(“Thank you” #coronavirus for making me #stayathome and giving me time to finally prepare this blog! Thank you also for reminding me how awful you are and how good we used to have it! We all look forward to you being gone!)
When one of our old friends from flight school announced he would get married in the Bahamas in February of 2020, my husband and I immediately agreed that we would fly GA there. It was too good of an excuse to pass up.
We had flown to the Bahamas in 2016 and LOVED it. We were excited to do it once again and visit different islands. That 2016 trip was summarized in the "Island Hopping in the Bahamas” blog (https://airtrails.weebly.com/bahamas/island-hopping-in-the-bahamas2676638).
While the main focus of the trip was attending the wedding, we also wanted to make it a vacation by visiting a couple of other islands, visiting the groom and bride in Pompano Beach where they live, and, why not, working a little by teaching a Rusty Pilots seminar for AOPA in Plant City on the way down. The timing could not have worked better!
Trip preparation was not quite as exhaustive as it was for the first time around. We already knew what to expect and we had most of the things we needed from last time. So, to learn more about trip preparation, refer to the first Bahamas blog. However, I can tell you everything was much easier this time. Here are some reasons why and some other thoughts from the trip:
Our initial plan was to visit the Abaco’s before arriving in Eleuthera, but Hurricane Dorian had different plans. Since the Abaco’s were destroyed by the Hurricane, we changed plans to visit Bimini and Great Harbour Cay on the way to Governor’s Harbour. Not booking lodging until the day before arriving has its down sides. While Bimini has a big Hilton with plenty of availability (and we could use points!), Great Harbour does not have many hotels and the only AirBnb we found was more expensive than we wanted it to, so we decided to visit more of Eleuthera instead. With the original plan, we would have only visited the middle section of the island. With this new plan, we would visit it in its entirety and the southern tip of the island actually sounded perfect for us: remote, wild, and with beautiful beaches and other things to explore (such as caves). Deal!
Here is an overview, in ForeFlight, of the route we ended up flying and our happy faces:
The weather and winds aloft (sometimes giving us a ground speed of 150-160 knots) to the final destination (MYEM – Governor’s Harbour) were awesome as you can see by our times in the summary table below! We weren’t quite as lucky on the return, with headwinds, low ceilings, fog, and rain cells the entire way back from Fort Pierce on…
Leg 1: Houston, TX (KTME) to Destin, FL (KDTS)
Hubby and I are always happy to stop in Destin and, this time, it was a great first stop based on trip planning and rumbling stomachs. The “seafood diet” started right away… with a yummy lunch on the beach.
Leg 2: Destin, FL (KDTS) to Plant City, FL (KPCM)
The sunsets on the way to and upon arrival at Plant City (known for its strawberry festival) were the absolute best of the trip. While these pictures are pretty good, just imagine what it had to be like in person!
On one side... ...and on the other...
Leg 3: Plant City, FL (KPCM) to Pompano Beach, FL (KPMP)
After a successful Rusty Pilots seminar in Plant City with our 25 attendees, we were enroute to Pompano Beach for two fun days of sun, boating, wedding prepping, good meals and, mostly, great company.
Leg 4: Pompano Beach, FL (KPMP) to South Bimini, Bahamas (MYBS)
And the international crossing arrived… Bimini offers the quickest, shortest jump from the Florida coast. Because of that, it also attracts a lot of personal boats. The flight was 67 NM long for us, “door to door.” We spent more time climbing and descending than at the filed altitude of 7,000 feet.
Approaching Bimini below:
Long base to final after checking out the island:
The normal condition of runways in the Bahamas:
Clearing Customs and immigration, paying the $50 inbound fee, and obtaining our ferry permit in Bimini was easy. They did not charge us any landing, parking, or security fees and they don’t sell fuel.
