Bahamas 2010 with the Kids!

Completed 4/15/2010 - approx. 625 hours

Having traveled to a variety of destinations with the kids in the past, it can get hard to choose which destination is the favorite. This one for me is a hard one to beat.  The kids loved the Yellowstone trip back years ago.  We all love the flight over the Grand Canyon, and the trip to Yellowstone.  They just plain ALL are nice trips.  But one thing that our family really enjoys is the water.  I think I was born in love with the sea, nearly as much as I love the sky.  180 pounds ago, I was a scrawny kid who couldn't be kept out of a pool, and I spent more time under the water than above, often wearing a diving mask.  Later, more like 70 pounds ago I was a high school kid getting SCUBA Certified, which quickly led into becoming a SCUBA instructor, and on to buying a down-and-out dive shop to run.  It was some of the most fun a young guy can have, spending all your time on SCUBA diving, and traveling for Dive trips, and also doing some real fun boating on my own boat.  I really loved the Nautical realm, from the shipwrecks, to the complexity of navigating a boat using charts.  Unfortunately, (well, actually very fortunately) I recognized after a few years that while I was having more fun than people should be allowed, I wasn't getting rich doing it, so it was time to settle into a "real" job before I had a family.  Andrea joined up with me during the latter half of that part of my life, so she was my ultimate companion for these adventures.  She could do dives that would blow your mind, as we went full-on into Helium Mixed-Gas technical dives...the only woman I've ever seen who wore 4 or more SCUBA tanks at once.  Needless to say, we REALLY got into SCUBA diving, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with it.  When we finally slowed down and had kids, we realized that for a few years at least, SCUBA diving wasn't going to be our can't just leave your kids up on shore while you dive, and it would be a while until they could join us.  So we very quickly transitioned out of that hobby...just in time to re-invest a bit into flying.

Our old dive gear
Andrea and I diving
Andrea on a shipwreck
The olden days
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As it turns out, Flying is really the ultimate hobby to have while you have small children. Many young people tend to shy away from that sort of thing, whether it be from some perceived risk or more commonly, the expense.  One concept though that we've always lived by is that if you don't do it while you're young, you'll regret it later, and we wanted to share as much as we could with the kids while they were young.  We partnered in an airplane with my Dad soon after learning to fly, and then poured ourselves into that.  When the kids were both born, both of them were flying in airplanes within 5 weeks of birth. When they could barely walk, they'd stand up and look out the windows as we flew across the country. Flying is what made it possible for us to travel using a hobby we enjoyed, and involve the kids in what we were doing.  The awesome family suitability of the hobby is what kept us so involved, and brought me to building an RV-10, and it's been the most fun I've had in my life.

The trouble with me is that although I love adventures, I am never happy if I can't share them.  Since getting out of SCUBA, we really missed it, but, it's been increasingly hard to stay away.  Both of our kids were also just like Andrea and I...they love the water.  They love swimming.  And we've kept them at least a little into boating.  Over the past couple years we started to dust off our gear, and bring them along with us for some good trial runs.  We let them SCUBA in a pool even many years ago, at maybe age 4 or 5.  We brought them to a local quarry for a quick dive.  We took them on SCUBA down the Rainbow River in Florida.  All very little shallow dives to get them introduced.  They took very well to it, so starting last year when we went to the Bahamas, we really got the bug again, and started to formulate our plans for this year.  For Christmas the kids got SCUBA gear.  With the technology changes in SCUBA, gear today is lighter and more packable than before.  Having known the quality of Aqualung equipment, (formerly U.S. Divers), we got them set up with XS size Zuma BCD's, and Women's Mikron Regulators with hoseless dive computers. (more on that later)  The idea was that SCUBA and Flying are very incompatible hobbies, because SCUBA equipment can be heavy and bulky, but we desperately wanted to overcome those limitations as best we could.

Our goal on this trip was to get back to our roots, re-live the old feelings of excitement, and then MERGE these 2 hobbies into one...a combination that would be hard to beat for someone looking for excitement...and, most importantly, do it with our kids. It's the ultimate idea of vacation for us.  Luckily it all worked out as good or better than expected.  I'll let you read on below...

