We are in Barbados. The island is 21 km long and 14 km wide and the total population is 260,000. Tourism is the most important industry here and I can see why. The people are open and friendly, there is a kind of relaxed party atmosphere and the weather is great. The tourists run to the warm sea and pearly white beaches of the Caribbean islands when it freezes over in December in their part of the world. Right now its low season so we could easily get a hotel room. We are staying at the Golden Sands. Sounds posh right? Not my favourite.
Some places you go to there are lots of pretty girls like the Czech Republic – Barbados is not known for that speciality from what I could see so far. Just thought I would mention it!
We took off at 3 am – an hour later than we wanted even though we got to the airport 2 hours early. Nelson Mandela International Airport. Paying the landing fees again seemed complicated as did filing the flight plan. Then we were about to go and the ATC had some issue with the flight plan and understanding the amount of time we would be in the air and our endurance. A take-off over the sea at night is an interesting experience because one minute there are lots of lights around and the next there is pitch blackness everywhere. It needs real focus. We wobbled around a bit but were safe. Mostly.
After 5 hours the sun came up and life became sweeter. The thing about flying at night over water is that if you have an emergency like an engine failure it is much more risky to handle than if you are flying in the day where you can actually see the surface of the water. Not that we had any issues but we did talk about it and prepare. We decided that if we had an engine failure at night we would pull the parachute. Only to save us from hitting the water too fast because we see it too late. The person on the left flies the plane and the person on the right does the radio calls, activates the ETL and PLB and prepares the emergency equipment ready for a quick exit after ditching. That's the plan.
The night flights are tough because of the lack of sleep. You can't really sleep on these flights. Although we are pretty relaxed once we have been going for a few hours and everything is running smoothly, ideally you want to be able to lie down to sleep and that we cannot do. The seats are comfortable but still it's not my feather bed.
The tailwinds kept us company for the whole flight and at times we had 25 knots from straight behind. Instead of a 19 hour flight it only took 17 hours. For two thirds of the way across we kept contact with Dakar which meant we were talking easily 2,000 km clear as anything. Then we were handed over to New York and it was too difficult to maintain comms. The HF wire antenna which runs from the fuselage front to the right hand wingtip then to the top of the vertical stabilizer is a fixed length which means that it sends and receives certain frequencies perfectly and others not well at all. So we switched to using the satellite phone which was given to us along with the trackers by Gareth Willers from Indigosat. If you lose contact with Oceanic Control when you are in the middle of a big cold dark ocean they tend to get all panicky and stuff. For us it's ok really because we know we have 2 trackers with lots of eyes on the little dot on the screen, a satellite phone, ELT, PLB, HF radio,
main VHF radio and backup VHF means we feel connected and know that someone will know where we are at all times especially if we start pressing the red buttons.
Our emergency water survival equipment consists of a dry cold water survival suit each, 2 man life raft, life jackets, flares, dye, smoke, handheld radio, PLB, tracker, first aid kit and then some food and enough water for 5 days. That should do. Anyway, we won't need it but it's good to have it. Like life insurance, you don't need it but you do.
From now on Patrick sits left every flight. After Oshkosh I am heading home and Patrick will be on his own. He is managing perfectly. He does all the flight planning and has done half of the flying up to now. Of course the real time you need to have your wits about you is when stuff goes wrong like in unexpected bad weather popping up all around you. That's when a cool head, training and experience helps.
The part that needs a firm hand and experience is dealing with customs, immigration, airport handlers, refuelers, airside drivers, taxi drivers, airport touts, money changers, incompetent briefing officers, weather forecasters, police, military scam artists and the odd nutcase.
Today we had a day off and took a taxi tour around the island. It gave us a good sense of what the country is about. It's nice here – I would recommend it.
Tomorrow we are flying to the Bahamas – it will be a nice 10 hour flight. We are looking forward to seeing the Caribbean from the air. Azure blue sea and white beached islands. Let's see if it turns out like I imagine it to be.
So I became a grandfather today for the second time. A little girl born to my son Stuart and his wife Emma. Riley North Blyth, welcome to the world.