Summer Diversions - Bahamas/Florida 2014

Added 6/23/2014


School wasn't quite out yet... It had been a long and miserable winter of historical cold, dragging our school year out a few days, but the High School band was scheduled to play at Disney's Magic Kingdom.  That was all it took to give me the green light for another flight!  We yanked the younger of the twerp patrol out of her last couple of days of classes, which probably consisted of cleaning erasers, counting pencils, and playing kick-ball, and headed down to Florida.

Here I was, a grown man who supposedly was just coming into his age of wisdom, and I was violating my #1 rule of summer vacations...DO NOT GO SOUTH!  Yes, for many years that's been my policy.  It's hot enough in Wisconsin, as Oshkosh goers know, but whenever you hear of the truly miserable hot and stormy weather, it's usually South of here.  What would a trip in June be like to the swampy state of Florida...and to the Bahamas during the start of their Hurricane season?  I wasn't quite sure on departure day, but by the end of our return flight, I had a lot better idea.  Why did I ever doubt myself?

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As we loaded up and headed out, departing about 2 hours after the bus full of "Our Nation's Future", the flight plan showed it was going to be a challenging day of travel.  At least I could take comfort in one matter how many diversions we had, and how slow the trip was going to be, we should easily beat the bus down there.  There was a mass of rain and storms over Northern Illinois, where it seems to park for basically all of the summer, followed by the usual long North/South line of storms moving across the country....right along our normal route.  I decided that at least the first leg would be best flown on an IFR plan, allowing us to get up into the smooth, cool air, plowing our way through the clouds.  There weren't many stronger areas of rain or storms, just widespread greens and yellows for the most part, which is ideal weather for an IFR flight.  When the cells start to build up, and you may have to slip between anything, I ususally drop the IFR clearance and get down to where I'll have constant ground viz, and can see what's really coming out of the base of those clouds.  But this first leg was a piece of cake.  We flew along in beautiful skies, between layers, all the way to southern Indiana.

Although this trip is usually done easily with one fuel stop, I prefer to fly shorter legs and carry more fuel when flying around the weather.  It's bad enough not knowing with certainty that the weather at your stops will hold, but to have to concentrate on finding the best alternate on a long cross country makes for more work than I like to do...especially when the fuel price is the primary method I use to pick an enroute stop.  Filling up in Southern IN allowed me to fly through the first section of weather, and then stop and fuel up before dealing with the 2nd, separate mass of weather.  By adding another stop in Georgia, I could fuel up one more time before heading into Florida, knowing that Florida would likely be chock full of afternoon/evening storms when we got there.

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As it turned out, the plan worked well.  We got to do a nice RNAV/GPS approach into KJVY on the first leg, then decided to depart IFR again to KAMG, staying East of the entire line of storms.  Being out in front of a front can sometimes give you unpredictable weather, so we had to be ready for whatever Easterly diversions we neeeded.  As we flew Southbound, the storms were always 25-50 miles off our right wingtip, but we had excellent flying conditions.  It can get kind of eerie when you have a storm off your wing and it's always there, but we kept our distance and it worked out great.  Oh, and when filing the IFR plan, I'm lucky enough to often take routes where I can simply file direct, but on the 2nd leg I threw in a VOR as my first waypoint...that would get me out in front of the storms and allow me to have a direct path that could go straight into GA.

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As we flew down to Florida, we were always thinking of how our little bus passenger was doing down below somewhere.  A (mostly) non-stop bus ride just couldn't be as fun as the short plane ride we were experiencing.  Our trip was to end at night, but theirs was going to continue for more than 16 hours longer.  Above is a couple of shots of the bus showing my bookworm enjoying herself, and the other showing a bus that looks more like it overturned than one that was comfortably rolling down the highway. :)
But being young, I'm sure they were having a great trip surrounded by friends.

Landing in Southern Georgia, we quickly topped off again.  The weather was NOT a pretty sight.  I was quickly learning that Florida is not a pilot's paradise in the summer.  Not only do you get stuck in a hot muggy cockpit, but Florida's heat combined with ocean/gulf moisture, creates an almost perpetual thunderstorm machine. We were just over 1 hour from our destination, but we could only fly 25-30 minutes before we reached an area where almost the entire state's width, and at least 100nm North and South of our destination was covered in heavy rain and strong thunderstorms.  This was unique, however, in that the storms were moving Westerly.  (Or maybe that's common in Florida, but I'm sure not used to that)  I definitely preferred to be on the East coast at that point, flying down behind the strong line of storms.  My goal was to sneak past a large cell, then pass through a gap between that one and the next, and head East out to the coast.  Once out on the coast it looked like only rain, and then I could fly down to just North of Orlando before cutting West to KLEE where I'd land in rain...perhaps light, perhaps moderate.  The fly in the ointment is that there were a few restricted areas going East, and there was a lot more airspace to deal with, with East coast towered airports and the Orlando class Bravo....and I wanted to do this leg VFR to stay low and avoid the storms.  As we flew past the first big cell, outside of the storm in the sun, we suddenly went from a smooth ride to a very gusty and bumpy ride.  Besides that, with the humidity and the late hour of the day, it was so hazy to the East that while it LOOKED like we could pass in the large gap bewtween the storms, the darkness could indicate that we'd fly into heavier precipitation.  It's much easier to fly INTO the area of light skies when working around the weather.  So we bailed on that plan.

