Flight to Antigua in the Amazing Cessna 210: "Centurian N5379A"
Island of Antigua | Flight Back Home through San Salvador
This all began for me one day in the middle of a nasty Ithaca winter when Jack said, "I'm thinking about flying to Antigua!" There was the usual discussion and admiration of past C-210 trips. The subsequent proposal to fly along and help out took me about a nano second to accept!
Two things were immediately apparent: it was a long way and there was a lot of water to fly over. Careful planning was essential and information gathering began immediately. Discussion with Thierry Pouille at Air Journey was very helpful in planning and yielded a great overnight stop : TJBQ, Borinquen in Puerto Rico. His gracious assistance is much appreciated. During the previous week, unanswered phone calls and e-mails to Great Inagua (our planned fuel stop and the last "out-island" in the Bahamas) indicated it was definitely "not on the grid" so we nixed this stop on the outbound trip.
Borinquen is the longest runway in the Caribbean (11,702' X 200') and the former Ramey B-29 base. The fuel here is currently only $4.29 a gallon and it turned out to have a great FBO, Western Aviation, with the amazing Velia M. Ortiz. She wrangled us a car on short notice so we could drive up and see the Arecibo Observatory in the hills of Puerto Rico. Their recommended hotel, "La Cima," was very comfortable and even had a sports bar for the Super Bowl on the return trip. On the outbound trip this stop allowed us to comfortably get all the way to Antigua on the next leg.Throughout this trip we had great luck and discovered and enjoyed the company of many wonderful people.
|We are ready to go; Inflatible life vests required...trusty C-210. 45 minute delay for life raft delivery!||Leaving Florida "feet wet" Over Bimini to Grand Bahama||First crossing and land in sight. This is Grand Bahama in the distance|
|Pilot Note: Special considerations apply for a trip over water. Approved life jackets are required in the Bahama Islands and a raft is recommended. We checked out the equipment for operation and briefed each other on who would do what in the case of an emergency. Crossing the ADIZ requires either IFR or DVFR flight plan and now APIS notification by e-mail. US Customs must be notified directly and you have only a 15 minute window. We were IFR on departure and soon after getting over water received the usually much welcomed "proceed direct" For once we wanted to go the long way "as filed" since it kept us over land most of the way. And so we requested the longer flight-planned route!|
|Nassau (New Providence Island); not your pristine Bahama paradise. This is considered the boundary to the more exotic "out islands"||Grand Bahama to Nassau then on to Stella Maris; Airport of Entry in Bahamas||These amazing cays (pronounced "keys") with the stunning colors of blue; very shallow water and fairly barren land|
|Stella Maris airport on Long Island. This is a private field. They have a fleet of aircraft to shuttle in guests to their resort. Not much at the airport but a welcome sight.||Most out islands are pretty unpopulated. This is a capture from a video so it looks like a 50's horror film.||On dry land again. 2.5 hours from Florida over water but often within gliding distance of something solid.|
|There are three charter operators here. Clearing customs requires six "C-7" forms, 3 into the country and 3 to depart but the officer was very friendly.||The Bahamanian flag and thank-you. Quite an oasis here with water and sodas cold in the fridge.||A classy local truck plate in the Bahamas.|
|Passing south of Long Island for a long over water stretch to Great Inagua. THis route will be near to Cuban airspace.||Our track south with Cuba on the right. The green line is the boundary. The phone and the cells dead at Stella Maris so filing in the air is our only option.||Here is the Flight Aware track of the flight. Interestingly, Miami was not able to see us for most of this route...someone was apparently watching!|
|Pilot Note: Cell phones are not too reliable in this region. We had two local phones and one international cell and none were getting a signal. Unfortunately, the phone on the island was also not operational. We had to file a flight plan (IFR or DVFR) and also had to notify customs. Flight Service was unavailable on all the frequencies we found and were given by Miami Center so they agreed to file our plan and notify customs (a one time exception he said!)|
|Jumento Cays off east Cuban land (and airspace...don't wander here!) We were trying to coordinate a flight plan and customs with Miami center relay here.||Cuba 20 miles east as we trasition south--no US Radar here--monitor Cuba if necessario.||Great Inagua looks like the surface of the moon. This island is owned by Morton Salt: 600 square miles and only 900 people (but 35,000 wild donkeys)|
|Coast of Dominican (Port-Au-Prince) fertile but poor: Notice all the streets are all dirt. We are VFR at 9,500 here to top of the clouds but requesting IFR and high.||
A very fertile valley in the Dominican Republic as we transition inland. It obviously has been raining a lot here! Clouds gathering so coordinate IFR and climb.