Traveling to Florida

A very familiar run for us, the first step in going to the Bahamas is getting to Florida.  With all the SCUBA gear, we had to pre-plan the packing well in advance.  We had loaded up all of our SCUBA gear and duffel bags of clothes, weighed them, and loaded them into the plane for a test-fit, more than 2 months before we actually left for the trip.  We wanted to guarantee that weight & balance wasn't going to be an issue for us.  This is where the hoseless computers, small lightweight regulators, and packable BCD's came in very handy.  We found that we could load all of the gear, and although it would be loaded full, there would be a little breathing room and a little extra weight capacity. With that knowledge we moved forward with our trip plans and when departure day came, we had things trimmed down to size and got a good surprise.  We were able to pack all 4 sets of gear into the baggage area, and still stay below the tops of the seatbacks!  This gave plenty of room for a clothing duffel on top, along with an underwater camera, the airplane cover and cowl plugs, the tool and first aid kit, the PLB, 2 quarts of oil, and more.  Another clothing duffel placed between the rear seats and we had plenty of clothes.  We even brought the tablet PC up front, a binder for Bahamas info and paperwork, and our larger sized camera bag with plenty of battery chargers, iPod chargers, cables, and many other things for the trip.  The RV-10 can handle an impressive load, if you pack well.  We had bought some very cheap 28" long rectangular duffels that were super light weight, just for the trip, for our clothes.  The length was picked because it fit from the rear seatbacks to the front seatbacks.  Everything was planned to a "T".  We even had room for the 2 "Little John" bottles, which came in very handy for the girls many times. :)

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Although the weather was almost perfect VFR for the flight, and we had a little tailwind, we filed IFR for 9000' for the trip down.  You can see from the Datalink page that there was a little IFR airmet area near our route on the way down, and we did indeed end up in the clouds for a while on the trip. I love a little enroute IMC time, especially if it isn't freezing out.  This was very close to freezing but we didn't get any icing on the trip. The days following this, the weather was much less agreeable for the flight, so we left early, planning to spend one of the kids' birthday's down in Florida.  You can see in the photo below that I even decided to bring along a couple of SCUBA Lead Weight Belts, about 35lbs total, utilizing the empty space under and forward of the rudder pedals to store the weights and counteract some of the more aft CG we had for the flight.  There was no conflict of weights with the controls, and the added weight wasn't that much considering we were hauling a couple of kids.

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As we got further into the trip our airspeed picked up a bit. With the injectors balanced out real well now I'm seeing a little difference in the airplanes performance vs. fuel flow.  Previously I would regularly see fuel flows UNDER 10gph, and TAS readings of between maybe 158kts and 164kts as a general average.  Loadings, turbulence, altitude, and many things can greatly affect the ultimate higher end airspeeds you see on any one trip.  With balanced injectors, I am noticing that I'm seeing maybe .5 gph higher fuel flows as an average for my x/c trips, coming in at maybe 10.5gph average while cruising at 8,000-9,000'.  It might seem confusing as to why I would see higher fuel flows, but to know what's going on you have to look at the big picture.  Previously I would lean the engine out, and when the last cylinder finally came to > -25F LOP, some of the other cylinders were getting quite a bit leaner. Also, I was usually shooting for more like -40F LOP.  Well, once you get really balance injectors, they peak so much closer together that your overall fuel flow may be a little higher, because you didn't have to go quite as lean to get them all at > -25F LOP.  Additionally, I am trying to keep it more like -25 to -35F LOP, and not any further.  So now I'm burning maybe .5gph more than before, but I'm not losing as much speed, either.  On this trip I saw times where I was in the higher 160's, like 166-168kts while LOP.  That's darn good!  On the slower legs, when I leaned it out more into the 35's and 40's, I would be in the lower 160's, like 162-164 kts.  So it's interesting to get the feel for how an airplane can change with such a subtle change in engine fuel flow performance.

Another cool thing is the above 2 photos showing a neat airport I flew over.  A couple weeks before the trip, I actually had a dream about being invited to fly over to Jumbolair, John Travolta's home airport, and stop by for a visit. (Man would THAT be fun!)  Well, as we were flying down almost to our destination near Ocala, FL, we ended up flying right over that airstrip! We did the trip with just one gas stop at Shelbyville, TN, a great little gas stop with one of the most horrendous courtesy cars, in about 6.5 hours...arriving early enough in the day to be plenty relaxed.

