We flew to Grand Cayman in our Trinidad as part of a pilot’s association event called the Cayman Caravan. Although it was very long plane ride each way, Anjelica was fantastic. We bring activities for her, so she is always busy with a game, book, napping, or simply looking out the window; she hardly ever complains. We first flew into to Key West, where all the pilots met up, had special training classes, and rented the emergency gear that is needed to fly long distance over open water. Then they team the pilots up into small groups that are responsible to keep an eye on each other while flying over water and while in Cuban airspace.
Seeing Cuba from the air brought back a lot of memories to me of my visits there while working on the Soviet ship. We used to dock in Grand Cayman every cruise, also. So much has changed, but there’s something fundamental about places and people you knew well a long time ago that brings you right back, no matter how different things appear to be.
We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary while there, also. We had booked our hotel at a place we had a great experience with in the past. But this year, a new addition was under construction, and it was noisy and dusty everywhere we turned. After a very heated debate with the hotel manager, who did not intend to let us out of our guaranteed reservation, we moved to another hotel, which was calm, peaceful, and absolutely beautiful. It was much more expensive, but the peace and serenity were well worth it. I agreed with Lou that it wasn’t right for guests to pay full price for a hotel expecting it to be just as advertised, only to arrive and find most of the property is a hardhat zone. Once the hotel situation was worked out, we had a wonderful, albeit quiet vacation.
The flight back was nerve-wracking. We traveled from Grand Cayman, over Cuba and to Key West fine, and it was not congested getting through customs, because Lou was able to finagle the group schedule to get us a very early takeoff time from Cayman. He took a catnap, while I flew a good part of the leg up from Florida. I can fly, navigate, and communicate with air traffic control just fine. It’s the takeoff and landing that require the most skills, and particularly maneuvering near airports where there are other planes to keep track of. That intimidates me. I was doing the easy stuff while he napped, because he really wanted to be able to get home in one day. While he was sleeping, I flew over an active wildfire in Florida, and got a new perspective on the devastating impact of fire. After landing in North Carolina to refuel, we learned there were huge storms brewing on our route home. I wanted to stay put and wait for the weather to clear out. Lou wanted to go home. Naturally, we went home. We have a storm scope in the plane which shows storm cells based on clusters of lightning strikes. We were in the Virginia / Maryland area when the scope lit up. Lou was working with air traffic control to find a route around the storms, but the options were dwindling. The controller tried to get us to fly east, but Lou didn’t want us to get stranded over open water with no place to land, and in this type of dire situation, the pilot ultimately determines what to do. We ended up being essentially trapped, surrounded by large cells in every direction. With no airport at which to land, we could only fly in circles until finally, a small hole opened up that we could escape through. I kept quiet through it all, but I was frightened, and wished we had stayed over in North Carolina and flown home the next day. Lou, on the other hand, felt that he had demonstrated that he was completely right that we could make it home ok, and that if he had listened to the air traffic controller’s advice we would have been screwed and no doubt crashed into the sea. I didn’t bother sharing my view that the better decision would have been to stay put until the storm passed, and never have been in that situation at all.