Bimini is divided into two islands. The Airport is on the southern island while most everything else is on the northern island, from Alice Town to the Hilton resort. It cost us $8/person to get from the Airport to the Hilton ($3 for the ferry and $5 for the taxi). Once we dropped off the luggage, we rented bicycles to get around the island. The areas to visit are not big and the island is almost completely flat so it’s easy to get around with bicycles although golf carts appeared to be more popular among tourists.
Radio Beach is said to be the best beach they have but the Hilton’s beach is just as good and it’s more secluded. We also saw multiple stingrays in its water. I particularly enjoyed the rocky around by Radio Beach. It was absolutely beautiful and it was shaded!
We also enjoyed going to the southern tip where we knew we would see one shipwreck although, in fact, we saw two. The one we were expecting plus a boat that would become another shipwreck in a matter of days. Oops! A fishing boat ran into a sandbar and was noticeably sinking.
Leg 5: South Bimini (MYBS) to Rock Sound, Eleuthera (MYER)
Some of the things we get to see from the air are just simply spectacular. Nature is truly stunning and unbelievable. Here are some examples:
Seeing Chub Cay, Big Whale Cay, and Little Whale Cay on our left side. All private but good alternates.
And, then, as we approached South Eleuthera, we started to see the most beautiful and unexpected “sand art.”
Everything is really spread out in Eleuthera so renting a car is the way to go. And, yes, you end up driving American cars from the left side of the road sometimes. You think flying there is hard!? Try driving once there, ha!
We rented a nice AirBnb right in Rock Sound! It was within walking distance from the Ocean Hole, one of Eleuthera’s many blue holes. This one is more than 600 feet deep and, because of its somewhat salty water with high mineral and Sulphur content, it is believed to have healing powers. It also has a rich fish life. We did not swim or snorkel with them but we did feed them some bread and they seemed appreciative.
Friends recommended visiting Lighthouse Point. They said it had some of the best beaches in the Bahamas and they weren’t wrong. Take a look for yourself and you should also know that getting there was half the fun!
Be aware, we joined a Gulfstream owned by Disney on the Airport’s ramp. Disney Cruise Lines is going to build a resort down there. You better get to Lighthouse Point before they do: https://lighthousepointbahamas.com/! We already saw a cruise liner in the distance while there but we knew we were safe because there was no place for them to dock.
We also enjoyed visiting the Boiling Hole, another blue hole that connects with the sea through a network of underground caves and, therefore, bubbles and churns with the movement of ocean tides.
We really did enjoy Rock Sound’s remoteness. We enjoyed exploring places that did not have signs, businesses, or people. Here are some examples:
We did not have to pay any fees at MYER and they don’t have fuel but they have the friendliest of the people. They were great letting us in and out and helped us get a rental car.
Leg 6: Rock Sound, Eleuthera (MYER) to Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera (MYEM)
What was supposed to be the trip’s shortest leg (25 NM) also had some of the most beautiful sights… In addition to seeing the “sand art” again, we also saw lots of reefs.
The Governor’s Harbour Airport was fairly busy when we got close it considering it only has a single runway without a parallel taxiway. We landed in between business jets.
The biggest surprise of the trip came when I asked for a “top off” and the line service guy told me they didn’t have avgas. I had specifically called them just a few days before to make sure they had avgas. They told me they had both avgas and JetA but… oh well, they said they weren’t expecting a shipment until early March. Thankfully, we planned correctly and we had enough gas to make it to North Eleuthera (another 25 NM or so flight) to fill up.
The wedding was at the Cocodimama Charming Resort, and charming it was. We had the best time and the resort (except for its terrible sand flies) definitely helped make it so.
We also had a bit of extra time to explore some more of the island. We had lunch in Governor’s Harbour, visited the Hidden Beach, Hatchet Bay Cave, and the Glass Window Bridge (although… we got the best view of it from the aircraft), and experienced the island’s Friday Fish Fry.
Oh yeah and some of us dove with sharks (reef and nurse although anything could have appeared) that were as big as us (if not bigger)! 😊 The ground school prior to the actual diving was, honestly, the scariest ground school I’ve ever attended. I’m used to training scenarios where I mostly have control (engine failures and other systems failures, for example) but sharks… who can control sharks but themselves?
