Cayman Islands Trip Report 2005
by Paul A. RosalesOf all the flying vacations that Victoria and I have flown, one of the BEST vacations ever is the trip we made last year (April '04) flying out of Florida with 26 GREAT friends (and 15 airplanes) to the Turks & Caicos and Bahamas. RVer Jim 'Jimmyb' Baker got that trip off the ground (thank you again)! Not only did we have a fun time flying there from California, I was able to realize another life-long goal of becoming a SCUBA diver. While in the Turks & Caicos (British West Indies), I was able to complete the certified PADI Open Water Diver course in three days and six open-water dives. I studied the PADI course materials every evening and scored 86% on the test :-) Victoria and I really enjoyed the four days we spent on Grand Turk at the Osprey Beach Hotel. Five months after receiving my dive card, I was ready to fly back to the islands and DIVE! Talk about laid-back & relaxing, ya Mon'! So in late September 2004, I e-mailed my friend Jimmyb who has flown several trips over open waters to the islands and is very much 'in-the-know'. I asked if he'd be interested in flying back to and diving all week out of Grand Turk. Here's his reply: I don't think I'd have to be pushed to hard to do something. While you are thinking about it, why don't you look at going to the Cayman Islands instead. We could fly over Cuba (the permit is VERY easy to get), and go to Little Cayman. It is a small island like Grand Turk, but much less populated. In fact, it has a grass strip (now paved). Only five places to stay, but all of them very nice. One place is right across the street from the airstrip, like one block from where our planes would be parked. The ocean is thirty feet out the back door of the rooms. Also, Little Cayman has "Bloody Bay Wall". Look it up on Google. It is one of the top three dive spots in the world! Jacques Cousteau spent about a month there once and said it was the best dive sites in the world that he had dove at that time. It is much closer to the U.S. and not nearly as much over water, since a bunch of the time you are over Cuba..." Huh...the Cayman Islands...I've heard of them...let's look at a map...ahhh... there they are...on the south side of CUBA! We'd have to fly over CUBA!? Jimmyb assured me that it wasn't a problem flying over Cuba to the Caymans as he and his wife Vicki had done it before a couple of times in their Baron. The ~330nm trip to the Caymans from Key West, Florida was ~250nm shorter than the ~580nm trip we flew last year from Homestead, Florida to Grand Turk. He even recommended a nice place they stayed at, Paradise Villas, on Little Cayman. Two other islands, Cayman Brac, just 12nm east of Little Cayman, and Grand Cayman, about 80nm southwest of Little Cayman, are the other two islands that make up the Cayman Islands. With Jimmyb interested, that was enough for me to start doing some homework on Paradise Villas, Little Caymans only 100% ocean-front resort. Rebecca Koss was my contact via e-mail, and she was SUPER at filling me in with all the details and information on their 12 villas. She also setup our diving with Paradise Divers (with Dive Masters Rod, Liz and Marc :-) After some back/forth e-mails with Rebecca and Jimmyb, we decided on a 1-week stay from May 9-16th, 2005, which is right at the start of the rainy season but before the hurricane season :-) Another reason for this time frame was that it was still a comfortable (not hot) time of year and also because there were 7 (of the 12) villas available to reserve. With myself and Jimmyb (and wives), that left 5 couples we could invite to join us... Laird Owens & Christine Johnston, Larry & Gerri Schneider and Gary & Carolyn Zilik who flew out on the Bahamas trip last year were first on the list. Jimmyb's long-time friends Sid & Shelly Baldwin followed with Chris & Indira Kleen of my very own SoCAL RV fliers. We filled more than half the resort with RVers, and Rebecca marked us down as the 'Little Cayman RVs 2005', excellent!! One of the first things I did was to renew my US Customs decal required to enter the USA from a foreign country. Then I checked to see if there was any authorization paperwork put out by the FAA regarding the Cayman Islands. After some internet searching, I found FAA Waiver 2127, the same one that authorizes VFR and IFR flights between the USA and the Bahamas. I flew with it last year but I didn't realize it also included the Cayman Islands. No other TSA waivers were needed to make the international flight. Jimmyb did the legwork on what was required to fly over Cuba, and he found