Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Keys

I have been following multiple posts on AOPA and the Beech Aero Club about flights to the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.  I think for our extended get-away the Florida Keys will likely be our target.  If the timing is right we hope to make this trip the end of March or first week of April. The process has started for flight planning. Following up on a different post from the Pilots of America Forum "IFR Preflight planning checklist" this will give me a good chance to review 'my' process, the method to my madness, what I do to plan the flight and what keeps me in my comfort zone.

Weather is always the key ingredient for any of these type of trips.  Yes, I know, I now hold in my hand the instrument rating.  Great, that's all well and good but low time in actual is not a warm and fuzzy for this pilot. I do trust my skills and I do keep current, but as all pilots know current does not equate to being proficient. The instrument rating is a good thing and I'm very happy to have it in hand. I'm a better pilot because of it and it makes me think ahead even more than before obtaining the rating.

Wx is the key, as previously stated, and I will begin to track this aspect as March rolls around. Mary and I will search for a place to stay, taking into consideration all the forum posts and books we can read along with the online search.  I would venture a guess that we would depart on a Friday morning after an early breakfast. We would be arriving at the plane with bags in hand, iPad current with destination airport plates printed as my back up. 08Romeo will be filled to the top with 100LL and eager to launch for sunny wx. 

I have run potential routes but most have us making a first stop around the three hour mark for fuel and snacks at Grand Strand, SC-KCRE. From Grand Strand it will be south towards Jacksonville then a turn south west to the middle of the state and a second stop for a fuel top off at Marion County Airport in Dunnellon, Florida.  I guess at this time we would break out the life vests and either put them on or have them at the ready. Here is the vest I am looking at purchasing through

Revere's Comfort Max™ series of inflatable life vests provide all the comfort and safety you need while looking smart wearing it. It's so comfortable fitting, you'll want to wear it all the time!
  • USCG approved for persons at least 16 years of age weighing 80 lbs. and above with a chest size between 30™ and 52™
  • USCG Approved Type III Manual Life Vest
  • Dual waist belt stainless steel adjusters. Provides for easy adjustment with both hands and a more custom fit
  • Exterior inflation system access flap. Allows for clear, direct access to the CO2 cylinder for rearming. CO2 cylinder can be replaced without opening and unfolding the entire PFD
  • Waist strap and back strap attachment points fully connected and reinforced from inside for added strength
  • Heavy duty 420 denier nylon packcloth outer cover,Twin 2™ wide back straps for comfort and security
  • Includes whistle and SOLAS Grade retro-reflective tape panels on inflatable bladder
From Marion County Airport we would head south passing over Lakeland, home of the Sun & Fun adventure then continue on to overfly Ft Myers. Once approaching the southern tip of Florida's mainland I would put the vest on as a precaution and make for feet wet. Its a short hop across the Florida Bay to Fiesta Key and the next way point MNATE. From MNATE it's a south west heading of 247* and a flight over the islands. We would be looking for Marathon and then the seven mile bridge which would leave 45 miles to Key West our final destination.

Places to Stay...

Key Lime Inn is a 37 room historic hotel in Key West Florida that resides in the center of Key West’s Old Town area – just two blocks from amazing Key West nightlife on the world famous Duval Street. You can walk to restaurants and nightlife and enjoy the quaint houses in Key West’s historic neighborhoods. Rooms are situated in several buildings spread out on an acre of grounds, giving the property a very tranquil, spacious feel. Garden paths and tropical foliage separate buildings and quiet resting spots. A large heated pool is surrounded by palm trees, and has plenty of deck space for comfortable chaise lounges. Continental breakfast is served poolside each morning. Convenient and free parking is available on-site at our hotel in Key West.

Historic Key West Inns is an extraordinary collection of five boutique hotels in Key West, Florida. With prime locations in the “Old Town” section of the island, you can conveniently walk to the shopping and nightlife of Duval Street, stroll through the neighborhoods of the historic district, or reach the shoreline by walking, bicycling, or driving in any direction. With the Atlantic Ocean to the south, the Gulf of Mexico to the north, the harbor to the west, and the Florida Keys chain of islands to the east, you will be surrounded by the beauty of this charming tropical island at the southernmost tip of the continental USA.

and things to do...

Conch Train and Old Town Trolley
The Conch Train depot is at the foot of Duval Street. Trolley stops are all around town. Check out for more information.

Duval Street
Duval Street is the hub of Key West nightlife, dining, shopping, and sightseeing. Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, Duval offers a mile and a half of galleries, Key West restaurants, shops, bars, nightclubs, and plenty of people watching. There is always live music playing somewhere and good food being served. From 9am to 4am every day, the street embodies the diversity of Key West from highly refined to completely deprived of good taste.

