Turks & Caicos Trip Report 2007
by Paul A. Rosales
In life, we all have hobbies that we enjoy, and some people have more than others. I grew up the son of a Private Pilot and A&P father so I spent many weekends at the airport. In 1979, at 19, I became a pilot, my first hobby. Victoria, my 'then' girlfriend, was my very first passenger, and we've enjoyed flying together ever since! The following year (1980), I took up boating (water-skiing) as second hobby, one that Victoria also enjoys very much. As much as we've flown (~3000 hours), we have logged more hobbs hours boating than we have flying!!! Nearly 100% of our boating is out of Cottonwood Cove, Lake Mohave on the Colorado River. Our flying hours may pass our boating hours sometime in 2008. My newest hobby is SCUBA diving which I'd always wanted to do having spent so much time snorkeling the Colorado River. I completed my SCUBA training with Blue Water Divers on our first over-water, 2004 Caribbean vacation trip to the Turks & Caicos with 14 other RVers (many who I met for the first time and are now life-long friends ;-)
Flying and boating are hobbies I can do on an hour's notice (honest!). SCUBA diving, on the other hand, takes some planning because... I'm not in a big hurry to go diving in the (cold) waters off Santa Catalina Island as I've been spoiled with the clear and warm Caribbean waters ;-) Following the Turks & Caicos trip, I wanted to SCUBA again so for 2005 I arranged a flying trip to the Cayman Islands that included a week's worth of vacationing and GREAT diving (and flying) with some GREAT friends. For 2006, Jim "Jimmyb" Baker suggested a commercial flight to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands where 4 couples sailed the islands on a Moorings Barefoot cruise. Victoria and I made the trip with RV friends; Jimmyb & Vicki Baker, Laird Owens & Christine Johnston and Gary & Carolyn Zilik. We had another wonderful week sailing and SCUBA diving off the back of the 50' sailboat captained by Jimmyb himself (and the rest of us as his crew ;-) I dove my first shipwreck with Jimmyb and Gary, the HMS Rhone, featured in the 1977 movie The Deep. The year 2007 proved no different as I wanted to go back to the Turks & Caicos to SCUBA for pleasure (instead of taking lessons ;-) I started asking around to find out who'd like to make the (over-water) trip and here's who said YES:
- Jimmyb & Vicki Baker (RV-6, Kansas)
- Gary & Carolyn Zilik (RV-6A, Colorado)
- Larry & Gerri Schneider (RV-6, Arizona)
- Gene & Janet Larsen (RV-9A, Iowa)
- Scott & Debra Mills (RV-9A, Colorado)
- Bryan & Sherri Wood (RV-9A, California)
- Mercedes Eulitt & friend Sandy Angel (RV-6A, California)
I contacted our host (and owner) Jenny at the Osprey Beach Hotel who arranged an excellent package for our group since we were considered returnees :-) With bags packed, passports in hand, and 12" N numbers on the plane, we departed California on Wednesday, April 18th. Our normal routing eastbound always takes past Edwards AFB minutes after takeoff. The long runway seen coming off Rogers dry lake bed is 3 miles long and is the one used by the Space Shuttle when it's diverted to California.
- Jim & Cathy Pappas (Illinois)
- Teacher/Friend Barbara Summey (California)
- Neighbor/Pilot Annmarie Strachan (California)
With the help of a nice tailwind and groundspeeds of 190-205 knots at 11.5K, we flew over the Colorado River, past Prescott then Sedona and landed for fuel at St. Johns (SJN), Arizona after smooth (but hazy) 436nm (2.2 hours).
Continuing on with lighter tailwinds, and munching on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we flew to our next fuel stop at Gainesville (GLE), Texas, covering 607nm miles in 3.6 hours.
Having made EXCELLENT time, we flew our last leg into Downtown Shreveport (DTN), Louisiana in 1.4 hours (186nm) landing about 2 hours before sunset. Flight time from California to Louisiana was 7.2 hours: Gotta' love the RV for traveling!
With daylight to spare, we got the plane secured, hopped a ride to downtown (seen over the nose of the plane), walked around a bit then had a SUPER Cajun dinner!!!
We awoke Thursday morning and had some fresh muffins we'd bought the night before for breakfast. The hotel van got us back to the airport, got loaded up then took off after which Victoria snapped some pics of Downtown Shreveport.
