Bahamas 2018 with 3 RV's!

June 2018

For those of you who follow my rambling drivel of RV write-ups, this one is being posted after quite the delay.  I write this after having a long weekend of Thanksgiving turkey, with more hours spent in pajama pants than I've had in months.  I have a few more to complete after this one too, but as I approach a half-century of existence, I find that either time itself is not constant but is accelerating rapidly, or perhaps I myself am simply becoming more inept at managing all that is on my plate.  Am I alone in this? Actually I know I am not, as just last night I spent some time with a friend of mine, and over a couple beers we shared some of our opinions of going from young twenty-somethings to grey haired old dudes, and we agreed on most everything.  Number one, yes, the world is spinning out of control, and people have lost all sense of priorities.  We're all slaves to our smart phone lifestyle, and it's rotting us from the brain stem outward.  But number two, although this friend is not an aviator himself, he and I see absolutely eye to eye on one thing.  Life is for LIVING, and people need to go out and do more of these fun things in life, rather than stay wrapped up in their Instagram/Facebook life.  Work...good old fashioned hard work, is there to provide us with the resources that we need to have FUN, and it's important to take the time to do just that.  To that end, I can't worry too much about the delay in getting these write-ups done, because I've been doing both things as regularly as has been 70% work, 20% sleep, and 10% fun, and I'm going to spend my next year trying to tip those percentages on end and reverse them.  This trip was one of the handful of great escapes I've had in 2018, and in the Thanksgiving spirit, I am grateful that this particular vacation worked out as nicely as it did.

For a quick video rundown of the trip, here's one on YouTube...

May was a particularly good month this year, as Danielle got her private certificate at the end of the month.  We had spent an awful lot of time in the cockpit over the last year, and it all came to fruition.  In fact, she's already got 156 hours of flying in as I'm writing this, and has proven to have great stick skills and good judgement.

Some people who know us may know that we lost our beloved Charlie "Lindbergh" golden retriever back on March 23.  It was heartbreaking, but only a couple weeks had gone by April 10th we had found the puppy we would soon call our co-pilot....Bernoulli "Erik".  By June, it was time to get our first taste of having him come home.  Erik, by the way, is his middle name because of another great pilot friend of mine who has always been very nice to me, but wanted to be part of helping us obtain this little mutt after I helped him with some things.  What a gift, huh?  We brought him home for a little over a week before our trip, and then shortly after, had to return him to live in the kennel where he came from while we headed on this vacation.  That was one big motivator for us to want home from this trip as quickly and efficiently as possible!

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This was the second time we've been to Florida and The Bahamas in June, the first being when my oldest daughter went with the Band to play at Disney World a few years ago, and this year was the same occasion for Danielle.  June is really not at all the best month, in many respects, to go to the Bahamas, or Florida for that matter.  The summer season is hot and muggy and it rains a LOT and there are just tons of thunderstorms anywhere you go.  It really makes flying on schedule a complicated thing, and an instrument rating doesn't always help, because the weather you need to get through isn't stable stratus, but very powerful thunderstorms.  With that in mind, it was a little stressful every time we planned a new leg for the trip.

One of the big factors in this trip planning was that since Danielle would be taking the bus to Disney with the rest of the school class, that would leave Andrea to fly the RV-14 to Florida with Colleen.  Andrea's been a pilot for years, and of course has done x/c flights before, but only once has been PIC for a flight of this distance, and that was with Danielle who was also a student pilot.  In this case, Andrea had the added stress of knowing that it was going to be her, and only her, who could successfully bring the airplane to Florida until we could pick up Danielle, and any weather we had to play in would be up to her to work with.

As it turned out though, departure day was beautiful up at home, and we all loaded up and simply had an easy departure out of our home area.  It was the 2nd half of the country that would be the challenge.

There was one other new twist in this trip that we hadn't had before, and that's that I was finally going to be taking my parents on a vacation to the Bahamas.  To me, the traveling I've been able to do in the airplanes has been great, but it really isn't what I want, to simply experience it for myself.  Most days while I am flying en-route above the country, I'm almost regretful, because I wish I could share the experience with others.  Not just these photos, but the actual experience.  That is something I had wanted to give my parents for a long time, and this was finally the trip that it worked out to bring them on.  They almost had come to Idaho last year with us, but in retrospect, that trip was much less comfortable and it would have been far more complicated.

