The Journey Home: Flying from Antigua to Florida in Centurian N5379A

I mentioned the paper work involved in flying in this trip. This became most apparent in Antigua. We had been filing international flight plans all through Puerto Rico and beyond. This requires listing the vests (color, type and lighting) and the life raft (same but also "covered or not" and survival kit type) as well a "border crossing" times. At Antigua we also required a "handler" to coordinate the "gen dec" (General Declaration) and other numerous permits. The handler is usually the FBO and appears as a separate fee on the bill (smiling and tipping well is a good idea it seems). They coordinate your inbound by taking you through customs and immigration (these looked like seriously unfriendies despite all the advertising to "come visit" from the tourist bureau side of the house)

The flight plan is not filed with flight service but delivered or faxed (fortunately since it is easily a mile away) to the control tower. When departing you get a clearance for everything; even engine start-up. You would wince at the Hobbes time here if you did not own the plane. Once in the air you are switched to the controller who coordinates traffic based entirely on pilot position reports (non-radar like it once was in the US and reminiscent of the old FSS "airport advisory service") With all that stated it went very smoothly, officials were exceedingly friendly and I still think the worst experience was with U.S. Customs back in the states.

Off the ground at V. C. Bird Airport and headed North!
Waiting to taxi Off the ground at V C Bird Airport, Antigua Climb out from Antigua
With V. C. Bird expanding we had to wait to back taxi down the end of runway 08. This is the local "bucket flight" to the other islands.
Departing V. C. Bird Airport in Antigua. We were IFR filed and flying intermittently through rain and solid clouds at times (8,000 msl and awl). Past St. Martin it began to clear nicely.
Climbing out of Antigua to the west, a view of St. John and Five Islands Harbor distant.
Dickerson Harbor in Antiguq
The Islands of St. Kits and Nevis
The opulent island of St Barthelemy
Dickenson Bay and Runaway Bay on the Northwest side of Antigua. Amazing colors of blue throughout this trip. We climb into a shallow broken layer headed northwest.
The two island confederation of St. Kits and Nevis, west of Antigua, is a the smallest nation in size or population in the Western Hemisphere. This island has rainforests and monkeys and boasts a relaxed atmosphere.
"St. Barts" is where celebrities like Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, (and Mike Thomas) hang out. Known to be a rather opulent (and expensive) island. Rumored to be a tricky airport to land at too! Most tourists fear the arrival.
St. Martin The Gem of the Caribbean, St. John St. Thomas
St. Martin, island known for an energetic night life (quite a boomtown). 96 sq. miles and divided between Netherlands and France
The "gem of the Caribbean" St. John's is 2/3 national park. Partly due to the lack of an airport this island remains pristine.
St. Thomas is a very commercial island, the destination for every Carribean cruise ship and known for it's resort hotels
Tiny Culebra San Juan, PR Looking North at Bonrinquen
Tiny Culebra with it's small airport and beautiful beaches is just east of Puerto Rico. We were filed IFR through here but the cluds were breaking up.
San Juan, Puerto Rico is a modern city of considerable size. This island offers a huge variety of recreation from rain forests and surfing to a very cosmopolitan experience. Both times we missed the old fort El Moro north of the city.
Borenquin Airport again. We met many surfers here this time. The beaches on the north side of Puerto Rico are world famous for excellent waves year-round.
Note to Pilots: The coordination and planning for US Customs and border crossing times is a cause for great stress. They emphasize continuously the huge fine ($25,000) for not notifying or missing the allowable "15 minute window." You should call the office directly and also record the agents name. This time I also e-mailed customs, called and notified the FBO. This worked great and they had fuel and a baggage cart (yup, they give your luggage an MRI) so we could quickly clear customs. The employee at Western Aviation, Velia M. Ortiz, was amazing even procuring a rental car for $32 a day (with gas) so we could get to the observatory. We still need an explanation for the unique geography of Central Puerto Rico. The roads twist and turn around a continuous band of huge drumlins. At least here they drive on the right side of the road!
Customs in Puerto Rico Customs plane at Borenquin Visit to local airport
I tried something new with an e-mail to the FBO. I still phoned US Customs direct (and copied the agents name for arrival notification) but the FBO was ready and waiting with fuel and carts.
U.S. Coast Guard has a very visible presence all across the Caribbean. This is one of several Grumman E-2 Hawkeyes stationed at Borenquin
What do pilots do in a new town? Here we are visiting the very active local airport. We noticed quite a few ultra-lights and sport planes here.
Weird Hills of Puerto Rico Jack Henion at Arecibo Observatory Our Guide
The center of Puerto RIco is almost impassable with these continuous hills that require the roads to almost switch back to get through...driving was "interesting"
The Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, located in the hills of Puerto Rico is operated by Cornell University
Daniel Padilla, security guard and Cornell employee in Puerto Rico, gave us a personal tour of the impressive facility. Daniel has lived nearby his whole life.
The Arecibo Observatory in the remote and hilly area of central Puerto Rico
Below Arecibo
Arecibo from the air
It helps to have the "Cornell Connection." The facility was closed but we got an extensive tour all around (and below) the 1000' telescope.
The telescope dish is actually a grid held in dynamic suspension by thousands of cables. All 38,000 panels are aligned within one cm.!! This picture is underneath the dish...where they regularly cut the vegetation.
When we departed the next day we took a few laps around the observatory. This terrain is amazingly rough and wrinkled. Flying there is much easier than driving!
Note to Pilots: Our planned destination this day was originally the Bahamas. After arrival and considerable time spent in customs (and getting some lunch) we realized that this would be tight for darkness (VFR daylight only operations in the Bahamas). After discussion we "recalibrated" the plan. Spending time in Borinquen led to a great adventure seeing Aricebo (not to mention seeing a great Super Bowl). This technique is important; for safety: continuously re-evaluate your plan to make sure it is working and avoid the trap of "mission mentality." Pilots tend to be "hard chargers," often to their detriment. Every flight stop should be a "resource recharger" where you gain not only time (fuel in the tanks) and rest but also information to then recalibrate your plan based on new data. This is much easier with two pilots thinking, talking and "reality checking" each other. We became quite an effective team during this trip. Flying together not only shares the cost and workload, done correctly it also leads to enhanced safety!


