Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Break 2012 - A New Adventure In Treasure Cay

As much as we prefer staying in Pam's Sandollar Dreams condo, we stayed this year at the Bahama Beach Club #2042 and #2034 since even more family and friends joined us for this years getaway and we needed more room!  We were joined by my Dad and Kim, Kim's mom and her fiancee, and our family friend Karen.

We forgot to reserve a golf cart, the preferred local mode of transportation, and unfortunately found out upon arrival they were all booked until Friday.  Oh well, it wasn't too far a walk to the grocery store and I improvised with Mary's umbrella stroller to help get the heavy stuff back to the condo!  This was the first time I brought some food in to the country with us.  I went to Costco before we left and bought packages of chicken breasts, pork chops, and rib eye steaks.  Everything else we bought in Treasure Cay.

We ate out a few times.  The Bahama Beach Club still has some delicious dinner theme nights.  Our first night was the BBQ night which was really good.  We enjoyed our seating by the beach and the bonfire after sun set.  Kim and Abby used a cool iPhone app to search the starts.  We also enjoyed the Italian night.  The food was good, but we preferred the way they did it last year, family style, so everyone got a little taste of everything.  The rest of the evenings we BBQ'd the meats we brought in.  We also finally enjoyed Thursday Pizza Night at The Tipsy Seagull located on the marina.  The great pizza drew a huge crowd and there was even live music to enjoy!

The mornings always started off with pancakes served up by Grandpa.  A well enjoyed service by both the kids and the cook!   Most days were spent with folks enjoying the beach and the pool.  We met a few other families which was great since Abby and Mary quickly found some other kids to play with.  Some of the group would walk the beach at low tide everyday to explore South Point and search for sand dollars and shells.  A few treasures were found and we even spotted a few sea turtles, needle fish, and some juvenile barracuda.  I finally managed to get my dad out to the little island off South Point at low tide to search a new area for shells.

The new adventure and highlight of this trip was when we rented a boat for the day from JIC Boat Rentals.  The winds were up mid-week, but we managed to push our reservation off till Friday when the winds came down and we all enjoyed an awesome day.  I debated bringing Mary along, but I have to say overall she did very well.  She loved the boat, but still isn't a big fan of the beach yet.
Abby thought it was the coolest thing ever.  We loaded up at the Treasure Cay Marina around 9 am and headed out onto the Sea of Abaco bound for the areas around Green Turtle Cay.  Our first stop was a little beach on the southeast tip of Green Turtle Cay.  The routine became for me to beach the boat, let everyone out, take the boat to anchor and wade back to shore.  It worked out pretty well.  The beach was nice, but since there weren't many treasures to have, we loaded up and headed further north to Fiddle Cay just north of Green Turtle Cay.

Treasures abounded at Fiddle Cay.  The beach and shallow waters were strewn with collectible sea biscuits and sea urchins.  We NEVER take any shells, sand dollars, sea biscuits, sea urchins, or anything else that is still alive or in which the shell is still home to a live animal.  Everyone made a dash for the snorkel gear and the feverish harvesting began.  You can see some of the "catch" on the bow of the boat.

It was hard to believe, but by this point it was now about noon so we headed for Green Turtle Cay and had an awesome lunch at the Pineapples Bar & Grill just accross the harbor from New Plymouth.  They have a dock right in front of their place as well as a pool to enjoy.  The food was great, but the rum punch was even better!  It was obvious during lunch we had pushed Mary enough for one day so once lunch was over we headed back across the Sea of Abaco to the beach right in front of our condo to drop off Kristi and Mary.

We had just enough time to explore one more area before the boat day was over.  We headed for "Shell Island" off the northwest tip of Great Guana Cay.  We did not find any large treasures there, but it definitely lived up to its name.  We all spent an hour or better hunting for shells before we had to head back to Treasure Cay and get the boat topped off and back to the dock by 5:00 pm.

The boat worked great and everyone had a wonderful time.  The crew at JIC Boat Rentals were extremely pleasant and helpful.  We definitely will have to make that part of our vacation "routine".  There are so many beautiful areas to explore that we could experience new and exciting things every year for many years to come!

If I only had one complaint about our stay this year is that it went too fast.  I usually enjoy the fact that the first few days appreciably slow down, but from day one this year it seemed like the clock was spinning out of control.  Oh well, guess we'll just have to go back!

Instead of posting all of our pictures this time, I have include a slide show below of our vacation photos.  If the slide show doesn't work, follow this link to the online album:  Treasure Cay, Spring Break 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Break 2012 - The Flight To Treasure Cay, Bahamas

It's hard to believe that another year has gone by and it's Spring Break again.  We took off on Saturday morning, St. Patrick's Day,  headed for our favorite getaway.  This time I removed both middle row seats and the refreshment console.  This gave me about 45 extra pounds to play with, but unfortunately it left my wife without a cup holder.  Oh well, at least it's only a 2 1/2 hour flight!

