The following article on combining sailing travels with airborne adventures in foreign countries was submitted to SSCA for publication in 2006.
Certainly one of the joys of long distance cruising is visiting new places and getting a glimpse of foreign lands. Unfortunately our waterborne life too often restricts us to seeing only the coastlines and the few miles inland we may choose to walk.
Aboard Ventana we have adopted a delightful practice that has added immeasurably to our enjoyment of the many countries we have visited in our 11 years of cruising. Our secret is to see as many places as we can from the vantage point of a small airplane.
I know many cruisers are also pilots as it is quite common to have a dozen cruisers get together and find 6 pilots in the crowd. It is understandable that so many sailors fly as the two sports are similar in that they involve weather, navigation, radios, and operating a complex machine to interact with nature.
Though I am only a moderately experienced private pilot I have had no trouble renting planes and I would encourage the many other cruising pilots to explore this option. And if you are not a pilot yourself ask around the anchorage and you are bound to find one who will fly and let you share the cost of what will surely be a highlight for everyone.
If we anticipate just flying for an hour or two I will usually take the instructor in the right seat and let them watch while I fly, but if we are going on a longer trip I’ll get checked out to rent the plane on my own and off we go.
We have rented planes in over a dozen cruising stops and each flight has been memorable. In the Virgin Islands we explored all the anchorages we would later visit by boat and many that were out of the way or not suitable for our yacht. In Bonaire I got checked out to fly on my own and later took planeload after planeload of cruisers for sightseeing trips around the island. In St. Bart’s after marveling at the airplanes nearly skimming the mountaintop road directly in the landing path I got to try doing the same, while from Panama city we were able to fly right along the Panama canal and then out to the San Blas Islands where we buzzed our friends still at anchor in the swimming pool. On Martinique I had the opportunity to rent an ultralight seaplane and fly over all the spectacular bays on the windward side which we missed by boat. From Tahiti we flew over to Moorea and descended through the high valleys with towering green mountains on both sides.
Our stop in Oriental North Carolina allowed us to rent a tiny Cessna 152 so we could make a pilgrimage to Kitty Hawk where Wilbur and Orville Wright started it all. Visits to Trinidad, Martha’s Vineyard and New Zealand have all been enhanced by our aerial perspective.
In Australia I was able to get my US pilots license endorsed and we made a two week flying trip from Canberra, the capital to the Snowy Mountains, Adelaide and far into the outback, later returning along the beautiful Murray River. A second trip took us by commercial airliner from Darwin to Alice Springs where I rented a Cessna 172 so we could fly to Ayers Rock for a 3 day visit. In between these I was able to fly gyroplanes to a number of out of the way air fields where we often chased the kangaroos off the grass before landing.
Foreign rates are a bit higher than the US but in general we have paid around $100-$150 per flight hour for a Piper Cherokee or a Cessna 172 or a bit more for a Cessna 182. Since you can cover a lot of ground at 110 knots and can divide the cost over the 4 seats it seems well worth the expense to add a new perspective to your travels. If you are a pilot but not current it is an easy matter to take an instructor with you for an hour or two flight and they can help navigate and handle the radio communication.
So to all the pilots out there cruising I urge you to check out the local flight school or flying club at your next destination and see what your boat looks like from the air.
Commodores Rob and Dee
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