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Old 06-06-2009, 08:57 PM
Ron Lee's Avatar
Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275
Default Cayman Islands trip (June 2009)

I just got home from the Caymans. Visited all three islands. Left yesterday from Grand Cayman. Customs at Key West was wonderful. Flew to Colorado today from southern FL (X14). 11-11.5 hours flight time. I will document my experience for whatever that will do to help others.

It was an incredible experience. Flew over Cuba. Island hopped. Got to play with stingrays. Petted a grouper while diving. More to come in the days ahead.

If you get a chance to go with the experienced RV guys on a trip like it.

I will be editing the individual reports as I find mistakes/needed clarifications. I do encourage the folks who have done this before to point out any mistakes. Ideally this will be useful info for others who make the trip in the future.

One motivation for going now is to preempt the need to buy a 406 MHz ELT to go there.

Last edited by Ron Lee : 06-11-2009 at 12:56 PM.
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Old 06-07-2009, 07:33 AM
Ron Lee's Avatar
Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275
Default Part 1: Trip concept and preparation

I knew about the Cayman Islands from other divers. My view was that it was too expensive so I never went diving there. Cozumel was affordable, easy to get to and had good diving.

Then I saw a post from Scott Mills about his planned trip to the Caymans. In his RV no less. How could that be? There was too much water to fly over. Research then showed that you can fly over Cuba. Leaving from the Florida Keys south through the Giron Corridor then south to Grand Cayman or SSE to Cayman Brac was not much more water exposure than my trip to North Eleuthera Bahamas. This sounds doable and would be a great experience.

Jim Baker and Rosie were planning the trip with a nice contingent of RV folks. That would have been the ideal way to do it since they are experienced in this type trip. Unfortunately, other priorities precluded me from going with them so I started making plans to do it on my own.

Rosie’s website of a previous trip was one source I used:

Here is the thread on their 2009 trip:

Another source I looked at was the Cayman Caravan:

Finally for now another great asset that Rosie suggested was here:

For the yearly fee, you get one free Cuban overflight permit, a source for the charts you need, mucho good info on documentation, procedures, etc. I highly recommend it.

Overall, I probably spent more time planning for this trip than any other I have taken. That does not mean that no mistakes were made. Those will be documented at the end.

I needed to understand any nuances of the required IFR flight plan (to go over Cuba), get a customs decal, register for and understand eAPIS, get an English proficient pilots license, plus all the normal trip planning issues on hotels, airports, cheap fuel, weather, etc.

Last edited by Ron Lee : 04-25-2010 at 02:33 PM.
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Old 06-07-2009, 11:12 AM
KirkGrovesRV8 KirkGrovesRV8 is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Paradise,Pa S37
Posts: 734

Wow Ron
This is a trip I really want to make,my wife and I were going to go with Rosie but a baby on the way kept us from going I look forward to hearing about your trip.
All the Best ;-)
RV-9 once the kids are older
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Old 06-07-2009, 01:27 PM
Ron Lee's Avatar
Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275
Default Part 2: First Attempt Cancelled then Off to Florida

After weeks of planning and researching, I finally decided to fly from Colorado to the Florida Keys or Homestead General Aviation airport (X51) on 23-24 May and depart for the Caymans on the following Monday. I registered on eAPIS, went through the AOPA tutorial on eAPIS, had my Customs decal, Cuban overflight permit, IFR flight plan samples, General Declaration samples and blanks, passport, list of cheap fuel, info on likely overnight stops going down and coming back, spare tires, tubes, electrical parts, tools, flotation vest, Flight Guides and Air Chart book along with needed charts for the area south of the Keys.

Then some bad low pressure system set up off the west coast of Florida and created conditions that were unacceptable to me through about 27 May. I only had a three day window on the overflight permit so that was lost. No biggie. On the 28th it started looking good so I planned on a Saturday, 30 May departure. I put in for another overflight permit on Thursday from Caribbean Flying Adventures and got it back that afternoon. That is fast and easy which is why I am very happy with his service.

Departed 00V around 730 AM on Saturday, fuel stop in Tahlequah OK (KTQH). This used to be the site of some parachuting championships many years ago. Then on to Dothan AL (KDHN). About 1040 NM total for the day. Rented the courtesy car overnight and got their rate for a La Quinta hotel. Nothing extraordinary about this stop. It was just a random pick of an airport that should have been open past 5 PM. I assume that arriving after 5 PM for smaller airports means no access to anything. So arrive before 5 PM or go to a larger airport.

