Thursday, May 24, 2018

Work and Play

As an airline pilot, I'm required to perform three takeoffs and three landings every 90 days. If my landing currency expired - for example, if I was not being used on reserve or was on an ultra-long-haul international fleet and didn't land often - the airline would summon me to the Atlanta training center where I would reestablish landing currency in a flight simulator. Per my union contract, they'd put me up and pay me my usual rate. However, the contract is pretty silent about what happens when the lapse in currency is the pilot's fault - if, for example, he kept dropping and trading his trips to sail the Caribbean all winter long! I've decided I don't want to know the answer; I have a good thing going and I'd rather fly under the radar, so to speak. So I've made a point of parking Windbird somewhere safe every six to eight weeks, shaving off my sailor beard, and commuting to Atlanta to fly a trip and reset my landing currency.

Accordingly, I'd been planning to fly in mid-April, until another pilot asked if I'd be willing to trade  him that trip. It wasn't a problem, I still had a trip at the end of the month I hadn't been able to trade away yet, but that meant it would be a full ten weeks since I'd flown last. That's the longest I've gone without flying at my current employer. Thankfully, the Boeing 757 and 767 are well-designed, intuitive airplanes to fly and I had little doubt that with a little prior studying I'd be able to get back in the saddle after 10 weeks and fly safely. But first I had to get to Atlanta, and that proved to be more of a problem than anticipated even though I started travel the day before my trip.

My airline ID had expired in March, and I hadn't been to Atlanta since then to pick up my new one. I'd talked to the chief pilot's office and they assured me it was no problem, I could pick it up before beginning my trip. However, I wouldn't be able to jumpseat with an expired ID. That didn't seem like a problem until the St. Thomas-Atlanta flight filled up in the last few days. When I checked in at the airport there were still nine seats available, but unfortunately the flight was load limited. St. Thomas is a relatively short runway with a hill right off the end of the runway, meaning that we occasionally have to leave passengers or cargo behind to have the required engine-out performance. The airplane's basic operating weight includes a jumpseater so I would have been fine if I could occupy a jumpseat, but as a passenger I was out of luck. Even as #1 on the nonrev list, I didn't get on the flight.

That sent me scrambling. All the afternoon flights were leaving about the same time. I tried American, United and jetBlue, but without the ability to jumpseat I needed empty seats, and everyone was full. I tried Cape Air to San Juan, but Seaborne had just cancelled a flight and filled them up. Finally I discovered that the next Cape Air flight had a single seat for sale. Rather than risk nonrevving I bought the seat; the agent was super nice and gave me an industry discount. That got me to San Juan at nearly 6pm, just as the last northbound flights were leaving. I got a hotel near the airport and flew out on the first flight to Atlanta the next morning (lots of seats open, thank goodness), which got me in several hours before my trip's report time.

The four-day trip was an easy one, with a 30-hour layover in Jacksonville and 15 hours in Salt Lake City. The first leg was a bit awkward, as it always is after an absence, but the second leg onward felt like I was right back at home. I kept in touch with Dawn back at Brewer's Bay in St. Thomas, and everything went well there. She was finishing up a major round of varnishing she'd begun in the BVI, and one day a fellow cruiser (Dave from S/V Tina Marie) gave her a ride into town to do some reprovisioning. The beach at Brewers is super nice for dinghy landings and Piper running. Sea Otter came in a couple days earlier than planned, and then Dawn had Dane and Mak and Isla to keep her company. 

My trip ended late on April 30th; I flew to St. Thomas on May 1st and arrived at 1pm. Dawn and Dave picked me up, and after stopping at the boat to change out of my monkey suit and discard my shoes and socks for another couple months we headed over to Sea Otter. This was the last we'd be seeing them before they headed up island and back to the states, which made us pretty sad. We understand why they're selling the boat, though. After a beer on Sea Otter we decided to ride the Safari Bus over to the area near Yacht Haven marina and the cruise ship dock (since none were in port). There we went to an open-air cocktail bar and played bocce ball and giant jenga, had dinner at the Tap & Still, and watched the Jets and Raptors playoff games (Sea Otter being from Winnipeg) at the Smoking Rooster. It was wayyy past Isla's bedtime when we took a taxi back to Brewers Bay, but Dawn and I went over to Sea Otter for a nightcap and cigars (for Dane and I, anyways). It's been fun hanging with those guys this season. In July Dawn and I are planning to take our motorcycles up to Winnipeg for a visit.

Early the next morning Sea Otter lifted anchor and made a close pass as we saluted them with our conch horn. We were sticking around an extra day to get together with Dave and Tina on Tina Marie, but they ended up having to cancel. Instead I worked to pickle our watermaker, which has a persistent leak that I've tracked down to a small crack in the pump housing. The leak itself isn't a big deal except it allows air to get into the pump, which makes it cavitate. I'll be taking the pump out of the boat in the next week or so, and we'll repair or replace it this summer.

On the morning of the 3rd we motored around the airport, past Water Island and through Haulover Cut to Charlotte Amalie harbour and Yacht Haven Grande. With the watermaker out of commission, we needed a full load of water (170 gal) for our last month of cruising. Yacht Haven's fuel dock is quite easy to get on and off, and the water was reasonable (¢20/gal). After that we set sail for St. John, which was a pretty good beat in strong southeasterlies. A port tack took us west of Buck Island, but from there we were able to (barely) lay Cow Rock and Current Cut with one short-tack around Long Point. After squeezing through Current Cut, Pillsbury Sound bent the wind pretty far south and we were able to lay Cruz Bay on a close reach. Unfortunately, local boats took up every last potential anchoring spot, so we went around the corner to Caneel Bay and grabbed a NPS mooring ball. Usually they're $26/night but post-Irma the park service is not collecting mooring fees.

For the next ten days we'd work our way along the north coast of St. John, hiking and snorkeling, and then sail around to the SE side, from where we'd take off for St. Croix. We'd previously only spent one night at St. John thus far but had heard good things from our cruiser friends, and we were really looking forward to exploring the island for ourselves. As it turned out, we had good company for the first half of our stay and almost perfect isolation for the second.

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