When the opportunity presented itself to head to the Bahamas on a Saturday in the middle of winter when Congress was out of town, it was just plain impossible to say no. To make the most of this trip, we would need to capture still photos as well as video—and that meant a team approach. With people and equipment, AOPA’s Cessna Caravan was the right aircraft for the mission (see “Another Island, Another Day”).
With my colleagues and our gear, N394GA was packed to gross as we departed Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. While we had an itinerary—after all, we were visiting five islands in five days—we were really setting off on an adventure. I had never flown in the Bahamas, and some in our group had never been there at all.
You can forget the whole notion of boldly going where no one has gone before! Speaking to members in Florida at events in Sebring and Fort Myers in the days before heading to the islands, it seemed everyone had made the flight and couldn’t wait to tell me about their favorite places to visit. It quickly became clear that, while many of us might view flying to the Bahamas as a slightly mysterious endeavor, such flights are both routine and a source of tremendous enjoyment for those who live nearby.
Like many people who haven’t made the flight before, I had some misconceptions. The first myth busted was the notion that you spend a long time flying over open water. From the coast of Florida to Bimini Island was less than 30 minutes in the Caravan, making the midway point 15 minutes from land. I have flown far longer over far less-inviting terrain. The water was calm beneath us and the islands are populated with airstrips. We did see a good deal of beautiful water, but most of it we saw while within sight of—if not over—land.
As we crossed into this magical environment of multicolored water and islands, I could not help but remember the hurricane that ravaged the Bahamas last year (see “Rally GA: Flight for Survival,” November 2011 AOPA Pilot). General aviation pilots rushed to help provide humanitarian relief in the aftermath of the storm. Unfortunately, in some places help is still needed. So on the second day of our island flight, we made a quick return to Florida to load the Caravan with more than 1,000 pounds of supplies that were delivered to a children’s home in North Eleuthera.
The rest of our trip was spent enjoying the “out islands,” located farther south than Nassau and the well-known Abacos. We visited Long Island, Cat Island, Staniel Cay, and Crooked Island—beautiful places with great descriptive names.
I discovered firsthand that on these islands people are gracious, friendly, and very welcoming to the general aviation community. As it turns out, GA brings many of the visitors to these small, relaxed resorts, and the people we met were anxious to do everything possible to make us, and every other guest, feel welcome and comfortable.
Being in the air provides a special perspective and reveals the unique beauty of the Bahamas, but life on the islands is pretty remarkable, too. You can walk along miles and miles of empty, unspoiled beaches, or race along the shoreline in a boat. We watched in awe as giant iguanas walked down the beach to our boat. Even the local pigs swam out to greet us. And, when we left the boat, the underwater sights were as spectacular as any I’ve ever seen. Evening meals were extraordinary, with fresh lobster, crab, snapper, and other ocean delicacies. Caught locally and prepared perfectly, every meal was a special treat.
The question I really kept asking myself was why had I not done this sooner?
There are many things we are able to do as pilots and there are many opportunities we enjoy that are unique to flying. I truly cannot think of a five-day flying experience where the flying was as enjoyable or the people we met as gracious and fun as our new friends in the Bahamas. Each of us on the trip found ourselves talking about ways to get back in the months ahead. I, for one, am already dreaming of making a return visit in my Aviat Husky. What a flying adventure that will be!
Our editors wasted no time producing the stories and photographs in this month’s issue. Our hope is that you will start planning your visit now. You will find most of the information you will need online, and we’ll be using our firsthand experience with eAPIS and U.S. and Bahamian customs to update our international travel information to make your next trip as easy as possible. Returning to the peculiar ways of Washington, D.C., makes me grateful to have learned what a magical place awaits pilots willing to make the flight.
And, speaking of the realities of Washington, as Pilot was heading to the printer, we were still waiting to see what President Barack Obama’s budget would reflect in the way of user fees. Every signal is that the administration wants to pursue a $100 fee per flight operation, and by the time you read this, the language will be known. I suspect we will have another fight on our hands, but I can tell you that we have many strong and important allies on Capitol Hill who will do their level best to defeat aviation user fees. We must and will mount a strong rebuttal to this proposal to both defeat it and do our best to see that it stays out of future budgets. In this battle we will need your help, and we will reach out should the proposal gain any momentum.
Email AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].