Thank goodness the diving was not scary at all. In fact, I was very relaxed once in the water, I equalized very well, the visibility was incredible, and I moved very gracefully, with my hands against my chest most of the time to avoid “exploratory bites” as our dive master called them.
Leg 7: Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera (MYEM) to North Eleuthera (MYEH)
The resort we stayed at was just south of the Airport so we flew a celebratory/goodbye flyby before heading north to MYEH to drop off a friend and get gas.
What a sight of the Glass Window Bridge, the narrowest point on the island and one of the few places on earth where you can compare the rich blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the road and the calm Bight of Eleuthera (often incorrectly called the Caribbean Sea) on the other side, separated by a strip of rock just 30 feet wide.
We also got a good view of the Harbour Island’s pink sand beaches although I still favor the ones in Bermuda.
The biggest upset came from our visit to North Eleuthera. Turns out… this Airport was very busy as you can see in the picture of the ramp and it receives airline service from the States. An American Eagle landed just before us but we ended up parking before they did. The FBO parked us on the NE end of their ramp. The American Eagle regional jet was just on the other side and, because of prevailing winds, they turned their aircraft away from us for parking. Well, they used more power than necessary (more than breakaway, for sure) and it pushed our passenger back into the aircraft (as he was getting out of it) while my husband, the line service guy, and I were literally holding the aircraft down (especially the ailerons) so it wouldn’t blow away. It literally lifted the aircraft from the ground and pushed it towards the business jet to our left (to its pilots’ surprise who were watching from the FBO). It was a wild and unnecessary ride. The FBO filed a complaint and we filed a complaint to both the Airport and to American. My husband (as a fellow airline pilot) also talked with the Captain and he was completely oblivious and aware of his surroundings. Apparently, this happens about once a week. Hopefully, they can work on their procedures, train their pilots better, and develop additional ramp space to prevent this from happening in the future.
Paying the $29/person departure fee and stamping our ferry permit for the last time was easy.
Leg 8: North Eleuthera (MYEH) to Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR)
And, with this, we had now visited all three airports in Eleuthera!
This return leg had us flying over water the most amount of time. It was uneventful although not with much sightseeing due to cloud layers.
Jared took a nice little nap and I flew. Benefits of having a pilot wife 😉
I already covered clearing Customs at KFPR earlier. After lunch (but not at Airport Tiki because it was closed) and fuel… we kept heading towards home. We would have kept going towards Pensacola, for example, but the weather had other plans for us so we decided to stop at Crystal River. The weather had been very foggy in the mornings and until about 2 pm every day so continuing on early the next day was probably not going to happen. We had been wanting to visit the manatees for a while and this was a good time of the year to do it (best between mid-November and late March). So, on to Crystal River… at least we could still enjoy our vacation while waiting for the weather to clear.
Leg 9: Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR) to Crystal River, FL (KCGC)
Great unexpected stop! In the morning, we visited Three Sisters Springs, not too far from the Airport. It was full of Florida’s gentle giants. They like it here in the winter because the spring water temperature is about 72-74 Fahrenheit year-round and the water is very oxygenated. They do not like temperatures below 68F for extended periods of time. And, in a single day, up to 20 million gallons of water gush from these springs!
We’ll be back with more time so we can get in the water with them.
This should definitely be at least a day trip for anybody without a 2-hour flight from it.
Leg 10: Crystal River, FL (KCGC) to Pensacola, FL (KPNS)
At least 80% of this leg and all subsequent legs were in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) but there's something magical about that as well.
As a helicopter pilot, one of the highlights of the flying portion of the trip came from seeing the Spencer Naval Outlying Field (KNRQ) from the air. I had read about it, but I had never seen it for myself. We were lucky to see it this time in between few to scattered layers of clouds while performing an approach into KPNS. KNRQ is part of the Naval Air Station Whiting Field, home of Training Air Wing Five. It has eight runways and multiple square and triangle areas. Fellow pilots tell me it is still used to train new U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps chopper pilots in any wind direction/condition (especially crosswinds). The outer areas are apparently used for autorotation training. As a non-towered field, it can also support the training of many helicopters (a couple of people said up to 14) at the same time with less radio coordination. Some also say this field was used for taildragger training back in the day.