Sunday morning early I depart Dothan. I planned on a fuel stop at LaBelle FL (X14) so only had enough fuel to get there with over an hour reserve. Somewhere along the way..possibly around Cross City, I encountered a cloud layer around my cruising altitude of 11,500’ I tried to get inflight status of the extent of the clouds but failed. That will be discussed in the mistakes section. Since I could not verify the horizontal extent, I went under.

I hate flying low. There are other airplanes, it is bumpy. It is hazy. And in this region there are birds. Plus I used more fuel than planned and had to stop in Bartow (KBOW). Then on to Marathon (KMTH) in the Florida Keys. I picked that instead of Homestead (X51) because I had noticed a tendency in the previous week for thunderstorms to be in the area near X51 when Marathon stayed thunderstorm free. It was a gamble.

I flew south over the ocean instead of along the Keys since my previous trip to the Bahamas expanded my flying comfort zone. However I was advised of heavy rain over Marathon as I got close so I made a preliminary diversion towards Key West. Clouds forced me lower than preferred but I may have had no choice. Without in-cockpit real-time info on clouds etc, I do what seems right even though the previous decision about going under the clouds before Bartow was not the best decision.

Soon the thunderstorm/rain moved away and I was able to land at Marathon. I had enough time to get the plane secured for the night and another rain shower came through. I went onto eAPIS and input my departure and return Customs info. I called Rebecca with the Little Cayman Paradise Villas and tentatively reserved a villa noting that there was no guarantee that I would make it the next day.

The FBO recommended the Sea Dell hotel and gave me a ride there. Settled in for the duration, soaked in the pool and talked to some other folks from Colorado Springs. After getting a flight briefing, I filed the instrument flight plan for the following morning. Then relaxed and reviewed info for the next morning.

Next: Will he make it across Cuba and to the Caymans?

Last edited by Ron Lee : 06-10-2009 at 05:46 PM.
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Old 06-07-2009, 06:38 PM
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Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275
Default Part 3: Cuba Overflight to the Cayman Islands

Monday, 1 June arrives and I get ready. I call for another briefing and get VFR local and in the Cayman Islands but a thunderstorm cell around Havana moving northeast. That could put it in my path. I get a taxi back to the airport, put on the 12 inch N numbers, check the internet for weather info, fill the fuel tanks, put on the flotation device and get in the plane. While the low clouds that were seen earlier have cleared enough to get airborne, I am concerned about the reported weather over Cuba.

My options if weather is encountered is a diversion around weather (5 hours of fuel for a 2.5 hour flight) or return to the Keys. I don’t know what would happen if I returned but if it was a safety issue then I would deal with any yelling while safely on the ground.

Take-off around 0920 ET and climb over the airport to about 4,000’ then call Miami to pick up my clearance. My cruise altitude is 1,000’ lower than filed but no problem. My first fix is TADPO. This GNS 430 picture is after leaving Marathon on the way to TADPO (over water!).

Somewhere before UVA I had my first view of Cuba. This is looking to the west of my flight path just prior to making landfall. It was probably around this time that the weather appeared to be fine so that helped substantially.

Landfall is towards UVA VOR:

After passing UVA (Varder) the next point is the VOR on an island south of the Cuban mainland...UCL or Cayo Largo

From there a turn slightly east to go to LESOM and Cayman Brac (MWCB).

Around (or not long after passing) LESOM I saw Cayman Brac then off to the right is Little Cayman shown below:

This is on final to Cayman Brac where I will clear Customs/immigration, pay money including about $18 US for three puffs from an insect killing spray can. They take USD which was worth less than Cayman currency.

I went through immigration where I submitted copies of the General Declaration form, cleared through Customs, then went outside, around the building and upstairs to pay my fees. One form has a small section that you keep. Do NOT lose it. You turn it in upon departure from the islands and may have to pay a hefty fine if you lose it. I kept it with my passport.

I also submitted a flight plan for the quick trip to Little Cayman. Once that was done and the plane was fueled, I took a taxi to see a local beach and damage from the hurricane last year. Apparently there is not a hotel open now so tourism must be hurting.