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As we approached our planned fuel stop, KDCY, the cloud layer started to get hazy, and thicken up, forcing us to fly the last half hour or so under the layer to ensure we had a good view of the airport as we approached it from the North.  Davies County has been a stop I've used a couple of other trips, and is a great place to get fuel, and has plenty of friendly people who hang out at the airport.

After fueling up, we headed back out, knowing the worst of the weather would be as we got down to the Chattanooga area.  There were some big storms in that area, and we had to pick a potential route while a few hundred miles away.  Then once we picked that route, we had to continuously monitor it to see if the path was closing up, or staying open.  A detour around the storms would be unreasonably far in distance and even then not guarantee easy passage.  I just let her know that we could always stop if necessary, and we wouldn't push things any harder than she was comfortable with.  But, in order to really know what you're going to get, you have to get close enough to see it both on the Nexrad, and out the window as well.   The trip went very smoothly, bringing us some temporarily lower ceilings as we approached Tennessee, and then they started raising back up again slightly, giving us plenty of comfortable clearance and visibility.

A couple of rows below, the pictures show our time as we wound through the valleys around Knoxville and Chattanooga.  The storms were hanging out over the mountain ridges, and it was comfortably clearer in the valleys. We got flight following as we passed through the area, and the Nexrad kept showing us our potential routing decisions were looking good.  It wasn't too long and we popped out of the mountain region into Georgia, where we again picked a line to keep us away from the numerous storms in the Atlanta area, and then since we had been flying at lower altitudes, we ended up stopping for fuel again at KLGC.  La Grange seemed like another good spot to top off, and their courtesy car was handy for grabbing some food.

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After departing La Grange, we knew we still wouldn't be home free, because Florida was chock full of scattered thunderstorms, but at least at this point it was all going to be lower elevations and flatter terrain.  Combine that with the fact that we were loaded fairly lightly at this point, and could easily climb to decent cruising altitudes where we could bob and weave our route through the tops of some of the clouds.  In the 3rd pic below, we decided to pop through the gap between two build ups (not tall ones), and expected to get a few bumps, but it was smooth all the way.

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As we approached our destination for the day, KLEE Leesburg, it looked like we were going to be impacted again by more thunderstorms.  A particularly big cell was pushing into the airport environment, and we knew it wasn't going to work for us to simply fly direct and land, because we'd be landing during the time the storm would still be within the terminal area.  So we bugged out to X35 to top off some fuel again and wait it out for about a half hour.  Then once we saw that we could make it to the airport on the back side of the storm, we launched and made it in.  Leesburg is a great airport to stop and stay at, and it also puts us close to both my parents and my in-laws homes.

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Having made it to Leesburg, we got to spend a couple days at Disney, just chilling out while the band members had fun at the park. It was a good handful of days of relaxation, while we waited for departure day to head to The Bahamas. 

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After our Disney days, it was time to get out of there.  That 3rd picture above had me laughing as well.  Filling up with gas with a Florida Redneck pickup near by. It was fun watching the guy get in an out and fill the tank.  Time to depart in the morning for Melbourne and Cocoa beach, where we would finally kidnap Danielle and make her fly the legs to The Bahamas.  We flew the Florida coast a ways down the peninsula and then headed in to my pal Lenny's airport for a quick stop, and then on to Ft. Lauderdale where we did our pre-Bahamas overnight.  I like to overnight right there at KFXE before a Bahamas trip so that we are at the closest point we can be for doing the over water crossing.  Besides that, we've found a great Italian restaurant there in Ft. Lauderdale that I've now been to twice, and it's a perfect place to get a great meal.

The next morning Lenny and Anda came down in N311LZ and met us to depart for the islands.