We only stopped at KPNS for fuel (due to bad headwinds) and to check weather again.
Leg 11: Pensacola, FL (KPNS) to Pascagoula, AL (KPQL)
Well, the airplane track from this flight is an interesting one to show. Unfortunately, an airplane went down right by St Elmo Airport (2R5) right before we flew by it on our way to KPQL. The controller asked us if we could hear an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) on 121.5. We sure could. We offered to go see if we could see anything. He gladly accepted but, unfortunately, we did not see a downed aircraft. The weather did not make it easy either.
We honestly did not know what to expect from Pascagoula. We hadn’t even heard the name of the town before BUT, continuing on with our “seafood diet”… Oh my! We had a feast for dinner at Bozo’s Too.
Leg 12: Pascagoula, AL (KPQL) to Lake Charles, LA (KLCH)
“Get home” day! But not until the afternoon, after the log lifted again.
Like in Pensacola, we only stopped here for fuel (due to bad headwinds) and to check weather again.
Leg 13: Lake Charles, LA (KLCH) to Houston, TX (KTME)
Andddd we made it home… but not without some more excitement! A cold front started to blow through right as we were about 7 NM outside of KTME that forced the TWR to flip the airport (from southbound to northbound) and rocked our wings all the way down to the ground.
I said last time and I say it again… we (pilots) sure are privileged! This trip would not have been possible without GA so go fly and experience all this on your own! Not much else is better…
Jared and I had been planning some island hopping around the Bahamas for quite some time. If you remember, we were ready to go in June of 2015 but the repaving and closure of Staniel Cay's runway (and, consequently, only airport) made us change plans and headed westbound instead. That trip was summarized in the "Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California in 12 Days" blog.
But, this time, all the stars aligned and, in late June 2016, we spent a few days island hopping.
Truth be told... Jared was not extremely excited because he had flown to the Bahamas for work (as a former regional airline pilot) many times and felt like "he had been there, done that!" Ok, maybe flying over water in a single-engine aircraft (he normally flies an aircraft with four!) had him a little worried as well. If it was up to him, we would have taken a twin.
On the other hand, I had never even been to the Bahamas and I must admit that, after hearing people's tales of their Nassau and Freeport experiences (flying or cruising), I really was not very enthused either. I always told Jared that it was going to take a visit to the Outer Islands in a general aviation aircraft for me to visit the Bahamas at all. I had heard plenty of awesome stories and read plenty of awesome articles about that!
And, yes, the experience did not disappoint! Quite the contrary... we absolutely loved it and we're already thinking about a future visit to some of the other islands we did not get to on this trip.
So here's a summary of our preparation, where we went, and what we did in case you want to plan a similar trip:
We knew we could fly from point A to point B without a problem; however, the whole Customs and Immigration paperwork and procedures had us a bit worried. They make it seem pretty black and white. You either have it or you don't. If you don't, you're in trouble - in a lot of trouble! I felt like most articles, training, and information I had read really instilled a bit of fear in me and discouraged me from even attempting this journey.
I understand we needed to have all documentation with us but, if we forgot something or just didn't have something, we really didn't mean it! A last minute change in aircraft ownership also added to the paperwork needs.
So, anyway, we ensured we had absolutely every required piece of equipment and document that applied to us (ourselves, the aircraft we flew, and the luggage we took with us) to avoid issues (and possible penalties). It was quite a bit!
- Our passports
- FAA pilot certificates with English proficient endorsement
- FAA medical certificates
- FCC's restricted radiotelephone operator's permits
- Permanent aircraft registration (well, we did not quite have it because of the recent ownership change but we obtained an official letter from the FAA in OKC. They confirmed it would be sufficient!)
