Bahamas PIREP

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Steven
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Bahamas PIREP

Post by Steven »

I thought I would post a trip report about my flight to Cat Island, Bahamas this past February in case anyone else is considering doing the trip and would like a PIREP. Our DA40XL was at Premier in Ft. Lauderdale for the ADSB install, so I decided to take the opportunity to fly it over to the Bahamas. I flew Jet Blue from Boston to Fort Lauderdale on a Friday. My plan was to depart for the Bahamas Saturday morning, stay three nights, and fly back to Fort Lauderdale Tuesday morning in time to catch an evening Jet Blue flight to Boston. Note this trip took place several months before Hurricane Dorian, which may have affected some operations particularly at Marsh Harbour.

1. Paperwork

This was most of the effort. Having done it once I can see that it will be less stressful next time. In addition to the usual documents, this is the paperwork you are supposed to have in the plane: Radio Station License (airplane), US Customs sticker (airplane), and Radiotelephone Operator Permit (pilot). I got all of these as required. At no point did anyone ask to see any of them. There are several Bahamas immigration forms you need to fill out. It is a bit confusing and I’m told which forms you really need depends a bit on who is working in the office that day. I filled out these two prior to departure and brought them with me: C7a Bahamas Cruising Permit Form and Bahamas Immigration Card. Obviously you need your passport too. You need to set up an eAPIS account (if you do not already have one) and fill out the info about the pilot and passengers. This is not hard but do it well in advance in case there is any trouble setting up your eAPIS account. I filed eAPIS for the departure and return trips before leaving home.

2. How to get there

I filed IFR both ways. You do not have too, but since I had never flown internationally before I thought I would have less chance of doing something very wrong if I was on an IFR flight plan. My route was: KFXE ZFP BR70V MRRSH MYEM at 7000’.

3. Departure

I used Banyan for FBO services at KFXE. You should use Banyan too. Every other plane there was a light jet but they took very good care of me. I rented a life vest and a raft from them. The life vest is required. I was not planning to rent a raft, but as the man behind the counter explained, “If you need to use the life vest, you will really wish you had the raft.” I couldn’t argue with that logic. Fortunately the vest and the raft stayed secured in their packaging for the duration of the trip.

Departure day was a total mess. The weather in Ft. Lauderdale was VFR, but there were spots of convective activity off the coast. It got a little better, then a little worse, then a little better throughout the day. Radar didn’t show anything at my destination, but I wasn’t sure if that was because there was no precipitation or because there was no radar coverage. Given the nature of the flight and realizing that my options might be limited once outside of the ADIZ I made a no-go decision at 2pm. I got a different hotel for the night Saturday, the Courtyard by Marriott Fort Lauderdale North. Stay here if you need to overnight, it is really nice for the area and practically walking distance to Banyan. I spent the night re-filing eAPIS and re-filing IFR. In case you’re wondering what happens if you don’t depart on your eAPIS plan, the answer is: nothing. It just disappears in to the ether. Turns out that no-go was a good choice, I later learned Cat Island experienced torrential rain for parts of the day. Do not assume the weather in the Bahamas is always going to be severe clear VFR just like in the photos.

Departure the next morning was effortless with severe clear VFR weather just like in the photos. Yes, it is a little weird at first flying off over open ocean. I think I was not in sight of land for about 7 minutes. Maybe 20 minutes of the entire flight was not within engine-out distance of land. It’s practically a non-issue.

4. Arrival

Since Cat Island does not have fuel available, I made Governors Harbour my port of entry. Immediately upon landing I was greeted warmly by a lineman. I asked where customs was and he pointed me to the little building (it is the only building actually, so he could probably tell I was a tourist …). I requested a top-off and was told “Oh man, that’s a problem …” Apparently the fuel truck was broken. OK, well I still had to clear customs so I went into the building. I must have had that deer-in-the-headlights look as the lady working in the office basically filled out the forms for me (again, the required forms seem to have some flexibility about them) and stamped my passport. Fuel or no fuel, I had made it to the Bahamas! The lineman directed me to North Eleuthera (MYEH) for fuel. It’s only 10-15 minutes away. I told the lineman at North Eleuthera about the situation with the fuel truck in Governors Harbour. He told me that fuel truck has been broken for two years.