several USA companies that would take care of the paperwork for a fee ($140+). He then found that the Cayman Islands Aviation Authority would do the overflight permits for $50.00...DONE DEAL! Here's the form we needed: Cuban Overflight Form...that doesn't look too painful :-) With USA authorization and help from the Aviation Authority, our trip was taking shape. Other required items were things we already had acquired for our Bahamas trip: Passports, life jackets, cement rebar (tie-down) stakes for the coral ground, dive mask and fins, suntan lotion, books, shorts and 12-inch N numbers! I had my 12-inch N numbers made up at a local sign shop, and you can also buy them by the letter/number from Aircraft Spruce or Chief Aircraft. Then it was time to hurry up and wait....it was now October, 2004 and we had to wait six months...work, work, work, work, work...fast forward to late April, 2005. The group finalized plans and reservations for our departure point, Key West (EYW), FL. We were to meet on Saturday, May 7th for two nights then depart takeoff for the Cayman Islands on Monday, May 9th. Sid & Shelly were flying in Commercial airlines so we'd have 6 RVs arriving to Key West; 3 from California and 1 each from Arizona, Colorado and Kansas. A week before departure, we all faxed our Cuban Overflight forms to the Cayman Islands Aviation Authority, and I received my overflight permit number by fax the next day. Others in the group had to resubmit as their permits came back with the wrong name, wrong departure dates, etc. Finally squared that away! Victoria and I decided on a 3-week vacation so we could visit some friends along the way, something I very much enjoy doing! With the plane packed the night before, we departed Rosamond (L00) on Wednesday, May 4th. We flew 3.0 hrs to St. Johns (SJN), AZ for fuel then 2.4 hrs into Dalhart (DHT), TX for fuel and lunch at the airport cafe. We love to eat there :-)
We continued on 3.0 hrs to our good friend Les & Lynda Featherston's beautiful grass strip, Rebel's Bluff in southwest Missouri near Mt. Vernon (2MO). It was a long but good day of flying! The first day of all our trips is the day we typically 'Make hay while the sun shines'.
After a wonderful evening and dinner, we got a good night's sleep with plans to depart for Clearwater, FL. However, Thursday morning, weather as LOUSY towards the east with a front passing through our entire route of flight. "Stay another day!," says Les... so we do :-) Did I mention Les is the proud owner of a Harmon Rocket? I met Les via a cold-call from him on the radio on a previous trip, and we've been friends ever since ;-)
Les was getting ready for his upcoming fly-in, now just two days away, and he suggested we take a short, lunch flight over to Gaston's White River Resort (3M0), in Lakeview, AR. For you Pilot Getaways subscribers, you can read about Gaston's which was featured in their Summer 2003 issue. You HAVE TO stop in if you find yourself flying nearby! They have a fine restaurant that overlooks the river.
From Gaston's, we flew over to M. Graham Clark County Airport (PLK) at the College of the Ozarks where we saw the extensive aircraft collection of Mark Trimble. I believe there were 26 airplanes in the hangar (including an RV-8A).
It was then a short flight back to Rebel's Bluff where we had a nice dinner and more hangar-flying with Les & Lynda. What a wonderful couple they are :-) With the weather front moved on, Friday morning had us flying 2.9 hours to Wetumpka (08A), AL for fuel then 3.5 hrs around Tallahassee and into Clearwater Airpark (CLW), FL. Here are some pics (base to final) into Wetumpka and Clearwater;
We spent the afternoon with a friends Bob & Vicky Coughlin and then went out for a nice dinner. I worked with Bob on the (then secret) F-117 when he was a field service representative from Honeywell, assigned to Burbank, CA working the F-117 Inertial Navigation System (he's quite the NAV-BOY!). Saturday morning, his son Eric and I flew around Tampa's Class B airspace to nearby Zephyrhills (ZPH) where we topped the tanks off. Eric then got some stick-time getting us back into Clearwater Airpark :-) Inbound to CLW, I heard some familiar voices on 122.75: Ziliks, Bakers, Schneiders and Laird & Christine, also inbound to Clearwater. I arrived just before they did, and after they landed, we all went to Sonny's for a filling, BBQ lunch. We departed Clearwater under the Tampa Class B, and flew south along the coast past Alligator Ally, Everglades Airpark (X01) then direct to Marathon (MTH) where we all topped off the tanks for the trip across the water.