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The over water portion of the flight is always the most stressful part of flying.  I've come to realize that there is one particular time that I wouldn't mind being in either a twin engine plane, or a Cirrus with a full-plane parachute, and that's over water.  I really don't feel that exposed at any other time, and really am not one that views an airplane parachute as a necessity.  In fact, even simply given the maintenance costs and lost baggage space and W&B behind the 'chute, I doubt I'd ever buy one if it were an option.  BUT, that said, I've come to view the RV's as one tough situation if you should ever have to water ditch them, and when you visualize it all in your head, it can really mess with you.  Assuming you survive the crash, which is likely, getting yourself out of the RV-14 is going to be complicated for sure, and the RV-10 is going to require immediate reflexes if you hit the water with the doors off (the assumption being you'll jettison the doors before you hit) to get out of the plane.  With that all in mind, we take our pre-trip maintenance pretty seriously, and set our expectation bar on survival down a couple notches anytime we attempt a trip like this.  Luckily the truth of the matter is that most airplane engines don't simply stop or explode, but their loose tolerances allow them to limp home when things go badly.  That and you really aren't outside of gliding range of land for that many minutes of the various flight legs.

The crossing was the same as we've done many times, stopping at Andros Town for customs, but this time it wasn't until we had routed around some very good sized rain cells.  There was rain scattered all over the place.  The cool thing is, when you're flying over the ocean, the ceiling is very constant, and even if you have to be at low altitude below it, you're not going to hit obstacles, and you can see for miles in every direction and can plainly see the rain shafts.  So it is about as easy as it gets for routing around the rain.

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With the customs work done, it was time to take the 2nd hop over to the Exuma Chain.  Once you're in sight of the islands, you begin one of the most amazing flights you could have in any airplane.  The island chain is simply stunning.

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The crossing went well, and the flight itself was fantastic.  This trip we didn't plan to stop at 2 different islands, which we have done on most of our Bahamas trips in the past.  In the past I've tried to see all the island locations I could, but now that we've done most of them, it's time to settle in at one place for the trip for a while.  Much easier from a logistical standpoint.

I must say that after this trip, it's apparent that the Yacht Club area in the middle of the Exumas is becoming not just very commercialized but too commercialized I think for it's own good. I just read a news article that the Exumas had 20% more tourism in 2018, and it really is starting to show.  First of all, it's now very hard to even be able to get a reservation, but once you get there, it's lost most of it's personal touch.  In the past we were greeted and became well known the staff, and it was your little group and a few other families there for a week.  Now it's more as if you're just "guest number 47" and lets get that paperwork going.  What brought us there in the first place was its lack of traffic, and its isolation.  That's starting to change, and I think maybe the "Swimming with the Pigs" thing is part of it.  When you go to swim with the pigs, there are now HUGE numbers of boats and people there. I'll tell you what...those pigs don't go hungry anymore, for sure.  Whatever it is, it seems that these days every celebrity on earth has done the pigs thing, and the more people that see it, the more it brings, so if you're wanting that feeling of small island isolation, this actually may not be the place for you anymore.  Some of the larger islands actually provide you with more of that small island feeling.  That said, the vacation was great, the food was great, and the flying was great, so it was everything I wanted out of it this year.

I'm just going to let you peruse some of the photos of the fun things to do, and pick back up further down the page.  We did get out flying once, to head to Exuma International Airport in George Town, for fuel.  Make sure if you fly to any other island while you're in the Bahamas that you carry your passports and cruising permit.  Don't ask me why I'm giving you that tip.

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I didn't mention it before, but one very regretful thing about this trip is that we didn't remember to bring any of the good cameras, with polarizing filters and good lenses, so all of our island and aerial shots are pretty poor compared to what they could be.  Most were either shot by a little canon camera or an iPhone, but without an adjustable zoom lens, that just doesn't make for great photos, and digital zoom is something that should simply be banned from all cameras, as it only destroys pictures.  Above you can see some of that great Bahamian engineering into the electrical panel at the airport.  You're not in the land of UL listed and electrical safety anymore, Dorothy. LOL! 

