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!

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