One note of caution. There are multiple Twin Otter flights between the three islands daily. On descent into Cayman Brac, the tower controller asked me several times of my position to ensure no conflict with a Twin Otter departing MWCB for an island to the west. Do establish contact with the tower!

Next: Over to Little Cayman

Last edited by Ron Lee : 06-19-2009 at 07:55 PM.
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Old 06-07-2009, 08:49 PM
KirkGrovesRV8 KirkGrovesRV8 is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Paradise,Pa S37
Posts: 734

Way cool Ron!!
All the Best ;-)
RV-9 once the kids are older
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Old 06-08-2009, 07:30 AM
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Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275
Default Part 4: Cayman Brac to Little Cayman

It is 10 miles or so between these two islands so just a short flight. I was cleared to depart Cayman Brac (MWCB). Back taxi on the runway and depart east. Left turn towards the west where even I soon find Little Cayman. As I pass over the east end I realize that I never found the coordinates of the airport. I imagined needing to ask the Cayman Brac tower for info on finding the airport. How embarrassing. Then I realized that the island is not that big so I should be able to find it. Turns out that all the airports here that I landed at are at the west end of the island.

Sure enough as I approach the west end I see the airport. It is not that obvious in this picture but is above the light colored dirt (dried up Booby Pond):

The Cayman Brac controller asked me to contact him when I turned final and that is shown here landing to the east:

I was staying at the Paradise Villas and they are visible along the ocean above and to the right of the east end of the runway. When I get to the east end of the runway I turn right towards an apron area then realize that I am crossing a road. That is the area where the Twin Otters stop for passengers. I go back to the north side of the runway and stop in the grassy area. Marc comes over to pick up my stuff and drive me the short distance to the office (closest white roofed building just east of the east end of the runway).

Here is the plane in the grass parking area with my villa in the background above the spinner:

This is the plane/parking area from the villa:

Later I moved the plane further away from the runway and started the tie down process. I had acquired some rebar to hammer into the ground on the advice of the real RV Cayman experts so I get out the baby sledge hammer and scrounge around the baggage area for the rebar. Unfortunately they were missing. I forgot to bring them. So I start to walk around hoping that someone left some to make up for my mistake. Sure enough at the edge of the grass are three yellow tie downs made from rebar and some other metal to make a loop:

Bill Souza left them there. Graci. I secured the plane and then realized that I had forgotten my canopy cover. Not good. At this point I know that I am going to need to have a "mistakes" section in this report. It seems that I just can't make a trip like this without some issues. On a few occasion it is ATC, but most of the time it is a "deficiency" on my part.

I would read the recent thread on the RV trip to the Caymans for details on Paradise Villas. The folks there were great. I had great service. I was able to use their phone for local calls and do internet work. Supposedly there is Wifi on the porch facing the office but I do not have a laptop. I am looking into a netbook for this.

While I was in Cayman Brac in the tower building, I got the local number to use to call in flight plans. It is 948-1222 then ask for AIS. They open at 645 AM (unknown if this applies Saturday and Sunday). So I called from the office to input my flight plan from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman two days later (Wednesday).

One difference between their flight plans and the ones in the US is that ours has six blocks for date and time whereas theirs only has four...for time. I assume that they note somewhere when the date is later than the current date.

I also made my hotel reservation for Wednesday and Thursday nights plus arranged a stingray City trip with Moby Dick in Grand Cayman.

On Tuesday I made two dives with Conch Club Divers. Bloody Bay Wall is an impressive wall structure. It is probably the sheerest that I have seen. Coral is in good shape. Sea critters seem plentiful. I saw two nurse sharks, one turtle, a pipefish, petted a friendly grouper a lot and got to see a green moray eel and a grouper work together to try to catch a fish. Very interesting.

The diving is different than Cozumel. The boat moors on dive buoys then you go in, head one direction on the wall a while then come back higher.

Overall it was a relaxing stay. From my limited view of the two islands (Cayman Brac and Little Cayman), I would not recommend them if you want a fine sandy beach experience. This is the "beach" area outside of Paradise Villas:

While I did see a relatively OK sand beach in Cayman Brac, they were not well cleaned and I am guessing that there may be a lot of rocky material in the water.

Another neat thing about Paradise Villas. They provide bikes to ride around. The pool is smallish but adequate and it was quite refreshing after the challenge of getting there.