We flew east over the Mississippi River towards Bay Minette (1R8), Alabama which positioned us nicely to intercept Victor Airway 198. Following that airway east took us past Whiting NAS to Decatur (BGE), Georgia for fuel. Flight time was 3.1 hours flying ~475nm in haze (always hazy flying east...)
On startup, I saw several RVs land then taxi for fuel so we taxied over there to find Rocket flier & friend Randy Pflanzer. He was with friends heading home to Indianapolis after spending time at Sun n' Fun. We departed Decatur for Clearwater (CLW), Florida, and we flew in some of the WORST smoke I've ever been in: Georgia and Florida were on FIRE :-( We could see down but sure couldn't see much forward which is the norm when flying the Los Angeles basin on smoggy, marginal VFR day. I felt right at home flying in it but I sure wouldn't want to recommend it for the newbies, and I wouldn't fly it without an artificial horizon. In the first picture (from my viewpoint), you can make the top cowling seam & camlocks and barely see some land out front (forward distance was better than the camera shows...)
As we descended into Clearwater, we started getting better visibility but not what we've seen in sunny Florida on better days. Flight time from Decatur was 1.3 hours flying ~215nm. Not 10 minutes after landing, I hear what I believe to be an RV, and sure enough, there's Larry & Gerri Schneider landing right behind us.
I knew they'd be arriving sometime during the day as they had family there in Clearwater who they were going to overnight with. We were there to overnight with friend Bob Coughlin and wife Vicki who I know from his Honeywell 'days' at Lockheed. I gave a ride to their son Eric and made the flight a fuel hop to Zephyrhills (ZPH) for 'cheap' fuel then back to Clearwater to call it a day. Victoria and I had a fun evening visiting with the Coughlin's with me catching up and reminiscing the early days of working the F-117 with Bob; he worked navigation and I tested his software on the simulator ;-) Friday morning, Bob dropped us off at the airport where we again met up with Larry and Gerri. We'd previously agreed we'd fly a 2-ship to Lakeland and Sun n' Fun for a few hours since neither of us had ever flown into this fly-in (from Arizona for them). I still have several EAA Regional fly-ins to go before I can say I've flown to them all! After flying east of the power plant about 10 miles, we turned inbound and got in line westbound towards the power plant. We flew a tight trail with me in the lead so others could hopefully follow (and not run into) us ;-) We were ready for and let several planes cut-in-front-of-us making, no kidding, 135-180 degree turns to get in line....a less than 60 degree approach is MUCH safer I believe ;-) Landing at ~9am was uneventful, and we were both shutdown in the RV section within 10 minutes of landing (all made possible with me taxing in the OUT gate ;-) We tied the plane down, put some cards on the prop then starting visiting with a number of people I knew through the internet including a nice chat with Pierre Smith and "Turbo" Ed Darcy. There were others but I'm sorry that I forget everybody. My friends the Woolstons were there all the way from home (Lancaster, CA) and found us as they'd made their first trip to SnF in their recently completed Velocity. Devon was quick to jump into "Uncle" Paul's plane ;-)
We only had a few hours to spend there as we were to meet up with the rest of the Turks & Caicos RVers later on at Homestead (X51) near Miami so I crossed the flightline gate in search of drink and food. That's when I saw TEAM RV overhead performing their crisp formation passes.
I spent some time visiting with Greg from Blue Mountain Avionics and the folks at R&M Steel who built our skypark hangar. I also found friend Terry Tomeny who was getting ready for a SnF demo flight in the Elcipse Jet. It was time to head back as the airfield was going to close at 1pm so I had to lie my way back onto the flightline. I'll be honest: I did not want to fork out admission for 2 people for 3 hours of attendance having flown all the way from California ;-) We untied, pulled out then taxied away with Larry & Gerri in trail. We took off just before the 1pm airfield closing for the day's airshow.
We climbed up above a thin cloud layer and covered the ~170nm to Homestead (X51) in a little over an hour's time.
Turns out we were the first to arrive at the fuel pump with the Bakers, Ziliks, Woods (pictured below), Larsens and Mills landing with an hour of our arrival. We all fueled up then pulled the planes around the corner, visited in the hangar FBO, filled out rental car paperwork and waited for... Mercedes.
With no sign of Mercedes, we decided to load up and head for the motel. Shortly after unloading bags, Mercedes called so I drove back and picked up the two girls. Once settled, we gathered around the pool for the 'Welcome' speech and hear the first briefing from Jimmyb for Saturday's overwater flight to the island of Providenciales (Provo for short).