My wife usually gets up way early when we travel somewhere so I was quite surprised when my alarm went off at 6:30 am to find her still sound asleep!  The plan was to leave the house around 8 am to be wheels up around 9 am.  Luckily most of the packing was done the night before, so as I left to take the dog to the kennel, Kristi finished getting the girls ready and we met at the airport and managed to take off about 15 minutes after 9 am.  Not bad at all.

I filed IFR and revived a clearance to Treasure Cay (MYAT) via Radar Vectors, direct Ormond Beach (OMN), direct Melbourne (MLB), direct Freeport (ZFP) direct at 8000 feet.  I had filed for 7000 feet, but didn't mind the little higher altitude assigned given the favorable winds.  One thing about our clearances continue to stump me; I appropriately file an odd thousand foot altitude, but seem to always get an even thousand foot altitude assigned until turning towards Freeport then I am either offered a climb or decent to an appropriate altitude.  It makes no sense to me, but it works.  With the plane loaded to max gross, N424RM leapt in to the air and we were quickly cruising south around 155 knots at 8000 feet.

The weather was great the whole trip down with a few scattered clouds below us.  Just after crossing Freeport I could hear ATC frustratingly trying to vector a plane for traffic.  In a few seconds it turned out I was the conflict the other guy couldn't maneuver as requested for and I was asked to turn right to a heading of 180 degrees.  The controller continued to have some frustrations with this other guy and asked me to turn another 20 degrees right.  At this point I'm now getting frustrated because I am heading back towards Florida instead of my destination!  I kindly, but firmly requested to know where this traffic was I was be vectored all over for and was finally cleared to turn back towards my destination.

On the leg towards (ZFP) Freeport, Grand Bahama Island

As we descended for Treasure Cay, I cancelled IFR with Miami Center and switched over to the CTAF of 122.8.  For the first few minutes, all the traffic in the area seemed to be calling inbound for Marsh Harbor so I was glad my arrival would have me not dealing with a lot of other planes.  Well I jinxed myself.  In short order about 5 other aircraft called up with at least 2 joining me inbound from the west, one inbound from Marsh Harbor, and one departing the field.  Except for the one departing the field I was the closest inbound, but one of the planes behind me was a Cessna Citation Mustang that I knew at some point would be overtaking me.  Sure enough as I descended through 2500 feet he call out passing me low and off my left.  It was a cool sight and I easily followed him into the left hand traffic pattern for Runway 14.

The winds were low, but the approach and landing was just as challenging as ever.  I kept my speed up on final, as I have learned the hard way to do at this airport, and found the typical wind shear over the runway.  I let the plane ease herself onto the long 7000 foot runway and taxied to the ramp.  The ramp was full so I promptly taxied in to one of the few remaining tie down spots left and shut down.  Mr Sydney Hart, our favorite taxi driver, saw us land and promptly sent over one of the linemen to help us out.  With what literally seems like a ton of vacation luggage, getting some help from the local ramp guys is some of the best money spent.

Left downwind for Runway 14 at MYAT.  Green Turtle Cay off the right wing.

We cleared Customs & Immigration without issue.  I was a little surprised to see the Customs guy open a few pieces of our luggage to inspect.  It caused me no worries, I had nothing to hide, but they had never done that before.  We were quickly loaded up in to Sydney's taxi and headed for the condo.  Now it was time to find my Dad and get some rum punch!

So the family left the house around 8:30 am, we flew over 350 miles in a little over 2 1/2 hours, and arrived at our condo in paradise at about 12:45 pm.  Life is good!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fall 2012 Bahamas Habitat Fly In & Help Out Event Dates Just Announced!

It's official! This fall's Bahamas Habitat Fly In & Help Out Event will be from October 25th to October 28th. Come join fellow pilots in a great weekend of fellowship, humanitarian aid, and island flying! If you have never flown your plane to the Bahamas before, this is a perfect opportunity to join fellow general aviation and Bahamas enthusiasts who will happily guide you through the simple and extraordinary experience of flying to the Bahamas.

So mark your calendars, tell your friends, and we'll see you this fall! Please visit the Bahamas Habitat website to sign up and receive more information.

Photo By Katharine Zimmerman and Banner By Bahamas Habitat

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Feb 2012 Fly In & Help Out - An Extra Day To Enjoy!

I was lucky enough to not have the duty at work so I could participate in this event. To make it even better, Monday was Washington's Birthday providing us an extra day to enjoy the Bahamas. Pete managed to make an even trade at work for his time off so we went ahead and booked ourselves a night at a local condo for after the Bahamas Habitat Fly In & Help Out Event was over.

When we got up Sunday morning, everyone was prepping for their departures back to the States. A cold front was pushing through northern Florida so most everyone opted to leave Camp first thing in the morning to safely get back to Florida before the weather. Pete and I hung around finishing our chores and chatting with the staff and one other couple who was delaying their departure. Pete humbly swept and mopped the men's wing rooms and bathroom while I took the easy route and stuffed all the used linens and towels into laundry bags and helped load them on a truck.

