The Liberty Gazette
January 10, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Imagine wandering around tall fluffy white clouds sporting dark grey underbellies when you spot what looks like shadows on the water that seems to extend forever in every direction in hues from azure to turquoise in the shallower parts. To the west where the Tongue of the Ocean reaches depths greater than 4,000 feet it’s deep blue awes you. Those shadows become more pronounced, breaking into several pieces of more jagged shapes. Then the dense vegetation, low scrub, mangrove, mahogany and logwood trees dotting low flat surfaces start to jump out at you. You’ve been looking for these islands ever since leaving Nassau 40 miles ago and they have magically appeared stretching angularly across the horizon.
This magical paradise with its exotic pink sand beaches, “sea glass,” buried treasure, pirates and rum runners, sits right smack in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. The major airlines only serve seven destinations in the Bahamas so exploring the “Out Islands” (700 islands and 2,000 cays) of this exotic land is best by light plane or boat. You can charter a flight from Florida or Nassau to some of the out island resorts but even some charter operators with their bigger, faster aircraft cannot land on the shorter or crushed corral runways.
Approaching the islands you soon spot a 3,000-foot-long airstrip on the south end of one of them. Turning downwind in the traffic pattern you see an aircraft in the lagoon east of the island, a DC-3 that ditched in the 1980s and now rests among the corral in waters so shallow it sits above the surface during periods of low tide – one of many casualties of drug smuggling. This is the notorious Norman’s Cay.
The Bahamas is part of the greater Caribbean that stretches from the tip of Florida all the way to the northeast coast of South America over to the Cayman Islands and Cancun and back to Florida again. The northern parts include the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos. At the southeast portion are the Windward Islands where peaks of mysterious jungle covered volcanoes are often shrouded in clouds. Many of the spices we use daily come from here.
The Bahamas are a popular destination, especially during winter months when “snowbirds” come for the 70-80 degree weather. Like Canada geese, people in the northern parts of the continent migrate to warmer climates in cooler months.
Pilots, too, fly south for the winter and the islands are a favorite destination, easily accessible from Florida. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism promotes the country’s amenities. Annual activities planned to attract pilots and show off the beauty of these islands include an air race and an aerial treasure hunt. The Great Bahamas Air Race took place in mid-December and was won by our friend Alan Crawford in his Lancair Legacy. The week-long Bahamas Treasure Hunt begins February 12 and will cover more than 930 miles as participants use their airplanes to search for clues while enjoying the sun, sea, beaches, scuba diving, fishing, and relaxing.
Having had the opportunity to fly in the islands for my job in the past, I look forward to returning and enjoying their charms at a less hectic pace in the future.