|The Plan: A group of Flyers (RVs) travel to Little Cayman to spend 10 days relaxing, diving and hanger flying (only while sipping rum punch on the beach). In other words - a new adventure.|
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Pictures On Little Cayman
Our trip to Homestead, Florida and on to the Cayman Islands by Gene and Janet
After much planning and anticipation, we were finally packed and departing Atlantic, IA (AIO) at 8:55 AM on Tuesday. We climbed to 11,500 ft to take advantage of the 60 knot tailwind. We used about an hour and a half of our oxygen during the 2 hr flight to Kennett, MO, our first fuel stop. We were loaded as heavy as we have ever been with 100 lbs behind the seat and another 20 lbs under Janet's legs in front of the spar. We were just within our gross weight limit. I discovered on approach to Kennett that the airplane handles a little differently in this configuration, especially with a 10 knot crosswind so when the approach seemed "not quite right", I decided to go around for a 2nd try. With a little more care, the approach and landing were fine.
After a quick fueling and short break, we launched for leg two to Perry, FL (40J), our 2nd fuel stop. Again we took advantage of 40+ knot tailwinds and made short work of our trip to 40J. Another quick stop and chat with a couple of guys in a Cessna 195, who were waiting for the air-show at Sun-n-Fun to get over so they could go on in, we took off for Homestead, FL. We had been to Florida a number of times, but had never flown down the west coast of the peninsula, so we over-flew Sun-n-Fun at Lakeland and pointed toward Ft Meyers. We checked out the coastline down to the Everglades airpark and turned east toward Homestead. We arrived at a little after 6 PM EDT. Jim & Vicki Baker and Scott & Deb Mills were waiting for us with the van. We tied down the plane, unpacked what we needed for a 2 day stay and headed for the motel.
We had supper at a neat Cuban restaurant right next door to the motel and got some rest. Next morning, the 6 of us drove along the north edge of the Everglades and found an airboat ride company and we all went gator hunting. We shot a lot of gators, birds and even a raccoon with our cameras. Check the pics here.
After lunch at a roadside cafe, Deb & Scott got a call that their daughter was having her baby early and their plan suddenly changed. A stop at a nearby rental agency so they could rent another car so Scott could take Deb to Miami Int'l for a commercial flight home and Scott would leave Thursday morning to fly their RV9A home. Soooo.... disappointing they wouldn't be going on to the Caymans.
Meanwhile, Bill and Sharon Souza had landed, fueled and tied down their beautiful RV10 at Homestead and picked up our 2nd rental van and were headed to the motel. The Bakers and the Larsens stopped by the motel to pick up Bill and Sharon and the 6 of us traveled down US 1 through the keys to restaurant recommended to us by Jim Pappas. It was fabulous. Great seafood right on the dock. They had ocean pool next to the dining area where they would occasionally toss in some fish parts and the 4-5 ft tarpon and same size nurse sharks would gobble them up. Even one lemon shark showed up. The group had a wonderful evening topped off with a candle in Janet's key-lime pie for her birthday. We stayed for the sunset and took some pics. Great drinks, great food, great company and warm sea breezes. Does it get any better than this? Yes it does. Stay tuned for more news in a couple of days. We take off for Little Cayman Friday morning.
Janet's Birthday dinner
The Trip over Cuba
OK. All the absent flyers showed up on Thursday. Rosie & Victoria Rosales (RV6A), Mercedes Eulitt & Lesli (RV6), and Chris & Indira Kleen (RV6) all landed at Homestead, FL (X51) and were shuttled to the motel. We had a flight briefing by the pool and went over the plan and procedure of filing and what to expect over Cuba, etc. JimmyB, Rosie and Chris were the veterans on this trip. We each had to call Flight Service to file our international flight plan. It was painless.
We all decided to eat together at the Cuban restaurant next door. The food was great and the stories of past trips were numerous. Off to bed early in preparation for an early rise and takeoff.
We departed the motel at 0630 EDT and prepped our trusty steeds for the great water crossing. The plan was for the faster planes to go first so we wouldn't risk bunching up and getting the Cuban controllers all excited. The order was: Rosie, Bill, JimmyB, Mercedes, Chris and Gene. We determined the order by who had oxygen onboard and speed of the aircraft. We filed for the staggered elevations of 13000 ft, 11000 and 9000 ft. If you file for what Cuba likes, you usually get the flight plan "as filed".