As I was paying the bill (every place took credit cards by the way, other than tips I don’t think I spent cash at all while I was there), I glanced out the window and it was nearly solid overcast at about 2000’. Really? Now what am I supposed to do? Scud run from Eleuthera Island to Cat Island? File IFR somehow and pick up a clearance from … whom exactly? There was a young pilot picking up some passengers in a small commuter airline turboprop so I asked him what folks do around here. He told me no one files an IFR departure here, just pick one up in the air with Freeport Radio. Sounds good.

Not good. If you have never filed an ICAO flight plan over the radio before, your first attempt should not be filing one with Freeport Radio to a controller with a serious Bahamian accent while you are in a 2000’ sliver of air between the clouds and the ocean. NB: they really do want to know the color and capacity of your rented life raft that is in the back seat where you can’t see it. It was embarrassing to say the least. But after that 20 minutes of misery I finally had Cat Island (MYCB) in sight. It’s a beautiful thing.

5. Accommodations

I stayed at Fernandez Bay Village. You want to stay here. There’s basically nothing to do other than stare at the water and drink rum punch. I don’t think I’ve been more relaxed in my entire life. I originally had a plan to fly to San Salvador to see the Christopher Columbus memorial and to fly to Exuma to see the swimming pigs. I didn’t do any of that. I stared at the water and drank rum punch.

6. Departure

Fernandez Bay Village has wifi, so I filed IFR on Fore Flight from Cat Island to Marsh Harbour. Although I didn’t strictly need fuel to get home, I decided it would be prudent to top off, and I wanted to get in a landing at another island before going home. My route was: MYCB Direct MYAM at 8000’. A mere 40 hours after arrival I paid my parking fee and departed Cat Island VFR. Picking up the IFR clearance enroute was easy. Marsh Harbour (MYAM) is more like a typical US Class D airport (no tower though). Customs folks were easy going and departure was a breeze. Wifi wasn’t good at the FBO but I was able to file back to KFXE using ForeFlight on my iPhone. My route was MYAM ZFP BR68V FLL KFXE at 8000’. You need to call customs at KFXE at least one hour prior to your arrival to tell them you are coming. The rules don’t tell you what to do if you call several times and no one answers. Hmmm. Well, I decided to call customs at KFLL for guidance. She said they were probably just too busy at KFXE to answer the phone but she would pass on the info that I called.

7. Arrival

The flight from Marsh Harbour to Fort Lauderdale was blissfully uneventful, but I really wish that when approaching FLL they didn’t have me descend to 2000’ with 10 miles of ocean left to cover. Upon landing I told the ground controller I was going to customs and they gave me directions. The KFXE customs guys were very pleasant. I was the only one there and I was in and out in a matter of minutes. Taxied back to Banyan and returned my still unopened life vest and life raft. It was red, by the way.
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Derek
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Re: Bahamas PIREP

Post by Derek »

Great pirep thanks!
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caseyayers
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Re: Bahamas PIREP

Post by caseyayers »

Thanks for sharing! Now that you’ve done the trip and seen how little time you spent truly out of reach of land, do you think you’d rent the raft again or feel comfortable making the trip with good vests?
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Re: Bahamas PIREP

Post by AndrewM »

caseyayers wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:40 pm
Thanks for sharing! Now that you’ve done the trip and seen how little time you spent truly out of reach of land, do you think you’d rent the raft again or feel comfortable making the trip with good vests?
Last time I flew to the Bahamas it was to the Exumas. Sensational trip, one I will always remember. We did it with just life-jackets. I am sure taking a raft makes sense, but my reasoning was that you are in touch with ATC all the way, and that you are actually quite close to land, or over islands, the entire way. The leg over open water and out of glide distance to land is not that long.
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Re: Bahamas PIREP

Post by Colin »

Great report, thanks for all the info.
Maybe 20 minutes of the entire flight was not within engine-out distance of land. It’s practically a non-issue.
We have very different cardiac situations. I was fourteen minutes over one of the great lakes during the summer and I had a playlist set up for those specific fourteen minutes. It still felt VERY long.
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Re: Bahamas PIREP

Post by CFIDave »

Steven:

A great PIREP, which triggered some thoughts -- since I've flown to the Bahamas as a pilot (and even across the Bahamas to Turks & Caicos) for each of the last 7 years and visited many of the Bahamian islands containing resorts/hotels:

1. Fernandez Bay resort on Cat Island: This was also where I visited on my very first trip flying a Diamond to the Bahamas, and I still think it's one of my favorite places to visit. Other than the high cost of their restaurant (approx. $40 per person for breakfasts and lunches that you can avoid if you want to buy groceries and cook -- we didn't), everything there was perfect. Landed at New Bight airport MYCB on Cat Island.

