As soon as we dropped anchor, we were eager to get to shore and explore for bullet holes, severed fingers, buried bags of cocaine, loose hundred-dollar bills…you know, the kind of thing you’d expect to find on your average, abandoned drug-running island. After all, we were in a heavenly little spot just south of Norman’s Cay, the island made famous by drug-runner Carlos Lehder (aka Diego Delgado in the movie Blow with Johnny Depp).
But it turned out all there was to see was a partially overgrown runway, where Carlos Lehder’s planes used to come and go with their cargo as the U.S. DEA spied on them from the hilltops of neighboring Shroud Cay. And there was the run-down McDuff’s Beach Bar & Grill, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations.
There were rumors that McDuff’s had been damaged in a storm, but since it was still mentioned in our guidebook, Ryan was keen to find out if they’d recovered enough to serve their Manhattan-priced $18 hamburgers and $6 beers again. (You know you’ve had one too many Ramen noodles when you’ll visit an island just to indulge the improbable hope that you might get an overpriced burger.)
My carnivorous husband seemed not to be deterred by the “Under Construction” signs or the dusty workmen as we made our way past McDuff’s faded multi-colored picket fence and into the bar. The place was definitely closed, but we were invited in by a friendly construction manager from Yorkshire, England who was happy to chat with us.
Apparently, the bar had been closed for nearly a year with the new owner planning a bigger, better, more beautiful version of the former burger shack. Personally, we’d have been tickled with burgers and beer on a bare patch of sand, but construction wasn’t stopping for us. We’d heard about McDuff’s from a number of long-time cruisers and they always said the same thing: “It’s an interesting place.” With a lot of emphasis on interesting. We like interesting, so it was a shame the place was closed.
It wasn’t much of a day for sight-seeing, but we got to hear to the island stories of the Englishman in the bar who seemed just as enthralled with Normans’ sordid history as we were. Apparently, during the height of his reign, Carlos Lehder tried to take over as much property on the island as he could. But when one of Lehder’s neighbors refused to sell, he came home to find his roof caved in by his own yacht, which had been dragged out of the water and dropped on his house with a heavy crane. And according to our storyteller, the house is still there with a boat lodged in the roof.
“Carlos is back in a few weeks, by the way,” said the Englishman.
“What?! He’s alive?” I asked.
“Very much so. And he wants his house back. He’s done his time. Thirty years or whatever. No joke.”
“Holy crap.” I said.
So, there may not be much to see on Norman’s Cay at the moment, but in a few months, cruisers passing through may find themselves having a burger and a beer in a newly-renovated McDuff’s, having polite conversation with a mysterious German-Colombian perched at the bar next to them.
You never know.