Monday, August 17, 2009

Saba - Sint Maarten - St. Barth / Cessna 152 (N707YL) / VFR

Saba, the smallest island in the Netherlands Antilles portion of the Caribbean, measures only five square miles, and yet it has an airport—a very tiny airport. I decided to fly out of this airport today in one of my Cessna 152s.

The airport's name—Saba-Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport—is longer than its tiny runway, which measures only about 1300 feet. I was just able to get off the ground about ten feet before the end of the runway during my departure to Princess Juliana Airport on Sint Maarten, 28 miles to the north. The runway ends in a cliff, so you always have some open air in which to pick up speed if you don't make it, but I don't find that reassuring.

Nevertheless, I managed to get to Sint Maarten easily enough. Even in a Cessna 152, the flight was short. I didn't have time to climb very high, which meant that I wasn't within gliding distance of land, but I was surrounded by populated islands so I would not be far from help if I had to ditch (even so, I'm not sure I would have flown with this aircraft in real life).

Not having any fancy avionics, and not having any charts for this region, either, I just set my one nav radio to PJM and headed for that, dodging clouds periodically. About half-way there, I spotted Sint Maarten, and from then on it was easy to visually approach the island and enter a right base for runway 10. Landing was very smooth—the 152 is so slow that it's hard to make any mistakes.

I parked in a quiet corner of the field and took a break, then taxied back out to runway 10 and took off again, this time heading towards St. Bart's.

By now it was nighttime, and I can't recall having tried to land at St. Bart's at night before. I found the island easily enough, but I got disoriented again and flew past the field before I spotted it below and turned around. I crossed the field and then entered a left base for runway 10. It was a bit challenging to make the necessary rapid descent in the darkness, although I could see just enough to know where I was going. Landing was good. I didn't want to fly any more in the darkness in the 152, so I taxied over to a quiet corner and parked.

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