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Island Flivverin'

Action flicks these days like to get our adrenaline pumping before they even roll the opening credits, and for a little while, on the last day at Sebring, several LSA pilots were running their own disaster scenarios over and over in the theater of the mind.

It was cloudy, blustery and threatening on the last afternoon of the LSA Expo. And though 15 or so aircraft were signed up to fly with Mike Z and the Aviators Hot Line gang over to the Bahamas – that’s the Bahama Islands, mon – it was looking a little dicey. Because those little islands and cays (pronounced “keys”) are in the ocean, mon. And most of the group were not flying amphibians.

Dire predictions and internal misgivings alike turned quickly into a breeze of a flight from Sebring, FL to Grand Bahama International Airport. No one went looking for Nemo, no one had an up-closeand-personal with the sharks. Everyone arrived with nary a scary moment.

That was left for the third day, landing on Bimini in a very strong, 90-degree crosswind...behind a row of trees along the runway! Can you say “go-around?”

Back to the beginning: After a very friendly reception at the airport, including refreshments and conch salad, put on by the folks at the Bahamas Tourist Office, we headed over to the Grand Lucayan Hotel. It’s a massive, curving ship of an edifice right on the water in the nearby town of Freeport. The Lucayan even has its own private beach and a 600-foot serpentine pool, which your very own Jacob Peed of the Hot Line and Mike Z, who started wrangling these LSA based trips three years ago, seemed to enjoy mightily.

Mike Z (short for Zidziunas) and U.S.-based, Bahama-born Tourist Office rep Leonard Stuart had briefed pilots for what turned out to be a gaggle of just nine airplanes making the Atlantic crossing. Maybe the weather scared off the rest of them.

At just 70 miles, (50 at the shortest crossing between the Bahamas and the U.S. coast) flying the Atlantic doesn’t quite share the podium with Lucky Lindy’s flight. But that’s the whole idea: with proper planning and governmental form wrangling, it’s really a no-brainer to fly there. Even in 100-knot-cruising LSA, the hop is under an hour once you cross the U.S. coast. How cool is that?

Mike Z is the hard-working Breezer Aircraft dealership and flight school owner from Lakeland, Florida who got this whole Bahamas thing going and has made the trip a bunch of times.

He and Jacob flew a Breezer II over. Mort Crim, an ABC television anchorman from the heyday of broadcast news in the 60s and 70s, flew his Paradise P1 over. Progressive Aerodyne’s CEO Adam Yang (which makes the SeaRey amphibian) and Dan Nickens (who has 4,000 hours in the type, including 2,600 hours in one he built himself) made the hop in the new SeaRey SLSA. The popular kit version – 600 flying! – was designed and built by Kerry Richter and his ultralight-designing dad Wayne.

Mark DuCorsky and wife Paula flew Leonard Stuart and my wife Tomma and me over in their Baron B58. I was hoping to fly a rented LSA but it didn’t work out. Still, Mark’s smooth, easy way with ATC and at the controls of that Baron made for a very comfy and very short trip.

Dan Johnson and wife Randee jaunted across in their new (4-partner owned) Flight Design CTLSi (with fuel injection). I’ve known Dan for years and years. We first met as hang glider pilots at his Crystal Air hang gliding operation at Lookout Mountain, TN back in the ‘70s – but had never flown together! Finally got our chance on this trip. And he did some superb formation flying for my camera too, as you can see.

Tom Gutmann Jr. and wife Tiffanie flew over in a CTLS on floats, which turned out to be good news for me, as I got to photograph Tom, Dan in the SeaRey and also Richard Rofe’s SeaMax too, and all above those beautiful Bahama waters. And they call it work. Both the amphibs and the CT on floats are wonderful airplanes to fly from land or water, take my word for it.

Our group, a congenial lot that ate together every night, also included Ed and Lenora Krielow in a Cessna 182 and Stacey Orellana and her son Connor in a mid-refurb Cessna 172.

Our stay at the Grand Lucayan was delightful: a very nice hotel and the discount, for lodging and gas, that Jacob and Mike worked out with Bahamas tourism, made the adventure surprisingly affordable.

Our second two days was spent on Bimini, where the clouds and winds abated enough to afford some island hopping flying (and aerial photos over those amazing teal and aquamarine waters).

The Bahamanians are a friendly lot but every island has it’s own local feel and micro-culture. Bimini is smaller and more laid back than Grand Bahama.

And as Mike Z says, having sailed the islands for years before he got involved with LSA, there are a million stories strung out among the 700 islands and cays. Maybe that’s why Ernest Hemingway spent so much time there (including on Bimini, living at the Compleat Angler hotel – which, sadly, burned down in 2004) and wrote about the region in The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream, among other works.

We barely scratched the surface of the island experience... but we sure tried.

Landing in the amphibs on water near a tiny cay south of Bimini, Dan in the SeaMax and Tom in the CTLS on floats beached on its white sands. On another cay separated by a shallow 100-yardwide channel, the bony fingers of a couple of crumbling chimneys were all that remained of some unknown structure.

The mystery endured: whatever was there was lost over time, perhaps to hurricanes, or the inexorable ravages of time and tide.

Heading back to Bimini, Dan and I in the SeaRey orbited a wrecked, rusting hulk of an ocean tanker that ran aground years ago. Dive boats were busy exploring the metal island. Just a mile further, we circled a pod of dolphins, undulating playfully in the crystal-clear water.

And way before we were ready to go, it was time to fly back home.

Flight plans were filed, the trip over beneath balmy, scattered-cloudy skies was over way too quick, U.S. customs was a slam dunk that took all of five to ten minutes per airplane, and that was that.

Next time I go, I want to fly to at least five islands and hear more of those great stories Mike likes to talk about.

He leads these trips to the beautiful islands several times a year.

Want to do the Bahama thing, mon? Start right here:

February 2013 Light Aviation Edition

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