|An amazing landscape here. Very crenulated with lots of clear-cutting of the forests and red dirt wastelands visible. Big mountains to the south of our course.|
|Progressing inland and IFR direct Santiago at 11K. Mountains to the south top 10K and there is no radar--fly the airways. Language is an issue here...ask till you understand. Both Jack and I quiz each other after each radio call.||East coast of the Dominican Republic. This airfield is MDCY "El Catey International"||Final leg from Dominican Republic into Puerto Rico. Groundspeed dropped as we turned into the prevailing easterly winds. We padded our arrival time for US Customs but it was getting close.|
|Lots of runway here: 11,702' X 200'! We had sporatic rain showers down final but no concerns. 24 knots of wind on the nose.||Finally Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico (home for the night). This is the former Ramey B-29 base and the longest runway in the Caribbean.||We made our 15 minute customs window (just barely with the headwind) and just beat darkness. (We planned that actually!)|
|After 7.3 hours flying and over 900 miles. A wonderful dinner here after only breakfast (and some girl scout cookies)||La Cima in Aguadilla is very nice. Our room was on the second floor and we did try the pool||Puerto Rican house in development nearby. Many keep chickens and some pigs and horses right in the yard.|
|Showery precipitation was on the menu for Wednesday with storms coming in over the north coast. An extensive briefing, and tour guide advisory of Caribbean required an IFR flightplan||Fueling a C-210 is an art if you want full range and all 89 usable gallons. This plane hauls a huge load and burned 11-12 gph (7 hours endurance + reserve)||Nexrad was not available on the Garmin today but on board radar was painting a show and allowed us to miss the big stuff coming off the north shore. No photo tour of El Moro or Arecibo Radar Site. Notice our headwind of 28 knots.|
|Pilot note: For filing flightplans in this region many unique requirements exist...color of life vests and their lighting (strobes or beacon). The size, color and capacity of the life raft (required equipment) is necessary information. Unique also are the crossing times for various international borders. The briefer I got this day was incredibly good (and funny) recommending certain islands to see and what not to miss. The lack of Nexrad on the Garmin was troubling but the on-board RADAR made this flight work in the presence of convective activity. (redundant systems and fall-back positions are pilot tools) Another interesting problem in a unique area like this is understanding the various accents (see later note) and finding the associated fixes and airways (for IFR). The clouds mostly broke up heading east after Puerto Rico. Position reports were required past the US Virgin Islands.|
|The route to Antigua drawn by Flight Aware (with added line for route beyond radar coverage) This is the Virgin Islands (of various countries) and unlike the Bahamas these are very lush and the water is pretty deep. Ownership of various islands is of a different country (or sometimes two as in the case of St. Martins, Dutch and French). Development is also dramatically different on each island but most of the big tourist destinations have an airport of some kind. The big ones are served by jet charter and the airlines.Cape Air has recently expanded up routes in this area and it is funny to hear the Cessna Twins flying here.|
|The Island of Vieques which until recently was used by the US military as a bombing range. It is now hot property for development.||The Island of Culebra. There is a 2400 foot runway on the south side that we speculated would be lots of fun to land on. The beaches on the north side looked wonderful.||St. Thomas with it's 7,000 ft runway. This is a very popular tourist destination and it looks like many houses are being built up on the ridges.|
|The island of Josh Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. This is a busy destination for cruise ships in the winter season.||This is Beef Island, north of Tortola with the airport that serves both. TUPJ is 4,600 feet and an Airport of Entry (AOE) for the country.||The famous Virgin Gorda. Notice the airport on the east side. With a standard 20+ knot prevailing east wind this must get exciting on landing.|
|The southern end of Tortola (British Virgin Islands) and the "Virgin Passage" over to St. Johns (US side) St. Johns is largely unspoiled and preserved||A large cruise ship in the harbor here enjoying the island experience between meals. This is just east of White Bay on Josh Van Dyke (BVI)||This was a routing change issued by San Jaun Approach: "direct SLUGO" which had us confused for a while.|
|Pilot Note: IFR intersections in an unfamiliar territory can be frustrating to find. When language difficulties are mixed in it becomes a real pain for everyone. The usual request to "spell the intersection" in the case of language does not seem to help. The Jepp enroute for this area is a mess and SLUGO (pronouced sloogo) eluded us for a while. The other popular descent fix into St. Martin is GOUDA (like the dutch cheese). This very busy controller at St. Martin coordinated planes taxiing on the ground, taking off, and vectoring through the clouds. He would not be one to ask to open a flight plan! ATC throughout was patient and professional. My highest praise goes to Miami Center for their helpfulness.|
|The Island with two owners: St. Martin (French) and St. Maarten (Dutch). Also a common destination for opulent vacations.||Crossing Pointe A Pitre TCA into Antiguan Airspace. They operate entirely by position reports here and full approaches are necessary (we flew a full DME Arc)||Final approach into Antigua (TAPA) Runway 08 with our usual 24 knots of headwind.|
|A dream come true, flying your own airplane to Antigua!||On the ground but still lots more to do with "handlers" and customs. This is a unique paperwork experience.||I recommend the Ocean Inn at English Harbor. There are lots of trails and historic sites from the British occupation.|