Mission Flight to Eleuthera, The Bahamas

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to fly with Bahamas Habitat to Eleuthera, The Bahamas to attend the dedication of the Gary London Vocational Training Centre (British spelling there) at the Campus of Camp Symonette and deliver supplies to Bahamas Methodist Habitat.  I flew down with Steve Merritt (Great Commission Aviation Board Member and Bahamas Habitat President) in a twin-engine Piper Aztec.

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My chariot to The Bahamas. Piper Aztec.

We left early Thursday morning and flew from Raleigh to Orlando, Florida.

IMG_0506 This is the view from my seat of downtown Orlando on final into Orlando Executive Airport (KORL).  We took on two passengers for the flight to Eleuthera and departed around 2PM.  The flight from Orlando to Eleuthera is only 2 hours in the Aztec; we cruised around 160 knots (184 mph) groundspeed.  You do go over the Atlantic and are outside of sight of land for less than half an hour.  Because of this, we wore life vests during the flight.

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View of Grand Bahama.

Once landing in Eleuthera, we were greeted by the “real” Bahamas.  This is not the resorts!  Eleuthera has approximately 11,000 residents, with a 70% unemployment rate.  The residents subsist on fishing (a lot of conch!) and odds and end jobs.  That is the main reason for the vocational center.  The center is going to be programmed to teach diesel mechanics and wood-working, both trades that are in demand and will create much-needed job skills on Eleuthera.  Anyway, since The Bahamas is another country, we had to clear customs and pay the required “duties” and “fees.”

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Customs building. Note the boarded-up windows.
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Inside customs.

Our accommodations for the weekend was Camp Symonette.  This camp is owned by the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church and hosts mission teams who stay and assist with sub-standard housing repairs on the island.  It, of course, is open to any mission team, since this ordained Baptist minister was welcomed.

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Camp Symonette.
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Substandard housing.
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Gary London Vocational Centre.

Let me tell you the food was great as it was cooked/catered by locals.  The bugs weren’t too bad as long as the wind continued to blow but I have a constellation of No-See-Um bites on my arm from the times when the breeze stopped (No, Skin-So-Soft did not work).

Back to flying.  One highlight of the weekend for me was the chance to fly a Columbia 400.  This is the nicest airplane that I have ever piloted.  It is owned by the benefactor of the vocational center above, but she doesn’t like to fly and let her pilot have a free reign of the airplane for the days we were on Eleuthera.  Her pilot offered me the chance to fly the plane and I jumped on it.

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Columbia 400 that I flew.

We took the plane on an excursion to North Eleuthera airport and visited Harbour Island and then on Saturday, we flew to Norman’s Cay (pronounced “Key”).  According to Wikipedia, “Norman’s Cay is a small Bahamian island (a few hundred acres) in the Exumas, a chain of islands south and east of Nassau, that served as the headquarters for Carlos Lehder‘s drug-smuggling operation from 1978 to around 1982.”  In addition, “Norman’s Cay was featured in the 2001 movie Blow, starring Johnny Depp, who portrayed the life story of George Jung, and in Sidney D. Kirpatrick‘s book Turning The Tide.  Norman’s Cay was also referenced in the novel, “Heavy” by George Jung and T. Rafael Cimino. “Heavy” is a sequel to the book “Blow” by Jung and author Bruce Porter and a prequel to the novel “Mid Ocean” by Cimino, who is the nephew of film director Michael Cimino.”

There are only 27 residents on the island who work for a small resort and restaurant.  They are expecting big things for the resort, though, by the investment they have made in the runway.

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On final into Norman’s Cay.

The restaurant was really good for being completely isolated from any supplies and the Cay was postcard worthy.

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Norman’s Cay from the air.
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Ocean view from Norman’s Cay.

We spent a couple of hours on the Cay and then flew back to Eleuthera (about 50 miles).  We left Eleuthera on Sunday morning and flew back to Raleigh.  We encountered some pretty heavy tropical precipitation from Daytona Beach to Savannah, GA where my instrument-training came into practice.

I really enjoyed the trip and we see some great opportunities for Great Commission Aviation students to gain real-world mission experience flying to Eleuthera and assisting organizations there in both re-supply flights, vocational training, and ministry assistance.  I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with Great Commission Aviation, Bahamas Habitat and The Bahamas.

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Final sunset on Eleuthera with the “airport shuttle” in the background (really the camp’s bus).

 

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