Birthday Time!

Having beat the incoming weather back at home, we were now in Florida with a couple days to spare before we had to make the trip over to the islands.  It's nice to plan a little padded time into the front of the trip for weather, so you won't miss your hotel reservations, but it's much easier to do that when you'll be waiting it out in a fun location.  One thing we did long ago was purchase 10-day park hopper plus waterpark Disney tickets, that were non-expiring.  When you load up on all the ticket options, the tickets cost a little more, but they end up being a bigger bargain, too.  We still have many remaining waterpark days, and theme park days, so we bring the tickets with us on every trip to Florida, even if we don't plan to go there.  For this trip, that meant that we got to spend our oldest daughter's birthday at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon. It's got an awesome wave pool and much more.

After a day at the waterpark, the next day we headed down to Ft. Lauderdale. While last year we went as a group to the Bahamas, this year we wanted to focus on the kids, so we had planned to just bring them, but we knew Lenny and Sofia, an RV-10 builder couple from the Ft. Lauderdale area, had wanted to go too, and thought that would be great.  It would give us a small group that could be helpful in many ways, like having people topside on the boats while we SCUBA dive, and also provide people to hang out with that the whole family would enjoy.  So with that in mind, we headed down to get together and finish our pre-crossing flight planning and eAPIS filing work.

The flight down to Ft. Lauderdale had a surprise twist to it too.  I had planned on going VFR with flight following down the East Coast of Florida to KFXE, but once I got into the Orlando area, the controllers who handle that very busy airspace, thought better to take me more direct.  That's ok, we did the flight down the coast on our last trip down.  But, the big surprise was, I soon found myself at 4,500', with a big red circle appearing on my MFD....a TFR...but not just any TFR, the Disney TFR.  At our altitude and under ATC control, we had nothing to worry about as we were vectored DIRECTLY over all of the Disney theme parks that we've visited in the past.  It was pretty cool to see how they look from the air, and see the great complex that Walt Disney created.  Also being able to see some of the support facilities that were near the parks.  Very cool flight indeed!

Having previously flown out of KFXE with Banyan FBO, we knew the kind of service they provided, and we decided we had no choice but to go back.  I called ahead about 90 minutes before we arrived and told them I wanted a car.  They looked up my N-Number in their computer and immediately knew my name and said it would be here when I got here.  I was shocked as I rolled the plane to a stop in front of their facility, and before I could shut down the engine, a nice silver car arrived right in front of us, the trunk opened, and the Banyan folks took our gear straight from the plane to the car's trunk.  Amazing service.  If you ever go to the Bahamas, these are definitely the guys to go see before you leave.

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Below you can see some photos of the various Disney complexes. It's pretty cool to see how there is often something you would never know existed, just beyond the trees on the outskirts of the park.
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Hopping to the Islands!

Departure day!  We woke up and had a quick breakfast and headed right to the airport.  We got the girls a couple of Cabela's Guardian Series 2500 women's size inflatable PFD's from Cabela's, which fit great, and all donned them before we left.  Before leaving home I had converted them to REMOVE THE AUTO-INFLATE mechanism.  You do NOT want to have auto-inflate PFD's in the plane, because if they get under water, they'll blow, and you do not want an inflated vest before you're out the airplane's doors.  We taught the kids that the airplane would most likely be upside down after a water landing, and they would be hanging from their seat belts.  We explained that they should remove the belts, and go for Mom's door, which I would make sure was opened first and they would have more space to depart the plane.  I told them they would have to worry about headset cables, seat belts, and may have to do things by feel, and then once they were clear, they should pull the cord and inflate the PFD.