Each of us took off at 10 minute intervals to establish the separation that Cuba and all the Caribbean island controllers demand. They have trouble dealing with formation fliers and any planes that get close to each other. We each contacted Miami approach to open our flight plans and after receiving our first vectors and altitudes, we were handed off to Miami Center. We were each routed straight south to the MNATE intersection, direct MTH (Marathon), TADPO intersection, UCV VOR and CBC VOR. (Check out the route on Google maps here.)
The Cuban Coastline
All planes made it to Cayman Brac without a hitch. It was clear over the whole route until we got within 40 miles from MWCB (Cayman Brac). There were some cumulous build-up we had to maneuver around in the decent. The wind at MWCB was variable 30 to 50 degrees off the runway heading, 16 gusting to 20 knots which made for an interesting arrival for most of us. We were loaded to max gross weight (because of scuba gear and a few food items that we were sure we wouldn't find on the island). It was nothing we hadn't seen before, just challenging.
After getting our $18 insect control treatment in the cockpit, and running the customs and immigration gauntlet, we planned for the short flight to Little Cayman (15 miles west). Rosie was leading with JimmyB off his wing, Bill and Mercedes were next and Gene (Moody Blue) was in trail. Chris and Indira chose to check out Cayman Brac before proceeding on to L. Cayman. We did a pass down the beach and turned to over fly the runway to check it out before breaking into the downwind and pattern for landing one at a time on the 40 ft narrow pavement right next to our resort (The Paradise Villas Resort). Again with the gusty winds, it was a challenging landing. We were met by the resort staff and Laird and Christine who had come commercial. After tying down the planes and loading all our baggage into the pickup, we walked to our new home for the next 10 days. We all had to bring heavy 18-20 inch 1/2 inch steel stakes for tie downs due to the coral beneath the 1 inch of soil. One person brought the 5 lb hammer. (Coral is like concrete)
Little Cayman landing strip
After settling into our wonderful accommodations saying hello to the iguanas and hermit crabs that inhabit the area, we all attended a welcoming party replete with snacks and rum-punch. Our hosts told us some good-to-know stuff and the dive company briefed the divers amongst us how that operation would go. A good time was had by all. By this time, all of our group had arrived by commercial plane, Sid & Shelly Baldwin from Wichita, KS; Jim & Kathy Pappas from McHenry, IL; Annmarie Strachan & her mother from Rosmond, CA and Dean & Irene VanOusterhout from Rosmond, CA. Good conversation, good introductions and good food at the cafe rounded out our arrival day.
First day on the Island.
The divers were up somewhat early for a 8AM pick-up for their first dive. The wind was still strong, so the dive for some was again challenging, but all had a good dive without much incident (a little seasickness doesn't count). Did I say it was a little rough? The dive team was very professional and experienced. The boat was much bigger than 2 years ago at Grand Turk. So the rough seas were doable.
Much time was spent by the pool conversing with new friends and catching up with old friends we only see on these trips. Most of us had supper at the resort cafe called the Hungry Iguana. They have this huge Iguana named Janet that hangs around the cafe. The cafe has excellent food.
Second Day. (Sunday)
Diving again at 8AM. The seas were not quite as rough but still a bit challenging. We went to the other side of the island where the "Bloody Wall" is located. I think it was named that because of some battle was fought there long ago. The color was fabulous as you can see from the pics.
After diving, Gene & Janet and Rosie & Victoria and Bill & Sharon and Mercedes rented 4 scooters and went on a ride around the island. We had to "buy" a Cayman driver's license to ride the scooters. (This will come in handy later in Grand Cayman when we rent a car). We saw a lot of the hurricane damage, a couple of huge iguanas and some beautiful views of the surf. Got back in time to attend the spaghetti feed on JimmyB and Vicki's porch. We all brought some spaghetti and sauce and everyone brought some other stuff to eat and drink. Laird used his computer to show the diving pics from JimmyB's underwater camera. A good time was had by all.
Third thru ninth day.
The days were spent diving in the morning, lunch, nap, walk on the beach or bike ride around the island and topped off with dinner at the resort restaurant. Other activities include snorkeling off the beach, visiting the visitors center and museum, watching the web-footed boobys, taking a dip in the pool, shopping in the few shops available and visiting friends next door for drinks. Another pastime is watching all the iguana, Curly-tail lizards, hermit crabs and other creatures that hang around. They are all harmless. Last night, a few of us took our flashlights and went hunting for land crabs. The are about the size of a small dinner plate and eat grass at night. They stay hidden during the day. There are white ones and red ones. Check the pics.