Next: Getting to Grand Cayman

Last edited by Ron Lee : 06-20-2009 at 02:07 PM.
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Old 06-08-2009, 08:48 AM
accuratemac accuratemac is offline
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Palmdale, CA.
Posts: 29

Glad you had a chance to use the rebar tiedowns I left for someone to use.
I through someone might have a good use for them. I painted them yellow for high visibility so no one would trip over them.
Bill Souza
SoCal RV's
RV-10 N279RB
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Old 06-08-2009, 10:17 AM
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Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275

Thank You Bill. I needed to go through the emails of last weekend/Friday to verify that they were yours to give you proper credit.
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Old 06-09-2009, 11:05 PM
Ron Lee's Avatar
Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275
Default Part 5: Little Cayman to Grand Cayman

After a relaxing two days on Little Cayman, it was time to head over to Grand Cayman. The draw there was Stingray City and Seven Mile beach. You may recall that a flight plan is needed to go between islands...probably even pleasure flights around an island. Since I planned on leaving Paradise Villas before the office opened, and I needed to call my flight plan in, I had done that a day or so before.

I loaded up the plane, wiped down the moisture on the plane and removed the tiedowns and placed them safely back at the edge of the grassy area for the next pilot.

I timed my take-off so that I could fly by the dive boat as it headed to the dive sites. Here I am taxiing to Runway 9.

I was a bit early so had to loiter a bit looking at the fringe reef and various buildings. Finally the boat left dock and I tried to time it to get it in the opening in the reef. I was a bit late but you still see the opening and the boat in this picture.

I then flew near the boat as they waved good-bye. I contacted the Cayman Brac tower and advised them that I was on my way to Grand Cayman. I climbed to 4500’ which is lower than desired. Since I was diving the day before, I keep the altitude low to preclude getting bent. It is also why I did not dive in Grand Cayman. I wanted three days outgassing time before I flew home at or around 14,000’

I was handed over to Grand Cayman and they asked me to advise them when I was at some point. I did not understand it so I told them so. They asked me to advise when I saw the east end of the island in sight. That may have been the original request. It seems that it is always best to ask if the ATC instruction is not understood. I may appear slow, dim-witted or incompetent but better that than to do something stupid.

Soon the east end did appear and I was instructed to fly along the north shore and enter left base for Runway 9. The following picture shows the fringe reef on the east end.

As I approached the airport I took this picture of the general area of Seven Mile beach. The beach area is not really visible.

The runway looks like this landing to the east. The first apron area to the left is where GA aircraft go. It may be Taxiway C. It does not require a real short field landing but don’t use the whole runway.

The tower had me contact Island Air (FBO) once I got off the runway. A woman came out and guided me to a parking spot. It had no tie-downs and I hand moved the plane a bit later to a spot that did have tie-downs. Here is the picture that proves that I landed at Grand Cayman. Before you see the picture, can anyone guess what I had to do after leaving the plane?

Yes, I had to make sure that customs/immigration was happy and then pay fees. I don’t recall what I did with the lady at the first window on the right (once I entered the Customs building) but whatever it was was quick. Maybe it was showing a General Declaration form. I forget. I had all my documentation in a 1" binder so the process was painless. (Before I go too far, the building that you go into is the one story gray one at the left side of this picture. A truck is in front. The larger building at the right is the Island Air FBO. You buy fuel from them.

After I did whatever documentation with the lady, I went left, to the right then left to the AIS guy. There I paid my fees and did all the paperwork to leave Friday. Again I may be missing something but I did file a flight plan (or at least do the paperwork). I may have not had to pay some fee (like navigation) since I had the paper work from Cayman Brac showing that I already paid it. Keep all your paperwork together when you go into customs/immigration/AIS.

I initially planned on direct ATUVI but he told me that I would probably get the RIKEL 2 departure. He gave me the paperwork on it which I already had from Caribbean Flying Adventures. Then he showed me where to get a weather briefing (to the left as I faced his office).

Then I went across the way to Island Air and had them bring fuel in. Only seven gallons but I wanted a full tank crossing the water. Pay the bill, secure the plane and finally caught a taxi to my hotel (about $18.75 USD). Ouch.

The intent was to accomplish anything today that I could and leave minimal activities to the Friday morning pre-departure period.

Next: Grand Cayman stuff including Stingray City

Last edited by Ron Lee : 06-15-2009 at 05:32 PM.
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