St. George, Grenada to Cayenne, French Guiana

Trip Start Dec 23, 2012
Trip End Mar 30, 2013

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Flag of French Guiana  ,
Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Getting through immigration for departure at TGPY was straightforward with the help of SVG Air which I contacted as a quasi-handler. They helped me park the plan and call for the fueler who I paid in cash drawing from my packet of fresh, up-to-date Benjamins for the first time.  SVG is listed as an FBO but really is a local airline and handler.   Airport fees were cheap.  SVG really didn't have me on the handling list so hadn’t figure out what to charge me. I gave them $200 for services and 3 nights parking and they were happy with that. I filed IFR at FL090 with a routing TGPY GND A324 TIM G443 CYR SOCA.

Climbing out in rainy, windy, cloudy, IMC morning, I had the first important failure I’ve had on N788W.  The pitch control on the STEC 55X autopilot went berserk.  I couldn’t set climb rate or hold altitude, it kept trying to climb at a high rate.  Fortunately, roll control (the more critical of the two) was still working OK.  Actual pitch mechanics (elevator control) and electric trim were still OK – I could manually use the electric trim for pitch control.  Later, reading some info on the STEC, it apparently has its own internal barometer and accelerometer to make decisions about climb, descend and hold altitude.  It doesn’t take any info from the aircraft’s altimeter or vertical speed indicator (VSI).   So it looks like I have problem in the STEC control box.  I have no idea what may have brought on this problem, and I really don’t know if there is any place down the line I might get it fixed. If it's a failure in the control box, it means a replacement box which will take time to get. There is an avionics shop at the San Fernando airport (Buenos Aires) I might try.  Obviously, the plane is still perfectly flyable, I’ll just have to do more work in terms of manually climbing and descending, and using the electric trim to hold altitude – i.e., the old fashion way.  N788W is fairly stable – by using electric trim to hold at altitude I can let several minutes go by without adjusting it (if the air is reasonably smooth). 

The cloud layers below meant I really didn’t get much of view of Trinidad or anything I was flying over, just occasional glimpses of jungle and water.  I got some direct routings to shorten the flight, arriving at Cayenne at about the expected time.  I flew the approach into runway 08 under a broken layer at about 2500 feet. 

Cayenne is a little piece of France, and once inside the Cayenne FIR it was all French or French-accented English.  They have a daily flight from Paris and a lot of local shuttle flights to small airports throughout the country.  I hired a handler to facilitate entry and exit from the country.  He called the fueler who was there a few minutes later, took US cash, but didn’t have change.  He actually drove back to his office and returned with change - in US$ no less – I would have been OK with Euros, the currency used in French Guiana.  Pretty nice fueler to do that. 

Re: using a handler, the real issue with trying to do it yourself is to figure out what little doors you go through to get to immigration, customs and the police. Before entering the terminal, there was an inconspicuous unmarked little wooden building with Customs people where there was a cursory search of my luggage and both the handler and I were "wanded" for weapons. Then into the terminal to the Police for a passport stamp, and I handed over one of my preprinted “Gen Decs” with which I only have to fill in the date, the ICAO codes for the departure and arrival airports and then sign it.  Everything else is pre-printed.  Once out the terminal the handler drove me to the Novotel hotel, one of the few nice ones in Cayenne. 

I’ll have more to say about using or not using handlers later, but generally using them at least when entering a country seems to be easiest way to avoid offending somebody because you didn’t know the process and wasted time wandering around there terminal with your bags trying to figure out what to do.  I never would have figured out to go to the little wooden building for the luggage search.

Cayenne is only a one night stop, really designed to break up the flight into Belem into two pieces so I don’t arrive in Belem in the afternoon when the thunderstorms are most likely to fire up.  It worked OK in that respect, though the hotel was too expensive for what it was.  The handler picked me up the next morning at 8 am for wheels off at 9 am.  In total, the handler charged me about US$320 for what he did, including transportation to/from the hotel.  I’m OK with that – flying these international flights is an expensive proposition so I’ve gotten used to it.  Airport fees were US$24 - they took US cash.

Landing in Cayenne, I have now set wheels down on my sixth continent and progressed in achieving my goal to fly solo to all seven continents.

It turns out you don't need overflight or landing permits for Guyana, Suriname, or French Guiana.  The same is true for all the island countries throughout the Caribbean so you can basically file a flight plan and go - all the way to Brazil.  Entering Brazil is a different story, though, which I'll describe in the next blog entry.
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