Bahamas to Boston in a Cirrus SR20 (boring diary, part II)

Saturday, February 23: snorkel in the morning, seeing a lot of interesting fish. Michelle called me over to see a Mako Shark swimming near the surface. He looked remarkably like a Barracuda. Afternoon boat ride with a lot of other guests to see a nest of young Ospreys. Dinner with Paul Breaux, owner of Breaux Vineyards in Virginia, accompanied by some of his wine (shockingly good!).

Sunday, February 24: morning snorkel with our favorite Mako Shark in Barracuda’s clothing. Paid our bill ($1700) for three nights of lodging and 2.5 days of food. Richard from Toronto gave us a lift to the New Bight airport, about a mile away, in his rental car. We departed for North Eleuthera with about 25 gallons of fuel in the airplane. Just before we left we watched a jet depart runway 9 and use up the entire runway before rotating (winds were favoring 27). We back-taxied and departed runway 27. The flight to North Eleuthera was an uneventful 45 minutes. Getting Nassau Approach to respond was a challenge, but necessary because we were going through their Terminal Control Area. Uneventful landing at MYEH and the FBO said that they would park us and fuel us. Hopped in a taxi to the ferry to the taxi to Coral Sands Hotel, a much more luxurious place than Fernandez Bay on Cat Island, albeit not as informal. Coral Sands has locks on the doors and safes in each room. Wifi throughout the premises, but no dogs in evidence.

Rented a couple of single-gear bicycles from Michael’s. He charges $12/day for the $250 machines, which are in pretty rough shape after exposure to salt air. Snorkeled just to the north of the hotel, right off the beach. Saw three lionfish (invasive Pacific species that arrived with a hurricane a few years ago, a refugee from a washed-away home aquarium) and a ray.

Lunch and dinner at the Coral Sands were excellent (about $200 total for very light meals with two drinks total).

Monday: Bike ride in the morning, all around the island (every third house is for sale, it seems), then an after-lunch snorkel trip with Valentine’s Dive shop. Luther, a local guy with six kids, drove us to some beautiful coral gardens just off the SE tip of the island (could have walked down the beach from the Coral Sands and swum out). Dinner at Rock House, supposedly one of the island’s best restaurants ($200 for two including one glass of (bad) wine and no dessert; food not as good as at Coral Sands).

Tuesday: This was our scheduled day of departure from the Bahamas.  A cold front was making life bumpy/thunderstormy in the Southeast and northern Florida.  What was the point of leaving the Bahamas only to get stuck in Vero Beach?  We took a morning stroll along the pink sand beach then taxi and water taxi back to Eleuthera. We agreed to rent a car for $80 per day, a typical rate here. For $80 you get no insurance and are required to take 100 percent responsibility for any damage to the car. When we arrived at the vehicle, a 1998 Chevy Cavalier with 113,000+ miles on it, rust breaking through the paint, I realized that our liability was limited to maybe $300 plus the cost of shipping a new former rental junker from Miami. We drove through mostly vacant land, punctuated every mile by a “lot for sale” sign and every 10 miles by a sandy town with one convenience store selling condensed milk. Eventually we arrived in Governor’s Harbor and decided to hunker down for a couple of nights at Pineapple Fields, a condo/rental development across the street from Tippy’s, one of the town’s best restaurants.

Wednesday: snorkel on the beach in front of hotel; water very calm on the Atlantic side despite raging west wind from approaching cold front. We saw three lobsters and three sea turtles, plus the usual assortment of coral reef residents. Lunch at Tippy’s, then a drive to the Island Farm to stock up on fresh vegetables (arugula, tomatoes, lettuce picked to order, pear-shaped tomatoes picked to order). We stopped to have a look at Ten Bay Beach, supposedly lovely but a little wild with a 30-knot wind coming off the water.

Thursday:  Wake up to gusty strong winds pushing the palm trees around, but after three hours of packing, driving, and preflighting, the skies are clear and the winds have died down to about 10 knots.  Clearing out with the friendly Customs guy at North Eleuthera takes about 5 minutes.  Due to 25-knot headwinds, it takes nearly two hours to fly to Tamiami-Kendall (KTMB).  We clear U.S. Customs uneventfully and taxi over to Reliance to meet my cousin Jennifer.  Her 5-year-old son is in love with the Cirrus and wants to claim it as his own.

After a 15-minute drive past desolate housing developments, we have lunch at a chain Cuban restaurant (La Carreta) in a strip mall.  It isn’t a charming beachside thatch hut like in the Bahamas, but it is tough to argue with the appeal of fried chunks of pork and getting out without a $100 hole in one’s wallet.

We departed TMB around 3 pm and flew up the beach at 500′ above sea level.  The glittering towers and Art Deco classics of South Beach turned into boring concrete blocks by the time we got to Fort Lauderdale.  The most amazing thing was how many unfinished enormous condo buildings there are.  Would you like to buy a 30-story apartment building on the beach?  I have four that I think you could buy.  Still plenty of time to pick finishes…

At 5:30 pm we landed in St. Augustine and hung out with Andres until 7 pm, then departed in the dark for Charleston, S.C.  We finally got a bit of a tailwind, our first since the trip began two weeks earlier, and landed by 8:30 pm.  We checked into the Francis Marion hotel downtown (good location, tiny room, complex expensive in-room Internet that they try to charge you for separately, shuttle to the airport that turns out to cost more than a taxi) and had dinner at the restaurant downstairs.  An after-dinner stroll down King Street went past so many chain clothing stores that it was just like being in an outdoor shopping mall (e.g., the Stanford Mall in Palo Alto, California).

