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Surreal solitudeSurreal solitude

Out Islands, BahamasOut Islands, Bahamas

You know you are there when you see the ocean turn blue: I mean really, really blue—the kind of infinite cerulean that you are sure is retouched in photos. It’s not. Even on a cloudy day it lets you know you are crossing the Gulf Stream, a river of deep warm water that slices north to south across the Atlantic Ocean somewhere just east of Florida.

Photo by Amy Laboda.

If you’re a prudent pilot, you are probably looking down from some lofty altitude that allows you half a chance at gliding to a beach, sandbar, or shallow area in the case of engine failure. I’m typically above 10,000 feet to avoid the chaos of the Miami–Fort Lauderdale airspaces that line up like a phalanx to block my path to peace and relaxation. I could be IFR and make air traffic control deal with me, but they’d just reroute me, so why not just avoid the problem and be VFR? After all, if you are bound for the deserted white sands of the Out Islands of the Bahamas, you’ll need to be VFR eventually.

Many smart pilots heading to the remote realms of the Out Islands team up, too, which affords one more safety when heading out over water. On our last foray to Long Island, Bahamas, we teamed our RV–10 with a Glasair III and a Piper Lance. All three airplanes were equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast In and Out. Even when we left the coverage of ground stations we could see each other’s transponder signals, allowing us to safely operate in proximity of each other without being in formation flight. The plan was that if one of us went down, one airplane would stay on station and watch and relay, while the other went to get help. We never needed the plan, but it was there if we did, and that was comforting.

If you are accustomed to the bustle of Nassau or Freeport, the solitude at an Out Island airport is almost surreal. Sure, there are a few little city airports in the Exumas or Abacos, but the emphasis is on “little.” Stay long enough and everyone will know your name.

I go out of my way to stay at Bahamian-owned or -managed resorts, boutique hotels, and cottages. I generally find that their hospitality, generosity of spirit and time, and easygoing management style suit my vacation persona. I don’t dislike internationally owned or managed places—some are terrific values and can offer over-the-top luxuries. I’m just not so luxe, in personality, I guess. Give me a good stand-up paddle board and five miles of untouched white sand beach, a comfortable beach chair under a thatch umbrella, some divine cracked conch or grouper fingers, and I am set. Wi-Fi is nice, but it is not a deal-breaker in the Out Islands. Most spots in the Bahamas have decent LTE cellphone reception, and that is all a pilot needs to confirm eAPIS and call Customs before departing back to the United States.

There’s one more reason I go local: Many of these Bahamian-owned and -operated resorts offer private pilots discounts through the Out Islands Tourism Board. These rebates are nothing to ignore: Consider $300 fuel credits for staying four consecutive nights, or a $150 “fee” credit for island hopping and staying two consecutive nights at each resort. There are a few resorts listed on the website that offer private fliers as much as 15 percent off their final bill. That’ll take the sting out of paying arrival and departure taxes.

All that said, it’s not the discounts that draw me in; really, it’s the water. As I begin my gradual descent into New Bight airport on Cat Island I can see a thousand hues of blue, green, turquoise, and every imaginable tint in between. The water is split by curlicues of white sand, green mangroves clawing the shallows, and ancient limestone cliffs jutting up from what was once a magnificent coral reef (and still is, well below the surface; you see, the water is so clear you can see it). The sun glistens on the scene as it pops out from behind a fluffy cumulus floating on the easterlies, and I know my vacation is here.

 Photo by Amy Laboda.
Amy Laboda

Amy Laboda

Aviation freelance writer
Amy Laboda has been flying airplanes since she was 15 years old. She's taught flight students from East Coast to West, and currently serves as a National FAA FAAST Team member, providing Aviation Safety Seminars for FAA certified pilots in the U.S. and abroad. She was the Editor in Chief of Aviation for Women magazine for nearly 13 years before returning to her freelance writing and multimedia career.
Topics: Bahamas

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