While staying on Cat Island at Fernandez Bay our group of aircraft launched eastbound one day over to San Salvador (MYSM) to tour the island and see the site where Christopher Columbus landed. Then on another day we all flew westbound over to the Exumas island chain and landed at Staniel Cay (MYES) to do the obligatory tourist thing: we rented motorboats to go out and see the famous swimming pigs, and swam in the "James Bond grotto" where the movie Thunderball was filmed. On the way back to Cat Island, most of our group needed avgas and refueled at Exuma International (MYEF); we instead flew to nearby Stella Maris (MYLS) on Long Island since they also had JetA for our DA42. (In some subsequent years our group flew directly to Stella Maris staying at the nearby Cape Santa Maria resort -- also a very nice place.)

2. Best US Port of Entry for US Departure and Arrival: In my experience I highly recommend always going through APP JetCenter FBO at Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR). As the northernmost US PoE for flying to/from the Bahamas, it's where we always group up and stay overnight before departing to the Bahamas the next day. The FBO there has a great little cafe for breakfast and lunch, their fuel prices are among the lowest in the area, and best of all, they're right next to the US Customs facility; when you arrive to clear customs APP JetCenter will offer to tow your plane about 100 yards from Customs to the FBO for free. They can rent you rafts and life jackets if needed; they can also provide you with cheap nearby hotel rooms and free shuttle service.

The US Customs facility there at KFPR is terrific; you unload your baggage into available baggage carts, and you'll be in and back out of the facility, cleared in about 5-10 minutes; the CBP workers there are very efficient/nice/helpful. In contrast, the worst experience I ever had was clearing US Customs at Ft. Lauderdale Executive (KFXE); they literally locked the doors to the facility and wouldn't let you use bathrooms because they claimed they were too busy. When we finally got in to the facility, the CBP staff did nothing but bitch the whole time about how overworked they were. I'm never going there again.

3. Flying in the Bahamas: We have always flown from/to Ft. Pierce KFPR directly to/from our Bahamas destination, usually flying IFR at 9-11,000 feet (about a 2+ hour flight in a DA40 to MYCB on Cat Island). Even flying direct to/from Turks & Caicos (in a faster DA42) was only a 3 hour flight each way. Once you pass Freeport, you're just about always within gliding distance of a beach somewhere if you lose your engine. :)

We always file IFR and are usually talking to Miami Center the entire time except when temporarily near the vicinity of Nassau where you'll be handed off to Nassau Approach. You cancel IFR right before landing at your Bahamas destination -- high enough where you can still reach Miami Center; for the return flight you launch VFR and pick up your IFR clearance in the air from Miami Center. All very straightforward just like flying from a non-towered US airport.

4. What to do/file:

Outbound to Bahamas:
- file eAPIS
- file an IFR flight plan
Do both of these on the ground using your iPad

Inbound back to US:
- file eAPIS
- file an IFR flight plan
- phone call to US PoE at least 1 hour prior to expected arrival time (again, I recommend Ft. Pierce KFPR.)
Do all of this before leaving your Bahamas hotel/resort with WiFi; some Bahamian FBOs have WiFi.

That's it; very easy.

5. Saving money: The Bahamas Out Islands have special private pilot hotel credits of $150 for 2 night stay, or $300 for 4 nights stay at many resorts including Fernandez Bay -- if you book ahead of time. https://www.myoutislands.com/bahamas-vacation-packages
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Steven
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Re: Bahamas PIREP

Post by Steven »

caseyayers wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:40 pm
Thanks for sharing! Now that you’ve done the trip and seen how little time you spent truly out of reach of land, do you think you’d rent the raft again or feel comfortable making the trip with good vests?
I think I probably would. Mainly because if I pay the money for it, I won’t end up using it. It’s a Karma thing. Also I would never suggest to anyone on the forum not to get a raft, for fear of tragic consequences and guilt because they took my advice.
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Re: Bahamas PIREP

Post by Colin »

Pretty sure there was a pilot on here who was in a single-engine plane which lost an engine near the Keys. I think he was with his daughter and they were in the raft for a little over four hours. That's a long time to be in the water, even if the water is warm.
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