Accept the Challenges.
So you might feel the Exhilaration of Victory
Sunday dawned, clear and beautiful.
After breakfast, all of us departed to the airport in shared cabs. The time was here. Over the weeks we had planned and re-planned. And that morning, re-planned again.
In order to fly to the Bahamas there are some key things to plan ahead of time:
- A User Fee Decal for the airplane
- A Radio license for the airplane
- A radio license for each of the pilots who wishes to fly in the Bahamas
- An owner authorization letter for rented aircraft
- An international VFR or IFR flight plan to the airport of entry (AOE) with customs in the Bahamas
- An eAPIS account to submit the manifest prior to entry into the Bahamas
- Customs forms per person or family and an Arrival form for each aircraft
- A Transient form to fly to multiple airports within the Bahamas
- Life vests (and raft if you prefer) for safety.
Items 1-4 have to be achieved well in advance, 2-4 weeks in advance. Although I have been told that it was okay to travel with payment receipts.
According to our original plans, Linda and I had planned to fly to Marsh Harbor direct from FPR and use that as our port of entry. Larry and Ann planned to stop at Freeport before heading to Stella Maris direct. John and Robyn and Paul and Sylvia planned to fly direct to Stella Maris.
Unlike the other’s who wanted to soak as much sunshine and laze on the beaches in the Bahamas, Linda’s and my goal was to fly as much as we could and land in as many airports as we could. I knew that we might not come back that way. And I definitely thought it would be awesome to land in Freeport, Bahamas.
Freeport and Nassau are the only two towered airports in the Bahamas. The rest all had one common CTAF 122.8. And so it happened that Linda and I altered our plans yet again and decided to use Freeport as our port of entry. I wanted to do the outbound flight to the Bahamas, file the eAPIS and fly that leg as PIC and she would file and fly the return back the US as PIC.
Be warned that it is necessary to register for an eAPIS account well ahead of the time. More important it is necessary to keep your eAPIS ID with you since it is not user specified but a generated ID that is provided and there is no way to reclaim it, if you lose it! Never save it to your iPAD notes that is not backed up to iCloud!!!
Long story short, I had to let Linda forward our manifest using her account with me as PIC, while I filed our international VFR flight plan. As with anything related to flying this took a good hour and half. We were happy to have all the guidance from Larry who had done this trip last year and had first hand experience with all the details (and did I mention that Larry just retired from Potomac TRACON just the Thursday before our trip?)
Linda and I departed last. It is necessary to wait 60 minutes after filing the eAPIS before you can depart. We had collected out life vests from APP Jet Center where we had parked overnight (thanks for the free parking!). It is best to pick your vests up, before you file the flight plan, since they ask you questions on the color and what’s included so you don’t need to pop over to ask them as you file your plan!
Larry had told us that we could depart VFR, tell FPR tower we were VFR to the east and contact Miami Radio to open our flight plan. Once in the air, with flight plan open and fortunate to get flight following with Miami Center it was just the ocean ahead. The adventure of a lifetime was upon us.
We flew direct to Freeport from FPR. 20 nm out we encountered a long line of clouds at 5500 ft. I opted to climb to 7500 ft. We were over open water. No land in sight. Life vests true. But no place to land. And even if we did, how long before a single engine Cessna 172 submerged. We couldn’t pull off a Sullenberger 🙂
Was I nervous? No.
A good friend of mine had given me a plaque as gift years ago: “Accept the Challenges, so you might feel the Exhilaration of Victory”. I believed in that absolutely. This also brought to mind Earheart’s quote:
Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not knows no release from little things.
The soul that knows it not knows no release from little things.
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights, where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
We flew in contentment. With no land in sight. It was 60 nm across the Atlantic Ocean. Peeping through the layer of clouds, I spotted the first sight of land. “Do you see what I see?” I asked Linda. “Yes, Land!” she laughed.
“Do you see land, 12 o’clock, 10 nm away?” asked Miami Center. “Affirmative ,” responded I. “We are starting a slow descent, ” seeing a huge hole in the clouds. “Frequency change approved, contact Freeport radio xxx, good day,” Miami Radio bid us adieu.
It was that easy. Almost. We descended and almost set up to land, before we realized hey that runway looked closer than 20 nm that the GPS was indicating we were from Freeport, before Linda identified we were setting up to land at a closed airport. We continued further north and landed at Freeport, Bahamas.
Customs was a piece of cake. They cared less for the first four items in my list. They did want the customs forms. And the arrival form. We took a stamp on the transient form and departed within half an hour (no restaurant there for that $100 hamburger).
Our original plan was to stop at Marsh Harbor for fuel and lunch. We departed and flew with Linda at the helm. It was clear, pristine and picturesque. Marsh Harbor was another 100 nm from Freeport. Our goal was to traverse the islands, airport to airport. An hour later, we landed at Marsh Harbor and parking at the wrong FBO, we walked over to the main terminal for lunch (no restaurant but just a counter to buy food). If you are vegetarian like me, you are doomed to one choice! Better than nothing 🙂
Lunch, fuel and customs later, Linda and I were off again. Despite my intention and hope that we could land at another airport, we had to press on to Long island. We flew, island to island, and airport to airport, taking in the breathtaking views, before finally arriving at our destination of Stella Maris Airport where we hoped to reside for the next two nights.
Winds at Stella were 320 @ 12. So we setup to land on 31. Okay, I admit the landing was not my best.
” How was your landing at Stella? Bob had his radio on, and we heard you come in”, asked the others who had spent the evening getting drinks at the Moonshine bar on the beach. “Weird, huh, ” said Paul. I think everyone else had a less than stellar landing.