With the preflight briefing done, it was time to jump in and go.  Lenny still unfortunately flies a Diamond Katana.  It's a great trainer plane, equipped with the same engine that's in my weed whacker, only it cruises probably 8 to 10 times faster than my lawn tractor, while hauling mighty loads that would be nearly impossible to fit into a lunch box. :)  But seriously, it was tough because what would be a 1 hour leg for an RV-10 is a 1.5 hour leg for a Katana, and that meant trying to fly together was almost pointless.  The RV-10 flying near gross will not stay as cool if you fly it at 100kts, and the gas-sipping katana will start to gulp more of it's mere 20 gallon capacity if you try to push it over 104kts.  The RV-10 with it's 60 gallon capacity is capable of some very long legs, able to leap small gas stops in a single bound.  The Katana you really want to plan your fuel stops well to ensure you don't get stuck on some island without enough fuel to make the next leg.  With all that in mind, we planned extra stops on our inter-island legs, and we departed about 20 minutes behind them when we left KFXE.  It worked out well as we met up in the air as we approached Abaco island.

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Flying over to the Bahamas you aren't over open water for all that long, but it still pays to take the initial leg at something like 6000-8000' of altitude to give you plenty of gliding time and radio time if you have any issues.  The island's are absolutely beautiful to see by the air.  Treasure Cay, our first destination, didn't have nearly the in-flight scenery as the Exumas do, but they are still very beautiful.  There are always some lower level scattered clouds, but also always is plenty of clear sky.  The ocean stabilized many weather factors too...often giving you plenty of good flying visibility even if it means flying at 1000' MSL (I can't say AGL when there ain't no "G"!!!!)  One other cool effect is that it's often very calm, non-turbulent flying, except if you're on the downwind side of the island.  You can get some turbulence off the rising air over an island but by moving slightly upwind, you can have a perfectly calm flight.

The photos above show some scenery and some pics of our plane that they got from the Katana, and the pics below show the Katana, as taken from our cockpit.
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Arriving at Treasure Cay Airport (MYAT), we unloaded and went through Bahamas Customs.  Believe it or not, now days it's actually more of a pain to go through Bahamas customs than it is in the USA.  The eAPIS filing seems to cut down on some time, although it adds some complexity to your planning.  Meanwhile, the Bahamas doesn't have any good online system at all, and you actually have to fill out 4....4!! copies of some of the forms.  It doesn't take long, but they would do well to have an online .pdf you could fill out and print and bring with you.

Getting to Treasure Cay Resort from the airport isn't hard...there are cabs there all the time.  Plan ahead though because going back to your plane during your stay will cost you a pretty penny....figure on $50 or maybe even more, for every round trip you want to make to the airport. It's a 7 mile drive is all, but you're captive.
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The resort was pretty nice to stay in.  We had some requirements for the rooms during our planning.  I wanted a King sized bed, with plenty of room for the kind of late night activities that you do in the the islands.  I wanted Lenny and Sofia to have a King sized bed too, because I didn't want them to miss out on the same. :)  And, I wanted a separate room for the kids, with twin beds, so we wouldn't have to listen to fighting over who is hogging all of the bed.  What we got was perfect....a 3-story, 3-bedroom condo type room, a loft up on top with a king bed and their own bathroom, the middle floor was a complete kitchen and living room with a bathroom, and the ground floor was 2 bedrooms, one with 2 twins, and one with a king, each with it's own bathroom.  Needless to say there was PLENTY of space and it made it all oh so enjoyable.  Up to 6 people can stay in the unit for the rate, which we got for a 10% discount.  As the resort was not and all-inclusive deal, we spent quite a bit on food and other things while we were there, but realistically it wasn't any more than we would have at most places.  The catch is that you only have 2 real restaurants and a bar to eat at, so you're captive while you're there, to eat at their places...unless you rent a car and drive down to Marsh Harbor, which will take about a half hour or so.  The food was great though, and we enjoyed it all.  Having been there now, I'd better be able to plan how to get around and what to do while on a trip to Treasure Cay.
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One of the big attractions for the kids at Treasure Cay is the beach.  We were told that the beach at our resort was actually the 10th highest rated beach in the entire world, and I can see that being true. The sand was extremely soft and fine and nice, the water was beautiful, and it was a very nice place to relax. The kids loved playing in the sand.
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SCUBA at Treasure Cay!

