Boston to Bahamas and back in a Cirrus SR20 (boring diary)

Friday, February 15: depart BED at 1 pm. The Cirrus was fresh from annual inspection, but naturally as soon as the plane came back from Groton, CT (warranty service center), an airworthiness directive arrived in the mail (aileron rigging) and the center fuel drain sprouted a leak. Adam Harris and the East Coast Aero Club mechanics were kind enough to fix the leak and we don’t have to comply with the AD for another few weeks.

Wind at BED was gusting 25 knots from 270, making a runway 29 departure simple and quick. We climbed over a layer of scattered clouds and settled in at 6500′ with smooth air, but a 50 knot wind from 290, reducing our ground speed to about 120 knots. New York gave us a Class Bravo clearance direct TEB at 3500. We descended with some steep turns through a hole in what had become a broken layer.

The wind at TEB was from 290 at 11 gusting 20, but they were landing 24 and departing 19, so they gave us 19. There was a big updraft in the last 1/2 mile of the approach, then the direct gusty crosswind near the ground. We touched the right main wheel first, then the left, then kept moving down the runway to Jet Aviation. We hopped out, they grabbed our bags, and within 15 minutes of landing we were in the back of a black SUV (preferred vehicle of celebrity criminals) heading for the Lincoln tunnel and the London NYC hotel on W 54th St.

Excellent suite for $340/night.

Attended a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert, which is always held in the Time Warner shopping mall on Columbus Circle, i.e., not at Lincoln Center. Wynton Marsalis led the orchestra for an evening of Duke Ellington. I was happy to see Wessell Anderson. At a reception afterwards, I asked Marsalis how he was able to wear a wool suit and remain cool at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2006. It was over 90 degrees out and everyone else was sweating in T-shirts. He said, “I’m from New Orleans.” Wes Anderson said that he didn’t mind having moved from New York City, where he had lived his entire life, to Lansing Michigan, where he was now a music professor.

Saturday morning breakfast at Rue 57, corner of 57th and 6th, then a gallery showing flowers and cityscapes by Jane Freilicher ($40,000 for a 12×14″ canvas; $100,000+ for the larger oil paintings), then an exhibit of 40×50″ prints from 4×5 negatives by Katy Grannan (pudgy nude woman in various desolate locations around San Francisco; $11,000 per print).

With Terence and Anastasia, went to an afternoon performance of Tom Stoppard’s latest play, Rock N Roll. This follows a young Czech academic and a middle-aged English Communist professor at Cambridge University from the 1968 invasion by the Soviets through the fall of Communism. The main issue is the right to free speech and free expression, something Europeans have seldom enjoyed, I reflected. In the old days, they couldn’t write freely for fear of being imprisoned by the king. In the 20th century, half of Europe couldn’t express itself freely for fear of being imprisoned by a Communist government. Today, the Europeans who express their opinions about Islam or Muslim immigration are liable to be killed by their Muslim neighbors, or at least be pushed into hiding (cf. Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Holland). Not the most relevant play for Americans. Most of us can write or say what we like, though only those who have government jobs or who are in unions can do so without fear of losing their employment.

With Eero and Iris, went to a performance of Two Thousand Years, a play about a suburban non-observant Jewish family in London. Their son had a brilliant start at university with a math degree, but for the seven years since he graduated, has been living at home. Lately he has turned to orthodox Judaism and a lot of loud discussion ensues. The playwright, Mike Leigh, is not an official Great like Stoppard, but the material is much more relevant to the average person, who will have some familiarity with family squabbles.

Dinner was at Taboon on 10th Avenue.

Sunday: Avenue Q at 2 pm with Jesse and Kate, then early dinner at Uncle Nick’s on 9th Avenue between 50th and 51st (order 1 entree for every two people!). Spent the evening with David and Patricia and their twins. Visited the Apple Store on Central Park South and 5th Avenue, open 24 hours/day, to play with the Macbook Air (remarkably nice keyboard, and light, but how much does the power adaptor weigh?)

Monday (President’s Day): late breakfast at the London Bar; stylish, slow, empty, $70. Allstate, 212-333-3333, took us to Teterboro in a Toyota Camry Hybrid.

We timed our departure so as to miss most of the weather from a big cold front that had pushed through in the morning, leaving only lingering scattered showers. Moderate turbulence was forecast for the entire route down to Atlanta, along with 50-knot headwinds right on
the nose, but I figured it wouldn’t be that bad except in a storm cell and ATC would never vector me into one of those. Besides, I had the on-board XM radio NEXRAD data. The one thing that concerned me was that airliners had submitted pilot reports complaining of “severe
turbulence”, indicating that their airplanes were “impossible to control.”

