For many years flying my own airplane to the Bahamas has been a very high item on my bucket list. In the beginning it was never even imaginable that it would happen, especially in an airplane that I built. Then and also to have another RV-10 come along with filled with great friends and family.
When it finally seemed that it might become a reality, the plans started to come together almost a year in advance. It was initially planned that my wife and I would do the trip over our 20th anniversary, celebrating two great feats. However, those plans changed soon as as we talked more about the trip. It was very evident that we should share this experience with others. And so it was set, lets ask some friends and family.
The attendees ended up to be Stacey and I, my sister and brother in law Polly and Brian, and great friends Ellis and Kris and flying the other RV-10 Tim & Becky. Above picture was the day of departure. Pretty intimidating group Huh?
Planning on where we would stay in the Bahamas had to fit into a strict vision of what I had in my head. The goal was to find a place where there was none or very little tourism, absolutely no commercialization, no large cities or airports, no cruise ships and no crowded beaches. During this trip I wanted it to be as relaxing and carefree as it could be. Not fighting crowds, conversing with locals, learning local cultures and long sandy beaches all to our self was a must. After some long searches the perfect place was found. We picked the island of Eleuthera and would be renting a house on the beach just north of the town of Governors Harbour. The place was perfect.
It was now planned that we would do the adventure in 2 Vans RV-10's and load them with 4 adults each. And yes, I know the first thing everybody thinks of is how much luggage can we bring. Doing some estimating on weights and moving luggage between planes based on who was flying with who, we found that each person could bring about 25-30 lbs of luggage each. And again, yes, would that put us over gross weight, maybe a little but not bad. And really, we are going to an island where it is warm, how many clothes do we need anyway?
The trip would begin leaving from our hometown in Wahpeton, ND flying as a flight of 2 and travel the first day to Fort Pierce, FL where we would stop for the night, get up the next morning and file all the required paperwork and flight plans, then head across the water to Eleuthera Bahamas. We had no real stops planned for the flights down to Fort Pierce and would plan each leg as we went based on times and weather.
Our departure date arrived quite quickly. Leaving Wahpeton that Friday morning was already showing a challenge. The weather was minimum VFR consisting of a low lying overcast sky. However, clear skies were not far south so we decided to head out and fly the minimums until VFR. First part was not to bad, a little snow and a little ice but before long we were in the clear. The weather cleared and we gathered into our flight of two and we were excitingly off on our first leg. Flying for about 3 hours it was time to make our first stop for fuel and stretch our legs and soon landed in a small town called KTAZ Taylorville, IL. After a quick stop for fuel and check the weather for the next leg we were off once again.
The second leg looked to be almost perfect with mostly clear skies and very little winds aloft. Again flying as a flight of two with myself in the lead the trip continued. The second leg again was pushing just over 3 hours so decided to make another stop landing at KPXE Perry Houson, GA. Grabbed some quick snacks and fuel and loaded back up for the final leg into Fort Pierce.
This last leg we decided to stay a bit lower in altitude to enjoy some scenery. And once reaching Florida to fly to the west of Orlando then sneak over to the east and fly down along the coast into Fort Pierce. Sounded like a great plan and did not see any issues with that. However, it was overlooked that we would be flying in an area where there is a ton of flight training coming out of Embry Riddle. And not only was it busy due to traffic, but there is lots of Class D airspace along the east coast you have to deal with. Flight Following was definitely our friend on this part of the leg. After some stressful flying we were finally done with our last leg landing at in Fort Pierce for the night. We emptied the planes, grabbed some taxis to the hotel, our for a quick dinner and a couple of drinks, then off to bed to rest for the big flight across the water.
The next morning came very quickly even after a long sleepless night. The time was near and I was as nervous as ever flying over the water. Not sure why I was so bothered but I was just about sick to my stomach as we sat around the airport finishing up paperwork and flight plans.