Jerry, our gypsy from New York, decided to stay behind with us to fly back home on Monday. He managed to get a cheap flight home from Jacksonville on Monday night so I was glad he would be joining us. Jerry also had rented a car the day before so now we had transportation to our condo and the airport! We packed up, said our thank you's & good byes, and left Camp around 11:00 am. Enroute to the condo we stopped to look at some properties that Jerry was interested in. Some places were very fancy and I think all had great views.

We checked in to our condo located in the Pineapple Fields Beach Hotel and got settled. This place is awesome! We stayed in a ground floor, one bedroom unit that had a king bed and a queen size sofa/sleeper. It came with a full kitchen, full bath, TVs, iPod stereo dock, front & back decks, and we even had a bit of an ocean view. The condo and furnishings looked brand new. The complex also has a good size pool to use and beautifully landscaped grounds. The price is very reasonable for the amazing accommodations.

After we got settled, first on the to-do list was to head across the street to Tippy's on the beach for lunch and...............some Rum Punch! I ordered some conch fritters as an appetizer and these things were the biggest I have ever seen. They were delicious as well and went very nicely with my rum punch! After we finished off the fritters, I had the Lobster & Shrimp Pasta in a Tomato Cream Sauce that was wonderful. The shrimp was good size and there were huge chunks of lobster just as big as the shrimp, if not bigger. Lunch was not inexpensive, but it was worth it!

After lunch we went back to the condo, got changed, grabbed our snorkel gear, and hit the beach. The condo also came with two beach/camp chairs which was very nice. Right off the beach was a lot of reef to explore. The water was a little cool, but I wore my shorty wetsuit. Pete just wore his swim trunks and survived pretty well! I probably spent well over an hour exploring the reef and taking pictures. It was very pretty and the conditions were perfect. When we got done, we stopped by Tippy's again for more rum drinks and went back to the condo to relax until dinner.

I took advantage of the down time to file the eAPIS manifest for our flight home on Monday. It has gotten a lot easier now that you can reuse old information to file. We walked back to Tippy's for dinner and found our spots at the bar still open so we sat down for dinner. The place was packed so I ordered some shrimp appetizers before our main course. Pete and I both ordered lobster tails and they were great! As usual with the local catch, the tails were huge. After dinner Pete and Jerry delved in to a somewhat lively theological debate. It was educating and entertaining for me. I quickly realized that debate topic is just as touchy as discussing politics! They threatened to keep the debate going during the flight home, but I promptly reminded them I can just isolate myself on the intercom, enjoy my music, and they could debate all they wanted by themselves!

I had a very restful night’s sleep in my huge king bed and when we woke up in the morning we walked down to the office/bakery/deli for some coffee and pastries. We could see the remnants of the cold front approaching from the northwest. The skies looked a little dark and I started to wonder what the weather would be like for our flight home. Never fear; the clouds arrived, it rained a little for five minutes, and it was clear the rest of the morning. After breakfast I spent an hour or so walking the beach. I think I'd lose some weight if we lived on the beach because I could make those walks every day without any complaints!

We loaded up the car at 11:00am, checked out and headed for the airport. As usual in the Bahamas, some services can be spotty. The Internet wasn't working that morning so I had to call the Flight Service Station from the airport to file our flight plan and then call Ft Pierce Customs to notify them of our arrival time.

We departed shortly after noon and had a pleasant flight back. Passing through 6000 feet I picked up our clearance from Miami Center and was cleared as filed (MYEM-ZFP-ANGEE-KFPR) at 8000 feet.  We had to deal with 30+ knot headwinds enroute to Fort Pierce (KFPR), but I didn’t mind because it just meant I could enjoy the views of the Bahamas a little longer. We made an uneventful arrival in to KFPR and cleared Customs without issue. The officer was kind enough to settle a question that came up when we were at the camp. It IS OK to bring lobster tails back from the Bahamas as long as it is in season in Florida and you do not exceed the catch limit per Florida's regulations. It is currently 6 tails per person. I'll have to remember that!

After we cleared Customs, we went next door to the Airport Tiki and had some lunch. While we ate, the FBO brought our plane over from the Custom's ramp and fulfilled my fuel request. With our final trip bills paid we loaded up one more time and headed to Jacksonville. We cruised along under clear skies, but over an overcast layer. That necessitated an easy LOC Rwy 32 Circle to Land Rwy 5 approach back in to Craig (KCRG). We were out of the clouds and in easy visual contact of the airport just after reaching the final approach fix inbound. We landed and got everything unloaded. Pete took Jerry to Jacksonville International Airport to catch his flight home while I finished securing the plane.

It was truly an awesome trip. Everything went really well and the plane ran great. We met some amazing people and I finally got to do something good with the plane for others and it definitely will not be the last time! We'll see what comes up next. I can't wait!

Over 5 days we traveled over 1300 miles, put 10.5 hours on the plane, helped some great people, and had an awesome time.  Yup, I do thank God for everything!

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