Over the past few issues I’ve been describing experiences to faraway destinations. Why not for once do something abroad but closer to home.
When I just returned from my Around the World journey, many people asked what was the most beautiful and unique place I went to. To their surprise, I explained that when I want to relax and enjoy both the destination and the freedom of flying, the best for me is the Bahamas.
Let’s describe Marsh Harbour, the capital of the Abacos, in the northeast Bahamas. There are several islands with the most well-known being Great Abaco. Then you have Elbow Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Guana Cay, Man-o-War Cay, and Walkers Cay.
All of the Abacos have an interesting history. The Abacos were first inhabited by the Lucayans. Then came settlers fleeing the American Revolution in the late 18th century. They basically settled down in places such as New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay.
Marsh Harbor International Airport (MYAM) lies about 175 nautical miles east of Palm Beach, Florida. Leaving Florida’s eastern coastline, you have a short flight over the pass before flying along the island of Grand Bahama (where Freeport is located) before arriving into Marsh Harbour.
The Marsh Harbour airport received extensive improvements and is one of the few airports in the Bahamas that now features a taxiway for the single runway, 09/27. Three months ago a brand new terminal for commercial aviation opened, and a new control tower should be open in the next few months.
The airport is served by a couple of FBOs. The one recommended is called Cherokee Air, where a charming lady by the name of Angelique will be taking good care of you.
In order to fly to the Bahamas and Marsh Harbour, you do need to file a flight plan (VFR or IFR) and ForeFlight, flightplan.com or Duats will help you secure the correct information for your flight plan. You will also need to file an eAPIS report announcing to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that you are leaving the country.
Upon arrival you will need to present to the Bahamian authorities a Bahamas immigration card (one per person) as well as three copies of a document called a general declaration –– or GenDec –– form (known in the Bahamas as the C7A). You can easily find it online. Most Bahamian airports of entry also now require an Arrival form.
Strangely enough, the Bahamas do not require a U.S. passport or any other kind of passport to enter the islands. A photo ID, i.e. a driver’s license, is the requirement, but as you are fully aware a U.S. passport or foreign passport with the appropriate visa or documentation is required to fly back from the Bahamas to the mainland USA.
Air traffic control service, whether flying IFR or VFR, is pretty well done and you will have radar coverage up to about 3,000 feet MSL. The U.S. also allows you to fly from any domestic airport directly to the Bahamas –– there is no requirement to fly out of an airport of entry or an airport with customs and immigration.
As in the U.S., when you arrive in the Bahamas you are required to make your first landing at an airport of entry (AOE) to clear Bahamian Immigration and Customs, submit your GenDecs, and pay a landing fee. Marsh Harbour is an AOE. When you depart the Bahamas you also have to fly out of an AOE after filing a departure GenDec and paying a $25 per-person (including pilot) fee.
When leaving the Bahamas you need to:
- file a flight plan;
- return your C7 GenDec forms;
- pay a $25 departure tax per person;
- pay a $50 handling fee to the government of the Bahamas;
- file an eAPIS;
- call U.S. Customs at least an hour before arrival to confirm that they will be open, and also confirm that they have received the eAPIS filing, and confirm the arrival time;
- understand that the arrival time given to customs is good for one hour before and one hour after the time given;
The Marsh Harbour airport offers an RNAV approach, but keep in mind that there is no working control tower or local ATC radar to verify that you are where you are supposed to be and to provide separation from any VFR traffic.
Also, until the tower opens there is only a common traffic advisory frequency, 122.8, which is the same frequency used by every airport in the Bahamas except for the towers at Nassau, Freeport, and Exuma International. So it is customary and highly advised to begin and end your position advisories with the name of your destination airport so there is no misunderstanding from anyone listening as to your whereabouts and intentions.
When you land at Marsh Harbour, linemen will meet you and bring your luggage to the customs counter. Clearing customs and immigration takes no more than two minutes per person, and then you are on your way to Marsh Harbour. There are many, many choices for accommodations. On the main island of Abaco, where the airport is located, you can settle in one of the hotels in downtown Marsh Harbour, starting with the Abaco Beach Resort or the Conch Marina.
If going further doesn’t deter you, you can take a cab to Winding Bay where you will find the Abaco Club, which features beautiful private homes on a fantastic golf course designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie. The property has been managed by the Ritz Carlton organization as a timeshare over the past five or six years.
The other interesting thing to explore would be to take a ferry or rent a small outboard boat to one of the Out Islands. The most well-known one is Elbow Cay, where you still have a working lighthouse that can be seen from far away with a blend of red and white paint encircling the structure. On Elbow Cay there are several accommodations. I just returned from a stay at the Abaco Inn –– a cute, Bahamian-style resort overlooking a beautiful pink-sand beach and the Sea of Abaco, which provides you with a beautiful sunset.
Other accommodations on Elbow are the Hopetown Harbour Lodge and Hopetown Marina & Resort. Other types of accommodations, such as Firefly Sunset Resort, can be rented by the night with two-bedroom, three-bedroom, and up to six-bedroom houses.
Marsh Harbour is certainly a fantastic place for relaxation because of the friendliness of the Bahamians, the organization with the American way, long stretches of white sandy beach where you can walk, and activities you can pursue such as chartering a sailboat, renting a motorboat, bone fishing, deep-sea fishing, surfing, and kite surfing.
Scuba diving is exciting, and Brendals offers snorkeling and diving excursions to be remembered especially its famous “toe job” –– feeding the rays with your foot.
Abaco Beach Resort Phone: (242) 367-2158
Conch Inn Hotel & Marina Phone: (242) 367-4000
Abaco Club on Winding Bay Phone: (242) 366-3820
Hopetown Harbour Lodge and Phone: (242) 366-0095
Hopetown Marina & Resort Phone: (242) 366-0003
Brendal’s Dive Center Phone: (242) 365-4411