We planned our route that would take us across one of the shortest stretches of ocean. This flight consisted of departing from Fort Pierce and to fly down the coast for a while then turn to the east to cross the ocean, pass over Freeport then follow the islands until finally reaching Governors Harbour. The trip planned was KFPR → BLUFI → KIXAL → MYGF → MYAT →MYAM → MYAS → MYEH → MYEM. Departing Fort Pierce we headed to the south along the coast and within minutes of getting Flight Following, we were directed to immediately turn to the east for incoming traffic into Miami. So much for taking the shortest path across the ocean. That was it, we were now over the ocean and there was no turning back.
After about 15 minutes into the flight all the nerves finally relaxed and I realized that the plane knows no difference if it is over land or water. There were no mysterious noises coming from the engine or air-frame as most other pilots mentioned that have taken these trips before. Now I was fully relaxed and excited beyond belief. It was not long and we could start to see the first island popping up in the distance. Our flight continued on over Freeport under the direction of Flight Following. Once passing outside of the Freeport airspace on the east sidewe cancelled our ATC help and descended to level that allowed us to catch the beautiful scenery below us. And spectacular it was.
The flight continued from island to island until reaching Governors Harbour. The last 100 miles or so of the flight we flew around 1000' and followed the coastal portion of each island. Governors Harbour airport is an old Naval Base and has a long 8000' runway so landing was no issues. Upon landing we parked the airplanes and were met by very friendly airport customs personnel. All the paperwork required we pre-filled, except for some minor things that were missed in which the customs people took care of for us. It was quite surprising how easy it was to fly over to the Bahamas and clear customs. We were now free to roam the islands.
Our rental car was awaiting as we cleared customs so we loaded up and headed down the road to find our new residence for the next week. The house we rented is managed by a small resort (a so called resort that has 2 bungalows, a restaurant and a bar by the pool) just down the driveway. We arrived a bit early and the house was not ready, so it was time to really start the vacation and belly on up to the bar. Greeted by one the best bartenders around, Sammy swiftly grabbed us all a drink to enjoy. The emotions that were traveling through my body were incredible. I was almost unbelievable that this far fetched dream from long ago is actually taking place. Things could not be any better, gazing at the awesome blue ocean, sipping down a couple of cocktails and being surrounded by some of the best friends and family a guy could ask for. It puts you at a loss for words.
After finishing up a few of those fine tasting beers and cocktails, it was time to get into our house. CeeCee and her husband Nick gave us the tour and filled us in on all the amenities we had before us for the week. We quickly got moved in and figured we better get to the market for some groceries and most important of all, a few more beverages. The day had sped by quickly so we ran to the restaurant below and enjoyed our first genuine Bohemian meal. There is one thing I have to say that made this trip so great and that was the food. Every meal was something a bit different and was always excellent. Nighttime as fallen upon us and it was now time to get a good nights rest and enjoy the rest of the week.
Woke up the next morning to some cloudy skies and some showers but soon after a few cups of coffee, the sun appears and off to pool. Spending the day listening to local music, conversing among friends and enjoying a few more cocktails. Another great day was had by all.
Each day of this trip entailed pretty much of the same routine of walks on the beach, site-seeing, great meals and plenty of drinks. But mostly, the goal was to do as little as possible. One day we spent driving around the island. It was filled with visiting local bar/restaurants and filled with site-seeing. Another of those days was jumping back in the planes and heading over to another small island for a boat tour and lunch. So early one morning we were off to Staniel Cay. This so called boat tour we had reserved was just a couple of locals with very small boats to drive us around for the day. One of the boat owners actually just said take his boat, so we did. We spent the time there boating around to tour some island specialties. The first was Iguana Beach that is filled with many almost extinct iguana's. Then a wide open trip across the bumpy ocean to another beach to swim with the pigs. This was quite the scene but a lot of fun. Then a bit more touring of the islands and marinas then back to the main area for some lunch at Staniel Cay Beach Club before heading back to Eleuthera. It ended up being a very fun filled day with some interesting experiences.