Friday, February 29: Walked around Charleston at the period mansions, beautifully restored.  Each house has a history attached to it, listing the names of the families who occupied the place starting in the early 1800s.  The history trails off in the 1930s usually.  It would be fun to walk around with stickers saying “Now occupied by an SUV driver” to complete each sign’s narrative.  About one quarter of the mansions have “for sale” signs out front.  We had pizza and salad for lunch, then departed IFR for Gaithersburg (KGAI) with an alternate of Dulles (KIAD).  It was nearly a 3-hour flight with a bit of pressure due to lowering ceilings and approaching rain and snow.  Temperatures were cold enough that I resolved not to fly into any clouds for fear of picking up ice.  We landed uneventfully at Gaithersburg.  The airport was deserted due to the wind gusts up to 20 knots (not bad by New England standards, but enough to scare off the locals, especially with the approaching rain).

Saturday:  Family and friends; Hirshhorn and Air and Space.

Sunday:  Met brother Harry and family at Gaithersburg.  Filed, by phone, which is the only option, a VFR flight plan for getting out of the Washington, D.C. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).  Called on the radio from the ground for a squawk code and departure frequency, then departed Runway 32 (downhill, slight crosswind).  We were able to get a Class B clearance at 3500′ and eventually VFR advisories all the way to Teterboro, NJ (KTEB), about 1:20 at 145 knots over the ground.  Teterboro had winds gusting to 20 knots from 320  yet they were landing Runway 6.  I asked for and received Runway 1, oriented 010 and still a significant crosswind but at least not a tailwind and closer to Jet Aviation.   The Tower issued a wind shear warning; a jet had recently lost 10 knots of airspeed on approach to Runway 6.  Landing with a bit of extra airspeed, in case of wind shear, turned out to be uneventful.

Cousin Lynn and Ross showed up with a picnic, complete with tablecloth and wicker basket.  They’d taken our orders for Jewish deli food.  I ordered corned beef on rye.  Michelle asked for turkey and swiss on whole wheat, which sparked a discussion on what constituted a “Jewish sandwich”.  I gave some examples, such as “chopped liver and pastrami.”  Maybe the best answer is “It has to lead to a near-immediate heart attack.”

We were ready to depart around 3:15 pm.  We paid the $8.14/gallon bill, screwed the cold weather plates back in the nose of the Cirrus, checked the oil, and sampled the fuel.  The nose plates obstruct airflow so that the oil doesn’t get too cold at subfreezing temperatures.  As we flew over Connecticut, the airports and lakes began to show blankets of snow.  The wind at Hanscom Field (KBED) was gusting to 28 knots, variable between 260 and 320.  The Cirrus was a bit of handful on final approach, proving that no matter where you fly you will never find conditions as challenging as at Hanscom.  While taxiing to the hangar we noticed snow piles up to 20′ in height.  Kasim met us and helped unpack and put the plane away.  He had already shoveled out the snow from in front of the hangar.

The best part of coming home was a reunion with Kyle, Alex, and Roxanne.

Apparently nobody told the banks that ladling out free money to the uncreditworthy was a bad idea.  Some friends and I recently formed a bunch of LLCs that will eventually hold airplanes.  Currently, however, none of these LLCs have any assets.  That is apparently no obstacle to obtaining credit, however.  Each LLC received two or three preapproved credit card offers during the two weeks that I was gone.

Trip statistics:  About 2500 nautical miles at an average ground speed of maybe 120 knots, depressingly lower than our average true airspeed of 152 knots.  We made every flight as scheduled except that the entire return from the Bahamas was delayed by two days.  People caught up with:  four sets of friends in New York, one friend in Atlanta, one friend in St. Augustine, one set of cousins in Miami, one set of cousins in New Jersey, one sister, one brother, two parents, about five different friends, all in D.C.  Was the Cirrus an efficient way of getting to the Bahamas?  Not really.  But it was an efficient way to do a bunch of different things and see a lot of widely separated friends and family up and down the East Coast.

2 thoughts on “Bahamas to Boston in a Cirrus SR20 (boring diary, part II)

  1. Efficient? Who cares? You were flying a fricking airplane. What I used to tell my friends back when I could afford to fly was that the point wasn’t efficiency, but that for once you’re alive and happy during the journey, as opposed to just withdrawn into the despair of commercial travel, hunkering down for the experience, throwing away a day of your life on either side of your travel. I’d rather spend a day flying a small plane than one hour at an airport.

  2. Boring? Hardly! Great reminiscing. I’ve flown a light plane to the Out Islands twice, albeit 25 or so years ago – and radio comm doesn’t seem to have changed much. I guess the salt air does bad things to their antennae.

    Resorts and hotels come and go quickly in the Islands. It takes good “local knowledge”, in boater-speak, to find the few really neat and reasonable places.

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