For the non-diver, Treasure Cay is an OK stop, but I think staying at Elbow Cay and flying into Marsh Harbor might be a better way to go for the non-diver.  What attracted me to Treasure Cay, however, was the diving.  From what I could find, Treasure Cay is closer to the better dive sites, meaning less suffering on a bumpy boat ride if it's wavy, and we really loved the layout of the rooms we got.  We did get a little shock when we got there though that wasn't so good...Treasure Cay Divers is the only dive charter place in that area, and they apparently only have enough tanks to equip people who go on their boat charter, IF their boat is filled that day.  This meant that when I inquired about tank and weight belt rentals I was told that I could only rent tanks if their boat wasn't booked full.  Well, having been in the dive business and guided many trips, and especially since we're traveling and diving with the kids, I didn't want to go on any official dive charter boats with large groups of people.  I wanted to rent our own boat and go to our own dive sites at our own pace, on our own schedule.  The concept of not having tanks and weights available really bothered me, especially since I had called in advance and they said they had plenty. I also inquired about having smaller sized tanks for the kids and they said they had them.  Unfortunately when the time came, they decided that they'd prefer to NOT rent us the small tanks because they had 5 kids to play in the pool one they stuck US with full size 80 cu.ft. tanks.  So from a dive perspective, this was the more irritating part of the trip.  Another was that since I hadn't pre-booked a boat rental (I just was too busy to get it done), I wasn't able to get a boat for the first day we were there...and my only choice was either the dive charter, or to charter a boat with a captain.  We decided it was best to charter the boat since we were still unfamiliar with the area, and that ended up working out real well....captain Mark took us out to an area with a bunch of very nice reefs, and since we were the only people on the boat it was able to be on our schedule, and our style.

The trip out to the reef was really nice...not much for waves, and it didn't take too long before we were anchored next to a great reef.  First in the water was our family, diving with the kids!  We had packed our own Masks, Fins, Boots, Wetsuits, Regulators, BCD's, kids weight belts, and dive computers, and made it all fit into the plane, and now we were finally going to get to use it!  We prepared the kids with a good pre-dive briefing and headed down.  They did so awesome it was unbelievable...we had nearly an hour of bottom time for the dive, and saw lots of reef and some great marine life!

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The kids were well prepared, after the prior diving they'd done, and we also had recently rented the local high-school pool for a couple of nights to get them used to their new gear before the trip.  They had good buoyancy control and did a great job keeping up!  After we got our dive done, Lenny and Sofia got a great dive in too, and then we took a trip down the reef to see where some good dive sites were for the next day, when we actually could rent our own boat.  Unfortunately, the winds didn't allow us to dive on the next day.  On the return trip by boat I got to stand back in the cockpit and look out at my family on the deck of the boat, with their hair blowing in the breeze and smiles on their faces...I knew exactly how they were feeling, as I have so many good memories of doing the exact same thing.  It was this that brought me more happiness than almost anything on the trip...seeing a new generation enjoying things so thoroughly as their parents had in the past...and that made it even more enjoyable for us.
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More Treasure Cay

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We spent our next day hanging out on the beach some more, and then traveling down by car to Marsh Harbor for some supper, and to explore the airport (MYAM) because we had intended to land their and top off with fuel. It's only about a 10 minute flight or so, from Treasure Cay.  Marsh Harbor is a happening place with plenty of stores, restaurants, and ice cream shops.  Definitely a nice place to fly into.  If you stay there though, you'll most likely want to boat out to stay out on Elbow Cay, where you'll be on the barrier island with a nice beach like Treasure Cay has.  Our rental car, see below, wasn't quite up to U.S. rental car agency standards.  The headliner was pinned up with thumbtacks, and the GPS would only display in Chinese.  Lenny did keep us constantly laughing though as he tried to keep reminding himself to drive on the left side of the road, and not use the windshield wipers to signal turns. :)
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Going to Staniel Cay!

I am finding that for a great Bahamas vacation, you're probably best off flying to multiple islands.  2 at minimum, but 3 at maximum for a week's stay.  We really had fun at Treasure Cay, but knowing how nice Staniel Cay was, and how awesome the environment there was, we couldn't wait to get there again.

