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Flying to St Thomas, USVI

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Grand Potentate
Dec 7, 2001
Have been approached by a previous Instrument student and asked to help him ferry his '99 Saratoga HP down to St Thomas, USVI.

Obviously I mandated we rent overwater survival gear before we leave the mainland. Anybody with Carribean flying experience who would be willing to offer any advice, I'd be most appreciative. Trip would be the second week of May.

thanks all!
I haven't personally flown down there, but I have there many times. Weather can be on again off again very quickly down there. It is usually the calmest early in the am before the heat sets in and updrafts begin. If you can time a landing in the morning, you will have a much smoother ride.

May starts hurricane season. Unlikely one will happen in May, but they did get pounded a few years back. Luckily, hurricanes are easily spotted, but the thunderstorms pop up quickly like in Texas and Florida.
Take the raft. I did some flying from Titusville, FL to Freeport years ago in a Saratoga and always took the raft. Reason's? At the time I was a slim fellow and didnt float very well. Today, I could float for days since fat floats. Seriously, you never know and would be nice to have that card if your needed it.

Make sure you are there over 24 hours before bringing back that bottle of banana rum. Speaking from experience of course.

Have fun man. It's a great time.
I've done the run in a Boanza and a Baron. Its not too awesome. I'd rcommend the Caribbean and Bahamas Flying Guide, avilble at a few FBOs, especially down in Florida. It'll give you a lot of heads up and dvice abou all the different islands and recommended equipment.

As for the raft, a good place to rent one would be Ft Pierce, they also have some good brugers.
STT = best deal on duty free liquor : )

Haven't been there in a while but I flew out of SJU (San Juan, Puerto Rico) for about a year. One of our destinations was STT (St. Thomas). As I recall there was only one Landing Strip on that Island and it served GA as well as B757 size AC. There is a high peak located just north of the airfiled so in high winds from the north landing can be a little tricky.
I don't know about the range of the Saratoga but it may well be able to handle MIA-SJU or even STT if topped off with PLENTY of adequate reserve fuel. That is something that you will obviously have to check as well as other possible fueling points.
SJU and STT are both under the jurisdiction of the FAA and therefore would be preferrable as you would be able to understand them : ) Both Towers and San Juan Center were generally helpful and comparable to facilities in the US. I would try to go IFR or at least VFR flight following all the way down so as to maintain radio contact with these facilities. As far as radar contact I know for sure between STT and SJU there is Radar coverage but not too sure about the coverage between MIA and SJU.
Pick up some Jeppeson Carribean charts and you will notice some funny new names for airways. Colored routes are defined by NDB's. It took me a while to figure that one out as I recall. These NDBs are High power and have a pretty good range. Make sure you are familiar with NDB tracking procedures as much of you flight will be over water. Of course if you are RNAV equiped you are much better off.
As far as weather goes May still tends to be rather mild. Late summer is when you start having to worry but as Aero99 suggested a check of the weather will be a must. In any case CB bases are usually above 4000 feet in that area. Also 99% of the time down there it is VFR and if there is a CB you will be able to see it from many miles.

Survival equipment is a must

Any other questions...ask away
Fly over the islands of the bahamas, FLL, Nassau,
Stella Maris, stop for fuel at Grand Turk, then St thomas direct, stay close from the coast of San juan, St Thomas field is easy.

Bring a raft and a portable radio.

I have done that route dozens of time it is a piece of cake.
Good luck
It's been quite a while since I've been that way but I doubt much has changed. It's really a pretty easy trip.

AOPA can help you plan it and get charts. Jeppesen has the best charts. Even if you're going VFR (probably the best in your equipment) a current Jepp enroute chart will give your frequencies etc.

Miami Center has some remote facilities in the Bahamas that will give you radio coverage much of the way even down around 8-10 thousand.

Survival gear is essential. You need a raft big enough for the number of people in the airplane. It needs to be placed where you have a chance of getting it out if you need it. It also needs to be secured so that it won't become a missile in the remote chance that you have to make a water landing.

Besides the raft, you definetly need life vests. Although uncomfortable, they should be worn while your flying. In a small single engine airplane (I guess that's what a Saratoga is ???), you wont even get them on before you're down if something quits. They're hot, they're uncomfortable, but it you want them to be useful, wear them.

Fly the island chain and most of the time you'll be within gliding distance of one or more small islands. I don't know what your range is, but if you have to refuel enroute, there are two places where you can. One is on the island of Great Inagua (a bit S of course about midway). Very limited facilites, but they have AVgas (expensive). Leave early, get there in the day. The other place is S. Caicos.

