Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bahamas Bound

Last Thursday was one of the longest working days I've experienced in a while. Not because of client emergencies, demanding bosses, or working through my lunch break -- it's just mighty hard to concentrate when you know you're going to be heading to the airport at 6 p.m. and flying to Florida in a Beechcraft Baron with three of your friends.

Rich and I have yet to agree on exactly who brings the bad weather luck when we fly together, but forecast 29 knot gusts almost kept us on the ground. However, after talking through the possibility of "pulling a Montreal" (i.e., leave at O'Dark'Thirty the following morning) we decided that the Baron (and its pilot extraordinaire) could handle the crosswinds and convinced Mila and Danielle that they could handle the turbulence.

We tried to get into Dulles to pick up Mila, but the controller wanted to hold us for 30 minutes, so Rich did a great crosswind landing at Leesburg instead. We used the time on the ground to change, get some caffeine and sugar, and were soon airborne. The turbulence eased up after just a few thousand feet, and Rich set the autopilot for a beautifully clear 3.3 hour flight to KCRG. We discussed the art of celestial navigation, our hotel arrangements, engine out procedures on twins, and apparently Mila and Danielle eventually fell asleep to the sounds of Rich and I discussing instrument flying (which, to be fair, will put almost anyone to sleep).

After a long march to our hotel (1 mile from the airport was decidedly false advertising) we decided to forgo the four hour sleep we were initially contemplating in the hopes that Danielle might make a 9 a.m. certification scuba dive on Friday morning, and set our alarm for 8 a.m.

We were in the air before 11, and the excitement was electrifying. (Okay, okay. Rich just enjoys making funny faces for the camera and where we go one, we go all, so...)

We followed the coastline most of the way, using waypoints to keep us out of NASA's restricted airspace. In case you don't speak Rich, "over there, is where the space shuttles go up."

Heading into the sun, the camera picked up more haze than the naked eye, but the pictures still turned out pretty well.

This next shot is looking back at the NASA runway and launch area.

It wasn't long before we were crossing the intercoastal waterway for the last time and heading East to the Bahamas. Miami Center (air traffic control) dropped us after we passed the second international ADIZ, and when we hailed the Bahamas, we were informed they don't have radar coverage beyond Nassau, so it was a quiet run out to the islands.

The first views appeared off to the left. Shallower waters made for incredible colours of blue. I played with my Garmin, while Rich used the charts, and we identified islands and markers as we sailed along.

I think this next shot is of Great Sale Cay (pronounced Key).

I forget which pictures were taken as we were passing through the Bermuda Triangle (on Friday the 13th, no less!) but this next one is as good a guess as any.

A lot of the islands have runways, and island hopping all the way to Turks and Cacaos was discussed for a future trip when we have a little more time to play with.

When we were about forty miles from Treasure Cay, which is where Grand Marsh Harbour airport (MYAM) is located, the weather changed drastically. Rich cut through a hole in the clouds to stay under the ceiling, which darkened quickly as rain began to fall.

Coming into MYAM, we teased Danielle that she had picked the storm island, and queried why she hadn't selected one 40 miles to the East or West where it was still bright and sunny. I thought Grand Guano Cay sounded particularly enticing.

By the time we got the Baron on the ground, the rain had stopped falling and the skies had lightened again. Customs was relatively painless - although we were admonished from bringing in carrots and apples, just to make sure we had really learned our lesson, they let us take them with us anyway. We were soon piling into a taxi cab and off to our condo. The views from the balcony were incredible. After a little pre-gaming, we headed to a local beer store to purchase some local wares, and then stopped so that Danielle and I could make nice with the locals.

After a great gnocchi dinner courtesy of Rich, we found our way to Snappas and enjoyed a local band. We later traded views and bands for the views and band at Mangoes. Or was it Curly Tails? So many watering holes, so hard to remember. We laughed at Danielle on Saturday morning, who had to drag herself off for a 9 a.m. certification dive. Rich, Mila and I spent a couple hours recovering on our beach before making our way to the ferry to Hopetown.

I couldn't resist taking some artsy shots before we climbed aboard en route to Hopetown. Rich struck up a conversation on the ferry with Gavin, a chatty Aussie, who berated us for staying in Marsh Harbour instead of Hopetown because "there is so much more to do in Hopetown." After disembarking, Rich attempted to pin Gavin down on the details of all there was to see and do in Hopetown. We ultimately deduced that we should walk around and check out the beaches and the houses.