- Since we took a flying club aircraft not owned by us, a letter of authorization from the owner (and we added as much information as possible to avoid issues)
- Standard airworthiness certificate
- Radio station license
- N-number weight and balance and operating limitations
- Aircraft insurance information (and we made sure they would cover us in the Bahamas in case of need)
- Medical insurance cards (yes, just in case too)
- Life vest for each of us (we brought the kind that don't occupy much space and either manually inflate when you pull the handle or are automatically activated when in the water. See picture below!)
- ID data plate for the aircraft
- 12-inch registration letters on the aircraft
- Transponder with Mode C
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP) use fee decal (well, we did not get it in the mail in time so I printed the e-mail and receipt saying I had applied for it. You'll need the decal number when filing your eAPIS manifests!)
- We also rented a life raft in Florida. This is not required but nice to have should you need it.
- Cash is king! U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere and it may keep you from paying international fees on your credit card. You will, for sure, need cash to pay the Bahamas departure taxes ($29 per person).
- I enrolled in the electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) for international operations. Taking AOPA's eAPIS online course was super helpful as well. I highly recommend it!
- U.S. CBP Form 7507 (three of this and all the other forms below just in case. We didn't need all of them but, hey, we had them just in case!)
- U.S. CBP Form I-94
- Bahamas C7 Form
- Bahamas C7A Form (which serves as your cruising permit and the best gift I took back with me with stamps from all the airports we visited in the islands)
Because this is not a comprehensive list and is only what we were required to take with us. Review AOPA's "Flying to the Bahamas" website and The Islands of the Bahamas's "private flying" website for more helpful information and even hotel/resort discounts.
Also... if you plan on going to any of the big shows (mainly Oshkosh and Sun 'n Fun), look for the Bahamas booth. They normally have free charts and things you can take with you. They are not necessary (we used ForeFlight which had everything we needed as far as flying and flight planning is concerned) but good to have!
And, if you still don't have enough with that, PilotPub offers great, printed resources for a fee.
Personal advice... make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen and heavy duty bug spray with you. You're going to need it and it's expensive to purchase on the islands (not to mention they may not have exactly what you're looking for).
And, one more, practice your crosswind landings and be ready for very changing winds (almost wind shear at times) while landing. On occasion, I came with a little extra speed and less flaps to be on the safe side and be better prepared for a go around.
Here is an overview, in ForeFlight, of the route we flew:
Leg 1: Houston, TX (KTME) to Stennis, MS (KHSA)
The first leg was a normal one, challenging by a bit of weather enroute. We stayed mostly underneath it so we could see it and dodge it. Once closer to the destination, we ended up changing it to Stennis, MS (KHSA). Work prevented us from leaving Houston sooner, pushing our "ferry" trip back quite a bit. The aircraft and the crew needed refilling and we felt Stennis would be a quicker stop than Gulfport (KGPT) since HSA is less busy and the FBO (Million Air) has an onsite restaurant. BTW - The pilot gets free lunch with a top off!
Leg 2: Stennis, MS (KHSA) to Perry-Foley, FL (40J)
After a fairly busy leg from Houston to Stennis, the flight from Stennis to Perry-Foley (40J) was really uneventful. Fine by us!
Leg 3: Perry-Foley, FL (40J) to Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR)
Leg 2 was so uneventful that we felt rested enough to keep going all the way to Fort Pierce (KFPR) that night. It sure helps to have two pilots on board, too!
I'm not a big Disney fan but we enjoyed flying over DisneyWorld and seeing their daily fireworks from the air. This was definitely one of Jared's trip highlights. He rarely takes videos of anything and he took one of the fireworks.