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As we loaded up at the airport, we shot some photos of us by our baggage, showing the difference between hauling capacities of an RV-10 vs. Katana.  It's amazing how much stuff you can fit into these planes!  We hopped in and flew over our resort beach, and then on to Marsh Harbor (MYAM) for fuel.  We fueled up at Cherokee Aviation, an FBO that had lots of Cirrus airplanes there.  Apparently that week before there were dozens of Cirrus's there for a fly-in.
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Once clear of Marsh Harbor, it was time for some overwater crossing time to North Eleuthera Island and then over some shallow water and scattered islands on over to the Exuma chain.  The Exumas have the most incredible ocean scenery I've ever seen.  We flew from island to island, just off shore, looking at all the hundreds of boats camped out in the lee of the island.  We spotted literally dozens of sharks and stingrays, easily visible from the air, and looked at the many sand bars and reefs surrounding the islands, along with the deep blues of the waters between islands, kept deep from the currents of the incoming and outgoing tides.  It is truly amazing scenery.  For everywhere I've ever dove in the past, tides really haven't had a large amount of significance.  If you're out in 60 or 100' of water, a half mile off shore, you usually don't notice tides all that much.  But when you're boating and diving up an island chain with many inlets like this, currents caused by tides will cause drastic changes in how you plan.  It is amazing to watch the incoming our outgoing tides make the inlets flow like a rapids filled river...truly amazing to see.
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After once again approaching Staniel Cay, we circled the island to get a good view.  The photo directly above with 3 islands shows Thunderball Grotto's island, a very cool above and underwater cavern in the island where James Bond was in the movie "Thunderball".  We wanted to see this by air before we landed, as we were definitely going to see it by water very soon!  Lenny got the single story Pink cabin, which was exactly like the Blue one I stayed in last year.  For a couple, these cabins are perfect!  They are awesome places to stay and the whole thing brings a very relaxed atmosphere.
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Our family stayed in the Key Lime cabin this year.  It was completely awesome for our family of 4!  They have a spiral staircase to the upper floor. Both floors have their own shower equipped bathrooms and their own decks.  The king bed is upstairs, and downstairs is a double-twin bed trundle bed arrangement that is perfect for the 2 kids.
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The view off the deck is always amazing, being right on the shoreline.  This year we also got another surprise option...they had a deal where you could either pay the room rate (less 20% for pilots in their own planes) plus your food, or pay on a different plan where you pay more on a per-person basis but then the stay is an "all-inclusive" visit, with all meals included, along with the use of a Boston Whaler boat every day.  We took the all-inclusive way as it looked like it would save money (and it definitely saved any thinking about what to eat and how much it cost), plus we could combine our 2 small boats into getting one larger boat to share for all 6 of us.  The food arrangement worked out really well.  There is only one place to eat, but every day you have a great breakfast, and every mid-day they'll pack you a cooler-box lunch for taking out on the boat with you or to the beach.  Then every evening you can have your pick over very very nice entrees like steak, lobster, grouper, chicken, pork chops, or more, and you can eat whatever you want.  They also have really awesome homemade bread, made by one of the island people...we probably ate 5 slices a night per person it was so good!
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One afternoon we flew down to a fuel-equipped airport so that we could get the planes topped off with fuel for the return trip, and also to do some sightseeing along the way.  Many little airstrips are on the islands, and you can see mansions on some of them, owned by people far more rich than I get to hang out with.  Beautiful to see, that's for sure.
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One other thing that I remembered vividly from last year was the sharks and stingrays that gather under the dock at the marina. They come to eat the fish scraps from fish being cleaned by the restaurant folk.  We donned our wetsuits and snorkeling gear and decided to swim with the sharks and rays, and the kids loved that.  You could go right up and touch them.
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Some Panoramas

While at Staniel Cay, I tried out some software on my iPhone that I had never used's called "Autostitch", and allows you to take multiple photos and then it will automatically stitch them together into a panorama that you can view.  Check out these pictures below.  It does a great job, although on the restaurant and dock photos you can see the effects of trying to stitch together pictures with straight lines, they appear leaning as the picture is really meant to be wrapped in an arc for viewing, and things up close in perspective get more distorted.

