January 16, 2009:
With a cold snap enveloping the United States, we were all pretty excited to
be heading out over tropical waters. Vern and I were joined by a small flotilla of pilots and family: Steve and Carla riding
with Ray and Dana Piescik, FL, Vince and Donna Minnello, FL, Aaron and Trish
Schneider, FL, and a very
determined Trish and Joe Minard who braved the snow of Kansas followed by
a 9 1/2 hour journey just to get to Florida.
The day started out cool and overcast; but the overcast layer was high
and Vince had no problem going a lower VFR level. Trish and I filed IFR and departed in sequence from LaBelle. Trying to raise
Fort Myers approach was a challenge as they were quite busy - apparently EVERYONE decided to vacation on this holiday weekend.
We finally dumped Fort Myers approach and went straight for Miami Center who picked us up and opened out flight plan in short
order. But where was Trish on the radio? We had a visual of her off our right wing, 1 mile out and 100' below; but we
did not hear that she had gotten her clearance yet. ATC was obviously training a new person; and that is who we had, much
to our chagrin. "N614WM, turn right to 140 for spacing." Are you nuts???? They turned us RIGHT into the path of
Trish. We climb a bit and cross her. I hope she is listening and they just have nothing to say to her just yet. We continue
on, heading far off course, while Trish is direct on path.
As we approach Palm Beach, we finally hear Trish who
STILL does not have her clearance. She gets it from Approach Control. We see her now about 2 miles off our left wing - we
are heading 080. "N9086G, turn right to 180 for spacing." Trish advises that they have turned her directly
into us but that she has visual. She passed 500' below us, but has now succeeded in upsetting ATC: "Turn left
to 090 all
the way around." Huh? "That means do a 360 to the left and roll out on a heading of 090, in case you did not understand
..." Well, heck, I did not understand that on either. I supposed that is ATC's version of putting someone in
"time out" for being naughty. We pour the coals to Wild Mama
to give her a bit more space since ATC
seems to have everything confused.
We finally arrive in Freeport relatively hassle free from ATC; although Trish
has been beat up quite a bit for no apparent reason. I think we all got off to a bad start when the Miami trainee confused
But we are safe and sound in the Bahamas.
Our greeting from the Bahamas is outstanding: rum punch and fresh, hot
conch fritters with dipping sauce. We are whizzed through Customs, and entry with our group waiver. Several in our group are
coming in later: Aaron is enroute but Ray and company are delayed until Saturday - sorry that they might miss the conch fritters!
afternoon at the resort was a bit cool. I am bundled up like Nannook as the winds make the low 70's seems quite a it lower.
We settle to a cozy spot in the recreation room at the Viva Wyndham Resort and Greg Rolle from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism,
comes to greet us with his group staying at Pelican Bay. He brings us beautiful Bahamas bags and some assorted trinkets; and
Trish was awarded the "Farthest Flight" recognition award - a bottle of rum! We settle back for some hangar flying,
drinks and dinner. This is what general aviation is all about - great friends and lots of airplane stories.
January 17th: Waking up to a beautiful sunrise over the ocean is a sight to which anyone
can become accustomed. The forecast was for 30% chance of rain and windy so it was not ideal for Island hopping.
We opted for local sightseeing and rented a van so we could all tour the island together.
We headed off to the Our Lucaya district for a little shopping and sightseeing; followed by a tour of the downtown and the
International Market. The Market was dead - most of the shops were vacant and the few that were there has virtually no customers.
It was nice to see some of the island as we usually hang out at the resort. It was a real hoot driving on the left side of
the road. Although I was a bit apprehensive at first - probably not nearly as much as my passengers. All worked well and we
had not even one
attempt to relocate to the right side (or wrong side).
With the day clear and warmer now, beach activities were
in order. I was still frigid but Trish, Joe, Vince and Donna braved the 72 degree waters for some swimming and snorkeling.
Joe, Ray and Vince tried their hands (and feet) up on the trapeze - way to go guys - while the rest of us opted
for some R & R on the beach.