We stopped for lunch on a coastal bluff, and I managed to persuade two adorable island children to hold still long enough for a photo. The blond one wasn't convinced, but her friend managed to catch her in a solid hug, and I snapped a quick photo.

We decided to see Gavin a beach and raise him a lighthouse. With our trusty, pastel coloured cartoon map, we figured it couldn't be that hard to find the lighthouse that we had seen so prominently across the bay as our ferry docked. However, after several hours of walking, we ultimately found ourselves at an abandoned resort and trying to ask directions from a local who spoke the island dialect (some sort of derivation from French) and very little English. Turning around seemed like the prudent thing to do -- until we saw a sign for ice cream, and then it made more sense to get ice cream and continue on to the Abaco Inn, where we hopped a courtesy van back to Hopetown.

By the time we arrived back at the condo, Danielle was just about to set the signal flares. We ate, changed, and headed back to Snappas, which was rumoured to have the best Valentine's Day bash in town. The band was great and time was sucked into a void (which apparently only happens around me, according to Rich) and suddenly the music stopped and it was time to go to bed.

Rich and I suffered along with Danielle on Saturday morning, as we all made our way over to the dive store to get suited up. Our first stop was a reef called "The Edge," where the dive shops have the grouper fish so well trained, you can pet them, manipulate them, and (environmentally conscious people please stop reading now) even put a dive mask on them (as Keith, our dive master, demonstrated). We hung out behind "the armadillo" coral formation for a group shot. I'm on the far left, Danielle is beside me, and Rich is on the far right. But I'm sure you would have known that.

Our second dive was at "the Towers" and I hung out with Keith at the end of the dive to check out a particularly large barracuda. He doesn't look as evil in this shot as I remembered...

Sunday night was relatively quiet, so we enjoyed an excellent seafood dinner at the local marina and then met up with some guys from our dive and invited them back to our condo for a while.

Monday was bright and sunny, and it was physically painful to have to leave. We had risen early for one last hour on the beach, packed with a speed that would have impressed a Colonel, and were wheels up at 11:30.

We cleared customs in Fort Pierce with minor headache. I couldn't decide if I was annoyed or pleased that after spending hours figuring out my visa obligations before we left, the customs official told me to "just use your old [visa]."

The airport restaurant was a short walk from customs, and after two FBOs haggled themselves into an even better deal for us, we left the Baron to be refueled while we got lunch. Rich showed me how to use the "great deal finder" for gas, and we selected an airport (KONX) in North Carolina with 100 LL for $2.85/G as our next stopping point.

We fought nearly 30 knot headwinds all the way home, so it was somewhat slow going. I studied approach plates until I stopped retaining information, played with my Garmin, and took photographs instead of helping Rich look for traffic. It's nice to be the co-pilot.

The sun set as we flew over North Carolina, and we made an executive decision at KONX to just refuel and continue on for Gaithersburg instead of stopping for dinner.

The temperature had plummeted drastically by the time we got out at Currituck - so I traded helping with the fuel pumps for Rich's Banff sweater vest - and it was not without a twinge of irony that we discussed how we had voluntarily decided to fly from a tropical paradise to sub-zero temperatures and biting winds.

I got to put some of my multi engine theory lessons into practice as we approached Gaithersburg, and turned us into the pattern, dropped flaps, engaged the landing gear, and lined us up for the landing. It wasn't a huge mental leap after my lessons in the Cherokee, but I was very glad for my booster seat as it increased my range of vision drastically. There, I said it. I flew with a booster seat.
Rich touched her down, and we were soon all heading for home. As they said on our dive, take only memories and photographs. I can live with that.


At February 18, 2009 at 1:54 PM , Blogger Greg said...

Not THAT sounds like an awesome trip!

At February 18, 2009 at 2:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone want to go back?

At February 18, 2009 at 3:49 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

I wanna go back. Can we Can we? Nest weekend? : ) Great Blog Amy.

At February 19, 2009 at 4:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here in Quebec we are watching snow fly by our windows! How lovely to escape to your marvellous blog! And the photos just get better and better! Awesome!

At February 20, 2009 at 11:54 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I need a vacation....your vacation...;) Great photos and adventure. The water looked so beautiful and clear, made me miss Jamaica.

At June 27, 2017 at 6:56 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

rick you fucker


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