! There is also a story of an aircraft that attempted an emergency landing on the well concealed airstrip. The events can be found detailed on the internet. They, however were lucky and escaped with their lives but the story is well worth the read. The reckoning came when the FBI with the permission of the Bahamian Government stormed the island and detained Lehder. Abandoned buildings still show evidence of the fierce shoot-out with bullet holes adorning walls in various locations on the south of the island. His drug running days were at an end.
Having anchored just off the beach club we walked around the southern end of the island, past some small aircraft remains, together with a dual seat frame presumably from the same aircraft, lying on the beach and round the south-eastern shore where the remains of the Normans Cay yacht club can be seen. All the buildings are derelict, a throwback to happier times on the island when Americans used to flock here to imbibe thus avoiding the prohibition laws in the USA. Many of the buildings are now overgrown, with mother nature gradually reclaiming what is rightfully hers. 80 years of neglect can be clearly seen. We walked through some of the derelict shells, roofs on the verge of collapse, stud walls devoid of coverings, and vegetation encroaching from all directions.
Small pieces of plane wreckage near the runway end - well it is a short runway !              Waiting for the pre-flight safety briefing in cattle class - Banana Airways
Walking along the track back to the airstrip we finally reached the hard stand mid way along the short runway where visiting planes park perhaps to pop into McDuff's Bar & Restaurant for a beer or to deliver guests to the small beach resort that seemingly clings to existence in today's fiercely competitive holiday market. Another ambitious resort planned for Normans Cay has never been started and probably never will be. But for us, Normans Cay with it's chequered history certainly has tons of atmosphere. And Lehder is still doing his time in the USA.
Empty shell of the former Bahamas Yacht Club dating back 50 years ..........other empty buildings closeby.......                                     and the runway area on Normans
Not as large as the 'Welcome to Heathrow' sign, but a nicer location!                             The hard stand - flight recently landed
McDuff's Bar - 20 yards from the runway so expect aircraft noise with your sundowner!     and the path from McDuffs to the beach