The first thing we wanted to do after leaving Cat Island was to make sure we had full gas tanks, so we headed directly over to Great Exuma, where we knew they had fuel. Unfortunately, since Great Exuma is an airport of entry, we had to go through immigration again to get our C7As stamped. Another downside to the island is that they have found malaria there, so the visit, even for only an hour, meant that we cannot donate blood for a year. Also, the FBO only accepted cash, and were charging over $6/gal! Nevertheless, we all filled up, because we didn't want to run into any further questions about fuel. The runway was nice and long, but had no parallel taxiway, so all four of the planes taxied down to the end, waiting to the side as the plane ahead took off. As the last plane was taking off, a rainshower was moving down the runway, and the downdraft made for an interesting takeoff!
Flight over Exumas uneventful. Left rain behind. Saw tiny cays that make up the chain. It's said that there is one cay in the Exumas for every day of the year. Their small size is part of the reason that they don't always put the runway into the prevailing wind.
The landing at Staniel Cay was interesting and windy. A direct crosswind at 25 gusting to 35, with a hill off one end of the runway and a dropoff before the approach end that caused some mechanical turbulence. We were making radio calls on the Bahamas CTAF, and someone who had just departed said that he hoped we had brought our A game! Truer words were never spoken. All the planes made it on the ground safely, though it was focused, challenging work, at the limits of some of the planes' and pilots' skills. No one was making idle chit chat on this landing! Grant didn't like his approach and, with Pete waiting at the end of the runway, opted to go around and try again. Upon landing and taxi, there were two questions on people's minds. One, how do we secure the aircraft? Two, where's the bar?
The bar at Staniel Cay was actually a social focus of the island, where you'd find local people, fishermen, yachters, and pilots. It serves as the office for the resort, the restaurant, and, of course, a place to sit and have a nice tropical drink or a Kalik beer.
It is here that we hooked up with Wayde, a local guide ad fisherman who took many of us out to Thunderball Grotto, the underwater cave where a scene from the James Bond film Thunderball was filmed. There were pictures on the wall of the bar from the filming of the movie. The personnel would come to the bar to relax after a day's shooting.
The trip out to the grotto wasn't without incident, however. Because the winds had been blowing for a few days, the waters were a little choppy, and one of the pilots suffered from a little mal de mer. So he was dropped off back on the dock, and the others continued on to dive for conch. They brought back over a dozen of the snails, which Wayde prepared into a delicious salad, mixing the raw conch with various vegetables and lime juice and added just a couple of the very small and very hot peppers they used for flavor. Of course, while cleaning and preparing the conch, he made sure that we all tasted a bit of the meat, which he assured us is very good for virility! Sorry, but reports are unavailable on the accuracy of that claim!From the deck just outside the bar, we had a good view of the things going on. The sharks would swim by right off the dock, and would come rushing in when anyone tapped the dock with a stick; basically calling them for feeding. Pete and Doug looked up just as a young kid playing with his brother took a tumble off the dock. They rushed over, only to find that he had landed on the rocks shaken, but not hurt seriously. We also watched as our fellow pilots, out i a small boat, suddenly stopped in the middle of the bay. Tom pulled out the oar and started rowing. We were debating whether to send someone out to help when they started the motor again. Apparently, Tom wanted to get some exercise!
Back in the bar, we all had a great time. We kept the pool table busy, and a couple of us showed themselves to be real sharks! Matt was so outgoing that we thought he was going to run for mayor!
Another thing that we did on Staniel Cay was bicycling the island. The bikes weren't in the best of shape, but they sufficed. Some had to settle for interesting colors, though. And others needed to get their tires inflated before embarking on the tour. But once we got beyond the immediate resort, we were able to see and hear interesting things, like the
majority of the island population in the sole church on Sunday morning. In fact, "Mayor" Matt had told one of the waitresses that he would join her for services, but then couldn't remember which one he'd promised that to!
Sunday night came all too soon. Hurricane Ida was picking up in the Gulf of Mexico and, while she didn't pose a direct threat, she could definitely have an effect on the winds for the trip home for those planning to leave Wednesday or Thursday. Accordingly, some of the pilots were poring over the Internet weather on Sunday, looking at the forecasts and making changes to their flight plans with eAPIS, the asinine U.S. government mandate that all private flights out of or back into the U.S. file a complete manifest via Internet at least an hour before taking off. Of course, you must still contact the same people via telephone at least an hour before crossing the U.S. border! And there is no facility in the eAPIS program to change the information once filed. If it is a change in arrival time or airport, but coming back on the same day, then you telephone the airport of entry. If you are traveling on a different day, perhaps because a hurricane has sprung up, or have different people aboard, then you must file a new eAPIS manifest via computer. Of course, most of the airports we were visiting didn't have computer access! That would play out Monday morning.
The weather Monday morning on Staniel Cay was just fine. We got up fairly early, because everyone wanted to make it over to Fresh Creek on Andros Island. Most of the people planned to depart from there back to the States in order to catch favourable winds from Hurricane Ida. Grant and Leslie, however, had already planned to stay the rest of the week in the Islands, and figured they'd spend the first couple of nights on Andros, where they'd planned to go Bone fishing with Jim and Jimmy. So Monday morning saw everyone trying to get their luggage out to the airport. We had actually been waiting for Wade and some of the resort staff to come by to help, but they weren't there yet, so we took matters into our own hands. I think we overloaded the golf carts!
When we got to the airport, we still had the matter of making sure that Ken, Tom and Diane had adequate fuel. Remember, they'd come directly to Staniel Cay from Cat Island, without the stop on Great Exuma the rest of us had made! And, since they were flying a high wing, we couldn't just pull the two planes next to one another in order to effect the transfer. Wade scrounged up a fuel siphon hose and transfer tank, and they went about siphoning from one plane and putting it into the other. Luckily, the winds had calmed down a little since our arrival. They were only about 15Kt direct crosswind now. Everyone made it out without difficulty.