Attention All Pilots: PARADISE IS LESS THAN AN HOUR!!!! Tropical breezes, palm trees, sugar sand beaches, warm clear waters, friendly folks, fresh sea food, cold beer and of course sweet rum. So easy even an LSA can do it! Check out our website, breezeraircraftusa.com, we’ll make it happen.
Shortly after making our trip over to the Bahamas in September 2010, I learned of the Fly In December 10-12, 2010, organized by the Government of the Bahamas, in conjunction with EAA and was excited to participate. I contacted the organizers, offered my assistance and signed up to participate. Banyan Air Service, one of the sponsors, sent a dozen pilot packages to me which I distributed to interested pilots in our home base area. Our September trip generated a lot of interest and in fact 2 general aviation airplanes from Plant City, Florida flew to Bimini, Bahamas in October partly as a result of our visit, the glowing reports and informing them how easy it was. I offered my second Breezer aircraft to my long time friend Dan Johnson and his wife, Randee. I’ve known Dan since our hang gliding and ultralight days and thought that he and Randee would enjoy this historic trip. Jacob Peed from Aviators Hotline joined me in my airplane. Jacob was very excited about participating and provided the official T shirts for the trip. Aviators Hotline provided shirts for all the participants with the fly-in logo on the back as well as each participant’s aircraft type and N number on the front. We flew to Ft Lauderdale on Thursday afternoon December 9, 2010. Chloe and Bruce from Banyan Air Service were very helpful, arranging everything from fuel to hotel rooms and transportation. They really rolled out the red carpet. There are a lot of really large airplanes who use Banyan services and it was great to be treated so well with our little planes.
Friday morning found most of the pilots attending the pilot briefing at Banyan Air Service hosted by Greg Rolle from the Bahamian government. Greg provided helpful information to the pilots, most of whom were making their first trip to the islands as well as assisting some with eAPIS and other formalities. After some socializing and a group photo we lifted off for the great airborne LSA invasion of Grand Bahamas. The 84 nautical mile trip took less than an hour. The weather was perfect and the island was in sight from 30 miles out. We flew over at 5500 feet; some chose higher altitudes. Upon arrival, the crews of the 17 aircraft were treated to conch fritters and rum punch courtesy of the Bahamian government and the airport authority. We breezed through customs and were whisked off to the Radisson Lucaya Resort where ocean view rooms welcomed us to paradise.
Friday evening the pilots and crews were treated to a reception hosted by Leonard Stuart on the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and each pilot had the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the trip. Many of us were interviewed by ZNS, the national television station. Afterwards several of us, accompanied by Mr. Stuart, took in the local night life. While out on the town we had the opportunity to meet the Governor General, Sir Arthur Foulkes, Member of Parliament member Ryan Pinder and many other government officials all of whom seemed very interested in our Light Sport Airplanes. It was a real treat to be received so warmly by the people so influential in the Bahamian government. Night life in Freeport, Bahamas is hard to beat. Tropical breezes ruffle palm fronds while live music, native shows, great company and cold island drinks ensures everyone has a good time.
Saturday was spent enjoying all that Grand Bahamas has to offer. For most, this was the first trip to the Bahamas ever, taking the opportunity for sightseeing and enjoying the finest beaches in the world. For me it was an excellent opportunity to relax, taking in the familiar sights, sounds, and ambiance of a place that has come to feel like home. That evening all were invited to join a party hosted by REMOS Aircraft. There was live music, excellent food, and many door prizes. The grand prize was a set of Lightspeed headsets donated by Plane and Pilot magazine. A brief pilots meeting was held to discuss Sunday’s weather. A cold front, the strongest of the season, was meant to arrive in Florida, mid day on Sunday so it was decided on an early start home in the morning.
Sunday morning, as the fleet headed home, the Breezer gang headed south and east. After arriving at Nassau, Bahamas for a quick fuel stop we proceeded on to one of my favorite places on earth Staniel Cay, Bahamas. Our route of flight took us over the Berry Islands and the Tongue of the Ocean, the very edge of the Bahamas’ Bank. The depth of the water on the banks, 8 to 12 feet plunges to more than 3000 feet in less than a mile making for spectacular color changes when viewed from the air. On a boat, this can make for an interesting ride! Lynn Brown of Odyssey Aviation was once again there to greet us. Lynn took excellent care of us when we were in Nassau back in September. She handled absolutely everything including filing flight plans, not only out bound but also agreed to file returning flight plans to Nassau. Filing flight plans can be difficult from the out islands. She even called the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, the place we planned to stay, to let them know when we were arriving. Nassau is really a class C airport with clearance delivery, ground, tower, and departure control. They have radar service and can be very busy with a wide variety of aircraft. Pilots versed in class C operations will have no trouble operating in and out of Nassau. The controllers are extremely professional and allow for plenty of traffic separation.
