Saturday, July 18, 2009

Treasure Cay Bahamas - The Flight Down

The day had finally arrived. We are going to fly our plane to the Bahamas! A few more administrative items were needed before we departed. Even though filing a passenger manifest to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) via eAPIS was not required yet for the dates of our trip, I tried it out anyway. It really didn't do anything for us departing the USA, but it did make life a little easier when we came home. I'll talk about that more in another post. The last item was to file an ICAO (international) flight plan. An international flight plan can be filed and weather briefing received by calling an Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS), but I chose to do everything via the Internet. I used to file my flight plan and get my briefing. Even though numerous flights to the Bahamas are flown daily on VFR flight plans, I chose to file IFR. The benefit to me was that I wouldn't need to worry about the ADIZ boundaries requirements or other procedural items since I would already be checked into the system and tracked like any other IFR flight. It really did end up being that easy. Other than having to file an IACO flight plan, you wouldn't have noticed anything foreign about the flight, the clearance ,or the controllers until we landed and there was a nice big sign welcoming you to the Bahamas.

I planned and filed to fly at 7000' direct down the coast to West Palm Beach and then make the turn east direct to Treasure Cay. Since this was our first trip to the Bahamas, I felt I needed to minimize the amount of time over open water and away from land. The clearance received was :

Depart KCRG (Craig Airport, Jacksonville)

direct OMN (Ormond Beach VOR)

direct MLB (Melbourne VOR)

direct ZFP (Freeport, Bahamas VOR)

direct MYAT (Treasure Cay Airport, Bahamas)

Initial cruising altitiude: 6000'
This would put us off the coast sooner and over open water longer, but would make the total flight time shorter. I know you can refuse clearances, but the routing was acceptable to me without hesitation. The plane doesn't know what terrain it's over, only you do! We launched under overcast skies and headed south. Just south of Daytona, we left the overcast behind and enjoyed a sunny blue sky with some fair weather clouds below.

We went "feet wet" near Melboune, FL and proceeded toward Freeport, Bahamas. At this point we were also directed to climb up to 7000'. A lot has been said about the phenomenon of "automatic rough" where you become overly sensitive to any minute sound changes while over open water and out of sight of land. As much as I kept a constant scan on all gauges and a tuned ear to the engine, I honestly never felt our plane run so smooth. I think she was happy about the trip too! Northwest of Grand Bahama Island, we started to see the gorgeous colors below that are made by the unspoiled waters and reefs. Forty-five minutes after turning away from the USA, we were over Freeport and would remain in sight of land until we arrived in Treasure Cay. With our destination in sight, we began our decent and I cancelled IFR with Miami Center since they do not have good radar and radio coverage around the Abacos below 7000'. I switched over to the CTAF and announced our position inbound. The Treasure Cay Airport does not have a control tower. There was one other landing aircraft prior to our arrival. No big deal, we'll fly a large slow pattern and enjoy the fabulous views!

Crosswing landings are just a normal part of flying, but I was surprised at the gusting winds just prior to touchdown that kept me on my toes. Treasure Cay has a nice, wide 7000' long runway so I was able to to keep the speed up a little to offset the winds and ease the plane onto Runway 14. The ramp and terminal are located on the southeast end of the runway. We taxied up, shut down, and unloaded the plane. They have luggage carts for you to use and the entrance for general aviation arrivals is on the north end of the building. The first stop is to fill out and submit a Bahamas Immigration Card for each person to clear immigration. Once that is done, you step around to the next gentleman and submit multiple copies of your declration form (C7A)to clear customs. Passports were the only other documents reviewed. Overall it was a painless process. Mr. Sidney Hart is the owner of Taxi #2 and the caretaker for the Sanddollar Dreams condo. As our passports were processed, Sidney was allowed to start loading our luggage in his taxi. Once we were all cleared, I went back to the plane and taxied her over to a tie down spot. There are cables available stretched across the ramp for tie down, but you have to provide your own ropes and chocks. With the plane safely secured and covered, we climbed into the taxi.

