Posts Tagged ‘Cat island’

Night comes quickly in the Bahamas

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Sunset in the Bahamas

Going…going…gone. The sun drops below the horizon in what seems like seconds. Night-time VFR flying is prohibited in the Bahamas.

As our group of aircraft approaches the Out Islands on Feb. 1, the pilots go in different directions. You must land at an airport of entry and clear Customs, and if you plan to travel to other islands, you must obtain a cruising permit first. Some of our group head to Grand Bahama or Andros, but most of us plan to land at New Bight Airport on Cat Island, where we’ll be staying.

The rescue mission to pick up two stranded VFR pilots pushed our departure from St. Lucie County Airport in Fort Pierce, Fla., to the afternoon. As we head toward Cat Island, the sun is beginning to sink lower on the horizon. In the United States, this wouldn’t be a problem. In the Bahamas, it’s a cause for concern. Night-time VFR is prohibited, and with good reason. There are very few lights to be seen on the islands, and when the daylight ends, it ends rather abruptly. The dark sky blends seamlessly into the ocean, providing no artificial horizon. And there are very few airports with instrument approaches.

When we land at New Bight just before sunset, we realize that one of the airplanes hasn’t made it to Cat Island. After a few anxious moments, we learn that the pilot decided to land at Rock Sound Airport on Eleuthera so as not to push daylight. It was a smart decision. He and his passengers cleared Customs and were able to locate a one-night apartment rental. They enjoyed a meal of fresh grouper and a good night’s sleep, and joined us the next day. And this chapter caused a CFI in the group to coin a new phrase: “Bingo daylight” as opposed to “Bingo fuel.”

The best-laid plans

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

 

Flying into New Bight Airport on Cat Island.

Short final, New Bight Airport, Cat Island, the Bahamas.

 

When you travel GA—and VFR pilots know this better than anybody—flexibility is the name of the game.

The launch of 12 aircraft from Northern Virginia to the Bahamas by way of Florida (see Reporting Points, “Bahamas Bound”) commenced the week of Jan. 26, with most airplanes set to depart Jan. 31 and a few making their cautious way down south earlier in the week to navigate around unseasonable snow- and ice storms in North and South Carolina and Georgia. (One airplane launched from Stearman Field in Kansas.)

On Friday, when conditions were severe clear (if exceptionally cold) in Virginia, all aircraft but one were under way. The pilot of a Cessna 182RG had postponed his departure because his wife was suffering from a fever.

Stopping for fuel and a BBQ lunch at Low Country Airport in South Carolina, we check the weather that lies between us and St. Lucie Airport in Fort Pierce. Some sizable chunks of green with some red and yellow mixed in are in our path, but moving off to the east. This weather doesn’t pose much of a problem for the nine instrument-rated pilots. It’s another story for the three who are flying VFR—and one of them is piloting a Light Sport aircraft.

Sure enough, when we land at Fort Pierce, we discover that all three VFR pilots are stranded at various points along the East Coast—and a fourth, instrument-rated pilot experienced radio failure at her fuel stop in Savannah, Georgia. What’s more, the weather-stranded pilots are in different locations: One got as far as Fernandina Beach in Florida; one is on the ground in Savannah; the third—the LSA pilot—is in St. Simons, Georgia. The clouds and precipitation keeping them on the ground threatened to remain well into Feb. 1, when all aircraft were set to depart Fort Pierce for New Bight Airport (MYCB) on Cat Island.

What to do? Could anything be done?

If this were 12 separate airplanes just coincidentally headed to the Bahamas, probably nothing. But, that’s not how things work when you’re traveling with Aviation Adventures in Manassas. Owner Bob Hepp, who is coordinating this trip and toting me along in the flight school’s 1964 Piper Twin Comanche, puts together a rescue mission: The group’s sole Bonanza will carry two of the group’s instrument-rated pilots to Fernandina Beach and Savannah, and they’ll fly as PIC back to Fort Pierce. (Sadly, no such option is available for the aircraft with radio problems, nor the Light Sport aircraft.)

And that’s what happened. More on our trip in a future post.