999 Nautical Miles
When the opportunity came about to log 999 nautical miles over open ocean as pilot in command ferrying a Diamond DA40, I immediately said "Yes!" My friends were less than enthusiastic.
"Aren't you scared?"
"You've got more guts than me."
To which I replied, "Well, what's a girl to do? I can't turn down at least eight hours cross country in my logbook when I'm going for my instrument rating!"
The morning of the flight dawned stormy. Thunder and lightning, so bright it was like someone was shining a torch over my closed eyelids, had kept me from sleeping soundly through the night.
I called in an automated weather report – the local tower at Henry E. Rohlson Airport (TISX) didn’t open until 7am, and it was MVFR bleak, so as a back up, I checked the radar app on my iPhone … and it definitely didn’t look too promising – north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic looked pretty good, but the clouds and thunderstorm activity was socked in over the 200 or so nautical miles between me and there.
I headed to the airport still optimistic though, because there is one truism about weather in the Caribbean – if you don’t like it, wait ten minutes it will change.
I met with my co-pilot at the FBO and called in a WX briefing. It confirmed what we could see as together we reviewed the radar and forecast. We analyzed the movement trend of the systems and it appeared that if we could find a VFR window to depart and get across Puerto Rico we should be fine. It was blue skies all the way north of Turks and Caicos.
My co-pilot was also instrument rated and we had a nice glass cockpit – the Garmin G1000 so if we were in a pinch we could file an IFR flight plan. But the goal of this flight was to have VFR conditions and allow me to log as many hours as PIC as possible… so we looked for our window.
Thirty minutes later, after frequently checking the radar, he turned to me and said, ‘What do you want to do?”
“Let’s get off this rainy island,” I replied, not feeling rushed (it was a Sunday after all!) but confident we had our VFR minimum requirements and could depart.
All our customs and EAPIS requirements were filed – pre flight was done, flight plan and refueling discussed – all that was required was to get in the plane and go. We lifted off through tight VFR minimums. As we flew through 4500 feet the cloud layers opened up and we had room to get to Puerto Rico.
Flying through the Tango transition of SJU (San Juan’s International Airport) is always surreal. An airport corridor that allows you to fly right across the middle of two active busy runways at 2000 feet reminds me of what a good job ATC does.
Heading north along the coast of Puerto Rico, we flew past the 16th century citadel, Castillo San Felipe del Morro - also knows as El Morro Fort - perched on the cliff and guarding the harbor to Old San Juan – and I imagined the Galleon ships that once would have passed by looking up at the imposing walls – and here we were in our sleek little airplane looking down on the Fort a scant few hundred years later.