Sidney is a very kind gentlemen who gave us a tour of the area prior to taking us to the condo. He wanted to ensure we saw where the grocery store, restaurants, and other services were located so we wouldn't be lost on our first venture into town. After leaving our house around 8:00am we arrived at our new home in paradise less than 5 hours later. Can't do that on a commercial flight! Up next, all about our fun in Treasure Cay!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Treasure Cay Bahamas - Planning

After moving to Florida and realizing the dream of aircraft ownership, the next big goal was to fly to the Bahamas. Over time I scoured useful websites and forums on Bahamas flight planning, accommodations, regulations, survival kits, etc., and built a decent "library" to begin organizing our trip. Another really helpful tool was the Bahamas & Caribbean Pilot's Guide.

With numerous options, the first task was to decide where in the Bahamas we wanted to go. For our first over water and international trip I wanted it to be as straight forward as possible, and I wanted to go to The Out Islands. Kristi and I had vacationed in Nassau years before and I wanted something a little more laid back. Treasure Cay, located in the Abaco Islands, seemed to fit the bill just right. The airport was a Port of Entry and it was close enough to home that we could fly down nonstop.

Now we needed to look for accommodations. There really aren't any large hotel chains or resorts in Treasure Cay like you find on Nassau. The largest is the Treasure Cay Hotel Resort & Marina. My one requirement, if we could afford it, was to stay right on the beach. After a little more research I found Sanddollar Dreams. This looked like the spot!

Okay, now we got the where figured out, how about when? For Spring Break 2008 we made our first real trip with the plane and had a great time in Key West. We were planning to do the same thing this year, but I resurrected the dream files for the Bahamas and proposed an alternative to my lovely wife who said yes! So after contacting the owner of the condo and arranging the vacation time at work, we decided we would go from March 27th to April 1st.

With the dates set, the rest of the preparations were completed. We obtained our Customs & Border Patrol Sticker, got the FCC pilot and plane licenses, and bought life jackets and a life raft. The life raft is not required, but the one we purchased from Survival Products, Inc. weighs only 12 pounds and is the size of a large binder. Some of the other equipment we chose to take included a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and my marine band VHF radio from work. We already have a backup handheld radio for the plane, but if we had a forced landing on the water, I now had a radio to talk to ships as well. The requirements and other information for flying to and from the Bahamas can be found here: Private Flying - Bahamas. Next Post: The Flight Down!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Atlanta Trip - Day Five

The Flight Home

One of the biggest benefits of having our own plane is not having to live by anyone's schedule. Without feeling rushed, we were able to sleep in a bit, enjoy our last breakfast buffet, and check out in the late morning. After waiting for about 10 minutes for our cab, we were loaded up for the short ride back to the Fulton County Airport (KFTY).

Since I called Hill Aircraft & Leasing, the FBO, before we left the hotel, the line folks kindly pulled our plane up to the front and fueled it, as requested, so it was ready upon our arrival. The FBO allowed the taxi to pull onto the ramp and up to our plane which made transferring our luggage to the plane a lot easier. Kristi and Abby sat in the air-conditioned lobby of the FBO and enjoyed free popcorn and TV while I finished loading the plane and completed my preflight checks. Before we departed I settled up my tab with the FBO. The ramp fee and first night's tie down (parking) fee were waived because I bought fuel. I ended up paying $12.50/night for the other three nights and $5.80/gallon for fuel. Definitely some of the highest prices all around we've seen in our travels, but the service and facilities were great and it was definitely a worthwhile trip.

With everyone aboard, we started up and received our clearance back to Jacksonville: initially via radar vectors then direct Macon VOR then direct Craig Field (KCRG), our home drome in Jacksonville. After a short run-up, we departed Runway 26 for the flight home. We were initially vectored to the southwest, then south, and then finally towards home. The headwind we had 5 days earlier was now a wonderful tailwind and we averaged 155+ knots (178+ mph) at 7000'. Start-up to shut down was just over 2 hours.