We never exceeded 3000 feet on our trip down to the Exumas. Once sighting land, near the notorious Normans Cay we descended to 2000 feet for our flight over the Exuma Park, one of the few national parks in the country. The history and snorkeling here may be the best in the world. Blackbeard, the pirate, and his lot would hide their ships within these islands to prey on passing merchant ships. Poor Jacob had to hear my rambling story about each island that we flew over. Because these waters are protected from commercial fishing and hunting, the native species of fish and coral are probably the way they looked in the 17th century. After clearing the park we headed south and east through Pipe Creek where we descended down to 500 feet. This is where most of the pictures and videos on our website were taken.
Normal protocol for arriving to Staniel Cay is not only to announce our intentions on the radio (frequency 122.8 MHz) but to circle the yacht club so we can get a ride from the airport. Unfortunately the Breezer is one of the quietest planes on earth, so we had to circle a several times. Fortunately, Lynn had phoned ahead, thus they were looking for us. The 3000 foot runway at Staniel Cay, as well as most of the out islands, does not have taxiways so back-taxiing is required. Keep this in mind if you are arriving as a flight of multiple aircraft. Transportation from the airport to the yacht club is via golf cart. In our case multiple golf carts. It is walking distance and all roads lead into town.
The out islands of the Bahamas are among the most magnificent places on earth, but, you need to be somewhat self sufficient. The majority of the runways are going to be crosswind landings at 10 to 15 knots. By and large there are no services; however Light Sport Airplanes use so little fuel so this is not a problem. We brought “claw” tie downs and drove them into the sandstone alongside the paved ramp to secure our airplanes. A word to the wise, most communities in the out islands have runways but do not have fuel so, so never pass a fuel pump.. There is usually a local charter service into these islands if you need service. Island Bird Flying Service, a Rotax IRC, can help you arrange for services in the out islands.
The Staniel Cay Yacht Club has a full service facility for both yachts and planes. The yacht club offers substantial discounts of their services for pilots of private airplanes. They have lovely cottages overlooking the harbor, excellent food, boats, bikes, kayaks, pool, internet, and pretty much everything you need for a stay in the islands. Many of the people you will meet there I consider among my friends.
The weather remained a topic of discussion as a cold front, the strongest of the season, brought freezing temperatures to Miami, Florida, came whistling through Staniel Cay at 4 am on Monday. The wind shift woke me as it had many times before while living on my boat there. The sounds and smells were the same. This time I knew my airplanes was safely tied down. I was in a cottage, at the yacht club, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. I had hoped to take Dan, Randee, and Jacob snorkeling, in some of the most amazing places, but the wind was blowing 30+ miles per hour and it was cold. The highs only reached the lower 70s but with strong winds seemed a lot colder. However, it was still 40 degrees warmer than anywhere in the US. Jacob, who is from the State of Iowa still contrived to develop a suntan. We all met up with my old time friend, Brooks Miller, Counselor (Mayor) of Staniel and had a few Kalik Gold’s (Bahamian beer), he gave my friends a real view of the islands from a local perspective. Brooks invited me to sail with him for the New Year Regatta at Staniel. We were meant to fly home on Tuesday, however we were in a remote island paradise without good communication, and the wind was blowing from the North West.
I tried Flight Service from a BATELCO phone but no joy. So… I called my partner Chris Parker of the Marine Weather Center (mwxc.com) He informed me the winds were going to be Northwest, 25-35 knots at 6000ft . It was clear that we were stuck in paradise for one more day. Tuesday morning we had to change our plans, which meant re-filing eAPIS and in-bound flight plans for Nassau. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club has wireless internet service and via Skype we were able to call Odyssey and talk to Lynn, who re-filed our in-bound flight plans into Nassau. Through the internet connection we were also able to re-file our eAPIS manifests right from the yacht club. Internet service can be a little slow at time thus the flash page for the internet connection at the yacht club offered some tips on how to use the internet in the islands. The flash page suggested, go to the bar and buy a Kalik, start downloading the page. Drink Kalik until the internet seems faster. We were able to re-file from down there. The four of us spent another day enjoying the island before heading home on Wednesday. During the return trip home we dealt with 15 to 20 knot crossing headwinds and was otherwise uneventful, which is good when flying over water. Clearing customs in Nassau proved as easy as on our previous trip and subsequently in the United States also cleared without any problem. Our tour of the Bahamas took us from Ft. Lauderdale to Freeport, Nassau, Staniel Cay, returning to Nassau, then back to Ft. Lauderdale all on 32 gallons of gas. The Breezers landed back home at Plant City as the sun was setting which seemed the perfect ending to such a great trip.
I want to thank the Government of the Bahamas, Greg Rolle, and Leonard Stuart for their efforts to make this event possible. Also special thanks to the event sponsors as well as the individuals assisting us at Banyan Air Service for making this trip such a success. We are planning two Fly-In events to Staniel Cay, one in spring and the other for fall of 2011. There will be more information posted on our web site at a later time. With Breezer, the fun just doesn’t stop. Join us for our next adventure at Breezer Aircraft USA…. Mike Z