From Marathon, it was a short 15 minute flight into beautiful (EYW) Key West. With the planes secured, we picked up two rental cars and went out to dinner. Sunday morning, we had breakfast at Camille's, a place we found when here last year (before our Bahamas trip). I HIGHLY suggest the following for breakfast: "Decadent French Toast with Godiva white chocolate cream sauce, fresh strawberries and (their favorite) Capt. Morgan Spiced Rum Bananas Foster sauce." The rest of the day was spent playing 'tourist' in Key West, and we all had a great time. It's SO MUCH FUN when traveling with your RV friends :-) Missing from our group were Chris & Indira who would join us later in the day as they spent Saturday night in Punta Gorda with friends. SIDE NOTE: Chris & Indira were weathered out in Texas on Friday, and when we all departed Clearwater for Key West on Saturday, they were still ground-bound in central Texas. The weather front cleared to VFR somewhere near Texarkana... Long story 'short': Saturday morning, they met two gentlemen at FSS who had flown in, IFR, in a twin. The owner of the Twin was out flying with his CFI. After hearing VFR pilot Chris & Indira were on the verge of canceling their Caymans trip since they couldn't get out of Texas VFR, the CFI checked out Chris' IFR equipped, EXPERIMENTAL, RV-6. He was impressed with Chris' plane... The CFI then flew the RV-6, IFR, with Chris, and the Twin owner flew Indira, IFR eastbound out of Texas to VFR weather. Indira paid the Twin's fuel tab $$$, and they arrived Punta Gorda late Saturday night (Chris flew some night VFR :-) Pilots are some of the most gracious people you'll ever meet! Chris and Indira flew into Key West Sunday evening while we were all out to dinner. I made a quick airport-run, picked them up, and the group was complete. After dinner, the pilots all gathered in the hotel lobby and called the International FSS. We received our weather briefing and filed our flight plans. Monday morning, May 9th, finally arrived! We were flying to the Caymans and we were ALL excited! We turned in the rental cars then got the planes all packed up. With our yellow life preservers donned, we fired up the engines and taxied out in succession. It was a beautiful morning, and we watched the sunrise as we were completing our runups. Laird & Christine are READY to go!
Starting at 7:30am, we departed in trail with Jimmyb leading the 'pack'. Key West Tower had all 6 airplanes airborne in about 10 minutes, and we all pointed towards TADPO intersection just south of Marathon. From TADPO, we flew airway G448 southbound. We all were separated by 2000' altitude brackets, 12K/10K/8K, with 2 planes at each altitude. Here are pics of us leaving Key West behind, and some of the weather ahead that we had to flew over and around, not a problem in an RV :-) As was the case last year flying to the Turks & Caicos, there were lots of clouds leaving lots of 'islands' on the water below. Of course, wearing the vests helps too :-)
I don't have any pictures of flying over Cuba as it scattered to broken over Cuba. We flew over the western end of the island (GIRON corridor) southbound flying over VORs on the north and south sides of Cuba.
About 2hrs 45min after departure from Key West, we found ourselves letting down to final approach on RWY 9 at Cayman Brac (MWCB); Chris & Indira glad to be there; And, of course, a picture of all our planes parked on the ramp, cool!
Clearing Customs at Cayman Brac was not too painful at all. I know we spent more time waiting to get started than it took to complete as the Customs folks had not yet arrived. We filled out our arrival forms upon entering Customs. While we waited, a gentleman walked out to all the planes and sprayed the interior of each plane with 'something' that would kill the 'bugs' that we could possibly have brought over with us. The 'bug spray cost was $18.75US. FYI, the exchange rate at was; $1 US = $0.80 Cayman Islands (multiply Cayman$ by 1.25 to get US$). Once Customs arrived, they processed us all quickly, and then the pilots were told to proceed to the tower where we could pay our landing fee ($10US). We also paid our departure fee early ($25US/person). We could have paid this on the day we departed for the USA but we took care of it while there in the tower. All this took about an hour, and then we loaded up and took off for the short flight, less than 10 minutes, to Little Cayman (no landing fee there ;-) Here's the approach to Little Cayman (MWCL), RWY 9(?), the runway from each end and a picture of the ground (texture) you taxi on to get to the grass parking area;
I made it a point to immediately take pictures of the smiling faces of those who crossed Cuba and beautiful ocean waters, arriving to Little Cayman. Here you have the Little Cayman RVs 2005: The Bakers, Kleens, Christine Johnston, & Laird Owens, Rosales', Schneiders, Ziliks and Baldwins (via Cayman Airways);
Sid & Shelly greeted us, and with the planes secured, we made the very short walk to Paradise Villas. Rebecca Koss, who took our online reservation, was on the island for a month and checked us all in. She was super, thank you! By this time, it was 11:30am, 4 hrs after our departing Key West. It turns out the Caymans do not observe Daylight Savings Time...wow, 10:30am! I tell you that it didn't take long for some of us to get settled on Island time! No problem 'Mon'!