Time to head West and get down the front of the storm front. There were no breaks that would allow us to go direct to KLEE, so we headed much futher South than KLEE, out right over the Western Shorline, flying South closer to Tampa before we could spot a good break that would allow us to pass through the harsh leading edge of the front and into the more weakening interior.  The plan worked, however, and once we were able to penetrate that line, we were in calm skies with good evening visibility, and still get in easily VFR.

After a bit of a break in The Villages, we were ready to head to Disney by car.

Every time I go to disney, I'm impressed by the overall Disney experience.  We stayed in one of the budget hotels on property, Disney's All-Star Movies resort.  It was a good place to stay on a budget, which we certainly were if we were still heading to the Bahamas.  The higher-end resorts are much nicer, however.  But the food was great, the accommodations were good, and it was easy access to all of the parks for us.  On arrival day we didn't have a whole day to be there so we opted to go to Disney's Blizzard Beach waterpark, which I had assumed would be jam packed in the summer.  Turns out it wasn't at fact, if we waited in any lines, it was no more than 4 or 5 people ahead of us.  Granted the skies were grey in the afternoons, which may turn off many people, but we found the temperature of both the water and air to be perfect.  With our 7 day Park-Hopper passes having 5 days left on them, and only 2 days to be at Disney, it was already paid-for many moons ago, and we were able to visit Disney's Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot, all on the first day...saving Magic Kingdom for day 2 when the band would play.
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Funny sideline...
Touring around Epcot's "Innoventions" I thought it funny to see that GM had on display their 2014 Chevy Volt as an Innovative thing.  This is because I bought a 2014 Chevy volt last fall and I've found it to be the most fantastic car.  Yeah, I still drool over Tesla, but with this thing I have unlimited range if I need it, so it's a more perfect match for someone who *may* end up driving their car on a 500 or 2000 mile journey.  No, I likely won't, because if I were traveling more than 300 miles I'd just fly the RV-10, but range worries for me.  The car has been amazing, and although we had a miserable winter with more than 50 or 60 days below zero, I was able to make the most of electric range.  Thus far at the time of this writing, I've only filled up 6 times, and I've owned the car 9 months.  The gas tank holds 9 gallons, but I've never filled more than 7.9.  My lifetime average MPG is 154mpg.  My last fill-up was done on March 2nd, 2014, and since that time I've driven over 3,250 miles.  In fact, I haven't used ANY fuel at all now that the weather is warmer, in the past 1,100 miles!  The cost to charge is about .84 cents per day *if* you drain the battery completely, and the range on that battery, although rated at 38 miles, often can get you anywhere from 35 to 45 miles pretty easily, depending on the speeds you must travel on your commute.  Although the fuel mileage when running the engine is rated at 37mpg, for me, my statistics are horrible...but there's a good reason.  Due to the extreme cold (many days were -20F to -32F this winter!!!), much of my fuel burned was burned in my garage, as I preheated the car, getting runs the engine automatically during preheat if the temperature is less than 15F, and this year we had probably more than 3-4 months of those temperatures here.  So we're almost worst-case where I live, yet I find it to be a fantastic car, and highly recommend you test drive one if you haven't.....put it in sport mode and stuff the pedal to the floor and you'll see that it's not just any slow car.

Not that I'm some tree hugging greenie or anything are EASY to move away from petroleum.  Airplanes are NOT.  So as pilots, the best thing we can do to preserve our petroleum for aircraft use is to conserve it in all of our wheeled vehicles.  After owning a volt, I'm sold.  If they finally make a Suburban that can work the same way, and still tow 9000lbs, I'll be in line to buy it.

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After a couple days in Disney, we had to head over to Coco Beach for operation "Daughter Recovery".  While originally she was unhappy with being pulled away from the group bus ride, I think after the more than 24 hour drive down to Florida she now understands why flying would really be the more fun way to go.  We flew to Merritt Island airport, spent some time on the beach, and then got her in and loaded just in time to start another afternoon of storm dodging as we made our way to KPMP near Ft. Lauderdale.
There we would meet up with Lenny and his newly flying and beautiful RV-10, and Anda, his girlfriend, so they could join us for a Bahamas Vacation!   This time our destination was another new one...the island of Eleuthera, with it's beautiful Pink sand beaches, and some really awesome SCUBA diving!

