Editor's Log

May 2001 Issue




VFR in IMC

Lousy visibility, but we weren’t ready to hit land

The twin 350 hp engines were droning smoothly in the background, sending a pleasant tickle through the soles of my feet. From where I sat behind the panel, everything looked good.

The moving map on the GPS showed we were right on course, with an ETA of about 90 minutes. The on-board radar showed light rain ahead, but no thunderstorms or other nastiness. We had plenty of fuel on board, with the tanks reading nearly half full each. The autopilot was engaged and held our course through the occasional light chop.

Outside, visibility through a murky low was about 50 feet, but we cruised along smartly because, hey, there was nothing to hit. While the poor visibility was making my passengers a bit nervous, my calm demeanor was not an act – even though I knew the clouds went down to the deck.

There was, however, something that troubled me a bit. Our destination was unfamiliar to me. We’d be arriving after dark and there would be no one there to meet us when we arrived. In addition, we had to make our approach through some challenging geography in unknown weather without an approach plate or even so much as a friendly voice on the radio offering guidance. Sunset was approaching and I reached over and bumped up the throttles just a hair, as if the three minutes it would save would really make that much difference.

The groundspeed readout on the GPS ticked upward to 19 knots.

I was piloting a 38-foot motor yacht toward Captiva Island, a barrier island on the west coast of Florida where we’d be staying during the kids’ spring break. In many ways, the trip was similar to those we’d taken in the Lance. It always takes longer than I expect to get under way and I always find myself wishing for another five knots, even though it wouldn’t make much difference to actual time en route.

But this trip made me appreciate flying all the more. The boat was much roomier than the airplane, to be sure, but I was aching for a nice, simple instrument approach that would take me to a paved runway, rather than a night run through an unfamiliar pass mined with shifting shoals. Vectors to final would have been nice, too, since I wasn’t 100 percent sure where our destination was once we got out of the Gulf of Mexico and into the Intra-coastal Waterway.

Sometimes I get caught up in griping about lousy vectors or maintaining instrument currency during long periods of good weather. But pilots have many resources at their disposal that would make other enthusiasts – such as boaters – green with envy. Even the worst electronic navaid is better than trying to find a channel marker in dark rough waters with a handheld spotlight.

Recognize that the facilities developed for pilots are there to enhance the capability of your airplane and your safety while operating it. And while those assets do carry with them some responsibilities for proficiency and respect for rules, think of how hard it would be to search for an airport sign with a landing light.


-Ken Ibold