With the plane safely tucked away in the hangar and the dog picked up from the kennel, we were all home again after an adventurous five days in Atlanta. I wonder where our Arrow will take us next?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Atlanta Trip - Day Four

Zoo Atlanta

My wife is pregnant so understandably she did not want to walk around the zoo in the Atlanta heat. No problem, it'll be a daddy-daughter day! We all had breakfast together then Abby and I set off for the zoo. We found ourselves using Atlanta's convenient public transportation again. MARTA's Route 97 ran right in front of our hotel and went to the zoo with no transfers! Abby wanted to sit in the back so we grabbed our seats and enjoyed the views of Atlanta. After a short 20 minute bus ride, we arrived right in front of the zoo just as it opened.

Our first stop in the zoo was the giant panda bear exhibit. From there we wandered through all the wonderful displays that were offered. We took the time to check out the baby warthogs and fed the parakeets next door. We rode the train, the carosel, and Abby even tried her hand at the climbing wall. After a couple hours it was time to stop for lunch and take a break.

We completed our zoo visit by seeing the giant pandas one more time and enjoying some quality time in the petting zoo area. Since we had a few minutes until the next bus would arrive, Abby played a while on their playground. We caught the 97 MARTA bus back to our hotel. During the ride back I caught a quick look at a Wyland's Whaling Wall.

We got back early enough to get a nap in and then the family enjoyed a really great Filet Mignon dinner at the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse located in our hotel building. Of course Abby had a grilled cheese sandwich. A quick check of the weather before bed shows we should have a nice flight home in the morning.

Atlanta Trip - Day Three

Inside CNN Studio Tour & World Of Coca-Cola

Friday started off the same as before. One piece of advice about the Embassy Suites breakfast buffet: Get the Fruit Loops quick! Since the whole trip is a treat for the family, we let our daughter have sugary cereal if she wants it and found out the hard way that waiting to get it will leave you without. Anyway, after another good breakfast we made the short walk up the street to the CNN Center for a tour.

Once inside the CNN Center, we made our way over to the tour desk to reserve our spots. Luckily we only had to wait about 10 minutes for the next tour to start. It was really interesting to see the various studios of CNN in action and you can catch a glimpse of some of the on-air personalities while you wind your way through the complex. The tour lasts just shy of an hour and unfortunately photography is strictly prohibited. The tour ends back on the ground floor of the center where there is a large food court that would make any mall envious. You can find just about anything to satisfy your hunger, so we did!

After lunch, we left the CNN Center and walked across Centennial Park to the World of Coca-Cola. Before your are set free to explore, you start off with a short presentation and movie. We found another 4D Theater here and enjoyed an exciting show on Coke's secret ingredient! Other parts of the attraction include large displays of Coca-Cola memorabilia, a mini bottling line, and of course the tasting room.

The tasting room is organized into clustered soda fountains offering tastes of various Coca-Cola sodas from around the world. Some tasted very sweet while others seemed, well, just different. When you go, be sure to find the Beverly. It is a definite must have experience! As you leave the tasting room to exit through the gift shop, don't forget to pick up you complimentary bottle of Coke.

Well we had enough sight seeing for this day so we walked back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool our in our room. Tomorrow the zoo!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Atlanta Trip - Day Two

Georgia Aquarium and the High Museum of Art.

After a good night's sleep and the cook to order breakfast buffet at the Embassy Suites, we headed out for our first attraction. We took the short walk through Centennial Park to the entrance of the Georgia Aquarium. Since we got there shortly after opening, we were able to avoid any lines and bought our City Passes at the ticket window. Besides the City Pass providing a huge discount for multiple attractions, it also came with a few free bonuses.

As we entered the aquarium, we immediately headed for our first bonus: The 4D Theater and Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow. The next bonus was the behind the scenes Quick Dip Tour. Both these parts of the aquarium require reservations so be sure to stop by the Customer Service desk early to reserve the times you want. While we waited for our tour, we spent some time petting stingrays, sharks, sea anemones, horseshoe crabs, and even shrimp!