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We departed the next morning early, hoping to beat any of the late a.m. or afternoon weather, so that we could make our trip on schedule.  As you can see by the screenshot below, I once again filed my eApis using iApis....that app is SO FAST for filing eApis filings, it's well worth the $1.99 per filing.  Also, as I've discussed on a past trip or two, despite everything saying that you must be on an IFR or DVFR flight plan when leaving or entering the country, we've found after talking to Lockheed Martin FSS that this really just isn't perfectly accurate.  We filed our flight plans using Foreflight, as VFR (BUT, as ICAO) plans.  Then called FSS and asked them to review our plans and see if it needed to be tweaked to DVFR.  Both of us called independently and no, as we filed them was fine.  So, that was all it took.  Usually I'd file IFR, but Lenny is not yet IFR rated and flying as a "flight" with 2 planes, we probably wouldn't be allowed to fly in close proximity, so VFR for this flight was the way to go.

Another foreflight tip...  If you remember a couple years ago there was the big hub-bub of that totally lame company, Flight Prep Inc, claiming patent infringement on all of the flight planners, forcing them to pay them money to operate web based flight planning software...well that really ticked me off.  I'll never again have any respect for Flight Prep.  Now, when filing a flight plan with Foreflight (or many software's) you may have the option to enter your CSC DUAT code and file your plan via CSC DUAT.  Well, CSC Inc. and Flightprep Inc. are related, and every time you file a plan with CSC DUAT, they get a bit of money from the federal government.
As it turns out, you don't need to enter ANY credentials into Foreflight, and if you don't, it will file DIRECT with Lockheed Martin using a different interface.  In fact, that interface may even WORK better....AND it keeps CSC from getting a cut out of the feds.  So, do yourself as a taxpayer a favor and DO NOT USE CSC DUAT, and do AVIATION a favor and DO NOT SUPPORT FLIGHTPREP in any way.  We're making the aviation world a better place by letting them just slowly die.

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These pictures were taken during the wrong time of the day to get great photos, and from a bad sun angle while we flew x/c to the Bahamas, but they give you an idea of how beautiful Lenny's RV-10 turned out.  Once again, as you fly over the island areas, the water is the most magnificent of colors, and it looks completely inviting.

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As we flew inbound to the island, we overflew North Eleuthera (MYEH) and headed down towards Governor's Harbor Airport (MYEM).  We decided to fly a couple minutes further and see if we could locate our resort.  We booked rooms in Pineapple Fields, which is a condo style resort on the Atlantic side of the island.  They have both 1 room and 2 room units available.  The 2 room units are absolutely perfect for a family of 4.  The photos below and above show the resort from the air.  It's located right across the street from Tippys, a Bar/Restaurant on the beach.  The resort is a circular pattern of condos, with a nice warm pool in the center.  The rooms are very nice and were in great condition and clean, with a full kitchen in them.  This came in handy because food is one of the more expensive things on the island, and our early morning dive charters didn't allow us to go to a restaurant.  We were able to eat right in the room.  And, more on this later but, you can buy fresh fish and cook it yourself.

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Governor's Harbor airport was in what I'd call great condition for a Bahamas airport.  Lenny didn't agree with me on that, with rocks on the runway, but I've seen far worse.  It was a long, wide runway, devoid of plants growing up through broken asphalt like you find sometimes.  The customs lady had absolutely NO sense of humor, nor common friendliness, as seems to be common when you visit customs people.  It's almost like they want to be so official that they don't even smile at you.  But, we made it through in short order and were on our way to the rental cars.  After our last trip to the Bahamas, I came prepared with pre-filled C7A cruising permit forms (4 of them) which helped.  If only I'd have grabbed a pile of Bahamas immigration cards for next time.  They charged $50 for the airplane landing/parking fee, which was no big deal.  On departure we had to pay the $25/per person fee as well.  Fuel was NOT available at MYEM, as some references had incorrect and some had correct.  You have to pay attention and preferably call ahead to verify where fuel is available in the Bahamas, as not all places have it.  You usually can get it easy and close by, but knowing how that fits into your aircraft's range and flight plan is important.  In our case, we knew MYEH had it, and that is only an 8 minute flight away, so we just planned to get fuel there on the way outbound. 

See below for pictures of Tippy's, Pineapple Fields Resort, the airport, and the beach.

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One of our primary reasons for going on this vacation was to get a chance to go SCUBA diving.  The Bahamas is one of the best places for diving you can find, and it's also one of the easiest places you can fly to, to do it!  We dove 2 days, giving us a 24 hour margin for flying after diving which for diving is a good safety thing to prevent decompression sickness.  Both days we started with our deepest dive, a wall dive, going down a wall that started at around 60-65' and took us down through swimthrough tunnels and canyons to a depth of around 100'.  The wall was absolutely fantastic.  I've always been a fan of wall dives, having done many in the past.  The Bahamas is surrounded by shallow water on one side of most islands, then it goes out to a ridge and on the deep side it just drops extremely fast to a few thousand feet of depth.  This gives great clear conditions, and lots of sea life.  On most of the dives we did, we saw small reef and black tipped sharks, and other marine animals.