Why Fort Pierce? Well, it is one of the U.S. ports of entry, small GA friendly, and they rent life rafts although our hope was not to use it. ;)
Leg 4: Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR) to Nassau, New Providence (MYNN)
Our intention was to only fly to the "Outer Islands" and skip the busy, more touristic and more expensive locations (like Nassau and Freeport) so we planned on flying to and clearing Customs at Fresh Creek. A friend of ours discouraged us from clearing in Bihimi (while it's the closest island to the U.S., there is nothing to see and it may be a little unsafe, she said) and instead suggested Fresh Creek as a quick and easy place to stop at. However, the necessity to purchase fuel (Fresh Creek doesn't have fuel) and weather made us change our mind. Better safe than sorry! Only two airports in the Bahamas - Nassau and Freeport - have instrument approaches. Most of the airports don't have good weather reports so, when in doubt, play it safe!
We filed an international IFR flight plan with the Flight Service Station (FSS) via a dedicated number they had listed in APP Jet Center's flight planning room. We filed to Nassau (MYNN) via Freeport with Freeport (MYGF) as the alternate (the weather looked good there).
We discussed what we felt comfortable with (weather minimums, enroute altitudes, etc), picked up our life raft, put on our life jackets, discussed ditching procedures, filed an eAPIS manifest, opened our flight plan, and there we went...
Miami Center had us flying straight over the water as soon as Tower transferred us to them but we much preferred gaining altitude closer to land. We requested it and got it approved. Perfect! You can see our southerly turn in the FlightAware image below.
Once enroute, we calculated our "point of no return" given winds/speed/distance, discussed landing options, looked for boats, and discussed ditching procedures again.
A happy tear or two may have come out of my eyes when I first saw the beautiful Caribbean waters. Who would have thought (some years ago) I would be going on this awesome trip with my awesome husband. It felt great knowing we were doing this alone. All the hard work had paid off and it was totally worth it!
A few more minutes went by and Freeport appeared (see picture below). We confirmed that could be our alternate airport. In fact, the private airport on the west end looked good as well (see picture below).
From Freeport to Nassau, the weather got a little interesting and we had to go around some cells (but, hey, so did the airliners). But things got better as we got closer to Nassau and, while we did fly to MUNIE intersection, set up and start the approach to runway 14, we were able to execute the visual to the runway after descending through some clouds (see landing picture below).
One quick anecdote - According to those people we talked to afterwards who sailed to the islands, they also find comfort in seeing aircraft fly overhead. They also think of them as potential rescuers (or, at least, as communicators for rescuers to go get them). We're all in this together :)
We cleared Customs in Nassau after taking the celebratory picture by the "Thank You for Flying to the Islands of the Bahamas" sign (see below). It was an easy, laid back process and we actually had to remind them that they needed to stamp our cruising permit to avoid issues on the other islands. They did not ask for any of the other documents.
Nassau was definitely the least pretty, least enjoyable, and most expensive stop (airplane wise) for us but I would do it again given our situation. Oh well! Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but, if you can, skip it. At least we didn't have any hotel reservations we had to forgo.
And talking about hotel reservations... we didn't make any for the entire trip to give us flexibility (mostly weather and maintenance related). We booked as we went; however, I did make sure they had available rooms before launching there. Most outer islands only have a place or two to choose from and none of them had too many rooms/cottages. In addition, some require you to book a minimum number of nights.
We did not do too much while in Nassau but we did enjoy some down time on Cable Beach, had lunch (you guessed it! conch!) at a local restaurant on Arawak Cay, and walked all the way from the west end of Cable Beach to downtown Nassau (we took the local bus on the way there).
Leg 5: Nassau, New Providence (MYNN) to Staniel Cay, Exuma Islands (MYES)
Nassau implemented new procedures in 2015 where all aircraft must file a flight plan (VFR or IFR) within 25 NM of the Airport and we felt that filing IFR would be easier for us and, looking back and seeing how low the clouds were, I do think that was a good decision. Jared and I had established 6,000 ft as a good altitude for us to cruise at over water. VFR was not going to give us that.