Staniel Cay's Dock Area

Staniel Cay's Restaurant

The view from our deck

Day out to Sea - Water Activities

We did make one mistake that first day out in that we packed all of our SCUBA gear on the boat, along with 6 tanks, as we had planned to dive, but even the larger 17' Boston Whaler with 85hp motor wasn't enough to get us up on a plane so we could race out to the more remote dive sites.  We decided to see all the other sites that we could on that day, and spent time snorkeling, finding sand dollars and starfish in the water, among other things, and then one of the more exciting things....Swimming With the Pigs! <<---Click that link to download and see our video!  The resort will pack you scraps if you ask, and you can go to a special place that is actually famous. Just this week I saw a TV episode that had people feeding these pigs.  It's a beach where the pigs come RUSHING out to see you for food as you come towards shore, and they'll swim around you or your boat, begging for food!

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Swimming with these pigs was far more fun that I ever imagined last year when I was here, which is why last year I didn't even try.  I now regret that, as this was just a way cool time.  These pigs are so freakin' funny it's unbelievable.  What an experience to remember!
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Just some general pictures of hanging out at Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  The pool is warm and comfortable, the food is great, the scenery is awesome, and the stay is always relaxing.  We were able to go to bed earlier than I do while at home, yet sleep later than I do when I'm at was lots of excitement every day, followed by lots of good rest every night!
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Diving Staniel

Staniel Cay offers some great diving.  If you take the dive charter, you'll probably get more comfort and get a better variety of easy access diving.  But for those inclined, there is some great diving that can be done on your own.

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First, we took 2 boats, a 17' and 13-14' way up to Conch Cut, a reef a few miles up from the resort.  It was a great dive site.  Interestingly, when we got the first 2 people out to dive, the current was flowing OUT with the tides, but by the time we ate lunch and went back to dive it a couple more times, the currents had shifted directions and were now coming in.  It was amazing that it made such a drastic change.  Definitely paying attention to tide tables is required for diving in the channels of Conch Cut.  It's also a definite Drift Dive, so plan to bring a line and buoy to keep track of the divers that are under water.  You won't want to plan to stay near an anchored boat on that dive

Then after doing that, we headed back to Thunderball Grotto, even though the tides were running and the current flowing.  We slipped ourselves into the grotto and swam into the huge underwater caverns.  You can explore it with snorkel equipment ok too, but for those diving, you can stay underwater and see much more.  Even if you don't want to go on a dive charter, or take your own boat to a dive site, Thunderball provides an awesome diving opportunity!
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On the way out from Staniel Cay, we flew up the island chain before turning West towards Fresh Creek (MYAF) for clearing departure customs.  Below are photos of the conch cut area, and the reef is visible if you know what you're looking at, popping up from the deep blue of the channel.
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Staniel Info

These are just some photos of local maps and island maps and price sheets that I'm saving for future reference..thanks Lenny!

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iPhone Apps you'll find Handy

One thing that every trip seems to have as an awesome tool is the iPhone (or a jailbroken iPod touch with ROQY-BT installed, and a remote mini-bluetooth GPS like the holux M-1000 I have).  We drove around many rental cars on this trip and found iGo to be an awesome road map GPS that we could use.  Then while out boating and trying to find the dive site, we used Navionics marine charting software, with it's integrated GPS and bookmark capability.  It allowed us to navigate up these islands that look so different from the water as they do on a map or from the air.

The iPhone GPS works ok for this, although to avoid international data charges, I removed my SIM card from the phone before I flew over to the bahamas.  I had to remove the SIM because Apple in it's lack of wisdom, made the GPS turn off when you put the phone in airplane mode...which you want to do while in the bahamas or you'll pay high data fees.  The bluetooth GPS will lock on 100% reliably, and very quickly.  The iPhone GPS when you remove the cellphone system, can sometimes work very good, with moving maps like foreflight, or navionics, but I found that there were times I couldn't get GPS lock nearly as quickly.  If you do get a GPS lock, you can likely use the GPS over and over for a while and it will work fine, but if you let it sit for a while or move to a different location and fire it up, it can take a while for the GPS to take a fix.  That's why a jailbroken phone or ipod touch is actually superior because you can leave your phone in airplane mode, run the ROQY Bluetooth stack for GPS's, and connect to a real reliable Bluetooth GPS.  Very nice for a trip like this.

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Coming Home

Sometimes it's the little things on a trip that give you some laughs and added excitement. This trip was no exception.
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In the first picture above, you can see the message that popped onto the screen of my GNS-480. Nice to know you're going to fly into a Missile range, huh? But the trip was for the most part uneventful. In the screen shots below you can see the long range weather back at home, which matches up pretty well with the iPhone Foreflight screenshots towards the end of this page.  Looks like it'll be a good ride most of the way, with a little stuff at the end.