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After reading some web forums of diving reviews for Eleuthera, we chose to do our diving with Al Curry, of Ocean Fox Cotton Bay.  That turned out to be the most important call I made in planning the trip, in fact.  Al is a previous US resident, turned Eleuthera islander, and he's been there a few years now so he knew the lay of the land.  Their number is (242) 334-6300.  Despite the "Cotton Bay" in the name, the dive operation is actually based in Davis Harbour Marina, at the South end of the island.  The reviews we read said that Ocean Fox was far better to go out with than Valentine's, so we planned accordingly.

The way this trip was planned was like this:   I called Al, asked about diving availability....keep in mind I didn't even start to book this stuff until I was within 2 weeks...yes 2 weeks, of our planned vacation.  He told me about the types of dives they had...boiling holes, blue holes, drift, wall, shark, and all of that good stuff, and he runs a small dive boat that only takes about 8 people max, which is perfect for us. We had 5 divers and he had availability for the 2 days we were planning on going.  Up to this point I still hadn't decided WHICH ISLAND I wanted to go to.  We wanted to try a new island, and this was one choice of a few. 

So after talking to Al, I was pretty ok with going to Eleuthera, but where to stay?  Well, if you go to Ocean Fox's website, they have links to EVERYTHING you need to plan the vacation.  They have the suggested resorts to stay at, rental car info, and most everything.  It took me all of 30 minutes to explore the web and make just 1 phone call (Sky Beach) before I had my mind made up.  Sky Beach didn't answer, and didn't even call me back for a week.  Pineapple Fields I didn't even have to phone call.  I read reviews and they got almost 5 star reviews and seemed to have repeat customers, and they also had a good interactive website that shows scheduling availability.  A few clicks later I saw that both Lenny and I could get rooms, and I called him up and we simultaneously booked our rooms.  That was all it took.   I next needed a rental car, which I didn't even try to arrange for a few more days, but was able to make my reservations with Roderick for cars.  They provided us with 2 minivans that would hold us and dive gear.  So with that one contact of Ocean Fox (Al Curry) I was able to plan nearly the entire vacation.

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The best grocery store we found was in Rock Sound, on the way back from SCUBA diving.  They even took credit cards, which was a very rare thing on that island.  Be prepared to bring lots and lots of cash.  Gas was $6/gal, cars rented for around $70/day and you definitely will want a car.  Food you can count on $25-35/per person per meal with gratuity included.  

On the way home from diving that first day, we were hungry and Al told us we should try Rosie's Northside Inn.  She actually has small cottages that are very similar to what Staniel Cay Yacht Club would offer, and would be a great place to stay for a couple looking for some quiet romantic getaway.  Al gave us directions and said to drive down that final road until we felt we had gone too far.  That turned out to be EXACTLY the way it was....we drove down the road, it narrowed, became bumpy, went up a hill and seemed like we were just about to go off-roading, and Andrea said "I think we've went too far".   5 seconds later we're in front of the house.  Yes, it's her house. Rosie runs the restaurant right at her house.  We showed up, walked in the front door into an area that looked like a bar or restaurant entrance, and it was all raked sand inside...decorated very nicely.  We went in to the dining room with multiple tables like any restaurant and sat down.  Rosie was in the kitchen cooking, and 2 other customers were in the dining area. After a bit she came out and simply asked us what we'd like to have.  We said, "Well what are our choices?".  She started rattling off a whole laundry list of options.   Her prices were far better than other restaurants we ate at, and her food was good.  She basically has a lot of food options on hand and will just cook up whatever you dropping in at Mom's house hungry with your friends, and having Mom make you whatever you wish.  Very cool.

The biggest surprise we got after we drove up, however, was the view.  We walked out on the grass towards the ocean and saw about the most awesome beautiful view we'd ever seen.  Multi-colored bright blue water with reefs, palm trees, sand, and everything it takes to make a perfect background for a picture.  What a place to have a wedding or other event this would be!  It was really breathtaking.
See below for some pictures of her view, including a panorama.  My eldest teen terror got her first experience with eating a fish that was cooked with it's head still on it.  I must admit, that's something I haven't even ever tried in my life.

