We all met at 08:30 at the Duncan airport for a joint departure to the Concrete Fly-In. Getting all our gear stowed into the Beaver was a lot of fun, and in the end, we all had to leave our collapsible chairs behind, due to physical space, not weight.
Catherine and I left first as we’re slower than the beaver, that way we’d all end up in Bellingham around the same time to clear customs. The takeoff was a little rough, as it was my first at gross weight, and my first with a passenger (not the greatest visibility with someone sitting two feet straight in front of me :-)).
Once airborne, I tried calling Victoria Terminal. They figured out who it was based on my squawk code, and cleared me to 3500′ as filed, but reported that they couldn’t hear my transmissions :-(. Prior to leaving, we had duct taped in an intercom that worked great as an intercom, but apparently was interfering with outbound transmissions. I told Catherine what was going on, then had to disconnect it, and plug directly into the radio. That done, terminal could hear me just great, but Catherine was completely in the dark for what was coming next…
As we got closer to the mainland, terminal informed me that Bellingham was well below VFR (400′ ceilings and 2 miles visibility). They cleared me lower (at my discretion) and handed me off to Bellingham Tower. Calling Bellingham tower, they informed me of the latest weather (same as before), and I got the dreaded “please state your intentions”. If you’re a pilot, you know that no tower will ever offer you special VFR, so you have to request it. I made the call and requested special VFR into the Bellingham control zone, and I got it! Remember that no tower is under any obligation to allow special VFR into or out of their control zone, so we could have had a very quick trip back home to try again later.
There ended up being three of us requesting special VFR, us, Kevin in the beaver, and a third that was inbound from Friday Harbor. We actually got there just after the beaver, so he was cleared in first (even if a tower authorizes you for special VFR, typically only a single aircraft will be allowed into the control zone at a time). Kevin was heading in, and we heard the transmissions back and forth between him and the tower as he picked his way between the various cell towers etc.
Once the tower had him in sight, and he landed, I got the “cleared in, maintain special VFR conditions etc.”, I swung the nose towards where the GPS said the airport was… As a side note, the wait for the beaver to arrive was about 20 minutes of circling at 400′ half over the land, half over the water by the refinery. I was picking my way towards the airport, when the tower asked for our distance to the airport. I reported (from the GPS) the 4 miles and he asked me to turn around as he thought I was in closer when he gave me my initial clearance, and he had an IFR on final, sigh 🙁
Back to the refinery (ceilings were up to around 800′ out here, so I was able to relax a bit), we started making our circles in the sky while they cleared in the Friday Harbour plane after an IFR arrival touched down. He did me (and himself I’m sure) a favour though, and allowed me to hold closer in to the control zone, so I staked out two intersections that were visible, and made my racetrack pattern around them waiting for the “…come on in” call. Now that we were back in closer, this was all done at 400′ which is about 300′ AGL (above ground level).
After doing this for an additional 20 minutes, we were cleared in again, and asked to make our “…best possible speed” inbound. Not really needing too much encouragement, I brought it up to high cruise and beelined down the highway towards the airport. The tower called me in sight, just as I picked up the beacon and then the threshold of the runway. Screaming in (which is 95kts for us), I brought the throttle back, slowed down, and got it down. The landing was again a little rough as I hadn’t tried a landing with a passenger yet, but safely on the ground, we taxied in, found the customs box, and shut everything down.
The customs folks in Bellingham were great. Kevin and crew who got to land ahead of us filled them in on the serious weather problems, and that counted as our (please inform customs if you’ll miss your alotted time). I had made two mistakes on my eapis stuff, but they were very helpful, and ushered us through the steps quickly and most importantly without any penalties 😉
We got into the courtesy van and headed off to a local restaurant for lunch while we waited for the weather to improve.