On the Chelton screen in the 3rd photo below, I turned on the Lat/Long position in the center of the MFD for the overwater flight.  It gives you something to report to ATC as you're gliding engine-out towards the awesome feature for times like this. Looking good for the flight to KFXE. This year we went back to U.S. Customs via KFXE instead of KPBI.  Both were acceptable, but KFXE seemed to be smaller and a little more organized. It still is a pain to unload all of your baggage, but with a properly pre-arranged eAPIS filing, and proper customs notification, it goes very quickly.
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One thing I love is when the designers of our airspace have a sense of humor.  Check out the 2nd screenshot below...when you're about half way home, in the middle of the Atlantic between the Bahamas and Florida, they stuck an intersection fix...and named it "SWIMM", as in, if you stop here, you're going for a swim. Hillarious!
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Although I had filed a DVFR flight plan, we were well on top of the scattered clouds that seem to always exist, and it was busy airspace in talking to Miami Approach for flight following.  I knew that to descend through the clouds I'd be making multiple turns to align with holes, so asked them if I could do an IFR letdown for the remaining half of the trip.  This worked well and made it cool, but it also slowed me down a little as rather than just descending at my own will, I was forced to decend a little earlier and get routed out and around other traffic areas a little further than I may have been, had I gone VFR.  But soon we were over the shoreline, flying just North of Pompano Beach back down to KFXE.
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After clearing customs, we started our trip back up to KLEE to make a lunch visit and stop for fuel. Once again, the amazing happend and we had flight following almost directly over the Disney complex.  How cool is that...something I always wanted to do and we get to do it TWICE!
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After topping off with fuel, we hit the skies again to keep heading for home. Everything was going so smoothly, it was amazing.  We were headed directly towards the center of Atlanta Class B, and requested overflight transit rather than being routed around.  We'd had this coming South on a previous trip.  They won't let you do it at 8500' from how it sounds, but they dropped us down to about 4500' or 5500' and there is a corridor or something that they can put you takes you directly over top of KATL, so they can land planes under you without you getting in the way.  Another cool addition to the trip...flying right over top of the Worlds Busiest Airport, according to Atlanta approach.  I didn't have the heart to tell them that this was nothing, they should see KOSH in July. :)
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These screenshots show the flight parameters again, and all the airmets, as we cruised homeward from our last stop. t seems that every trip where you're flying 1000nm or more will involve some weather in at least one direction, and this trip was no exception.  On our day we left the islands, we stopped for lunch and headed home, but there were storms up by home that while probably flyable, were not worth the effort.  We'd have to fly in at night, then deal with least it would be by our home airport.  We decided to scrap that idea and just take a nice stop that we hadn't taken in years....Chattanooga.  Tac Air North at Chattanooga was a great facility to us on one of my first few trips to Florida, so I decided to stop by with them again and get a car and hotel.  It gave us some rest, and a warm pool to swim in.

The turbulence airmet covered the last half of our trip, SFC to 8000 and then SFC to 10000.  We cruised at 8500' for a while, then at 10,500' as it got bumpy at 8500'.  That gave us a smooth ride most all the way. It's amazing how they know the altitudes that you'll find turbulence.  On the way home, I remarked at how we fly so many legs of over 1000nm on our trips, yet there are SO MANY days a year that you can do this in clear skies, or at least VFR.  An Instrument rating can help a lot on some trips, but it's just as amazing how many trips can be done VFR, if you're willing to take some unexpected extra stops or even days.
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  The following morning we had only a little weather (the last 2 pics below) to face before we got home, and by the time we got near home that weather had dissipated too.  We had a smooth flight the whole way home, except for the last 20 minutes as we descended.

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So after spending over 22 hours of flying and thousands of miles again, we had yet another vacation that was the best or at least one of the best ever.  It was fascinating to watch the kids as they had these experiences, and it was great to go back into my past and re-live so many great things in my mind.  I'm always thankful for the fun I've had in the past, but even more thankful when I can share it with those I love.  Hopefully in the distant future there will be yet another generation participating in these same things.

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