Puerto Rico to the Bahamas via Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Great (but no fuel) Inagua
Bye to Puerto Rico
Fuel FLow
The last view of Borenquin as we depart over water for the Dominican Republic. The next fuel stop is all the way in the Bahamas--we discover no fuel there!
Lean-of-peak EGT operation allows very efficient fuel flow and makes possible the amazing range of this aircraft. Gami fuel injectors and precise engine monitoring are required to get this correct and protect the engine from heat damage.
The fuel flow meter tells the story. Here is the burn rate and hours remaining. Once at altitude this plane can go 7 hours and change. We ended up flying all the way to Stella Maris from Puerto Rico and had 2 hours reserve.
The Route on GPS Mountainous Haiti Intense density
Our route along the north coast of the Dominican Republic and through Haiti. Forecasting the crossing of the international boundary is easy with GPS!
The interior of Haiti is very mountainous and desolate. It appears that large areas are deforested from logging.
I have never seen such a densely populated area as Cap- Haitien from the air. This "city" has no real buildings and no real streets, just many people packed together.
The beautiful coast of Haiti What was this?? Isle de la Tortue
This shot is a couple miles north crossing the coast and again no population is looks pristine.
Isle de la Tortue "the forgotten island" north of Haiti. This island is largely inacessible and consequently undeveloped. Great story about flying to the island here.
This is a better map showing this island. Very remote but many nice sand beaches.
Salt Island Up close (to nothing) Welcome to Great Inagua
Great Inagua, which we considered for a fuel stop on the outbound trip. An island amazingly devoid of everything but salt. The one town "Matthew Town" was flattened by the last couple hurricanes.
On final to the amazingly long runway (why here?) 600 square miles and only 900 people (but they do have 35,000 wild donkeys on the island).
"The Best Kept Secret" in the Bahamas! This island is desolate. We did not see much "modern" here. As usual the cell phones do not work (or the land lines)
Great Inagua Customs Food on Inagua The Blue Phone
Nine planes a month come through here: we were the amusement for this day. Nice people, everything was in order so away we go. They drove us to lunch!
The one restaurant we found open was actually someone's porch where they served some food in a semi-formal fashion. The chicken curry was great.
The famous Bahama's "Blue Phone" though ubiquitous is nowhere explained. It only works with a speed dial code they do not disseminate. We finally found it here behind the poster on the wall.
Note to Pilots: The leg from Puerto Rico to Great Inagua was just over 4 hours total. A Skyhawk would have been panting and nearly out of fuel at this point. Planning fuel in the Bahamas is essential and you must call and talk to someone who is actually looking at it. In the C-210, with it's extended range, the lack of fuel here was a mere inconvenience. (We had decided on the way south fuel was unlikely.) After clearing customs and acquiring a Bahamas "Cruising Permit" we bummed a ride into town for a take-out meal at a local residence. On take-off we skirted rain showers and flew to Stella Maris (another 2.5) where fuel was assured. The "blue phone" which is in the picture and everywhere available has a serious trick. It only works with a special speed dial menu that is nowhere posted. I finally discovered it in Great Inagua behind the poster you see near the phone...what an epiphany, now we can actually talk with weather and file flight plans!
Back to Stella Maris (for fuel) and Overnight at San Salvador
Back to Stella Maris Beech 18 is the bushes of the runway San Salvador
Can anyone find the airport in this photo? Stella Maris, like most airports down here is wonderfully obvious.
The remains of a Beech 18 in the weeds by the old tie-downs at Stella Maris Airport.
San Salvador has a 7,000 ft runway. Club Med on the north side of the island flies in European Couples direct. The Riding Rock is this side of the runway above the marina...easy walk but they pick you up no problem!
Riding Rock Hotel
The view from the hotel room The beach was beautiful and deserted
The beautiful Riding Rock Resort. We tried to call to make sure they had rooms; we were the only ones staying there! This hotel caters to divers and fishermen so it is off-season.
All the rooms face west toward the protected bay. The beach is a short walk and the water is, of course, very clear and warm.
The hotel is in the distance. This beach has some really nice condo units just up the hill.
Where COlumbus Landed Cemetary right on the water Celebrating a fine trip
Doing the tourist thing with Christopher Columbus. I discovered his footprints in the sand here. This was a grave site in a cemetary right on the water. This island did not weem to have as much hurricane damage as the southern Bahamas. We had to try the local rum drinks, rumored to be the best in the Bahamas. This looked like it could be quite a rockin place in season!
Flight Back to West Palm Beach 02/03; Blocking Cold Front
The weather for trip to Florida The surface chart
There is a rule somewhere about when you have to get somewhere (the airline was waiting for me) wx gets "interesting." We decided to take a look at this and had the plates out for Nausau if there was a lot of heavy convective. We blew right through this but had a 40 knot headwind into KPBI Ironically, this last leg to Florida was one of our longer legs directly over water.
Flight Over Water KPBI was busy Getting stuff out for customs
Once through the cold front the clouds grew progressively thinner into Florida. KPBI is a big and busy field. We landed on a parallel runway with a Southwest 737. On the ground getting ready for U.S. Customs.

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