It’s Cold Out There, But Warm Down Here
By Bruce Brandon, Special to ANN
Well, once again it’s that time of the year. No, not Christmas: COLD. One observation I have continually made is that is that those creatures that can head south for more hospitable weather. That is, all but many of those aviators who have general aviation aircraft and don’t. Having pondered this I have narrowed the reasons down to two: (a) Birds have more intelligence or (b) GA pilots are unsure of procedures when flying south. By south, I mean the Caribbean, those “little latitudes”, where one knows the winter weather is great, the water beautiful and the local population delightful, including American’s Virgin Islands, Saint Croix and Saint Thomas.
For those who are fall under “a,” that problem’s solution is beyond the scope of this article. If you are in category “b”, then the solution is simple and, unlike so many things in aviation, inexpensive. Caribbean Flying Adventures is the most helpful organization this author has used. It is a team effort of Jim and Margie Parker (pictured). Jim is retired from the U.S. State Department and Margie still works at State in the U.S. Dominican Republic embassy. They recognized that many pilots were intimidated, ignorant, or phobic about flying over water in the Caribbean. Uninitiated pilots fear they might meet the same fate as the early sailors when sailing in uncharted areas that contained the warning hic sunt dracones (that is, Here Be Dragons). All pilots have heard the stories of how the engine immediately starts to run “rough” when becoming “feet wet,” the Bermuda Triangle superstitions, and the fear of the unknown.
Guess what--there are no dragons. Jim has “been there/done that”. He has flown his Cessna 172/RG with standard fuel tanks throughout the Caribbean and has gotten to know “the authorities”. He has taken this experience and knowledge to create an organization that removes the hassle and uncertainty of first time pilots traveling to the Caribbean. As he says, Caribbean Flying Adventures isn’t a book: If you have questions, call him (the author, who is a member, can verify that when he called several times, Jim either answered the phone immediately or returned the call in a timely manner with helpful information). One other very helpful source—of the book variety-- is “Bahamas & Caribbean Pilot’s Guide.”
Air Journey is another organization that assists/leads pilots flying to the Caribbean, and other destinations including an around the world trip. They will do as little or as much as you want in assistance. (Around the world trips require a turbine powered airplane and cost start around $80,000/person plus fuel and landing fees). The around the world trip is done FIRST CLASS). The author has not personally used Air Journey but has heard good reports on them.
When flying down the island chain down to South America, depending on altitude, one is rarely out of the sight of land. There are numerous fuel stops available and the people at them are marvelous. Your confidence quickly increases when you realize that it doesn’t take a “rocket scientist” to do this. If one uses Saint Croix (TISX/STX), the author’s base, as a home base flying down island is a treat. Saint Croix, a US territory, has a 10,000 foot runway with one of the friendliest full service FBOs, (Bohlke International Airways) not only in the Caribbean, but in the U.S.
Regardless of where you base yourself, the islands are a delight to visit. Several of the author’s favorite islands include (note that no passport is needed for St Croix, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico but it is needed for the other destinations):
- Saint Croix, USVI: the only U.S. land that Columbus’ expedition physically touched (he landed on STX on his second voyage). It has beautiful beaches, snorkeling, scuba diving, museums, two rum factories, kite surfing, sailing and all the attractions of an American paradise, including an excellent FBO.
- Dominican Republic: Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1492. Santo Domingo, its capital, is the oldest city in the New World. It has beautiful old buildings, including Alcazar de colon built by Christopher Columbus’ son. It is a magnificent country that offers a wide variety of activities including hiking the 10,000 foot Pico Duarte Mountain, the highest mountain in the Caribbean.
- Dominique: If you weren’t sure, you would think when visiting portions of Dominique that you were in Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs. It is one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean with a “boiling lake” and 365 rivers, one for each day of the year.
Caribbean Flying Ventures also organizes, and Jim Parker leads, trips to the Caribbean.
These and other wonderful Caribbean islands are within reach of a Cessna 172. It can be an exceptional educational and fun adventure exploring them. And your journey will be made much easier with Caribbean Air Adventures or Air Journey at your side.
Show the smarts of a bird brain! After all, aren’t these types of adventures the reason you learned to fly?