BTW re: communications - We talked with either Nassau Approach or Miami Center most of the time we were flying around the islands. We enjoyed having them on the frequency in case something happened and for the eventual traffic advisory. We also always monitored 122.8 on the second radio (and had 121.5 on standby) as it is the CTAF frequency for all the airports we went to (and maybe all non-towered Bahamian airports, actually). For that reason, it is especially important to pay attention to the airport they mention at the beginning of their transmission. Most GA pilots just talked on that and relied weather reports on it sometimes too. We made note of the fact that there was a lot of traffic in and out of Marsh Harbour. We didn't make it that far north on this trip but it's on the list for the next one. Lots of traffic may mean it's worth going?
And, yes, we were finally in Staniel Cay! They did what to the runway? It seriously did not seem less than a year old to us!
The chain of islands known as the Exumas have to be the prettiest islands in the Bahamas or, at least, from the air. Wow! They are stunning! It's easy to appreciate all the different shades of blue, turquoise and sand from the air.
One of the benefits of flying yourself is, of course, the ability to spot places to visit later from the ground so, in Staniel Cay, we specifically spotted a few deserted islands to check out later with a boat. Here are a couple of islands you can walk to and from, across the water. Cool or what!?
In addition to visiting those islands above, we also swam with and fed the wild pigs (picture below), snorkeled to Thunderball Grotto, swam with stingrays, saw huge iguanas (picture below), rode bicycles, attended a local religious ceremony, swam with and fed nurse sharks (the picture below shows Jared feeding them before the word got around and every shark showed up), and just cruised around with a rental boat. Great fun!!
Looking out from the Staniel Cay Yacht Club where we stayed. As you can see, flying an Archer to the island is actually the "poor people's" way of traveling there. And those yachts got a lot bigger that afternoon.
Some (I'm going to guess New England) pilot left a mark on Staniel Cay by way of putting AOPA and Aero Club of New England stickers on this local's golf cart. Pretty cool! It, at least, brought a smile to my face!
Before heading to Cat Island, we flew around the places we visited with the boat, including the yacht club, "pig island," and Iguana Cay.
Leg 6: Staniel Cay, Exuma Islands (MYES) to New Bight, Cat Island (MYCB)
We flew VFR, which is why there is no FlightAware track.
While approaching the Airport (picture below), an ATR called in that they were close by and coming in for landing as well. We could not see them and we were having trouble understanding them, so we decided to get out of the way and take a tour of the island until they landed. After all, we were on "island time" and sightseeing!
We stayed at the Fernandez Bay Village close to the Airport because it is owned by a fellow pilot. We had an absolutely wonderful stay. The owners and their staff were very nice, attentive, and welcoming. In fact, we toured some of the island with some of his family members and staff.
Below is a picture of the wonderful view we had from our room:
In Cat Island, we went "crabbing" at night (only keeping males), hiked to the highest elevation in the Bahamas (a whooping 206 ft above sea level) known as Como Hill and topped by a monastery called The Hermitage (pictures below from the ground and the air), walked along a pink sand beach (picture below), and swam in a little cove.
Leg 7: New Bight, Cat Island (MYCB) to Stella Maris, Long Island (MYLS)
We flew VFR to Stella Maris also. Stella Maris is not only a port of entry but it also has fuel. Ding, ding! Important for us.
This was the only island we spent two nights in and it was only because 1) we arrived late from Cat Island*, 2) it is not called Long Island for no reason (making it more time consuming to visit places while there), and 3) we knew we could not leave the island too late on a Sunday or else we weren't going to be able to clear Customs on the way back to Florida.
* We arrived late from Cat Island but still during daylight. Keep in mind night VFR flying is prohibited in the Bahamas and I'm not sure many airports even have lights. And, regardless, we went to the Bahamas to sight-see. We can't do so at night!
Long Island has some history in addition to great water activities.
We stayed at the Stella Maris Resort Club because, after being on Caribbean waters the entire trip, we wanted to experience the Atlantic as well. No regrets but, if you want a hotel on the Caribbean side, the Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort may be another good option.
Erna's Nature Pool, although public, is in the same resort area. As you can see in the picture below, it is a calm pool of water protected from the Atlantic by rocks. Yet, you can still see and hear the roaring of the strong waves. It was a pretty cool place!