It was time for dinner so we all (16 of us) went next door to Gusto's for a fun-filled evening involving the three F's: Food and Friends that was preceded by the day's Flying!
Returning from dinner, the pilots gathered around the phone and we each (in turn) filed our international flight plans for the next day's flight. This was simplified with the help of, you guessed it, Jimmyb! On Saturday morning, April 21, we were up EARLY and ready to leave for the airport at 5:30am. Arriving before sunrise and still dark, we unloaded rental cars and loaded up airplanes. Here are the flights that were arranged by horsepower: ALPHA Flight:
Alpha flight was off the ground just before sunrise, and we waited about 15 minutes to follow so here's our flight, with life vests & all smiles :-) Here are the Woods, Larsens and Mills all ready to start-up engines;
We taxied out just after 7am, and it was just beautiful watching the sunrise as we departed eastbound to Providenciales (MBPV, ~575nm). After a year's worth of planning for this flight, it was all coming together!
We chatted with Alpha flight along the way (at 9.5K MSL/AGL), and we listened to XM Radio 101, "The Joint". Great music to get you going! The descent into Provo was smooth, and I positioned us for a 45deg entry to the downwind in trail, and then the fun began... I learned this on previous trips but the control towers on the 'islands' are very good at handling EXACTLY ONE airplane at any given time because that's the number of planes they regularly have in the pattern, either coming or going. Everyone has to call in separate, no formation arrivals... kinda' frustrating at times but, oh well, go with it. I think that I was the only plane to land on the first approach even though we were separated in trail by a wide margin (flight time from Homestead was 3.8 hours, ~510nm). The last two planes had to do go-arounds (called by the tower for who knows what reasons). I was able to get pictures of the Larsens and Mills with the Woods still airborne...
Then to add to add to the confusion, a heavy 757 called in and had to circle to allow time for Bryan Wood to land and clear the runway. The heavy kept asking the tower, "Where is the little plane?" ;-) I put a circle around the 757 in the first picture below;
Alpha flight had already cleared Turks & Caicos Customs and were fueled up so that's the first thing we did after arriving.
I also went upstairs to get some pictures as the linemen said their ramp is never this full ;-)
Alpha flight again took off in front of us, and I'm guessing that we were there about 1.5 hours clearing customs and getting fueled. Afterwards, we loaded up, waited for a heavy to taxi by then took off for the last leg (~65nm) to Grand Turk (MBGT)
The flight to Grand Turk was quick and the tower was ready for us having landed Alpha flight before us. I asked for and was given an overhead approach since that's the heading we were on for landing;
With bags unloaded and most all planes secured, Victoria, Sherri, the Mills & Larsens loaded up the taxi (thanks to Jimmyb for sending him back from the hotel to pick up the rest of the group). Bryan and I got back in the planes and flew back to Provo to pick up Jim & Cathy Pappas. They arrived to Provo about the time we landed Grand Turk, and they would have had to wait until sometime after 7pm for the 'Puddle Jumper' to get them to Grand Turk. We sure didn't want them bumming around the airport so Bryan and I had previously arranged to pick them up! It was fun taxiing our 'little planes' to the main terminal ramp where we parked next to a heavy that had just arrived. We gathered up the Pappas', buckled them in and departed for our second flight of the day from Provo to Grand Turk ;-) Tower had us depart separately but we met up over the nearby bay. I flew with Cathy (she LOVED the flight) and Bryan flew with Jim. We flew back at 4500' MSL to see all the ocean color ;-) Check out the reflection of the aqua blue water on the belly of Bryan's white plane in the last picture...it looks much better in person!
The others were at the Osprey Beach Hotel within minutes of leaving the airport, and the owner Jenny was there to greet them ;-) We were there by 4pm, and were greeted by commercial fliers Sid & Shelly Baldwin, longtime friends of Jimmyb & Vicki Baker. The Baldwins had arrived a day earlier from Kansas. Here are pictures of the hotel and beach (with two views from a balcony);
With all the RV fliers now at the hotel, the entire group was completed with the arrival of Annmarie Strachan, my neighbor (I'm pictured with) from the skypark, and Barbara Summey, a teacher I know from my days as a substitute teacher. Barbara's working on becoming a Divemaster!
For the next week, we all had a wonderful time, and here's a sampling of the things that kept us busy (or not) all week!