It's a pretty good stretch of open Ocean between Caicos and Puerto Rico and no land in between. If you are aprehensive about the over water stuff (I would be), the make Inagua your fuel stop. From Inagua, cut over and fly along the coast of Hispanola (the Dominican Republic). You'll still have some open water between the Eastern tip of Hispanola and the West tip of Puerto Rico, but its MUCH less than a straight shot from the Caicos (which if I remember is close to 500 miles). Once you get to Puerto Rico, it's a piece of cake into STT.

I suggest you plan to leave early enough to get there before dark if you're going to do it in one day. If you have to, you can stay overnight at Inagua or the Caicos.

Don't forget General Declarations (for customs and Immigration) if you plan to stop either at Inagua or the Caicos. Get lost of copies as you need them to get in and to get out. Get a set (departure) stamped by Customs when you leave Florida (any international airport).

I suggest one flight plan (filed in the US) that includes your stop and the down time for refueling. that goes as far as PR or all the way to STT. The islands aren't good about closing flight plans or filing them. They do the paperwork fine, but don't always tell anyone. You can update enroute by radio and close when you get there.

It you lose comm with MIA enroute, just find the Center freq on you Jepp and talk to an airliner. There are many flying the route and they'll be happy to relay position reports to Miami for you. That way they will always know where you are if you want them too.

It's not complicated, the scenery is gorgeous and the WX is severe clear most of the time. A good forecast will usually hold. If you can hold a heading, you'll get there .... the wind hardly ever changes much.

BTW you'll be smack dab in the Bermuda Triangle, but all the stories are myths.

Flying to VI for me is like driving to Walmart. Stop by at Banyan Air Service at FXE and they will rent you all the overwater gear that you need. They also have all the Gen. Decs and other Customs paperwork. If you have the range go from FXE to Provo in the Turks and Caicos. From there you can go directly to Puerto Plata and follow the coast to San Juan. You can stop for fuel at San Juan Isla Verde Airport, you might as well spend a night and get into the Island Spirit at San Juan. From San Juan it is just a hop and a jump to USVI. At USVI use Bolke great folks and he was my neighbor until he passed away a couple of years ago. You can get flight following by center all the way all the freqs are on a high alt chart, all avialiable at Banyan Parts Mart. Weather is avialiable via 118.4 out of GTK VOR. If you have a GPS it will make the trip a lot easier. Fly at 9,500 feet on the way down it will be nice and cool in the cocpit. Weather isn't even a factor that time of year. Have fun. If you want any more info just call me when you get in at 954-968-3658 or 954-288-8719. Things are slow with us so I should be able to run out to the airport and help you out. I live just 2 miles from FXE. Have fun. Dave Gardner

I went to St. Thomas twice last month in a King Air 200 from Hilton Head, SC...here's what I know:

We had a 6 person raft and 6 life preservers with lights (this equipment can be rented from several southern Florida FBO's).

Not knowing the range of your saratoga, I'd guess your leaving out of FPR, PBI, FXE or a nearby airport. If you can make it non-stop you'll have less paperwork to do. If you need to stop for fuel in Grand Turk or San Juan you'll have to check into their customs.

I left Hilton Head direct for Grand Turk on a Saturday morning at 8am to get through the warning areas before they became hot. This saved us 80 miles not to have to fly the florida coast. The weather over the Caicos Islands was IMC and light to moderate turbulence. Talk to MIA international FSS for an update 866-347-0316. They'll have all the information you need.

I ordered the caribbean trip kit from Jeppeson for around $90. This included enroute charts and plates for the entire route. Must have!

4 hrs & 50 mins after takeoff we arrived in St. Thomas and taxiied to Bohlke International Airways. I called and talked to Roy at Bohlke 340-777-9177 and he did a great job for us. Their new office and hangar are under construction so they use a trailer for now, but I got good service. Alliance was the other choice and I dont' know anything about them.

Landing fee was $50 and parking was $20 /day. Check on your aircraft. Jet fuel was $2.18 /gal so I'd guess avgas is reasonably priced.

Going back to the US, you have to land at a port-of-entry airport to check in with customs. We precleared in St. Thomas, but had to turn in copies of our private aircraft form, passenger cards, and general declaration form to customs when we landed at PBI. This went very easy. Second time on return, we didn't preclear and FPR customs had us take all our luggage out of the aircraft for inspection with the 20 questions. Preclearing is better from my experience. Also, call customs before you leave TIST to give your ETA and include ADCUS in your flight plan. The ADCUS will be eliminated soon, not sure when though.

We stayed in radar contact the whole way down and back and the view was splendid! I will never forget how beautiful this trip was and I'm sure you have alot of great pictures to take along the way.

Good luck!

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