And, even better, when shared with a Bahamian couple who were absolutely wonderful to us. So nice that they even offered to take us to the Dean's Blue Hole the next day. Not a small undertaking as it is over an hour away, driving.
Dean's Blue Hole is the deepest (663' deep) blue hole in the world and the second largest underwater chamber. It is enclosed on three sides by natural rock, and on the fourth side by a turquoise lagoon and powder white beach. It's beautiful, as the picture below illustrates.
While there, we saw Michael Trubridge, his wife and two of his friends practice. Michael has 15 world records, including a 132 m (~433 ft) free immersion/freediving record he achieved on June 16th, just prior to us being there, in the Blue Hole. When you have some time, you should look google him and watch some of his videos.
The picture below shows him going down. Wow! Incredible discipline those guys had! You can also see how the ground just drops off into the hole.
But that wasn't all. We also had time for some walking, canoeing, history, and relaxation.
Leg 8: Stella Maris, Long Island (MYLS) to Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR)
Sigh! The day to go back home arrived. But not before a sightseeing a little more... and the picture below happens to show the mangroves (bottom right) and beautiful clear water we kayaked around to get to the Columbus monument (not picture but on the left of the picture).
Getting fuel and clearing Customs at MYLS was truly a non-event. Even though we had filed our first international IFR flight plan via the FSS over the phone while in Fort Pierce, we decided to file an international (ICAO) IFR flight plan back using ForeFlight since our cell phone service was not the best. We also filed the eAPIS manifest using the iPad. Once you file one, it saves a lot of that information for future filings. It's quite nice! Keep in mind the manifests need to be filed at least one hour prior to departure. We filed both just before leaving the hotel while we had good wifi. No trouble at all.
A picture of the ferry permit I'm so proud of is below =)
Clearing Customs at KFPR was also a non-event but a lot more involved. We had to park in a certain area of the ramp, unload all of our luggage (not as neatly packed as on the way there!), and take ourselves and the luggage through the scanners at the Customs facility. We had to fill out the Customs Declaration form, they looked at our passports, and no other documents were requested. An agent walked out to the airplane and looked through the windows also; probably just to ensure we had taken all of our luggage out. Then we had to relocate the airplane across the ramp to the FBO.
Leg 9: Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR) to Perry-Foley, FL (40J)
We really don't like going to the same airport twice. We like to spread the love and see what they all look like. But... the weather past Perry-Foley was not looking too great, we didn't have a lot of airport options with self-serve fuel, and we were a bit tired. Time to overnight!
Little did we know... the taxi driver (the only taxi driver in town!) was going to be high and/or drunk and was going to overcharge us for the short drive to the Holiday Inn from the airport. I mean, $40, really? We were both pretty upset. That was the single most expensive thing we paid for during the entire trip and it was in a little sleepy town in rural Florida. Thankfully the airport manager was very understanding and picked us up the next morning.
Leg 10: Perry-Foley, FL (40J) to Hammond, LA (KHDC)
On the leg from NW Florida to Louisiana, we were really ambitious and decided to take a detour via Germany. Yeah, right! Like the Archer or our bladders could do it... I'm not sure what happened with FlightAware that had us all lost! But it made for an interesting conversation when we parked at Hammond Air Center. They were tracking us and were wondering how that could be possible, haha. Oh well, we didn't fly from Europe but we were super excited to tell them about our Bahamas experience :)
Side note: Did you know Hammond Air Center gives you a 6-pack of Abita beer when getting a top off? Hubby was happy that night!
And that marked the end of our flying vacation. I am omitting the last two legs since they were business related.
Wow! We (pilots) sure are privileged! This type of trip would not have been possible without a general aviation airplane so, if you're a rusty pilot, get unrusty and enjoy these awesome benefits and, if you're not a pilot, you may want to consider it ;) You are truly missing out!
To me, to live is to travel! Get out there and enjoy!
Fly safe, fly often!