FLYING Meet our Islander friend, Denzel, who was ELATED to ride with Gene! I took a local TV reporter who shot some video and then did a news story on our group. We never did see the finished show on TV :-(
Since Bryan and I had flown back to Provo on the first day to pickup the Pappas', we had less fuel than the others so we, along with Gene, flew back to Provo for fuel. I stopped at South Caicos to pickup Divemaster Mitch Rolling who dropped off a boat there he'd just sold. Bryan flew with Divemaster JP (giving thumbs-up) and Gene flew with Monica.
Side note: With all the flying I'd done during the week, the tower controllers at both Provo and Grand Turk finally 'came-around' and I was able to make a single call (speaking slowly) for the 2 & 3 ship flights we made during the week: "Grand Turk Tower... November-628PV...November-994W...and November-194GL...holding short..."
JUST FOR FUN
Other highlights of the week included Bryan Wood studying for and completing his Open Water Dive Course. Bryan was on every dive the group went on ;-)
Gene Larsen had already completed his bookwork for his Open Water course in Iowa so he was able to complete the open-water dives with all of us too. Congrats to both on getting their Dive Cards ;-) Sherri and Victoria both took the 'Resort' dive course and enjoyed it!
Janet Larsen had a birthday on the island so we had Birthday 'Pie', and she was treated to a 'splash' while playing the blow-in-the-straw-game ;-)
And mid-week, Larry & Gerri along with Mercedes took off for the USA as they had other plans visiting friends on the way back to the west coast.
Our Divemaster Mitch Rolling of Blue Water Diving has another life at night playing for the crowds ;-) Monica, who works for Mitch, went on several of our dives and is also working on her Divemaster Certification.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end... We arrived on a Saturday and were departing the following Sunday (April 29th). With bags packed, we all met out front and loaded up for the airport;
Arriving to the airport, we dropped the girls off at the terminal then were driven over to the tower to pay our landing fees from the day we arrived ($10 per landing). I was expecting a huge bill since I'd made many landing throughout the week but my bill was $10 (no complaints ;-) Back to the terminal building, we all (eventually) cleared customs for the outbound trip then were transported to the other side of the field where the planes were all parked.
Our buddy Denzel was there to see us off!
As the norm, Jimmyb leading Alpha flight was off first, and we departed 15 minutes behind them (as a 4-ship ;-)
Note the sailboat in the first picture, which is a moored just off the coast...I flew past it so Victoria could to take a picture. The Osprey Beach Hotel in centered in the second picture.
Enroute, we talked with Jimmyb who was ahead and told us he wasn't liking what he saw ahead (weather-wise) just past Provo so we all diverted back to Provo. On landing, Jimmyb asked the tower to close out all our international flight plans and I called (via cell phone) the USA and did the same to make sure. Customs wasn't sure what to do with us since we'd already cleared their country in Grand Turk so they just 'looked the other' way. We all took on fuel again (never pass up fuel!) and waited about 4 hours before taking departing Provo.
Again on our way to Stella Maris (MYLS: Long Island, Bahamas) we trailed Jimmyb's Alpha flight by 20 minutes and had to skirt some of the weather that was moving across the island. We arrived Stella Maris in 1.6 hours (~200nm), just in time for a nice 30 minute deluge of rain ;-)
During the rain, we all cleared Customs into (then out of) the Bahamas followed by some pics of the planes and the group; Zilik, Wood, Mills, Larsen and Rosales'. Gene's plane is color-coordinated ;-)
After fueling, Jimmyb called to file our (group) international flight plan to the USA. That's when they told him the US Coast Guard had been looking for our group for several hours since we never arrived to Stella Maris on the initial departure from Grand Turk!?!?! Jimmyb had cancelled our flight plans with the tower at Provo and I even called the USA so we don't know how that got messed up... Oh well, we tried. Jimmyb then called Customs at Fort Pierce to give them our arrival time of approximately 5:40pm. Customs threatened us to be there by 5:45pm or we'd have to divert to Miami. Closing time is 6pm... They truly were not very pleasant folks to talk with on the phone...same as the other times if you've read my previous Turks & Caicos trip report. You are not welcomed to the USA :-( After nearly 2 hours on the island, we departed Stella Maris ~3pm EST in trail, Alpha then Bravo flights for the ~363nm flight to Fort Pierce (KFPR). My Bravo flight had the RV-9As (I was the only 180hp) so I had to ask them to run 'hard' if we were going to make our 15 minute arrival window at Fort Pierce.
