by Yasmina Soria Platt
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2020 issue
When one of our old friends announced he would get married in the Bahamas in February of 2020, my husband and I immediately said we would fly GA there. It was too good of an excuse to pass up. We had flown to the Bahamas in 2016 and loved it. We were excited to do it once again and visit different islands.
This is a summary of a longer blog post. If you want to read about our trip in its entirety, you can do so at www.airtrails.weebly.com/bahamas.
While the main focus of the trip was flying around the Bahamas, we also had to make a work-stop and visit the groom and bride in Pompano Beach where they live. The timing could not have worked better!
Trip preparation and execution was much easier this time around. Here are some reasons why and some other thoughts from the trip:
• We filed all flight plans (including the international/ICAO ones) using an application.
• We filed all CBP manifests using “FlashPass,” a new-to-us application, but the trip’s MVP.
• Clearing customs at Fort Pierce was even easier than last time. An officer met us at the airplane. Using biometrics (taking a picture of us), he cleared us in without having to leave the ramp or having to get our luggage out. In and out in 2 minutes!
• One still needs to carry plenty of cash, plan the fuel stops carefully, fly with more fuel than needed, and fly with some basic aircraft supplies (like chocks, oil, a funnel, and windshield spray).
Since the Abaco Islands were destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, and Great Harbour does not have many lodging options, we visited Bimini and South Eleuthera’s Rock Sound on the way to Governor’s Harbour in Central Eleuthera.
The weather and winds aloft (sometimes giving the Piper Archer a groundspeed of 150-160 kts) to the final destination were awesome! We weren’t quite as lucky on the return flight, with headwinds, low ceilings, fog, and rain cells the entire way back from Fort Pierce on.
Legs 1-3: Houston, TX (KTME) to Pompano Beach, FL (KPMP)
Legs 1 to 3 can be summarized by a delicious lunch on the beach in Destin and a beautiful sunset and successful “Rusty Pilots” seminar in Plant City. We spent two fun days of sun, boating, wedding prepping, and, mostly, great company in Pompano Beach before jumping to the islands.
Leg 4: Pompano Beach, FL (KPMP) to South Bimini, Bahamas (MYBS)
Bimini offers the quickest, shortest jump from the Florida coast. The flight was a distance of 67 nm for us, “door to door.” We spent more time climbing and descending than at the filed altitude of 7,000 feet.
Clearing customs and immigration, paying the $50 inbound fee, and obtaining our ferry permit in Bimini was easy. They did not charge us any landing, parking, or security fees and they don’t sell fuel.
Bimini is divided into two islands. The airport is on the southern island, while most everything else is on the northern island, but there’s a combo bus/ferry for the transfer.
Radio Beach is said to be the best beach they have, but the Hilton’s beach is just as good and it’s more secluded. We also enjoyed biking to the southern tip.
Leg 5: South Bimini (MYBS) to Rock Sound, Eleuthera (MYER)
Some of the things we as pilots get to see from the air are just simply spectacular! Nature is truly unbelievable. The “sand art” we saw just west of Rock Sound was unexpected and stunning.
Once on the ground, we rented a car and enjoyed visiting the Ocean Hole, Lighthouse Point, and the Boiling Hole, although we probably enjoyed exploring places that did not have signs, and businesses and people, even more.
We did not have to pay any fees at MYER, and they also don’t have fuel, but they do have the friendliest people.
Leg 6: Rock Sound, Eleuthera (MYER) to Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera (MYEM)
This short, 25 nm leg had some of the most beautiful sights. In addition to seeing the “sand art” again, we also saw lots of reefs.
The biggest surprise of the trip came when I asked for a “top off” and the line service guy told me they didn’t have avgas. Thankfully, we planned conservatively and we had enough gas to make it to North Eleuthera (another 25 nm or so flight) to fill up.
The wedding was at the Cocodimama Charming Resort, and charming it was. We had the best time and the resort (except for its terrible sand flies) definitely helped make it so.
Additionally, we had lunch in Governor’s Harbour, visited the Hidden Beach, the Hatchet Bay Cave (armed with flashlights and all), and the Glass Window Bridge (although, we got the best view of it from the airplane), and experienced the island’s “Friday Fish Fry.”
Oh yeah, and some of us dove with sharks that were as big as us (if not bigger)! The ground school prior to the actual diving was, honestly, the scariest ground school I’ve ever attended. I’m used to training scenarios where I mostly have control (engine failures and other systems failures, for example), but sharks… who can control sharks but themselves?
Leg 7: Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera (MYEM) to North Eleuthera (MYEH)
The resort we stayed at was just south of the airport, so we flew a celebratory/goodbye flyby before heading north to MYEH to drop off a friend and get gas.
The “Glass Window Bridge” is quite the sight and is located at the narrowest point on the island (30 feet wide), and is a place you can compare the rich blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the road, and the calm Bight of Eleuthera on the other. We also got a good view of Harbour Island’s pink sand beaches, although I still favor the beaches in Bermuda.
After dealing with a dangerous jet-blast situation and filling up, paying the $29/person departure fee, and having our ferry permit stamped for the last time, was easy.
And, with this, we had now visited all three airports in Eleuthera!
Leg 8: North Eleuthera (MYEH) to Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR)
This return leg had us flying over water the most amount of time. It was uneventful, and there wasn’t much sightseeing due to cloud layers.
After clearing customs at KFPR, we wanted to fly as far as possible to get back home. However, the weather had been very foggy in the mornings and until about 2:00 pm every day, so continuing on early the next day was not going to be possible. Therefore, we decided to stop at Crystal River. We had been wanting to visit the manatees for a while and this was a good time of the year to do it (best between mid-November and late March). At least we could still enjoy our vacation while waiting for the weather to clear.
Leg 9: Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR)to Crystal River, FL (KCGC)
Great unexpected stop! In the morning, we visited “Three Sisters Springs,” not too far from the airport, before departing again. It was full of Florida’s gentle giants.
Legs 10-13: Crystal River, FL (KCGC) to Houston, TX (KTME)
At least 80% of these legs were in IMC, but there’s something magical about that as well. As expected, we could only fly between about 2:00 and 8:00 pm for the next two days due to weather.
I said that the last time we flew to the Bahamas and I will say it again… we (pilots) sure are privileged! This trip would not have been possible without GA, so go fly and experience all this on your own! Not much else is better…
EDITOR’S NOTE: Yasmina Soria Platt has been with the international airport planning and development consulting firm AECOM since 2016. She also writes an aviation travel blog called “Air Trails” (www.airtrails.weebly.com), in addition to articles on pilot destinations for Midwest Flyer Magazine. Pilots can locate articles Yasmina has written by going to www.MidwestFlyer.com and typing in her name in the search box.