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The time went by way too quickly on the island, as usual, and pretty soon it was time to head back to the mainland.  Of course, we did have one massive storm cell to route around, before we could get there.  And then as we approached the Florida coast we had what I consider to be a stroke of very good luck.  Danielle may punch me in the arm when I say that, but...   The entire coast was already bubbling with storms.  If you're a couple hundred or more miles from Florida, staying in a resort, you aren't going to be landing in Florida in the early morning.  And by 10am or so, the build ups are going to be happening at that time of the year. Well, they were in full force.  You of course file your EAPIS in advance (I would suggest at departure time on the day you GO to the island), so your flight timing is fairly written in stone.  You also have to file your flight plan at least 1 hour prior to flight.  So this all leads to that less safe condition of having a flight plan that you really are supposed to stick to, or risk causing yourself fines for diverting to other airports or missing your time of arrival. I think you're even supposed to arrive within 15 minutes of when you say you will.  Not good, when you're routing around mega rain showers. The FAA and customs would do well to find a way to make this system a little more pilot friendly.

Anyway, as we neared the KFXE airport on the coast, there were some pretty good sized storms all the way up and down the coast.  In fact, we lucked out that KFXE was about the ONLY airport that had actual blue sky above it.  Nearby Palm Beach International was actually engulfed in a cell.  As we were flying a long final in from over the ocean, you could see lightning strikes within 5 miles of the airport, and they were actually moving in to the airport area.  Diverting would be an option, but now you're going to be scrambling to inform customs about all 3 planes, and stay in contact with ATC, and also have to ensure that you have fuel and analyze the weather to make sure that your alternate like maybe KFPR, will be realistic as well. Not to mention you're supposed to use the airport closest to where you cross the ADIZ.  It's a lot to think through.  But, KFXE was actually looking pretty good, all things considered.   Those things?  Well, one was the aforementioned lightning strikes.  Those won't generally be a huge problem for a small plane.  But, where there is a storm cell there may also be gusty winds.  Keep in mind that we were within 5 miles of the airport and had a clear view of all of the surrounding weather, and there was no real sign of things becoming nasty from a wind point of view.  So we continued.  I kind of expected the wind to shift or pick up, and I expected the lightning strikes to continue, and I expected that within 10 minutes we would have heavy rain....but we were going to be touching down within 2 minutes at MOST.  So we continued.  Well, one after another we touched down and rolled off the runway exit to customs.  Danielle did NOT like the lightning bolt she saw, while on 1/4 mile final.  Me, I was just happy that the whole time the sky was pretty clear while we did our landings.  But after taxiing to Customs and shutting down the engine, we had less than 2 minutes we were being drenched in THE heaviest rain that I've ever seen fall on my airplanes.  Sadly, I had thought I could unpack our bags and make it to the building, but I was wrong.  Danielle and Andrea in the RV-14 chose to ride out the storm in the airplane...much smarter.

Customs was as unclear and muddy as you could expect. They asked for our "Family" but here we were, 6 related people, who arrived in 2 airplanes and they didn't define what FAMILY was.  We ARE all family, but I went in with my kids...figuring we all lived at the same address.  Nope, that's not good, because we came in 2 airplanes and what they really wanted was everyone on just ONE of the airplanes.  BUT, that wasn't my whole family?  In MY airplane was my parents, who are also NOT from the same address.  I think our customs agent kind of had some synapses blow trying to figure out what she should ask for, while she rudely ordered us around.  That's ok though.  It's 2018, after all.  The United States now *IS* the country of rudeness, especially from our Government.  If we wanted politeness, we should have either stayed in the islands, or gone to some other country.  Either way it was just nice to be checked in, stamped thru, and out of there so we could begin our flight back home.

A few more complex flight legs later, with plenty of massive weather systems to route around, we were comfortably staying overnight in St. Louis, where we would be able to continue home from the next morning.

And what was our first task after arriving at home?  Well, it was going to get our little Bernoulli, and see how much he grew, of course!!  He's doing well, but now is already closing in on becoming a full size dog.  After a couple more years under his belt to calm him down, he should be a great co-pilot.  For the time being though, he's got to be willing to sit down and learn the E6-B before I let him plan our flights.

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