Approaching Bimini Island, I called for our group ADIZ transponder code, and then found that only Gene's N number was in the system: They had no record of me, Wood or Mills in the system...go figure. Jimmyb had filed for all of us and they got some of it right... After some confusion, mostly on their part, somebody on the other end end of the radio made the grand decision to let us use the same transponder code as Jimmyb's flight. Ok, no problem, we're in!!!
We landed Fort Pierce (in haze) about 5:50pm. Flight time from Stella Maris was 2.8 hours flying ~ 380 nm. After unloading the airplane (clothes bags only), and after some fast filling-out-forms, we got in the customs line. I was second-to-last to clear, and when the guy swiped my Passport, he say's, "Oh, you work at Lockheed..." And then he starts talking about the SR-71. We talk maybe 5 or more minutes about the SR then he looks at watch, clears me away, grabs Scott & Deb's passports, swipes them and sends them packing in less than 30 seconds ;-) It's about 6:10pm, they can go home now and we can get to the hotel after a long day getting to the USA. We stayed the night at the Royal Inn, phone 1-772-464-0405. I highly recommend you stay here if passing through the Fort Pierce area as Joyce and Sandy run this more like a Bed & Breakfast rather than a hotel ;-) With planes fueled Monday morning, April 30th, we departed a 5-ship: Baker, Zilik, Wood, Mills & Rosales. Gene & Janet Larsen had some different routing to Iowa so they went on their own.
Approaching the middle of the state in Florida, we were again flying above the smoke layer from the fires that were still burning in Florida and Georgia. Here are pictures of the beginning and ends of the smoke layer.
Jimmyb led the 5-ship to Alexander City (ALX), Alabama where we landed, ~436nm and 3.4 hours after leaving Fort Pierce.
We fueled and checked my weather westbound towards Texas...not good. Texas had thunderstorms across the entire state so Bryan & I decided to continue with the group northwest bound. We departed a 5-ship, crossed the Mississippi River towards Fayetteville (FYV), Arkansas landing 3.3 hours later (446nm).
We had a GREAT lunch at the on-field restaurant while the planes were all refueled. We paid our ramp-fee then checked weather for the last leg of the day into Goodland, KS. The weather in Texas was slowing moving north, and we'd be in front of it though not free of clouds.
Our routing, due to weather, took us north of Salina, KS then into Goodland (GLD), landing 3.3 hours (427nm). We put exactly 10 hours on the hobbs flying from Florida to Kansas in a day...normally, we'd fly no more than 7-8 (hobbs) hours in a day but will go longer if needed. After 7 years of flying our RV, Flying an RV is still GREAT FUN!! The smile on Sherri Wood's face confirms that I'd have to say ;-)
Jimmyb found all of us hangar space in a really big hangar then we headed to their house, less than 2 miles away. We cleaned up then went out for a nice dinner at Crazy R's Bar and Grill. Tuesday morning, May 1st, had all of us eating breakfast at the Butterfly cafe on-field. It was very good, and I highly recommend the homemade cinnamon rolls!!! After breakfast, we loaded up for the last flights of the trip with the Mills and Ziliks flying to Front Range (FTG), CO and the Rosales' and Woods' flying to California ;-)
We said our goodbyes and Bryan/I took off 2-ship towards Las Vegas (LVS), New Mexico (which got us easily around the Rockies rather than over them), then into St. Johns (SJN) for fuel. Flight time was 3.0 hours, ~500nm.
From St. Johns, it was a quick flight into nearby Payson (PAN), AZ where we had lunch with some longtime friends of ours. We flew (my) last leg past Lake Havasu and Edwards Air Force Base's Rogers Dry Lakebed into Tehachapi (TSP), CA where Bryan bought some cheap(er) fuel. Flight time from St. Johns was 3.6 hours (~455nm).
From Tehachapi, Bryan & Sherri continued into Livermore (about a 1.5 hour flight) and we made it back to Rosamond (L00) in about 15 minutes. It was good to be home after nearly 2 weeks of travel ;-) Here's a picture of the luggage we hauled home; RVs can truly move the mail! Totals for the entire trip: 47 hours flying & vacationing with wonderful friends, covering ~5600nm and burning 3 quarts of oil, no complaints!
I can't say this enough: Keep poundin' them rivets because it's all SO worth it! Paul & Victoria ****************************************************************************** PS: Be sure to check out Scott & Debra Mills' "EXcellent" RV Adventure trip report ;-)