All 12 of us made it for dinner at the Italian Restaurant, feasting on fine Italian
food and desserts before waddling out for an evening of shows and .... sleep. We were beat. If the weather holds out as promised,
tomorrow we will Island hop.
What a glorious day it is today: bright sun, not too hot, not too cold and no wind
perfect day to fly. Ray and company opted to skip this part of the trip as they needed to head back to the mainland
this afternoon so the rest of us piled into Wild Mama
and N9086G, with Trish and I as PIC's for the day. The
destination was Staniel Cay, as recommended by Greg Rolle. He told us of a nice restaurant within walking distance from the
airport and he promised us some beautiful scenery. He was right on both counts.
We headed east and overflew the
coastline of Grand
Bahams Island before heading southerly over the Abaco chain and the Exuma chain. We crossed over the most clear, blue waters
and were able to spot turtle, shark and stingrays from our 1000' perch. Skirting the coastlines we saw light houses, a
shipwreck, small settlements and fishing villages
before arriving at Staniel Cay.
We dropped into Staniel Cay over the small harbor filled with shark and more stingrays
and walked into "town" over to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for lunch. We passed "cars" in the "parking
lot" at the local church for Sunday services and in short order arrived at our destination for lunch. The food was very
good: my conch sandwich was almost too big to bite! Although we wanted to tour the
island to see the "Thunderball" area and see the swimming pigs, our time out was growing short as we had to be back
by dark to Freeport, lest we have to file and come back IFR. Since our goal was a VFR trip, tardiness would defeat the purpose.
We opted for a fuel stop in Exuma International and a direct path back to Freeport through Nassau airspace and over the Berry
The trip to Exuma was awesome. We descended to 200' out over the water and saw the sights of the shoreline
from a different perspective. We passed all the little STOL airstrips and watched as the waves broke along the rocky shores,
creating several blow holes where time had eroded the rock formations. Enroute to Nassau Trish climbed but we stayed low and
were treated to the migration of hundreds of stingrays all spread out blanketing the ocean floor in their swim toward the
east to open waters: such a spectacular sight!
We arrived back in Freeport as the sun was starting to get low on
the horizon. We heard Ray departing just before our arrival as we came in over the colorful Our Lucaya area. This was our
first approach and landing on RWY 24 over the Island and gave us a very different perspective. What a beautiful day!
We finished back at the resort swapping stories and remembering our common adventure. Tomorrow we head for home.
Our adventure is coming to a close - but what a great adventure it has been. We
are scheduled to depart after 1100 hours local today and it looks like we can all go VFR. There had been a large rain storm
marching across Florida toward Freeport but the storm broke apart to expose the beauty of the blue tropical skies speckled
with the white fluffy stuff.
We all ended coming across the pond under 2500' as the layer of fluffies was quite thick after all and was
virtually inpenetrable VFR. The headwinds were wicked and we were doing a whopping 118 kts on in to Palm Beach International.
With winds howling, the landings were quite challenging; but all of our crew made it in fine fashion. We cleared customs,
said our farewells and departed for home. Vern and I got caught up in more ATC lunacy. As we departed RWY 27L we
were turned to a 360 heading directly across departing traffic on 27R. With the west winds we were losing ground as
we drifted over the North Palm Beach airport and more departing traffic. We tried to raise ATC for a turn on course and were
ignored. We stayed low under the Palm Beach Class C airspacve and tried to cancel but were still ignored. I turned on course
to avoid a very uncomfortable situation and headed back to the west when ATC finally asked if we were on frequency. We canceled
flight following and went on our merry, but very slow, way.
Our flight to and arrival at LaBelle were uneventful
although the wind was still stiff and we landed with a
15 kt direct crosswind - not the prettiest landing but a safe one.
This was one of the best trips to the Bahamas
yet. We look forward to a return for some more out island hopping and some overnights at Staniel Cay, Exuma, the Berry Islands and
Stella Maris. Stay tuned for the next trip out and be sure to let us know if you are in!
The 2009 Bahamas Island Hoppers
... and a great time was had by all!