The diving is magnificent. So much life and color. I was getting a bit nauseous between dives (because of the rough sea), so I tried taking Dramamine. It helped the nausea on the boat, but made me feel woozy all the time. I quit taking it today. I am writing this Saturday morning before diving. This will be our last dive day.
Approach at Grand Cayman
Our Trip to Grand Cayman.
Sunday was our day off from diving before flying at high altitude home to the U.S. Rosie and Victoria, Bill and Sharon, Jim and Cathy and us took off from Little Cayman and flew to Grand Cayman for a day of shopping and visiting the tourist attractions. Jim & Cathy rode with Bill in his 4-seat RV10. So, the 3 planes flew at 4500 feet and landed at the Grand Cayman Airport. We could fly together on this trip because the controllers were tolerant. One of them said "These guys can fly!" On entering Grand Cayman, we only had to show our temporary visa cards that we received when we went through customs and we were free to roam the island.
Rosie rented a van big enough for all of us. We discovered that the downtown shops were closed on Sunday. The Turtle Farm was open and very interesting. We went to "Hell and back" (there is a town named "Hell" on Grand Cayman). We had lunch at a bar on the dock across from the turtle farm.
The trip back included filing a flight plan at the FBO and exiting through customs again. We had to explain that we were just visiting Grand Cayman and flying back to Little Cayman and not leaving the country. While sitting in the run-up area and waiting our turn for take-off, the tower controller asked each of us where we were from and how long it took us to build our planes. On lifting off from the runway, a 737 pilot who had been listening asked me where in Iowa we were from. I told him Atlantic and he said he was from Boone, IA. He asked if I knew Keith in Boone and of course , I do. Keith has built at least 4 RVs. It's a small world.
We flew together again back to Little Cayman, did our usual fly-bys and landed for our last night on the island. The whole group went to the Hungry Iguana restaurant for the last meal together. After dinner, we all did our packing for the morning departure.
Putting "Moody Blue" away after a long trip.
Our Trip Home.
On Monday morning, the 4 planes left were all packed and ready. We said goodbye to Dave, Jim & Cathy (who were leaving on commercial flights and Mark at Paradise Villas and took off for Cayman Brac to top off our fuel, clear customs and file our flight plans to Key West. The fuel and customs went smoothly, but filing the flight plans was a problem. The only person on duty to enter the plans into the computer was a trainee. The 4 flight plans took almost 2 hours to get filed. We were not happy. After a supervisor finally showed up and hurried it along, we began our journey back to the USA. Rosie took off first followed by Bill, JimmyB and we were last, each departing 10 minutes apart. Cuba demands separation enroute, so we gave it to them without asking. Again, talking to Cuba was not a problem. When we were released by Cuba and picked up by US controllers at TADPO, we were vectored to Key West and customs. The customs guys were surprisingly pleasant. After asking us the routine questions about what we brought back and the walk-around with a Geiger counter (no kidding), we filled out the required forms, had my air-worthiness, medical and license checked over, we were released to continue on. Rosie and Bill had departed by the time Janet and I arrived at Key West. JimmyB and Vicki were still there and waited for us to finish with customs so we could leave together to Homestead for cheap fuel. We flew a loose formation back to Homestead. We spotted a drug surveillance tethered balloon floating at 2000 ft just east of Key West. Not sure how these work, but it is cheaper than flying a plane 24/7.
At Homestead (X51), we fueled, checked the weather and decided the group would stay together and fly to Perry, FL for fuel and stay at the Hampton Inn that was recommended by pilot reports on AirNav. It was a good decision, because the folks at the Hampton were great. The rooms were great, even the BBQ restaurant next door was great. It was a good night. The morning brought fog locally and storms to the north and west of us. We checked weather for over an hour, before JimmyB decided to file IFR and takeoff. Rosie and Bill took off for Texas 30 minute later, hugging the coast to avoid the weather. I talked to Rosie for 15 minutes from my handheld radio. He said the cloud tops looked good northwest of Tallahassee, so Janet and I launched. We proceeded west for a while until our XM Weather screen showed us we could head for Kennett, MO. With a slight headwind most of the way and a little extra flight time dodging the high clouds, we made it to Kennett with only 20 minutes of fuel left. It was our longest leg at 4.2 hours. JimmyB had been there and gone long ago. We flew at 8500 ft above partly cloudy skies all the way home. We touched down in Atlantic (AIO) right at 6 PM CDT.
Our adventure was over. We had a great 2 weeks with wonderful friends, great diving, excellent dining and beautiful flying. "Moody Blue" performed well. Now we record our travels, document our flights, pay off our credit cards and plan for the next adventure.