It is hot and humid but beautiful … right now I am sitting in a Mexican restaurant overlooking a bay with white beaches. The US Virgin Islands…what is with the virgin bit exactly? I am exhausted but elated – James has gone off to sleep. I am tired but need to write even though I feel a bit spacy. Every now and then a plane takes off from the airport next door where our little yellow hero is resting…what a contrast this is to where we were just a few hours ago.
STORMSWe had a few very interesting moments last night. When we took off from Belem there was a big storm to the east and the prediction was thunderstorms all the way up to at least 10 degrees N. Storms like the one near the airport have to be avoided at all costs if you want the wings to stay on! It was my turn to fly the left seat and as always when we are heavy it is really stressful escaping gravity and so the towering clouds and rain ahead didn’t do me any good. It took us an hour to get up to FL 080. As darkness descended on us I aimed for a gap in the clouds but by the time we got there it was completely dark so were lucky to pass through with just a few drops. How to avoid the storms…well the Strikefinder helps you avoid the big CB’s by showing you exactly where there lightning strikes are but we had absolutely no idea where the little storms were. We flew into them throughout the night. I said to James just as it was getting dark that if we hit heavy rain and turbulence I would do a U turn and try to find a way around. When we hit the first bumps and rain it was really quite scary but we just kept on going straight ahead – so by the time we hit strong turbulence and heavy rain neither of us did a thing … straight on we went gritting our teeth. In the severe turbulence we had to turn the auto pilot off as in those circumstances we were better pilots. About 10 times during the night we would be flying along calmly and then bang – the turbulence threw us violently around and the rain hammered on the canopy and streamed off the wings and then just as suddenly it would be gone and we would see stars above and both of us would breath a sigh of relief. It reminds me of what someone told me how he interprets flying “hours and hours of quiet (he said boredom but he is off the mark there) interspersed with a few seconds of sheer terror.”
AIRPORT HASSLESOne thing I had forgotten about is how much work it is to deal with the airport admin – customs, immigration, fees, flight plans, arranging security and parking, taxis, fending off husslers, arranging fuel, accommodation, money … so when James and I talking about the hassles we expected during the stop in Georgetown, Guyana we decided to rather push on straight through to the US Virgin Islands. Robbie and few others in Belem warned us about the difficulties we could expect in Georgetown and that is what did it for us. Let’s fly straight on – do 2 legs and avoid Georgetown. So the decision was – either take off at 4 am or take off at sunset and fly through the night. Again. As you know it was another night flight. That makes it 4 nights out of 7 that we have flown right through. It’s quite an experience!THE FLIGHT FROM AFRICA TO BRAZILYes, we were worried but there were alternatives. If we hit headwinds or were running low on fuel we had a number of alternatives – we could head further south to another airport and shorten the leg by as much as 300 miles. As it turned out we had good tailwinds the whole way across so it worked out well – when we landed in Belem we still had about 3.5 hours of fuel left. What does worry us is the flight to Hawaii. There are no alternative airports to land at if we are running low on fuel. None. It’s Hawaii or swim. As I write this I can feel my heart beat faster .. We have about 100 miles less range than we expected and hoped for … so we absolutely have to have tailwinds! Lets see – lets not think about that now … we have a few weeks to go.
CHANGING THE ROUTEJames commented that it feels just like travelling as a student again – we can change our minds and route at the drop of a hat which is just as well. There is some guy in the Marshall Islands flight clearance office who just is not interested in letting us land there. He said there is no AVGAS in the Marshall Islands so when he was told that we could use car fuel he said there is no plane in the world that runs on car fuel … we are getting nowhere with him – so now we are looking at a route change. I think we should head further south and go via Australia … what do you think? TOMORROWWe must sort out the rough running of the engine at idle and reposition the satellite tracker. We should have done more testing before we left to determine the best place to mount the tracker- it works beautifully but if it’s not mounted right … anyway, I think we can fix it tomorrow. A fun flight around the islands is on the cards as a test!IN LOVE Both James and I are deeply in love with the auto pilot. This trip would have been far more difficult without it and I can tell you it flies better (under most circumstances) than James and I put together. By far! Don’t be disappointed. It’s 2009! Of course we both love our little yellow warrior. I asked James at lunch if he was nervous of the Sling breaking in the severe turbulence and neither of us are. We made it and know it is really strong.
ENCOURAGEMENTOne of the first things we do once we are down safely and in a hotel is log on to the internet to see what is happening with our website. We cannot believe the support we are getting – it is so great and it really lifts our spirits. Thanks so much. And of course well done to Michael de Beer who is doing all the work. Mike