Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring Break 2014

Last month was our 5th annual visit to Treasure Cay, Bahamas.  We had a fabulous time and stayed
at the Bahama Beach Club in John Cash's unit named "Bahama Breeze".  We have stayed there once before on our Memorial Day Weekend 2010 visit.  All the places we have stayed have been great and Bahamas Breeze has one of the best views that allow you to enjoy the beauty of Treasure Cay Beach even while inside!  I think only Pam's condo (Sandollar Dreams) tops this feature so far!

I had an itch before our trip to change up our route to the Bahamas.  The default route is to proceed down the coast of Florida until you get to Melbourne, then turn out over the water and head to Freeport, then direct into Treasure Cay (MYAT).  I have noticed over the years that a lot of aircraft seem to be arriving into MYAT from the northwest.  The problem with that route is that if you turn out early to make it happen, ATC needs you to be at 13,000 feet or above to provide radar services.  I really wanted to come in over the very northern part of the Abacos to see how much better the views below might be before landing.  So I took a chance and filed IFR for a route that would take me to Melbourne and then direct to Treasure Cay; basically cutting out Freeport.

I filed for 8000 feet and got cleared as filed!  Unfortunately it didn't stay that way, but it all worked out in the end.  I wasn't worried about the over-the-water time because it was almost the same by the time you reach Walker's Cay.  Just before we reached Daytona Beach, ATC offered us direct to Treasure Cay so I said yes!  As soon as we were handed off to Orlando Approach, we were diverted back south to stay out of some active restricted areas.  Once we were allowed to head for our destination again, I was told I either needed to climb to 13,000 feet or proceed further south towards Grand Bahama Island to maintain radar services.  I didn't want to do either.  So after thinking about it for a minute, I asked ATC if I could cancel IFR and just proceed VFR with flight following and stay with them for as long as I could at 7500 feet.  This may not sound like a big deal, but I wasn't sure how this would be handled since I was still smack in the middle of the ADIZ and didn't want to cause any problems.  ATC, and now I was talking to Miami Center, said no problem!  So we continued on and surprisingly we were able to stay in radar service with them quite a bit further than they had informed.

The flight over the ocean was peaceful and soon we could see Walker's Cay.  We cancelled flight following and descended to about 2000 feet as we cruised along the North Abaco cays until we reached the Treasure Cay airport.  This change to the routine was definitely worth it!  The views were amazing.  Abby and I took turns pointing out the sights and taking pictures.  Unfortunately Kristi missed the whole thing since she pretty much slept the whole flight until just before we landed.  Oh well, she liked the pictures though!

Our favorite taxi driver, Sydney Hart, was at the airport when we arrived.  Clearing Immigration & Customs was the usual painless experience except since our last visit we now have to pay a $50 landing fee to Customs.  Personally, I'm still not happy about the new fees like a lot of other pilots are, but the Bahamian Government wins this one because it's still such an amazing place to enjoy.  There are still now tie-down fees at MYAT so that's good.

We got to the Bahama Beach Club around 1 pm and were very happy to find the condo and our golf cart ready and waiting!  We made a quick trip to the grocery store for some essentials and then hit the beach!  We spent most mornings on the playing on the beach and then after lunch we would hang out at the pool.  There seemed to be a lot of folks around, but not as many as last year.  Unlike last year's chilly stay, we enjoyed almost perfect weather all week!

This year we ended up making most of our meals at the condo.  We enjoyed a few lunches and treats, like conch fritters, at the pool grill, but it was just easier to do things for ourselves and mainly on our schedule!  A few times a week the Bahama Beach Club has themed dinner nights.  If you do go, the Friday Steak Night is the best!  Pay for the upgrade and get the Filet & Lobster Tail.  You will not be disappointed.  We didn't end up attending any of these dinners this time, but the girls enjoyed the after dinner bonfires that are usually done.

I did get to dive two days, but most mornings for me started off with a nice long walk on the gorgeous Treasure Cay Beach.  I had different walking partners each morning and what a pair of posers they are!

We all went one morning towards the west end of the area to a place called Carleton Point.  Carleton Point is the area where loyalist refugees from New Your City settled in 1783.  The winds had picked up earlier in the week for a little bit and the girls were able to find some very cool treasures that had washed up.

By most afternoons, we were all pretty worn out from the days' activities.  It didn't bother me to just chill out in the condo with some rum punch and enjoy the view while the girls got some down time.  Towards the last half of the week the low tide cycle had shifted to the late afternoon which meant it was prime time for beach walking and shell finding again!

As it always does, time just flew by.  After 7 nights it was time to go home.  As I made the rounds in the morning to return the golf cart and pay our tab, I overheard conversations among folks that the phones were not working on the island including cell phones.  I really didn't pay it much attention until we got to the airport and were ready to leave.  I had already filed our eApis manifest and flight plan online the day before so all I had to do was make the required phone call to US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) prior to departure.  Most all the airports of entry in the Bahamas have blue phones available to pilots for free.  All the speed dial numbers are posted and you can easily call Flight Service to file flight plans and get weather briefings as well as phone any of the US Customs locations..............when the phones are working!!!!!!!  Uh oh. 

Failure to make this call and just "showing up" can supposedly result in a $5000 fine.  Yup, a little panic set in.  The Bahamian Customs Officer tried her personal cell phone for me multiple times with no luck.  I even turned my phone on knowing if I got through it would be an expensive phone call, but at least not as much as the fine!  No luck either.  I resolved to just take off, see if ATC could help at all once I opened my flight plan, and just plead forgiveness from the CBP Officers in Ft Pierce until I thought of one more thing.  I remembered a sign in the Customs and Immigration building that said "BTC WiFi Hotspot"  So after loading the plane and finishing my preflight, I headed back to the building to give it a try.  I turned on the the iPad, and quickly found the Customs wireless router listed.  It let me connect with no password!  Ok, let's see if the internet works..........yes!!!!!!!  Quickly over to Facebook and I made this quick post:

"All land lines and cell phones are down in Treasure Cay. Could someone please call Ft Pierce US Customs for us and make a notice of arrival for us? Phone number is 772-461-1733. Choose the prompt to make a notice of arrival. Please tell the officer that answers it is for aircraft tail number N424RM arriving FT Pierce airport at 1330. Please post here if you are successful so they don't get a lot of calls. Thank you. We are taking off now."

Then I prayed someone would help, loaded up the family, and took off right on time.  Climbing through 6000 feet we checked in with Miami Center and picked up our IFR clearance into Ft Pierce.  Halfway across Grand Bahama Island we started to cut through a few cloud layers.  Just before arriving, we had to make a few diversions for weather.  We were IMC off and on and picked up a bit of the rain.  It was maybe moderate rain at most and I didn't mind at that point because I saw it as a free and easy rinse for the plane after she sat  all week in the salt air.

Since you aren't allowed to use cell phones in the Customs Building until you are cleared and back outside, I turned my phone on just be fore we shutdown on the CBP ramp and was so relived to see that my sister-in-law was successfully able to make the call for us!  So we cleared Customs with ease and no fine!

After a partial fill of AVGAS and a to-go order of food, we were back in the air for the last leg home.  It was uneventful as usual, which is a good thing, and as much as we were all happy to be home, we were wishing we were still in Treasure Cay!

I did take the GoPro camera this trip and have been very happy with the results.  I'm still working on the clips and hope to have a short movie about this trip to share soon so stay tuned.............
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