We departed TEB with one portion of the sky looking ugly. The green (light rain), yellow, red (heavy rain), and purple (double secret severe rain) bands of the NEXRAD weather on the multifunction display were at least 15 miles west. As soon as I was switched to New York Approach, they gave me a vector straight into the line of severe weather. I thought “this won’t be bad because we’re still quite far from the actual rain”. A few seconds later, we entered a cloud, were pelted with some rain, and the airplane began getting tossed around.

I was able to keep the airplane right-side up, but embraced in a powerful updraft, I could not keep the Cirrus from climbing. We blasted right through our assigned altitude of 5000′. I cut the power to idle, nosed down for the maneuvering speed of 130 knots (maximum in turbulence), but still we climbed at 1000′ per minute to 6000′.

Eventually, Air Traffic Control vectored us out of the weather and down the coast. We were doing a miserable 100 knots over the ground, shaved down from 155 knots through the air. We stopped for fuel at KPTB, just south of Richmond, and landed in a 30-knot gusty crosswind. Just before we touched down, a gust lifted the airplane back up 20′. We were filled up with $3.95 100LL (it had been nearly $8/gallon in Teterboro). Did we want to borrow the crew car and go to a nearby restaurant? Thanks, but with the headwinds we needed to press onwards. We flew in the dark to KPDK, in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. The wind was 270 at 11; the tower was using runway 20. Another crosswind landing.

Signature guy from Yonkers said that he liked Atlanta because salaries were higher than in NYC and the cost of real estate was much lower. He warned us not to take MARTA, saying that we would be accosted by an insane person. We took MARTA. We were accosted by an insane woman.

Dinner with Ellis Vener, talking about scripting Photoshop. Checked into the Embassy Suites, across from the Aquarium.

Tuesday: Arrived at the Georgia Aquarium just after its 10:00 am opening. The place was moderately crowded despite the $27/person ticket price. The aquarium was funded with a $250 million gift from Bernie Marcus, founder of Home Depot. The architects are proud of the
fact that, rather than requiring visitors to follow one long route, it is set up like a shopping mall. A central atrium contains a cafeteria and each section is entered from this atrium. The big attractions are Beluga Whales (one died so far) and Whale Sharks (two died so far). There are a lot of places to sit up against the glass, or for kids to stand at a greater height. The aquarium lacks the architectural magnificence of Chattanooga’s Tennessee State Aquarium, but probably
it is more functional.

We walked through the Olympic park where the 1996 pipe bomb exploded, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 people. Just after leaving the park, we were befriended by a graduate of the City of Cambridge’s Rindge and Latin High School, the most lavishly funded public school in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. His education sufficed for him to give us good directions to the subway. Unfortunately, the taxpayers of Cambridge did not set him up too well for a career. He is homeless and earns most of his income from panhandling.

Four stops north on the MARTA was the High Museum of Art. The 1983 building, desired by Richard Meier, has been supplemented by a huge 2005 addition by Renzo Piano. The Renzo Piano building is much less interesting inside, with less natural light. It is so boring and boxy
that one wonders why they needed a world famous architect to design it. Arguably the big spaces work better for huge contemporary paintings than did Meier’s more broken-up spaces, but they could have saved themselves $163 million by displaying the huge pieces in an
abandoned Best Buy or Home Depot (cf. MoMA Queens). Tickets are $18/head and the downstairs cafe serves food very similar to what you might find in a “grab and go” airport kiosk.

Played with Ellis’s Nikon D3. The interface seems more functional than on the Canon digital SLRs. There are more dedicated buttons and switches, e.g., to change autofocus mode you turn a switch on the Nikon whereas on the Canon you would press a button, look at the LCD display, and turn a multifunction dial.

MARTA back to the Embassy Suites, dinner of steak drenched in butter at Ruth’s Chris in the lobby, exercise in the gym in a vain attempt to burn off the fat.

Wednesday: Blissfully uneventful VFR flight from Atlanta (PDK) to St. Augustine, Florida, arriving on time(!) for lunch with Andres and Henry, conversation revolving around very light jets, Robinson helicopters, the Silver State Helicopters bankruptcy. Departed St. Augustine around 3:45 pm for Naples, Florida, mostly VFR at 6500′ through some occasional very light rain showers and then a pop-down IFR clearance to get through a broken layer down to the runway at Naples at 5:30 pm. Eero picked us up and we all went down to the beach to watch the pelicans fishing at sunset.

