Grand Bahama Island: When we think of the Bahamas it is all sun and fun. We look at the weather for the flight planning, not worried at all about the fun but the sun was a bit in BJ104.jpgquestion at 0600. We went ahead and filed IFR to get to Ft Lauderdale for our 0830 meeting and pilot briefing to fly the pond to Grand Bahama Island for the first stop of a 3 day junket. We are coming to the Bahamas at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism for the Bahamas. We are coming to learn about tourism opportunities, activities and procedures for making a trip to the Bahamas so we can be proper hosts for the trip upcoming in February 2011.
The briefing was thorough but brief. We met our fellow travelers - about 40 of us in all - and one by one, we filed into out planes to depart the US. We offered to take along a passenger, Jorge Rodrigues, line manager at Miami Executive in Opa Locka Airport. There were still a few lingering clouds around Freeport, which is highly unusual; so we filed again to get across the pond. In no time at all we leveled off at 7,000' and were told to descend to 5,000' because we were already there. The flight total was just a short 40 minutes from Ft Lauderdale.
Our reception in Freeport was phenomenal. We were the first plane to arrive and the welcome committee was waiting. They took our bags, rolled out the red carpet and greeted usBJ105.jpg with conch fritters and Bahama Mamma's (fruit punch for those of us who do not drink). Next was a tour of the island enroute to the Radisson Our Lucaya Hotel where we participated in the round table discussion with the "movers and shakers" of the Bahamas tourism council. We learned about activities, the facilities available at Grand Bahama International Airport and we learned what to do and who to call – James Turner, the “Big BJ102.jpgCheese” gets the call at the airport – if there are any problems.
We took a break in the afternoon for a little retail therapy at the Port Lucaya markets before our tower party and excursion …. Yes, folks, PARTY AT THE TOWER. They opened the parking lot for rum punch, conch fritters and fish, music and mingling and gave us tours of the tower. While the current tower has all modern conveniences EXCEPT radar, the Bahamas government is within 6-9 months of making Grand Bahama Island a radar environment – it’s all ready except the paperwork. We checked out the light gun and the weather services available in the tower and got a chance to chat with the ATC.
Our last stop of the evening was at Luciano’s for dinner hosted by the Ministry of Tourism. We had our own version of a round table discussion with other participants from the various US FBO’s and with some Bahamas Ambassadors – guys like Mark Steinberg and Terry Spurlock whoBJ101.jpg have been flying to the Bahamas forever. We finished with a chat with Greg Rolle from the Ministry of Tourism who promised us his participation in our February 2011 trip to Stella Maris.
BJ103.jpgWe took a leisurely walk back to the Radisson in a beautiful fully moon-lit evening and we are ready to drop in to bed, exhausted, exhilarated and eager to embrace the early morning activities.

GreenBJ204.jpg Turtle Cay
: Sunrise came early this morning but was a beauty. Low tech weather forecasting (looking out the window) indicated some clouds but otherwise severe clear with BJ203.jpgcalm winds. Our hosts put on a full buffet breakfast for us this morning before our departure to the airport. We are on a tight schedule today so things cannot run on "island time". We are flying to Treasure Cay then catching a private charter boat to Green Turtle Cay, our ultimate destination for the evening. It is promised to be an interesting day with "forecast intoxication". For the record, Wild Mama flies alcohol free at all times.
We made it to Green Turtle without a hitch then island time set in. We took a more leisurely trip to Guana Cay and the famous Nippers Bar ... That is where island time really kicked in. The remainder of the afternoon was spent at Nippers enjoying the libations, sun and surf. Vern and I opted for shady spots next to the pool for some relaxation.
The boat ride back to Green Turtle included a stop at Baker's Development, an exclusive community on Guana Cay. What we have seen of Abaco thus far is that of a peaceful, serene place. Partying is a local past time and our group certainly did not want to break with local tradition. The pace is slow but the people are just asBJ201.jpg friendly. You WILL run on BJ202.jpgisland time so relax and enjoy it. . . And have a drink.
The Green Turtle is quite nice and quite different. The hotel is comprised of many little cottages most of which are on the water. The bar is wallpapered with dollar bills signed by guests from all over... And all over they are... The bills are hanging from the walls, ceiling, door, fans, windows, the bar, the light fixtures and decorations. It is quite unique and I am certain there is at least $1000 hanging in the bar.
This evening is another reception hosted by the folks at Green Turtle, then dinner then Pineapples and Sundowns for more drinks and dancing. I am ready to relax after dinner, myself.
Dinner at Green Turtle was an event: gourmet dining to be certain. The entres were grouper, lobster chicken and pork. One was better than the next. This was not a menu special for our group - this was the traditional evening fare.
After dinner Terry Spurlock introduced us to the tradition of "Fire in da Hole". All pilots must tell their best "never again" story; he group votes and, if deemed worthy, the pilot get a BJ205.jpgcomplementary bottle of Fire in da Hole rum. What kinds of stories did we hear? Wouldn't you like to know! Remember: what goes on in the Bahamas, stays in the Bahamas.
For the last gasp of evening fun, most of the group departed via golf cart for a tour of the town and participation in some local music, dancing and more spirits. I am afraid, however, that I cannot report on the liveliness of the town other than through hearsay as we crashed into bed, sound asleep.
PS: We heard that the town of New Plymouth was fabulous. It will be on the to do list next trip.

