I’ve heard that the secret to success in the restaurant business is “location, location, location”. This advice appears not to have reached Flo Darville, who started Flo’s Conch Bar on the southern end of Little Harbour Cay (pronounced “key”) in the Berry Islands, a less-visited island chain in the Bahamas. Flo passed away recently and the establishment is now run by her son, Chester Darville who, along with his helper, Lovely, and cook, Edna, make up the entire population of Little Harbour Cay. Since we were coming south through the Berries, we felt compelled to stop and eat here and we’re glad we did.
The anchorage in front of their dock has been one of our favorites so far, sheltered from the west by Little Harbour Cay, with a shallow southern entry and sand banks to the north and west that dry out at low tide, providing excellent protection from swells regardless of wind direction. We hailed Chester on the VHF radio and he helped guide us into the basin, recommending that we set both a bow and, for the first time, a stern anchor so that we didn’t swing into the shore as the current shifted back and forth through the channel. We also radioed our dinner order in advance as they fish-to-order. The conch fritters, lobster, and grouper were excellent and there were even cheeseburgers and hot dogs for the kids. They serve a tropical rum-punch slushy and have a classic beach bar decor to match: a ramshackle collection of brightly-painted buildings with roaming flocks of chickens, ducks, and peacocks. The whole place is decorated with shells, boating-related jetsam and graffiti. Previous patrons have doodled on US and Bahamian dollar bills and stapled them to every available flat surface. Decades of conch consumption have resulted in tens of thousands of empty conch shells piled in 20-foot-high middens along the shore in front of the restaurant. Given the rate at which conch is consumed throughout the Bahamas, it sometimes makes me wonder if the species will be able to survive.
From Bonds Cay on the eastern side of the Berry Islands, we had an easy run to West Bay on New Providence Island. (Long downwind passages have been one benefit of all of these relatively cold northerly winds.) New Providence is home to Nassau, the big-city capital of the Bahamas, and a good source for boat supplies, groceries, etc. but we didn’t need anything urgently and reports of crime against visiting boats, both petty and violent, caused us to give it a wide berth. There were reports of fast, open Wi-Fi networks in West Bay, a rarity these days and, when I checked, I saw a network called “Nygard Cay”. This rang a bell and I realized that we were anchored just south of a section of New Providence called Lyford Cay, subject of a fascinating Vanity Fair piece I’d read over Christmas. The westernmost tip of New Providence is controlled by Peter Nygård, a Finnish-Canadian women’s wear magnate. He convinced the Bahamian government to rename his section of the island from Simms Point to Nygard Cay in advance of a 1992 profile on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. His property — described by the story’s author as “Chichén Ibiza” — is a fantasia of quasi-Mayan ziggurats, tiki torches, fog machines, and giant concrete lion’s heads, all lit up like a disco at night. Electronic dance music began playing from the shore around 10 p.m. on the night we arrived. His neighbor is billionaire hedge fund manager Louis Bacon, through whose property one must pass via an easement in order to reach Nygard Cay, and the two are currently engaged in a nasty battle for control for this part of the island. Bacon’s property, one of nine homes that he owns around the world, is very low-key and unassuming by comparison, and the article does make this sound a bit like an aesthetic and/or class-based conflict. Since Bacon arrived last and Nygård was already hosting big bacchanals at his place, it seems like a bit of caveat emptor might have been in order, but I suspect that this dispute will drag on for some time, doubtless enriching many lawyers along the way.
Location also played a big part in the history our current anchorage, just south of Norman’s Cay. Back in the late seventies, Carlos Lehder, a drug smuggler working for the Medellín cartel, purchased half of the island and, by harassing and threatening the remaining residents, he eventually was able to take control of the entire island, patrolling it with helicopters and armed guards. He extended the airstrip to 3300 feet, allowing jets to deliver 300 kilos of cocaine a day from Columbia. It was divided into smaller loads on the island, and flown in smaller planes to Florida and Georgia. One of these planes, a Curtiss C-46 Commando originally used for military transport during World War II, crash-landed into the shallows at the south end of the island. Though badly deteriorated, it was still visible just under the water as we came into anchor and we hope to snorkel around it tomorrow morning. After years of turning a blind eye (and under intense pressure from the US), the Bahamian government raided the island in 1982. Lehder was finally arrested in Columbia, extradited to the US in 1987, and sentenced to life without parole and an additional 135 years in prison. Norman’s Cay appears to be recovering now, lots of new development taking place, and is again a popular anchorage; A dozen other sailboats are holed up here for the latest “norther”.