Getting a dinner table for 9 people, including 3 children, turned out to be almost impossible on a Wednesday evening in Naples. Most of the restaurants were quoting 1.5-2 hour waits. We eventually got in at Ridgeway’s. Mika’s old teacher, Ilana, gave us a lift to the “Naples Airport La Quinta” where we had booked an “Internet equipped non-smoking room”. The hotel was in a ghetto area near the Interstate, vastly farther from the airport than any of the downtown Naples hotels. The Internet didn’t work. The room smelled of cigarette smoke.

Thursday, February 21: Prepared the airplane for extended overwater operations by (1) moving life jackets from pockets behind the front seats to the footwells underneath the front seats, (2) purchasing some gallon jugs of water and emptying them out to provide flotation for a mesh bag holding the EPIRB and some flares, (3) tieing the life raft to the mesh bag. Called Flight Service to file an international VFR flight plan and get a briefing. Due to some heavy rain showers and turbulence, they noted that there was a Center Weather Advisory and that “VFR flight is not recommended” (though in fact as we demonstrated coming out of Teterboro, it is IFR flight that is truly dangerous when there are isolated storms). Departed Naples just after noon and climbed to 9500′ to get over most of the clouds. The NEXRAD was showing some red stuff, but very spotty and ending at the shoreline. The Cirrus is a terrible climber, with only 200 horsepower for 3000 lbs. of gross weight. We would have struggled to get above 9500′ and therefore chose to steer around any higher clouds. Miami Center said that they were too busy to provide VFR traffic advisories to us.

As we approached Miami, the clouds thinned out a bit and we were able to pick up RADAR services from Miami Approach. They handed us off to Miami Center once we were well over the water. Soon we could see Bimini and intricate patterns of sand and coral. Bimini is a renowned sport fishing, drug smuggling, and Hemingway worshipping spot. “That’s as close as you’d want to get,” was the comment of some Florida-based Cessna pilots when we said that we’d only seen it from 9500′. “It is so close to Florida that it is full of Americans and all they do is drink.”

About 50 nautical miles from Bimini we flew over the northern tip of Andros Island, the largest in the Bahamas, and covered in some clouds of its own making. Miami Center handed us off to Nassau Approach. We flew by the congested sprawl of New Providence Island and were just about to the isolated Exumas when we were handed back to Miami Center. We had RADAR coverage for the entire trip, as it happened, but canceled VFR advisories and diverted slightly north so that we could fly down the entire west coast of Cat Island, about 50 miles long. We landed on New Bight’s (MYCB) 5000′ runway with a strong headwind from the east.

Clearing customs and immigration took about 10 minutes. The neatly dressed officials had all of the required forms ready for us. They did not inspect our luggage or the airplane. The immigration woman was kind enough to phone our hotel and notify them that we had arrived (try getting an INS official in the U.S. to do that!). We hopped in a taxi for the one-mile ride to, reputedly the nicest hotel on the island and certainly the best located (a protected bay on the Exuma Sound (west) side of the island).

We finished the day with a sunset swim and lobster dinner with a couple from Florida.

Friday, February 22: Borrowed bicycles from the hotel and rode down to the Hermitage, a monk’s retreat on top of the highest hill in the Bahamas, a whopping 206 feet above sea level. Lunched at the Bluebird Restaurant, where we ran into Andy and Chris Schoenberg, living aboard the 36′ ketch Saniti ( for fourteen months with their three children. Chris and her son recognized me from a helicopter landing at a restaurant on the coast of their native Maine. Returned to the hotel for an afternoon snorkel along the rocks at the north end of the bay. Saw at least 20 different species of fish, including an iridescent trigger fish and a big puffer.

Plans: depart Cat Island for Eleuthera on Sunday morning; stop in Miami on Tuesday or Wednesday for lunch with Jennifer; overnight in Charleston, South Carolina; stop for two nights in Washington, D.C.; return home to Boston around February 29.

One thought on “Boston to Bahamas and back in a Cirrus SR20 (boring diary)

  1. Well Philip,
    I did not think that was boring at all! I have done a similiar route, but in my Piper Cherokee 180 not the Cirrus. In fact, I flew the little 180 all the way from Jacksonville, Fl. to San Diego, just to participate in a ladies air race back up to Ohio.What fun!
    And I know Andres in SGJ, cannot wait to tell him I found this! What a small world, thanks for posting an enjoyable read.

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