Here are some photos from very early on in the Honolulu – Majuro flight, along with the story from Jean:
Marvelous Marshall Islands hold us a little longer.
After a quick turn-around in Honolulu we got airborne to the Marshall Islands at 4:30 in the most glorious afternoon, climbing straight up to 6000 ft. We were well settled in on the cruise when the sunset began. Flying west, albeit at a modest 100 knots seems to stretch the sunset quite considerably and once again we were treated to the most incredible concert of clouds seeming to dance in the most brilliant clean orange sunlight.
I say clean orange because unlike our warm red African sunsets made so by the dust in the air, out here there is very little dust so the orange sunset skies are just that, clean, bright and refreshing energizing us for the night ahead. It is at times like this that I feel so privileged and incredibly lucky.
Our range on this leg was a little less critical than our previous. After refueling in Honolulu we established our true fuel figures. After the 21 hour flight of which the first half was in a headwind, we had landed with 2 hours of fuel left. This meant that with a sure 23 hour endurance the 19 hour flight to Marshall Islands beginning with a good tail wind should be a relaxing jolly across the central Pacific. Forecast weather was great and we had purchased some good reading material for the leg and we still had bags of snacks that Matt had so generously gone shopping forat ”Trader Joe’s” just before our departure, so better set for a lovely evening we could hardly be. Or could we? After an hour or so of total darkness the almost full moon peeped up behind as magically bathing the clouds floating beneath us in that cool moonlight blue. Both of us being well rested enjoyed chatting about our recently realized common interest, which happens to be sailing. What reading material had we both purchased, yep, sailing stuff.
The flight went very smoothly and we maintained track and altitude most of the way flying through a few small towers of cloud that poked their heads up into our track. A few of them washed the plane and some shook us awake. Only once did one of the developments manifest lightning and via an airliner relay we got clearance to route 10 degrees south for 109 miles before rejoining our original track. Our only source of stress was that our HF radio. We had had good coms with San Francisco oceanic radio up to about half way across to Honolulu on our first ocean leg. But that was the last we ever heard any voice come out of the static. We were not stressed by not being able to give hourly position reports because our trusty Indigo sat was dropping pins and our valued ground crew was calling through our position reports to San Francisco. However regulation states that we are to have established two way communications for the oceanic flights.
Anyway, the moonlit night turned to a spectacular sunrise from behind us and became another beautiful day to be floating along over my favorite ocean. Patrick was the first to spot the turquoise blue gems ahead.
We spent the next hour marveling at the sight of these long narrow foliage filled islands framed by bright turquoise seas and white sand beaches, as we made our way to the runway on Majuro, the capital of Marshall Islands and main port of entry. Patrick executed another perfect landing and we taxied to the apron to be welcomed by the ever friendly airport staff. Ricky up in the tower made sure we were collected and taken to a lovely air conditioned hotel at the far end of the island after customs had fetched our passports, gone away with them and returned them stamped. Could not be easier. Last time James and I stopped here in 2011 we had to make do with multiple trips with jerry cans for fuel from suspect gas stations. As luck would have it Ricky knew about a few drums of avgas left over from some past mission in the islands. We wanted to leave early the following morning but had to wait for permission for the avgas to be sold to us. We also were awaiting our flight clearance into Guam.
So, before hitting the sack for some shut eye we decided we needed at least another day in this paradise. After having a chat in the shade of the trees at the marina and longingly looking at the moored yachts, we slipped into our cool air-conditioned bungalows and slept through the afternoon till early morning.
We were up and about early the next morning and had breakfast overlooking the bay of moored fishing boats and in the foreground some amazing yachts. We were catching up on our social networking and had still not heard about the fuel. In the mean time I had contacted the local yacht club with the thought of us going out for a sail or possibly find a bargain boat. A short walk down the road we met with a gentleman who took us out to see a stunning 54ft yacht. Drooling all over it we eventually managed to leave it after a good chat to the very friendly man who took time to show us everything in detail. Who knows, what might happen next…..
Back at the hotel Ricky had left a message that the fuel was all go and we walked across the road to the office of Romeo who we paid about ten dollars a gallon for the two drums and arranged to have it taken to the airport later in the afternoon.
We booked out the hotel and headed for the airport to see if we could get the HF radio working.
Out there on the apron in the middle of a cloudless sky temperatures and humidity are uncomfortably high, the last kind of conditions you feel like working on a plane in. The thought of doing another flight fruitlessly trying to contact San Fran every hour was motivation enough to take a look to see if we could locate the gremlin stopping our High frequency transmissions blasting out to San Francisco a mere 4000 nautical miles away. Opening the canopy a wave of boiling air escaped, everything in the plane was almost untouchably hot. We got over it and I dived in under the panel
and within 30 seconds found what I thought was the problem. Another few minutes and we were pretty sure we had the source of our problem.
Where the antenna cable was routed through the side of the fuselage skin, it was in a plastic brake line tube and a small rubber grommet. From there the antenna routed slightly back to the wing tip. This pulled the antenna cable back up hard against the thin plastic and the little rubber grommet in the thin aluminum skin. Recipe for a failure! The transmission output very quickly had melted the tube, see pics, and cut/ melted through the grommet and the cable that was the antenna was up hard against the fuselage skin. The Sling although many great things is not a great HF antenna.
We removed the tuner and set it up with the antenna holding it away from the airframe. Worked a treat, within the first three calls we were happily chatting to SF. We reinstalled it with better insulation, using a short piece of our most useful ‘Pee tube,’ a pen from Ramada hotel and a bit of the original tubing to keep it from making a merge with the airframe. First test call and
voila! Worked perfectly! The wonderful thing about testing HF that I always am astounded by is that you don’t need to fly. Works perfectly from the ground.
During that repair exercise our fuel arrived and Patrick diligently filled all six our tanks using a pipe to syphon from the drums on the back of the delivery truck.
So we were all set to leave at 4am local time the next morning. Flight plan in and goodbyes to the friendly airport staff with everything set for the early departure. The only detail left was
flight clearance into Guam.
We got to the new hotel, booked in and decided to have an early dinner and then contact Michelle to see if we had the clearance. We enjoyed a lovely tuna steak dinner and made it back to our cool
room to rest early for our early departure. We connected to the wi-fi to check on weather and clearance, dang, our clearance had not been approved, what a pity, we were so ready. We called Ricky in the tower and told him to cancel our flight plan.
I settled onto my bed and disappeared into my new book and Patrick spent some time looking at ways around Guam.
We woke up early this morning to the sound of rain. Still no clearance and rain all over the Marshalls and Guam.
Options are to await clearance into Guam and see what the weather is doing, or try get clearance to some islands south of the Guam route missing the US Air Force base and weather. Michelle and The team at TAF are doing what they can. For now we wait and see. Patrick has found a Taiwanese hotel down the road and booked us in there for tonight. It all makes the adventure an adventure.
I love it!