The Quick Dip Tour was a worthwhile bonus. The tour takes you behind the scenes of a few of the aquarium's exhibits, but the highlight was getting to view the large main aquarium from above. It really was awesome to see its size and get a view that most people don't see. When the tour was over we went on to enjoy the rest of the exhibits. You can walk through a tunnel and see the large aquarium from below and then sit in a room looking through a 2 foot thick clear wall to enjoy all the views of the fish and marine life.

While my wife enjoyed sitting in the tunnel and watching the hammerhead and whale sharks, my daughter really liked the jellyfish, and my favorite part was sitting in front of the large tropical fish aquarium. After lunch at the aquarium and a few re-visits to our favorite exhibits, it was time to head back to the hotel for some rest. We noticed that the High Museum of Art was open till 8:00 pm on Thursdays so we got back into sight seeing mode and headed out again.
The High Museum is easily traveled to via public transportation. We walked to the 5 Points transportation center and took the MARTA northbound train to the N5 Arts Station. Once you get off the train, make sure you go upstairs and exit the station on the east side. The museum is right there. The map on the City Pass tickets was a little confusing and we ended up exiting the wrong side, thus having to walk all the way around. It wasn't far, but when it is hot, having to walk anymore than needed isn't fun for the family.

The museum is quite large so give yourself plenty of time to wander the various exhibits and floors. As much as we appreciate art, the Modern and Contemporary Art section gave us some pretty good entertainment. The creativeness behind the art piece consisting of a large cut up piece of carpet pad hanging on the wall left us pondering. They have something for everyone and our collective favorite was the Monet Water Lilies exhibit.

Well, it was a long day for the family so we walked back to the train station and headed back downtown. We got off at the Peachtree Center Station in search of some dinner. At the recommendation of one of the tourist ambassadors on the street we tried some Mexican food at Mama Ninfa's. After a good, filling meal, we walked back to our hotel and called it a day. A great day!

Atlanta Trip - Day One

The Flight Up

After deciding the week before that we needed to get "out of town" for awhile, we decided to make a trip to downtown Atlanta. We hopped on the computer do do a little research and found there was quite a bit to do there. It looked like the City Pass was the perfect ticket and we could reach most things by walking and using public transportation. We left Jacksonville on June 17 and headed north. As usual my daughter fell asleep after playing her Leapster for a few minutes. My wife read and tried to relax as she continues to find her comfort zone when flying in and out of clouds.
Due to it's close proximity to downtown, I chose to fly into Fulton County Airport (KFTY). I filed and flew an IFR flight plan & clearance. We flew around and through some cumulus build-ups at 6000', but thankfully there were no thunderstorms anywhere near our route. Initially we were cleared direct, but as expected we were vectored east of town to TUCKR intersection and then on for the RNAV (GPS) RWY 26 approach. You can see our track here. The approach afforded us a few sights before landing:

Startup to shutdown was 2.5 hours. There was a 15-20 knot headwind all the way up. We left the plane with Hill Aircraft & Leasing, one of two FBOs on the field. Within 20 minutes, we had the plane secured, our taxi loaded up, and were headed downtown. The taxi fare seemed a little steep at $45, but given we weren't renting a car and having to pay the required $29/day hotel parking, it was still worth the convenience. We checked into our room at the Embassy Suites Centennial Park, unpacked, and hit the pool. After a good dinner at the Park Avenue Deli & Market, we got a good night's rest for our first full day of adventure in Atlanta.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Starting Off

With the help of my Mom, who is a travel writer for and, I am starting this blog to share the flying adventures of my family. My wife, daughter, and I travel in our 1969 Piper Arrow 200. In the year and a half of ownership, our Arrow has afforded us some pretty cool trips.

We have made "$100 hamburger" runs and day trips around Florida and Georgia, but have really stretched our legs with some more interesting trips. We have visited family in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, but the most fun adventures have been to Key West and Treasure Cay Bahamas.

I look forward to sharing our past and future adventures through this blog.

Keep General Aviation flying!!!!
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