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After eating at Rosie's, we'd heard that we could get fresh fish when the fishermen came back in during the afternoon.  That first dive day we missed them, but the 2nd day, everyone who was SCUBA diving ended up at the same spot.  The fishermen set up under an awning on the beach, showing their fresh fish.  You tell them which one you want and they fillet it right there for you and send you on your way.  Lenny was dying to cook his own fish on the Pineapple Fields grill, so we got 2 of them and took them back to the resort.
That 2nd day we needed another dining experience, so we tried out Sky Beach's restaurant.  Now don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful place, but after eating there I think we did better going to Pineapple Fields.  Sky Beach has some amazing looking upscale homes you can in 4 bedroom awesome homes, with infinity pools, and a restaurant with swim-up bar and infinity pool as well.  If you're looking for a big house, and a fancy place to stay, this may just be it.  But, it was all set back quite far from the beach as wasn't nearly as short a walk down to the beach as we had with Pineapple Fields.  It does look to be a nice place to stay, and I don't know what the cost difference would have been, but I was real glad we ended up where we were.

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One of the things that we didn't explore until our last full day on the island, was the snorkeling off of Tippy's Restaurant.  What a mistake that was.  The beach was phenomenal in itself, with the pink very fine sands, and perfect water temps.  No scuzzy stuff on the beaches, either.  It was great.  But after snorkeling out, we ran into some nice reef, and after going a little further, the reef got better and better.  Yes, just a short swim out we saw some truly wonderful shallow reefs, some of them so shallow you can't swim over them because there isn't room between the water surface and the reef.  All of it is very shallow and easy to see.  We ran across a small flounder type fish that kept us occupied for a while, and also a sand colored skate, a red strawberry grouper, and some other marine life.  Really a great little spot to snorkel so I wish we had tried it sooner.  After a bit of snorkeling, we rinsed off the sand and then took a quick dip in the pool as well.  What a way to spend a day!

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The next day we had intended to stick around the island until about 2pm, but, after flying in, and observing Florida's June weather for about a week, we felt it best to get going and arrive on mainland before mid-afternoon.  It seemed like every day there were just SO MANY storms that popped up, and since we had to file eApis using resort wifi, and also file flight plans, we figured we better file it up and then get going while we knew we could make our ETA.  Yes, once again there were big storms coming off the shorline, right in our straight route path.  At first Lenny didn't know if we could do it, but, having watched these things move for days, I could see that it would work out ok if we just diverted North a bit and then worked back down to Fort Lauderdale Executive.  Below is a screenshot from my iphone of the route and the storms.  So, we filed, and headed to the airport for the trip home.  Below are some foggy in flight photos snapped from our Drift camera footage.

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I think one of my favorite things has to be flying in loose formation, doing photos of friends RV-10's while we fly among the clouds and islands.  It really makes the trip just awesome...just seeing such a beautiful bird off your wing, and having your good friends share the trip with you.

Below you can see that the weather started to come down a bit as we flew nearer the rain storms.  We ended up dropping to 2500' around Freeport, and then after ensuring we had great visibility and could stay clear of storm cells, we turned on course for KFXE and climbed back up a bit to give more glide range in case of an emergency.  In no time we were approaching the Florida coast.  US Customs was a breeze, only having to fill in the one general declaration form and show our passports, plus the random bag search of our luggage.  It only took a short time and we were ready to head back up to KLEE to spend the night with family.

Again, this was better planned than executed.  Beginning with the first iphone screenshot below we could see we were going to have to deal with weather again.  This time it was going to be even trickier.  With the class Bravo around Orlando so tight with the rain, and the more Westerly route hard to get to, we had to run up the East coast, not too many miles inland again, and see what would happen.  We headed up that way, figuring we'd have to go North of Orlando and then cut West to Leesburg, but as we got closer, we saw there would be just enough room for us to scoot past the line of heavier storms if we stayed below 1600' of the class Bravo of Orlando.  We scooted West and soon were able to turn Northbound and fly past the Disney TFR where we got another good look at all of the Disney properties from the air.  It turned out to be a great little flight.

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After staying overnight, we got up early.  That last iphone photo above showed the weather we had in store for the day.  If we left early, we'd have clear sailing out of Florida, and limited activity in the central US, with lots of heavy storms around home.  We didn't know how the timing would work out for actually making it home, so we wanted to get started right away and give ourselves plenty of time for ground stops while we waited for weather to pass.  Well, this just was NOT going to be my day.

First, as I got ready to depart, we realized we had a flat left main tire.  No idea why.  It was always one of my big fears...having a flat tire while in the Bahamas or Alaska or somewhere that may not have the 15/600-6 tire or tube that I need.  We simply don't have room or weight capacity for carrying spares of these things.  But today at least, I was at KLEE with SunAir's maintenance department only a quick golf cart ride away.  I dug in right away to pulling the fairing off, while the wife went to check on maintenance help regarding jacks.  I know some people carry homemade mini jacks, which could be a real help, but again, I can't afford the added weight with the loads we haul, nor the space.  Additionally, without actually jacking the plane, I can't really get the two bottom screws out of the wheel fairings.  So a jack that needs to hook on the axle itself is of limited usefulness to me.  But maintenance had a bottle jack with stand, and a bolt that could thread into our tiedown hole. (From now on I'm carrying a rounded bolt similar to a carriage bolt with me...but it'll have to be grade 5 or 8)  In minutes we had the fairing and tire off and had the tire separated on the bench.  The tire itself had no damage, although it was time for me to flip the tire to start wearing the other side of the tire, as the tread was disappearing on the current side.  The tube, however, had one leaky pinhole...a fast leak, and a few other spots that looked like they were starts of pinholes.  I'm not sure how these even got here, or why they appeared. They were Aero Classic Leakguard tubes...maybe 3 years old, and had previously been working fine.  Rubbing inside the tire with a bare hand I found nothing that could cause damage to the tube.

