Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sandals Emerald Bay - The Flight Down

To catch the American Airlines flight we would have to get up very early and leave the house by 4:30 am.  After connecting through Miami we would arrive shortly after noon.  Luckily this was NOT our itinerary and we were able to fly ourselves to Great Exuma, Bahamas for a wonderful week in paradise at Sandals Emerald Bay; just us, no kids!  Instead we got up around 6:00 am, took our time getting ready, left the house around 7:30 am, and we were wheels up at 8:25 am for our 3 1/2 hour nonstop flight from Craig Field (KCRG), Jacksonville to Exuma International (MYEF), Great Exuma, Bahamas.  And to just jump ahead for a sec, after a great flight and an early descent to slowly flight-see the Exuma Islands chain, we landed only 10 minutes after the American Airlines flight. Not bad!

It didn't take us long to get the plane out, loaded, and ready to go.  It's amazing how much quicker things go when you aren't toting the kids along as well.  After the engine start, we got our clearance:

Cleared to MYEF
Route:  OMN MLB ZFP ZQA Direct (As Filed)
Altitude:  2000' expect 6000' in 10 minutes

With the run-up complete, we launched into the calm morning air, checked in with Jacksonville Departure, and  headed south along Florida's Atlantic coast.  As we proceeded south, I could see from the XM Weather that we would have to contend with a large area of thunderstorms stretching west from Freeport towards West Palm Beach.  I initially asked Orlando Approach if we could extend our route south to go past West Palm Beach and then head out over the ocean because it looked like there was a break in the clouds on  the satellite view, but they told me I would have to make that request with Miami Center when I got handed off.  I'm glad it worked out that way.  The more and more I looked out the window and at the XM weather, it appeared we should be able to keep our cleared route.

We got handed off to Miami Center and turned out over the ocean near Melbourne.  I talked to the center controller about what he was seeing for precipitation displayed on his radar for our route and we agreed there looked like some large, clear areas we would be able to fly though.  After that, my request to climb to 9000' for the crossing was approved and we flew southeast toward the clouds and rainy weather.  I also knew from my weather briefings that once we got south of Grand Bahama Island, the weather was clear.  There was just a small trough of low pressure that would give us about 30 minutes of  weather deviations around Freeport in order to clear.  It turned out to be no big deal.  We remained in the clear, except for a few seconds in the clouds every once in a while, got a little rain, but basically flew about 15 miles east of Freeport and easily skirted the bad weather.

It wasn't too far south of Grand Bahama Island that the weather cleared as predicted and we were staring at the Berry Islands and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Bahamas we have fallen in love with.  We proceeded south and flew over Nassau on Providence Island.  We could see the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort we stayed at 10 years ago when Kristi was pregnant with Abby.  Through the cumulus clouds we caught glimpses of the cruise ships in port and the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.  Although we had a great stay in Nassau 10 years ago, I was very happy to continue our flight south to the quieter, slower paced Out Island of Great Exuma.

As we cleared Nassau's airspace to the south, we cancelled our IFR clearance  but remained on VFR flight following with Miami Center as we began our descent for the Exuma Island Chain.  We picked up the chain of islands near Norman's Cay and flew south at about 1500' enjoying the numerous shades of blue and flying over my Dad's favorite shelling sand bar and past Staniel Cay.

As we got about 10 miles out for landing, we checked in on the CTAF.  MYEF has a different CTAF frequency (118.0) than the common one throughout the Bahamas.   It is monitored by folks in a tower located on the field, but it is NOT an air traffic control tower.  They kindly give you pertinent weather information and what they feel is the preferred runway.  There is also an AWOS on 118.5.  They asked us to call again when 5 miles out.  We made a nice low pass over the Sandals Emerald Bay resort and set ourselves up on a left base for an approach and landing on to Runway 12.

There are two FBOs at Exuma International now.  I chose to use Strachan's Aviation which has been the local, family owned FBO there for many years.  The other new FBO looked really nice and convenient  but I wanted to give the family business a try and I am so glad I did.  Prior to our arrival I emailed Jermaine Bannister, the Operations Specialist, just to ask if we could use credit cards for our fuel purchase and to find out where to park on the ramp upon our arrival.  He promptly answered back that yes we can use our credit card and that someone would be on the ramp to guide us to parking when we landed.  He then emailed me again asking for our full names, dates of birth, and passport numbers to get our paperwork ready.  This sounded nice!

Sure enough, as we landed a few minutes behind the American Airlines flight and cleared the runway, we were marshaled over to our parking spot and shut down.  As we opened the door we were greeted by Ryan saying,"Welcome Mr. & Mrs. Nelson."  Very cool.  Ryan helped me unload our bags and then he took Kristi and our luggage over to the terminal via a golf cart.  The fuel truck promptly pulled up and in no time I was topped off as requested, had the fuel bill paid, and aircraft secured and covered.  In the meantime, the Air Canada flight from Toronto had just landed.  Apparently we managed to arrive during rush hour!

Ryan came back to pick me up and as we headed for the terminal building the Delta flight from Atlanta landed.  Now the line for Customs & Immigration was out the door and onto the tarmac.  Not to fear, Ryan had everything already set up.  He led me to the front of the line where Kristi was waiting and we stood by while he presented our passports and immigration cards to the agent.  Without delay we were stamped for entry and around the corner to the Custom's agent where our luggage was waiting   I began to dig out my Inbound Declaration Form (C7A) when I was kindly informed that Ryan had already submitted that as well and after a few standard inquiries, we were whisked outside to the Sandals representative and a waiting taxi.

I cannot express enough how impressed we were in the assistance and service we received from Strachan's Aviation.  They truly had everything covered, and made our arrival into Great Exuma as easy as possible.  We were already happy to be there and going to Sandals, but they really made our vacation start off perfectly.
Now all I needed was a Rum Punch!  It didn't take long to find!


  1. Really nice piece. I wish that my aviation mags had stuff like this. Very enjoyable to read.

  2. Great photos! Looks like an amazing flight.

  3. Gr8 post... I love when u can use GA to avoid a 4:30 wake up call! ... (Good tip on the FBO. I will need to give them a try)

  4. Great post, Geoff. Gorgeous pictures! (Do the aerial shots of sandy beaches and clear turquoise water EVER get old? ... naw, probably not!)

    It's first class all the way when you provide your own air travel. I recently flew from Rochester to Chicago by airline: eight hours (w/ connections, etc). Even in my pokey Cherokee, I could have flown myself there in half the time (and used an airport more convenient to my destination, too).


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