Jimmyb had told me that our planes would be parked right next to the Villas, and he wasn't kidding. Here is a picture of the planes (and Paradise Villas' Office) from our room, and a picture of Paradise Villas from the planes;
Here are pictures of the pool, restaurant next to the pool, and 12 beachfront villas which consist of 6 buildings; 2 one-bedroom villas with kitchenette & patio per building, all with beachfront access ;-)
And did I forget to mention the Iguanas...They rule the island and share space with jillions of little sand crabs :-) Be careful not to step on the crabs!
From this point on, I can't begin to put into words all of the wonderful things we all did and saw for 7 WONDERFUL days. I can show you some pictures of us relaxing, socializing, eating, diving, smiling, and of course, flying!
And on the 7th day, our last day on the island, the Kleens and Ziliks flew a 3-ship with Victoria & I southwest about 75nm to Grand Cayman (MWCG). We landed at Owen Roberts International Airport, secured the planes and went to the office to pay the $10US landing fee. Could you imagine paying $10 everytime you landed in America...I think I'd owe more than $30,000 in fees!
Chris (who had Cayman Island Driver's License) rented a minivan, and we spent the day enjoying the island. We had a nice lunch at an ocean-front restaurant, and the highlight of the day was the time we spent at the Turtle Farm;
From the Turtle Farm, we drove around until we found the town of Hell (no kidding), home to the Islands only official government post office :-)
Though it's been over a year, the damage of Hurricane Ivan from the previous year was still clearly visible all around the island;
Reluctantly, we headed back to the airport to fly back to Little Cayman to packup our gear and fly home to the USA the next day...
Laird took this beautiful picture after sunset on our last day...
Monday Morning, May 16th, we woke early, packed the planes, paid our bills, said our good-byes then flew back to Cayman Brac to clear Customs outbound. Clearing Customs was again painless, and we had filed our flight plans the night before. We'd fly the same 12K/10K/8K altitude profiles as before. We fueled the planes, took some group photos, staged the planes for departure, and finally waived goodbye to the islands...I was sad we were leaving :-(
Jimmyb was first off the ground and Chris was last. I was second to last and climbed to 10K towards the VOR south of Cuba. We chatted occasionally on Channel 3 but otherwise, Cuba radio was quiet. Weather was clear, and upon reaching the shoreline of Cuba, scattered clouds were visible over the island land mass. I noticed that on the southside of Cuba, the water appeared to be very shallow and had some very nice 'designs'.
Once leaving Cuba's coastline, 2 hours into the flight, the US of A came into view, and shortly thereafter started our descent as we contacted Miami Approach. My GPS showed that we'd be within 5 minutes of our ETA,a 2.6 hr flight (Customs is strict about you arriving within 30 minutes of your filed ETA). Here's the approach into Key West with Carolyn coming down the stairs at Customs;
Paperwork for returning to the USA was the same that we completed last year; Passport, pilot's license, medical, airworthiness certificate, Customs decal number along with questions "Are ya' citizens, where'd ya' go, what did ya' buy" yadi yadi yadi...took about 15 minutes to complete. The others had completed their paperwork, and we'd meet them in the restaurant after we finished our paperwork. As I was finishing, Chris & Indira came into Customs and I asked him about the documents I just mentioned. NEGATIVE Pilot's License and Medical..."You're kidding me, right Chris!?!"...YIKES!!!! Three hours later after our arrival, lunch and departure from Key West, the Kleen's were still stuck at Customs...Gary and I heard from Chris an hour after our departure when overflying Sarasota. RVer Bill Marvel was able to get copies of Chris' documents faxed over to Customs, and they let him leave almost 4 hours after his arrival. I hate when that happens! Chris' well deserved call-sign is now Jailbird :-) The Bakers, Schneiders and Laird/Christine had departed before us so it was just the Ziliks and us. They descended into Cross City as we continued on to Quitman (4J5), near Valdosta, GA (3 hrs flight from Key West). We spent the night at the home of Tim & Jenny Davis. I'd introduced them back in the 80s, and it was great seeing them and their kids :-) Tuesday, May 17th, we continued on with fuel stops at Bainbridge (BGE), GA and again at St. Tammany Regional Airport (L31) in Covington, LA (2.8 hrs). Here's the approach into L31, me waiting for the pump to work and a sign;
Laird had called the night before and told me that he and Christine had stayed the night in New Orleans. He said that Brenda, from Atlantic Aviation FBO at Lakefront (NEW) airport got them a killer room rate at the Ritz-Carlton! New Orleans was about a 20 minute flight south out of St. Tammany to Lakefront so off we went. You can see Downtown New Orleans (first picture) in the distance;
After a phone call, Brenda had us booked at the Ritz for $119/night, SUPER!. My first-time-ever stay in a 5-star hotel, oh yea! Many thanks to Brenda :-) We took a taxi to the Ritz, which is located on Canal Street in the French Quarter. This was our first time ever to visit New Orleans, and Victoria had some books from AAA of things she wanted to do. We had a nice Cajun dinner, then we spent some time walking the French Quarter. Not hard to tell this place is old! Wednesday morning, May 18th, we caught a trolley to the famous Garden District where we took our own, self-guided walking tour that included the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which was hundreds of years old. Talk about taking a walk back in time...