So what to do?  I needed a tube.  In retrospect, had I been thinking better, I wish I would have just went to an auto parts store and bought flat tube patches.  That would have been a fix I'd be happy to live with for the trip home.  SunAir normally keeps on hand a 15/600-6 tube, as they are the standard tube used on Cirrus from what he told me.  But they did not have one today.  The closest possibility was over an hour drive to Lakeland and back.  A phone call to Lenny and sure enough, he had a pair of spare tubes in his hangar, and insisted on flying one up to me.  What a guy!  I know, any excuse to fly, right!?  While I waited, I called Desser Tire and ordered a new set of High-Performance Retreads for the mains, along with 2 brand new tubes.  These mains, being only 1/2 worn, and the new tube, will be a great hangar spare for me, and sure, I could get another couple years life out of them, but with only a half-life left, I didn't see the point.  That's why I regret not just patching the tube....I'll be replacing the tires and tubes before OSH anyway, so certainly a patch would have got me home fine.  But, this would be even better, and considering the start of what may be developing pinholes, it was the better course of action.

The bigger problem was the weather.  Now that we had a ground delay, Florida was starting to pop up little storm cells.  We didn't leave until late a.m. or maybe even noon.  Also, in the Georgia area, more cells started popping up.  You just can't fly through Georgia without dealing with storms it any time of year.  In the a.m. when I had filed an IFR plan, that I subsequently cancelled when I found the flat tire, the central US had low morning fog and lower ceilings.  Now, however, they were mostly VFR, but that meant that moisture would now be buildups.  I decided to file IFR again, and upon departing, they delayed me for a long time to my filed altitude of 10,000'.  So, I cancelled with them and decided to do it VFR.  With buildups like these, many were tops of 10-11,000', and some more like 18-25,000', some were storms, most were not, but getting a smooth ride depended on a few things:  1) Getting above the bases. Below or in the bases would be bumpy, and below would certainly be hazy and hot.  2) maintaining cloud clearance and weaving my way through all of the higher areas of buildups.  With that in mind, VFR was the way to go so we set out on our weavy, meandering path towards M91, our first fuel stop, halfway home.

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This is a good time to bring up what is the single most important thing we have in the panel...WSI weather.  ADS-B weather is freely available now, and for many, that is a viable solution.  I would say if you fly shorter trips, over flatter countryside, ADS-B might not be a bad option for you.  Understand that ADS-B is not weather that you can RELY on is simply lower-resolution weather that is AVAILABLE for you when within coverage areas.  Coverage areas are not guaranteed, but much of the US will be covered at or above 5,000', and if you climb to higher altitudes, you can get better coverage.  However, if you fly over Canada, Bahamas, in the Mountains, or many other places in the US, especially at lower altitudes, you may not get FIS-B, ADS-B's weather coverage...which, keep in mind, is also lower resolution than you'd get with satellite weather by WSI.  I believe that the parent company of WSI is actually also the provider of FIS-B weather for the US, but think of it like this...ADS-B is a government subsidized contracted service to provide minimal and basic WX services to the pilots of the country.  WSI is an expansion of those capabilities.  Being satellite based, you get coverage all the way to the ground in almost every area of North America.  You get higher resolution weather, and you may or may not (depending on your EFIS) get more weather products available. Additionally, you need to understand that ADS-B weather may not be there for you when you need it the most.  As I've mentioned many times before, when the storm cells start popping up, if I can't be assured that I'll stay mostly visual and can stay out of the cells, the better strategy for me is to drop down to lower altitudes...maybe even that class G space from surface to 1,200' depending on where I am, but to get below the bases.  When you're down there, you can see what is and what isn't a strong cell.  You physically see the rain, the lightning, and what is going on.  With the strongest of storms, the visibility is often nice around the countryside.  If you're dealing with thick foggy, wet, stable clouds, you're not as likely to be flying around these strong convective cells.  Those are days for IFR flights for sure.  But when the strong cells start popping, I'd rather be VFR.  On this trip we had MANY opportunities to use this style of flying, and again, as I have been many times over the years, I was highly impressed with WSI weather.