BJ301.jpgExuma: I slept like a rock last night but had to get up early this morning. We needed to be full ready to depart with bags and all at our 0730 breakfast. We had to take the hike into consideration our room was on the point. We had little time at the room yesterday with the hectic schedule so sunrise was our first opportunity to walk out on the dock out the back door.
The sunrise crept up over the inlet casting rays of reds and blue over the silhouette of the island on the far side. A chorus or roosters chanted their good morning call that the breeze carried our way. It was a perfect morning after a great night sleep… a brief break in the schedule. We mustBJ302.jpg now run because the island ferry waits for no one.
Departure from Treasure Cay was fast. We back taxied behind the Baron and departed immediately. Some others stopped for fuel at Marsh Harbor but we made our way south to Exuma staying low to enjoy the crystal clear blue waters. We were constantly amazed by the patterns in the sand, by the array of hues of blue and by the sheer vastness of the ocean BJ305.jpgdotted by these small islands. As we approached the Exuma chain, we dropped down even lower to see the sea creatures as they swam by. One by one, we heard all of the plane that had departed after us arrive at Exuma. Although Wild Mama is usually one of the faster planes, this trip we were the slow poke. Most others climbed to 7500' or more and stared at the scattered cloud deck while we enjoyed the beauty of the islands.
We were enthusiastically greeted at Exuma and promptly grabbed the bus to check in at the hotel and make a beeline for Stocking Island, home of Chat-n-Chill where we had a relaxing beach day and enjoyed fresh caught grouper and even fresher conch salad. This is a stop, for certain on the upcoming Tavenaero Conch Salad Tour. One of the highlightsBJ303.jpg was playing with the stingrays. They came to feed on the conch scraps. They also love to be petted from the bathers. We pulled some beach chairs in to the water, stretched our legs and let the stingrays cove us like small lap quilts. It was exciting to experience such unusual behavior form these normally elusive creatures.
Our departure from the island came all to soon but we did get another opportunity for some retail therapy on the way back to Palm Bay Resort. Our resort is a mix of villas and condos, all overlooking the water. We have a second floor condo complete with all you could possible need for a long stay vacation. We got a couple of hours to relax before our final cocktail hour and dinner of the trip. As for me, well, I desperately needed a shower after handling all of the conch slime to feed the stingrays!

The evening was another grand celebration, complete with a birthday party for 2 of our guests. We had drinks and finger foods before the appreciation awards and another BJ304.jpgoutstanding dinner. The remainder of the evening was a gala of dancing to the local DJ playing a mix of "island music". Vern and I finally died around 10:30 pm although we heard that the party rolled on until the wee hours of the morning. Being the PIC, I needed a head to fly the next morning.

BJ401.jpgBack in the US: After such a great weekend, it was time to go home. The Bahamian government taunted us with just one more amazing sunrise. They know we will be back. We made our way to breakfast, most surprised to see everyone present and relatively chipper (well, almost everyone, but we will not tell who was not there for morning roll call). We checked on flight plans, customs papers and the like, boarded our winged wonders and set off across the pond.

Wild  Mama was second off the block behind Terry Spurlock. He had told us that we could pick up our flight plan over 6,000' on Miami Center on 127.22. Shortly after departure as we were crossing through 2,000' we turned in the radio and clearly heard Miami. We gave it a try and, much to our surprise, they heard us and opened our flight plan to Kendall-Tamiami Airport, giving us the coveted 8,000' altitude. When Terry Spurlock radioed in at 6,800' he had to settle for 10,000' on his way to Fort Lauderdale.    (Sorry, Terry!)

BJ402.jpgThe path home was a maze of clouds. There was a storm swirling around just off the east coast. Our filing for Kendall was a blessing as it kept us out of all the storms. We were well rewarded with rainbows and a rainbow of blue from sea to sky. We crossed over Andros Island - a very large land mass between the Exuma chain and the mainland. Although very swampy in many places, there were still many runways and off runway landing opportunities should the need arise. A short 1.5 hours and we were getting descent instructions from ATC and dropped in for a visual approach for runway 13.

We had not been looking forward to Customs: it is always a let down upon re-entering the US to have to go through the 3rd degree. Greg told us that the customs officials at Kendall-Tamiami were great ... and he was right: friendly; greeted us by name, courteous, prompt and efficient. It took us longer to use the restrooms that it did to complete the customs BJ403.jpgprocess. We said our good-byes to Jorge and made our way back to Wild Mama. There were many storms popping all over the center of the state and we had to work our way through it. We remained low so we could see the rain shafts and the clear zones as we snaked our way home. With a small bug wash being the only encounter, we settled in to the runway at LaBelle safe and sound.

We are working on the February 27th  2011 trip to Stella Maris. This is a group trip where all of you will be flying your own planes to Stella Maris along with Wild Mama. If you have never flown to the Bahamas, no worries, we will help you with customs, eApis and get you everything you need to know to make the journey. Keep track of the web site for details to come shortly.

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We extend a heartfelt thanks to the Ministry of Tourism of the Bahamas for a fun and educational weekend.