By the time we finished the walking tour, it was about 1pm so we picked up our things at the hotel then caught a taxi back to Lakefront airport. With the plane fueled, we took off with Class B clearance, and we continued westbound keeping the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico off our left wing for quite awhile. We crossed into Texas, and received Class B clearance right over the center of Houston International. We arrived to Stinson (SSF) Municipal, San Antonio, TX, 3 hrs after departing New Orleans. Here are pictures of New Orleans, Houston and the arrival into Stinson;
We'd never visited San Antonio before, and we planned to stay a couple of days to visit the two most popular tourist attractions in all of Texas...can you name them? They would be the Alamo and the Riverwalk, of course! San Antonio is also home to several Missions, nearby Natural Bridge Caverns and site of the 1968 World's Hemisfair. We spent Wednesday evening, all of Thursday, and Friday morning enjoying these sites and more. We need to return as we had a wonderful time here in beautiful San Antonio!
After visiting the Missions on Friday morning, we drove back to Stinson, returned the rental car (many thanks to San Antonio Aviation), and departed for Stephenville (SEP), TX, a 1 hr flight. We'd arranged to meet Martin & Claudia Sutter who were flying there for a BBQ lunch at the Hard Eight BBQ.
After a fantastic BBQ lunch (they carve the meat there at the grill), we departed a 2-ship with the Sutters for the short flight back to their beautiful skypark home at Pecan Plantation (0TX1). We enjoyed a great dinner with them and their friends, all the while 'hangar-flying' :-) Saturday morning, May 21st, we departed a 3-ship with the Sutters and another RV, for the Texas RV Fly-in. We had a fun time there, and I thank Mark Rowe and Alex DeDominicis for putting on a great show! Check out the pics if you haven't already! I'm real glad we could work this into our vacation! They have some mighty fine folks thar' in Texas! By about 1pm, most of the locals had departed (I heard something about being too hot but we are from the desert...). Victoria & I decided we'd continue on and get at least half way home to California Saturday afternoon and make it the rest of the way home on Sunday. On all our previous trips home from the DFW area, we'd make the marathon, all day flight home. With typical headwinds, we'd leave Texas and arrive to California 8-10 hours later...flying to Albuquerque would half that :-) We departed Mid-Way (JWY) Regional Airport (which is south of DFW) and flew 2 hrs to Plainview (PVW), TX for a (cheap) fuel stop. From Plainview, we continued directly to Albuquerque (ABQ) International Airport, landing 2.4 hours later. I called Terry Tomeny, friend and hangar owner at Rosamond where we keep our plane. Terry works on-field at Eclipse Aviation as Director of Flight Test and commutes home to Rosamond every few weeks. Terry drove us over to the nearby hotel and set us up with his corporate rate, thank you very much! We then went out for an excellent Mexican dinner in Old Town Albuquerque with him and RV-9A builder Joe Fleck. Sunday morning, May 22nd, we took off for the 1 hour flight into St. Johns (SJN) Airpark, our favorite fuel stop in Arizona. From SJN, it was another short (45 minute) hop into Payson (PAN), AZ where we had breakfast with longtime friends from my high school days. After breakfast, I flew a Young Eagle ride with my young friend Wesly, and then we all we went for a drive to check out their new home. We played a few games with the kids and had a relaxing visit with everyone. Sunday afternoon, we flew the final 3 hrs to Rosamond. It was good to be home, and we are so glad we could make the trip with the best of friends! Final trip stats were: 19 days away from home flying 49.7 hours burning 389 gallons of fuel (~7.8g/hr), traveling ~5600nm and we're ready to go AGAIN!
Building then flying our Recreational Vehicle to 49 States and 5 foreign countries has enriched our lives tremendously so, by all means possible, keep poundin’ them rivets; It's ALL so VERY worth it! Paul & Victoria PS: A few weeks later, a Cayman Islands reporter published a story about our trip in the Cayman Newspaper :-)
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