On many of the flights, I'd obtain a Nexrad picture using foreflight, and then get the opportunity to see it on my screen using WSI as well.  I was flabbergasted by how different those pictures are.  Foreflight will show large masses of greens, yellows, and reds, covering whole regions of your flight.  You can be flying in green and be dry as a bone.  It's almost as if there is no discrimination, or no QA done on the radar...nothing to determine if it's just a cloud, or actual rain.  I don't know why this is.  But with WSI, I know for a fact that the images they push out to satellite have gone through a human QA process, and I have found them to be extremely reliable.  If you fly into green, more likely than not it'll be light rain on your windshield.  You hit yellow and you can be assured that the rain will become heavy. Red?  Well, I don't screw with red, but I can tell you that when I fly past a cell showing red, I usually see lightning out the bottom of the cloud.  I can visually watch out my window, and watch WSI, and SEE that a cell is either building or dissipating. If dissipating, I can anticipate whether a section of clouds may open up and be passible soon, or not.  So I consider WSI to be the gold standard by which in-flight weather should be rated.  As far as I'm concerned, if you're serious about cross-country flying, especially anywhere that is not in the flatlands, you really should consider satellite based weather, rather than FIS-B.

We quick-turned at M91, after having a great bob-and-weave trip through buildups.  From M91 we could easily make it home....if, we didn't have extensive low altitude ops or diversions.  We had been watching the weather shown in that previous iphone screenshot for a couple hours, and were shocked at how slowly it was moving through the state.  Here we were in middle-US, and the storm was still along the WI/MN/IA borders.  There was also weather just South of Chicago, forming a more horizontal front line.  You could see that they must be frontal, or bow echoes, based on their solid lines.

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We watched and checked weather minute by minute, as we headed Northbound.  There were 2 waves of storms coming into Western Wisconsin.  Both of them were North/South, reaching just up to our destination. It was going to be close if we could get in or not.  To try to fly West and get behind all the storms would have turned 3 hours into 6 hours of flying and still not necessarily been passable or cleared out by the time we got home.  Going East gave 2 options.  First, if we could beat this storm, we could fly up Wisconsin's East coast, then turn West in Northern Wisconsin and get home.  If the weather got worse we could divert more Northerly and land at one of the airports there and do a little ground hold and then continue later.  The alternative was to turn Right at Chicago and head into Western Michigan.  That would surely keep us well ahead of any storm activity, and we could jump across the lake at about Green Bay, also able to divert North as required.  Either option was fine by me but I'd prefer the Wisconsin side of the lake for obvious reasons.  The only true obstacle on the screen was 3 cells starting to build between Chicago and Peoria, IL.  And considering they just started popping, the real question was, were these short term isolated cells, or was this developing into a line.

What do do, what to do.

Call Flightwatch, of course.  I rung Flightwatch on 122.00 and talked to a great helpful guy.  I wanted ceiling, tops, and info on central Wisconsin, to know what I was getting into.  I had previously already come up with a plan to fly VOR to VOR for my plan, starting at RBS (VOR), overfly KDKB (a good option for fuel stop), then BAE, OSH, STE, EAU, and KLUM.  He asked me my ETA so that he could get an idea of the timeframe I'd be flying through the areas.  3 hours.  I basically had my plan in my head, thought I knew what I thought I knew, and wanted to present the plan to him and see if what he thought, was the same as I thought. Sure enough, he thought that plan was great, with the exception that new storm warnings were being issued in those areas where the 3 cells were building up.  He said that was going to be the only true area of concern...those were severe storms, and it all depended on how they built up.  I got the nearest FSS freq, and air filed an IFR plan from RBS home, using that route, and planned to pick it up in flight.  I didn't want to go IFR quite yet, because I wanted to get closer to that developing line of storms, and see visually what they turned into before I decided to go anywhere near.

As I got closer, you could see that cells had developed into more of a line.  And the line had begun stretching out, with few areas of weakness.  The CB's were towering in our windshield, with no real gaps to speak of.  So no IFR for me.  No how, no way.  This was definitely a time to go visual.  Dropping down to maybe 2500' we got below all bases in the area, and got a good view of the ground.  In one of the photos you can see the line of storms with our previous route plan on it.  Now that we descended, I decided that a 2nd fuel stop was a good precaution, and making that stop on the back side of the line of storms would allow me to file IFR for the rest of the trip.  Looking to the East of RBS VOR, there was just one area of gaps in the line.  Every area was strengthening except for that area of the line.  That area was actually slowly dissipating.  That gave me just 2 options.  1) Land and wait while all this stuff did it's work on our tied down plane.  2) visually avoid the storms and get on the other side of it.  With our low altitude giving us maybe 15 miles of good visibility, we could see the storm cells perfectly.  We approached the line, and I slowed to 110-120kts just in case we had gusts.  Maybe 5 miles from the storm we started getting bumped around a bit, and I gave it 2 minutes before I'd turn...but within 1 minute the bumps settled out.  You could see rain cells on the left, and further on the right, but between them, at a distance visually, 10nm away, was a town that was covered in light.  Beyond the storm line there was clear skies.  Airports were reporting VFR all over, and ceilings were either clear or scattered.  10nm is only 3 minutes in the RV-10, and we were having a smooth ride for the most part.  I kept it at Va just as a precaution, but flying conditions were not bad in that gap....and as we flew you could see WSI updating the picture and it was dissipating.  Once on the back side, there was more airplane traffic in the area than we'd seen in a long time during the flight.  So people were out flying...but this line was moving NorthEast and if they were locals, we knew it wouldn't be long and they'd be grounded.  We flew over many airports that were good stopping points if necessary, but made it to KDKB where we quickly topped off, filed our IFR plan, and got airborne.  Looking back at WSI 40 minutes after we left, that airport was now being hit by the storms, so a quick-turn fuel stop was exactly what we needed.