Southernmost Point in the USA
Key West is the southernmost city in the continental USA. The Southernmost Point, located at the southern end of Whitehead Street, is the official marker and a good place to document your visit with a photograph.

Mallory Square
Mallory Square is a public plaza at the western end of the island and is the gathering spot for the daily sunset celebration, complete with music, and a full contingent of performance artists. Plan to arrive at least 45 minutes before sunset for this free daily show.

The Historic District
Key West was founded as a trading settlement in 1825, and is one of the oldest cities in Florida . Several hundred nineteenth century buildings remain, with typical island architecture that includes wood siding, tin roofs, gingerbread trim, and shuttered windows. The oldest part of the City was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of the Interior in 1983. Locally referred to as “Old Town”, this western-most portion of the island is where you will find the Historic Key West Inns and all of the places of interest listed here.

Sunrise Brightening The Key West Sky
Grab a hot cup of java, head to the beach and look to the east. It’s always a beautiful sight.


Steve said...

What a fun trip, I hope the weather and airplane cooperate! :)

Unknown said...


Couple of thoughts:
1. Instead of Dunellon (X35), stop @ Tampa Executive (KVDF) where you can get fuel and you are welcome to borrow my life vests. (I have two that I purchased but luckily never had to use)

2. I am going to be at the WFIF event on March 12 @ KFDK. If we can meet in person, that would be gr8!

3. Feel free to email me directly @ (I would be happy to help you with any FL assistance you need!)

Gary said...

Steve, I hope it all works out too. Mary and I are still playing with different dates...we shall see.

T.J., WOuld love to catch up when you are close by, heck, I've never been to FDK!

I Looked at the price of fuel at Tampa, yikes! Dunellon prices look better thats for sure. Appreciate the offer on the vests, but we really should make the purchase and have them for our flights, besides, I will need them for the flight to Mackinac over the lake.

Unknown said...

Fuel is a bit pricey in Tampa... Another good fuel stop in that area is Zephyr Hills (KZPH)

Geoff Nelson said...


This was the first "trip" we ever made when we bought the Arrow. It was an awesome flight and stay. I consider myself a safe & conservative pilot, but you MUST start near Key Largo/Islamorada and descend to less than 1500' the rest of the way to Key West. The views are amazing. Just keep A1A off your right wing.

Keep an eye on Central Florida for the convective build ups depending on when you will be flying through. The mornings are usually quietest. I have finally learned that the sea breezes on both coasts tend to hold that activity inland a bit. The coastline or just barely offshore can be safe havens if the clouds are starting to build.
When we came home, that is what we had to do. Just flew up the east coast of Florida watching the TSs off our left wing.

Oh yeah, when we went it was the first part of April too. Weather was very nice and pleasant, breezy at times. If you come down/up the east side of the state, 28J has the cheapest fuel around. KXFL is pretty cheap too with a great restaurant.

We will be in The Bahamas during you trip. I still think you should go there. It's just as easy as going to Key West! Either way, you'll have a great time. Let me know if I can answer any questions. Enjoy!

Adam said...

Gary, IMHO the best thing to do in Key West is NOTHNG. Sit relax and enjoy. I'll PM you some other ideas over on POA.

Mark Brager said...

Gary, Good luck on your trip and have a great time. I was in Key west in 09' diving the USS Vandenberg. I am planning on flying down there once the Mooney is purchased, so I will be following how your trip and planning went. I was looking at the same life vests, for that and a trip to Bahama's. safe & Happy flying.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great trip Gary! I look forward to reading all about it. Have a sloppy joe at Sloppy Joe's.

Gary said...

Mark, looking forward to some pictures and info on that Mooney! Good luck with the purchase.

Tom, Thanks for the food stop heads up! Mary and I are looking forward to the trip....the write up is the icing on the cake for me.

D.B. said...

A simple look at a globe shows that the Florida Keys, despite their claims, is NOT the Southern-most point in the USA. That is the southern tip of Hawaii, although you could argue that American Samoa is even further south, being actually in the southern hemisphere. But it is a territory, not a state, and unreachable in a Sundowner.

Hopefully that will not detract from your enjoyment of this wonderful sounding trip!

Gary said...


So much good info on your blog, thanks for documneting your travels! I could not find your trip to the Keys....maybe I missed a link.

We still want to do the Bahamas but one step at a time. My brother has a place in Jupiter so that will be a nice overnight then a short hop to the Bahamas from there. F45 is less then 10 minutes from his home.