Looking for Drug Runners in Norman’s Cay, Bahamas

in Adventure Travel / Bahamas / Sailing the World
normans cay bahamas airport

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.

mcduff's normans cay bahamas

Well, at least it’s not far.

normans cay bahamas mcduffs

McDuff’s garden.

normans cay bahamas cave

The caves in Normans Pond, Normans Cay.

normans cay bahamas conch

I wonder if there’s any cocaine in here?

turf to surf normans cay bahamas

No cocain, but look how pretty!

0 Comments... Be the first to comment
  • Mid-Life Cruising! February 19, 2013, 10:55 am

    I loved that movie! Interesting that Carlos plans on coming back to the island. I wonder how he’ll make his money this time around … maybe he has tons of money buried on the island! Start digging .. LOL!

    • Tasha February 19, 2013, 11:44 pm

      I’ll leave the digging to you for when you get here! McDuff’s should be up and running by then, so maybe you can ask Carlos himself where he buried his money! 🙂

  • Carter Yong August 6, 2015, 1:51 pm

    You’ve got some really great pictures here, maybe I’ll take a look at your instagram. Would love to see more shots as lovely as these.

    • Tasha August 6, 2015, 9:16 pm

      Thanks, Carter! I appreciate it!

  • Robert Vesco September 29, 2015, 10:41 pm

    Who do you think is behind the new runway on Normans? Where do you think that level of cash came from? Some guy name Joe? Flying a Rockwell Commander maybe? The boys are back in town that’s for sure.

    • Tasha October 4, 2015, 6:59 am

      Ooh, there’s a new runway? Have you spotted Carlos? Such a fascinating story — I’d be curious to know if he is actually moving back to the island.

  • Muir June 23, 2016, 12:05 am

    Carlos is still in Lakeland Florida at club fed. His attorneys are still trying to get him released because they say he held up his end of the deal he made but the Feds say he didn’t. When he gets out he will be in witness protection either here or possibly Ireland. Those are the only countries with safe witness protection. There is still a price on his head.

    • Tasha July 13, 2016, 11:27 pm

      Wow. That is fascinating. Thanks for sharing that little bit of info!

  • tusfil.es August 12, 2016, 8:07 am

    Do you have any video of that? I’d love to find out
    more details.
    tusfil.es recently posted…tusfil.esMy Profile

  • Nancy Carlson October 8, 2017, 5:23 pm

    Quite a few years ago we made a stop there on a very small ship cruise. It was like something out of a movie. Wrecked runway! Houses with bullets! Airplane rotting in the water! And, we had more fun hanging out at the old MacDuff’s hole in the wall beach bar…..said to be one of Jimmy Buffet’s favorite stops. Don’t remember the prices that high?? I am so sad to hear that is all gone now. It was an “experience”!

  • Todor Iacob December 9, 2018, 10:13 pm

    Nice story, truly. I do enjoy real crime. Jon Roberts has some interesting reads about him too!

    I love the 2 places (in the world) where you are safe – Ireland? and ‘Here’ Do you have any information to back this up, or are you just making wild assumptions. Ireland – North or South – 2 separate countries…I.R.A? You know terrorists…went into drugs when the ‘war’ ended. Yes I am sure that is a very safe place. Then I can only assume ‘here’ is Merica – safe…the only way to stop shootings is more guns, you are a developed country with more % people below the poverty line than any other developed country int the world..sorry I am picking on you but please travel more, or gain more knowledge.

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