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After picking up our IFR clearance, we had a good amount of IMC time between many various layers of clouds.  It was perfectly smooth, absolutely beautiful flying.  The controllers kept us on our planned path, and while another area of storms had started to build towards our first VOR waypoint (BAE), they were still a few miles off our left wing, and they were routing many flights along the East side of Wisconsin.  Headed towards OSH VOR, I reflected on how in only 1 month, we'll be hanging out on field again...seeing our favorite friends.  The female controller from MKE Approach had her women's intuition running perfectly.  I had just been thinking...that stuff in NorthWest Wisconsin is dissipating.  I should be able to skip this direct OSH, and go direct STE anytime.  I decided not to make the request because I didn't want to cause a hassle to the controllers for all of 3 minutes of time savings.  But no, she knew what I wanted.  She asked if I was flying that route due to weather or for some other reason, and I said weather.  She said I should be able to go direct STE, and I told her she was a mind reader and I'd be happy to.  As we progressed, she again said direct EAU would be OK too...another thought I had seen after watching WSI.  Here was a controller that was also diligently studying the weather, helping out pilots by giving them efficient routing that would work well.

After being handed off to MSP Center, we set up for our approach into KLUM.  They said that a handful of planes had just flown into KEAU and been able to get in visually.  From what I was seeing out my window, however, I wasn't so sure that would be the case for KLUM.  I told him I wanted the whole approach.  As I got near the approach, I saw that I was going to penetrate a green area on WSI.  He called me and told me there was an area of light precip at OJYAB, which was EXACTLY where the WSI weather picture showed it....and, exactly where the windshield started getting streaked with mist.  Once again, perfect.  I ended up being able to stay IMC past the descent point on the approach, but popped out a few miles East and make a good visual landing. 

I've often told pilots who asked, that you can very often fly all the way across the US without flying any IFR at all.  It's amazing that on many trips, VFR works fine, even if you want to fly 8-10,000' like we prefer.  This just wasn't the case on this vacation.  This turned out to be the most storm dodging that I've ever had in one trip.  There were maybe only 2 short legs of this entire route that I could have done without in-cockpit weather.  No, I didn't need to do IFR flying, and I think that I probably could have flown VFR the entire trip and done it in similar timeframe.  But I'd have had to stay lower, burned more fuel, and not had nearly the smooth ride as we got when we flew our IFR legs.  The VFR portions however, still required much use of our in-flight weather.  There was a time when I remember after flying home from OSH in our Sundowner, that 2 things would have made all the difference to me....a fuel totalizer and in-flight weather.  I'm here to tell ya, while I previously couldn't figure out which one is more important, I now believe it's weather.  Luckily that today there's really no excuse for anyone being able to have both....a totalizer is cheap, and while XM/WSI isn't for everyone, ADS-B would be what I'd consider minimal equipment for any plane.

A note for people who disagree with flying around the weather:  All the advice you hear is good stuff.  This wasn't meant to glorify or encourage anyone from flying around bad weather.  It is simply an account of a trip that I took and it worked great for me.  You need to approach every flight around weather with caution, get good briefings, have good tools at your disposal, and become proficient in using them. Any flight involving any sort of weather can be dangerous, so it's up to you as the pilot to learn and develop the skills to monitor and observe what's happening, and keep a safe plan of flight.  I cringe whenever I read stories of people who flew into storms only to have their wings torn off.  I don't want that.  To me, an IFR tickets is highly useful, but not if you're considering penetrating anything more than rain.  Convective activity pushes me back to VFR flying, where you always keep the option of the 180 degree turn to a near airport of safe harbor.  To me it's the way to stay safe, and still have a chance of continuing your flight.  The other option is to land an sit it out.  I often consider that too, but even that option requires you to study the weather intently.  Day 2, 3, and 4 may have more of the same, and your route will change hour by hour.  Picking a safe route is what matters most.  Enjoy your flying and stay safe!

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