Day 2 dawned sunny and clear, at least at Fort Pierce. To expedite our departure, we had submitted our EAPIS before breakfast and received email confirmation. After breakfast, we headed over to the airport. After filing our International flight plan over the radio, collecting our vests from the Airport Tiki (APP Jet Center), we departed second behind Bob and Rebecca,VFR to the east. BTW, according to Dave and Susan, we can now file the International flight plan in Foreflight, who recently updated the software to include the ICAO flight plan.
We had no trouble opening our flight plan with Miami Radio and obtaining VFR flight following with Miami Center, as we climbed to our filed altitude of 5,500 ft. The real fun began 20 miles out: a layer of thick cumulonimbus clouds formed between us and the Bahamas. We climbed to 7,500 ft to get over them and continued forth. Through a hole in the clouds, I thought I saw land and opted to dive to lower altitude. Our plan was to fly from FPR direct to Freeport, over the Grand Bahama island to the Abacos, over Abacos to Eleuthra and land at North Eleuthra for some lunch and fuel. Not all airports have fuel, customs and lunch facilities nearby. North Eleuthra airport happens to be one of the airports with all three available.
Diving down to 3,500ft, we still couldn’t see a clearing. By this time we had been transferred to Freeport Approach. I realized that what I had seen was the shadow of clouds on the water and land was still another 20 miles away! We had no choice but to climb back up, in circling turns constrained by clouds all around and switch back to Miami Center as we climbed over 6,000ft to 9,500ft. We considered our options as we barely floated on clouds (topped at 9,500ft) and flew onwards. Very few airports in the Bahamas has instrument approach procedures and most of them require you to arrive before 5:30 pm before sunset and before the customs office closes.
We contacted Miami Radio for a weather update as we considered our options. We could always land at Freeport or Nassau, two public airports served by control towers with instrument approaches. Fortunately, we learned that 20 miles past Freeport it would clear up.
As we made our way towards New Bight, we heard several of the others on the radio just having left FPR. IMC conditions across the south had prevented at least two VFR pilots stranded the previous day in Ferdinanda Beach and Savannah from making progress. A rescue effort was executed earlier in the day. Bob, Roger and Joe had hitched a ride in Troy’s Bonanza and flown back to not only move baggage from John’s 206 and fly him and Robin to FPR but also fly Arnaud and his friend from Ferdinanda Beach to FPR. Rose and her friend who had experienced radio problems had to abandon the flight to the Bahamas and return back home. Dean who was flying a light sport aircraft with his dad had to also abandon the trip. Racing against time, all aircraft attempted to get to New Bight before sunset.