After a long and fulfilled week, the time had come to where we needed to start thinking and planning for our trip back to the cold tundra of North Dakota. Pulling weather forecasts to get an idea for a route home, we found that we would have to leave a day early. If we did not, there was a good chance that we would be stranded for a couple of days with no accommodations. So the decision was made to takeoff a day early and stay ahead of some of the storms that were in the forecast.
So the morning of departure, we gathered all of our goods and headed for the airport. The plan was to fly over to North Eleuthera to fill with fuel and get all our paperwork and flight plans taken care of. Things at the time looked quite good as long as we headed to the north a bit then west, almost the same route as when we arrived. We then took off as a flight of two and headed to the north. There was some trouble getting flight following so we just headed on our flight plan. But about half way to Freeport the weather did start to build and we had to climb to around 9000' to stay on top and then skirt the larger cells.
Once we crossed over Freeport we received Flight Following and continued our route to Fort Pierce where we would clear customs. Listening to the radio calls coming from other aircraft it was evident that the storm clouds were building and instead of them being more to the south, they were actually directly in our flight path and building to the north. After verifying the weather hazards we were about to encounter with ATC, we briefly got into some IMC. We immediately directed our planes to the south to get back into VMC conditions. It only took a few minutes and we were back in the clear. However, now our flight path had storms building to the south and to the north trapping us in between. With cumulus clouds in front and both sides of us climbing to over 35,000' we chose to descend and try and duck under them. We could see the ocean below us and we there was no severe weather threat in our area so we continued with the help and eyes of ATC. As we descended the clouds also descended and it was not until we were 900' above the water before we were low enough to get under the clouds. A bit freeky when you are 80 miles from the shore line.
Luckily we it was only few minutes until the cloud layer started to lift and we were through the worst of it. It was our intention to climb back up but ATC said as long as we were comfortable flying at 500' or below we could stay there until we hit the shore line and then follow the coast line all the way up to Fort Pierce. Which was a great option in our mind so we took them up on that. Once reaching the shore line we skimmed along at 500' just over the ocean for our almost 45 minute flight to the north.
Arriving at Fort Pierce we cleared customs in about 15 minutes, just after they made us unload every little thing from both planes even though they did not look at any part of it or the luggage. Once again the weather was building to the north so we hurried to get airborne and see if we could get in front of it. Only made it up to Melbourne and were forced to land and wait it out. There was lots of thunderstorms with lightning that did not fair well with us. After sitting around most of the afternoon we decided to just call it a day and get a hotel on the beach, hangout, have some dinner and try again the next day.
Early the next morning we gathered for some coffee to finalize a plan for the day. Weather again was questionable on weather we could actually get through the top of Florida and across Georgia. It was going to be a day of fly for a bit, land, wait it out, then do it all over again and again. Since we had young kids at home that were gonna have to be attended to and the possibility of arriving a day late getting home, we booked the wives airline tickets home. The four of us then departed Melbourne to pick our way through the weather. We made it about 100 miles each leg and after the third stop it looked as though we were clear. This last leg was once again plagued with weather to the north and forced us to head more to the west. Since it looked like we were not going to make it home we decided to stop and spend the night in Branson, MO.
Waking the next morning we headed off for breakfast and for a weather briefing. Current weather was IFR consisting of 400' overcast and mist. Though the forecast was for it to move out of the area by noon, it hung around most of the day. VFR weather was only about 15 miles to the west and it was then clear skies the rest of the way home. Later that afternoon there was a quick break to where we could get out of Branson and fly west into clearer weather. Since we were already waiting it out at the airport, we were able to quickly depart. It was less than 10 minutes and the clouds bases slowly ascended until it was clear skies. We were now clear for the rest of the flight home. After one fuel stop in Nebraska we made it home. The funny part is that the wives missed their flight out of Melbourne and ended staying another night before flying out the next morning. They only beat us home by a couple of hours.
Well, it is unfortunate that the trip is over. We all made it home safe and sound. The week was fantastic. The rental house was spectacular. The food and drinks were amazing. The weather was warm. And best of all, I got to enjoy a life's dream with great people.