Bahamas flying memories

As suggested by John Zimmerman, I “flew my logbook” into the 80s and 90s to relive some of my trips to the Bahamas. Mentioned briefly in a previous article, I had flown this way on a trip to Uruguay in 1974. That was a “business” trip. Subsequent trips to this part of the world were for vacations. Trips to the Bahamas were a regular feature of yearly winter holidays. Sometimes the departure would involve an evening’s flight after work. I remember one such event with snow showers and a young daughter in the back seat worrying about the witches that might be flying at the same time.

Walker's Cay aerial
Walker’s Cay shows why pilots love the Bahamas–nothing but a runway, a marina and a beach.

My wife and daughter and I covered quite a few of the Bahamian Islands before finding the spots that suited us best. This was before a number of hurricanes rearranged the scenery. We soon found that we enjoyed ourselves more in the out-of-the-way islands as opposed to the places like Nassau and Freeport. Sampling the more touristy attractions in the better known areas was often a waste of valuable time that could be spent on the beach and in the water.

Also, one was more likely to have problems with officialdom. I remember one episode where I agreed to supply a ride to Florida for a friend of a customs inspector. The poor guy was afraid of flying, and his knees were shaking during the entire trip. I did not realize it when I agreed to this “good deed” that I was responsible for returning this individual to a Bahamian port of entry if he did not pass muster by US immigration. Fortunately he was admitted.

One of the islands we enjoyed before hurricanes Frances and Jeanne was Walker’s Cay. This was a yachting mecca and was somewhat “upscale” for an Out Island, but the proximity to the coast of Florida made it readily accessible. My most memorable experience there was hooking into a blue marlin. The marlin was small, weighing only about 100 lbs., but it was a struggle to bring the fish to the boat in order to release it before it fell prey to a shark. I had been quite lucky to have this experience. I  learned that on average marlin encounters took 36 hours to achieve.

Many pleasant days were spent at Pittstown Point, a destination covered elsewhere in the annals of Air Facts. The accomodations were Spartan, but the food was excellent. Members of the Seventh Day Adventists sect who represent a sizeable proportion of the island’s population are extremely friendly and happened to be good cooks as well. The Green Turtle Club in Abaco was another one of our favorites. This resort was on a par with Walker’s Cay in its glory days.

Andros, Stella Maris, Cat Cay, San Salvador, Treasure Cay, Bimini, Eleuthera,and Staniel Cay are other names I see in my logbook. When I think about Andros, I remember great scuba experiences and great bone fishing in the bight. Flying low over the eastern shore of Andros one is treated to views of numerous wrecked planes and also to plentiful sharks in the clear waters. Most of the wrecked planes were thought to be employed by drug runners.

Bahamas airplane crash
A common sight around Norman’s Cay–crashed airplanes that were once loaded with drugs.

And that brings me to Norman’s Cay, not far off the east coast of Andros. This was a cay not to be visited in those days as it was a home to a notorious narcotraficante. In the late 70s and continuing into the 80s the island had been taken over by Carlos Lehder. The story can be found on Wikepedia. The Bahamian authorities had turned a blind eye to the events, and it wasn’t until 1987 that the law caught up with Lehder.

An invaluable resource that we used on the trips to the Bahamas was a guide that is still available: The Bahamas and Caribbean Pilot’s Guide. Using this guide one is provided with all sorts of information relating to advice about airports of entry, navigation, accommodations, sights to see and more. One of the more important pieces of information in this guide relates to the importance and use of a cruising permit or transire when one plans to visit more than one Bahamian island.

Our choice of an airport for departure and reentry into the U.S. was Fort Pierce. Survival gear was available there (we usually carried an inflatable raft and life preservers in those days). Going through customs was usually a breeze.

One other memory comes to mind there. It was a very hot day on the return to Florida. While sitting in the plane waiting to clear customs, we were approached by an agent accompanied by a dog. As the agent reached our plane, the dog collapsed (heat exhaustion) and the agent was forced to carry the dog back to headquarters before returning to clear us.

This was our second experience with customs agents employing dogs. The other occasion was in Canada where an agent asked if we would allow a dog into our Mooney to conduct a search. Having entered the plane the dog scrambled into the front seat in order to dine on the crumbs of a sandwich that we had recently eaten.

Well things have changed  since those days decades ago, but I’m sure that there are still glorious times to be had for those who chose to venture a few miles off shore over and into the magnificent Bahamian Islands.

And after you’ve experienced the best of the Bahamas you may want to go a little farther to the south to visit the Turks and Caicos Islands and even push on to the Caribbean and beyond. That brings to mind another trip in my logbook involving a flight to the British Virgin Islands and a week of sailing in the waters surrounding those islands.

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