Sunday, January 16, 2011

Norman's Cay

Tuesday 11 January – Sunday 16 January

We leave Nassau at 10 Tuesday on 1/11/11 (just had to write it once) heading for Norman’s Cay in the Exuma’s. This Cay (same as KEY) has a past history, back in 1979 thru 1983 it was a base for the cocaine smuggling Colombian drug runner Carlos Lehder complete with its own airstrip for bringing in the drugs. Those days are long gone, but there are still the remains of a submerged aircraft in shallow water just off one of the anchorage’s that lure cruisers here to see for themselves. It was taking off when the landing gear failed bouncing across the rough shell runway, which ruptured a hydraulic line and caused loss of control of the plane, resulting in a high speed nosedive into the bay next to the runway. No survivors. By 4 we are approaching the Island under partly cloudy skies, not the best to navigate the coral heads, but OK. We’re still learning how to “read” the water, and are nervous entering unknown anchorages. The water here is even clearer than the Abacos, you can see down 20 ft quite clearly. But to the untrained eye, it looks like you could be in 2 ft of water, so every little dark patch or shadow is a potential coral head that can rip the bottom out of your boat, adding a little extra “pucker factor” to the anchoring dance. Almost makes us nostalgic for the opaque Galveston Bay water where you couldn’t see anything, so you didn’t worry unless the depth meter dropped below 7 ft. Of course there were no coral heads in Galveston Bay, just mud, which is much more forgiving than sand or coral. The anchorage near the wrecked plane looks a little iffy for our draft, so we anchor on the west side where there is less coral to contend with and by 5 we have the dinghy out and set up and relax with a sundowner cocktail in the cockpit. Wednesday we take the dinghy to explore the cut anchorage to see if we can get in. The depth all looks good and the anchorage that already has about 10 boats is bigger than it looks on the charts, we see another boat we recognize the name of Pipe muh Bligh from Kemah Texas. We do not know them but other friends also just heading out to cruise have mentioned them being in the same area so we go say Hi. We introduce ourselves to Stacy & Rene'n, their boat draws 6 feet and they said they had plenty of water coming in. We also see another Beneteau 50 charter boat so we feel good about bringing Ocean Star in. We had came prepared to snorkel but decide to go back to the boat and move her over since this is the better anchorage and closer to the sunken plane we came to snorkel around. Leave the anchorage following our safe path in and head for the cut, again under partly cloudy skies. We are in Coral Head territory so are taking things cautiously, going slow with me at the bow as lookout for anything that looks dangerous. We are re-anchored by noon, so go to check out the sunken plane only about 200 yards away. When we first spotted it on our dinghy tour we were surprised at how little was showing above the water. But after 30ish years it is now mostly under water as the tides and waves have let it sink into the sand underneath. Surprising how much is still intact and how clearly you can see the “whole” plane, a pretty neat experience. It’s slowly turning into a coral reef, and there are lots of reef fish swimming in and out of it. There’s the usual resident barracuda (2.5 ft) lurking, a few groupers hiding under the wings, and a very large ray with huge eyes camouflaged with sand trying to hide on the bottom nearby. It’s pretty obvious the fish are well fed by visitors, the Sergeant Majors come right up, virtually bumping into your mask in search of a handout. Back to the boat to get out of wet suits, dry off, and have a late warming lunch. By then the wind is picking up, it is predicted to be 15-20 kts from the NE for the next few days. So we settle in for a quiet read and a few games of backgammon. Thursday, even with the winds & wave action we decide to go into the Island, passing the other boats on the way in looks like we will be the only ones going ashore today. We are heading for Norman's Cay Beach Club & Bar AKA MacDuff’s, which is pretty much the only thing on the Island to go to. We take the long way there (left instead of right) passing by the Island dump and then a nice walk along the west side beaches finally finding MacDuff's. We are surprised and impressed on how nice the place is considering there are only 5 full time residents on the Island. We have a nice lunch and have a great time talking with Stefan one of the current owners. Who being himself & family native to the Exuma's & Nassau knows an amazing amount of info about the Islands. Once ashore and after eating a big lunch we are ready for another long walk. Stefan tells us about an old houseboat up on a ridge that back in the Carlos Lehder days would not leave, so Carlos used a crane to relocate the boat up on one of the highest ridges of the Island forcing the occupants to leave. His men used it as a look out post as you have a fabulous 360 view from up there. We hike up the road finding the crossroad to take the path leading to the houseboat is not as easy to find. After checking out a few other possibilities we come back to the crossroad and this time at what Steve thought was a path we notice the little rock cairn. We saw the boat from a distance walking up but from close up it is hidden behind all the trees. We climb up the path & there it sits far away from the water - a houseboat. Once you climb up on top of the boat the 360 view from on top is truly amazing and reminds us that this is what cruising is all about, looking out at breathtaking scenes like this. Make our way back down and back to the beach where the dinghy is, now we are really in for a wet & wild ride back as the winds & waves are even stronger. Steve finally gets the dinghy started (see previous blogs concerning dinghy engine failure) and we make it back to the boat. FYI getting wet on a dinghy ride in 90° summer weather is not so bad, not as much fun in 70° weather. Friday Steve takes another look at the dinghy motor and by mid afternoon seems to have it running, so we go back onto the Island hoping to meet up with some of the other boats we saw going in earlier. By the time we get to MacDuff's everyone has already left so we spend more time hearing Island stories from Stefan. Back to the dinghy to return to the boat only this time the motor will NOT start. TRY as he might the motor will not even kick over ! We start rowing against wind & waves not making much if any progress. Luckily another boat sees us struggling and comes over to tow us back to Ocean Star. NOT a happy ending to the day. Saturday Steve spends the day doing everything he can think of to the motor all to no avail. In the Islands you HAVE to have a dinghy to get around, this time of year is not known for its calm days so rowing is NOT an option with 20 kts winds and waves & current to work against you. We are still only a day's sail away from Nassau so once again we make the decision to go back to Nassau, to have the outboard motor fixed or replaced. Sunday we sadly leave Norman's Cay having not fully explored it due to weather (winds & waves & water temp) & the dinghy motor, to head back to Nassau.
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