Next morning we arrived at the airport at a civilized hour of the morning, our airplane bare and dry and the Montréal weather still cold and clear. Our broker has rebooked our customs appointment, we hope.
"I'll do weather and flight plan while you verify customs," we agreed.
The pilot information kiosk in the FBO is a piece of Nav Canada equipment, essentially a box containing a computer and the slowest modem known to man. It's supposed to connect automatically to Nav Canada's weather servers and provide all the weather products available to the modern pilot. I think it got as far as inquiring whether I would prefer English or French before it got hung up on its own innards. I beat on it for a while and then resorted to the telephone, first reporting the PIK here inoperative, in case someone might care to repair it, and then requesting the weather for our very short flight.
It's not so great. While it's lovely here, we're looking at low cloud and freezing fog for the destination. We might be able to squeeze in under the weather, but then we'd be trapped in the valley in Vermont, unable to proceed southeast through higher terrain. It's supposed to improve, but the briefer doesn't say that with optimism in his voice. We decide to wait for the new forecast and then see.
I load and preflight the airplane while it's still in the hangar. The floor is flooded, from all the melted ice and snow on the airplanes, but the airplane is dry, so it's ready to go. The new forecast, however isn't any better. We don't like to go to unfamiliar airports for customs, because we're a little out of the ordinary. Each station has its own culture and we can get unlucky and run into someone who doesn't accept our classification or doesn't like the way we do our paperwork, and end up stuck for a day, waiting for the broker to fax proof of something or other. But Vermont isn't going to work.
My coworker starts casting around for another place to clear customs, but there's a stationary front sitting over the northeast US, making things ugly everywhere. It looks like we can skirt it by cutting across Lake Ontario, then along the south shore of Lake Erie, to get into Cleveland. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here we come. When we call the airport in Vermont to say we're not coming, the border guys laugh at us. They know how bad the weather is and were expecting the call. We then call our customs broker to set Cleveland up with the paperwork we need, while we go for lunch.
Lunch is nearby at a cafeteria over the flying school. While we're eating I can here a group at a nearby table working on a weight and balance calculation. It seems to be a couple of male pilots helping a female student pilot with the form. Her voice carries clearly, but I don't hear the others' voices. I guess it depends on which way she is looking. She is an anglophone, not from this province, but I hear her say a couple of times that she'd really does intend to learn French. I'm not deliberately eavesdropping, so my awareness of the conversation fades in an out. Then I hear her pronouncing French words with a heavy English accent. She is in her early twenties and speaks fluent English with a fairly neutral North American accent but it doesn't seem like she has ever taken French in school. Perhaps she is American or Bahamian or something.
"Suis sont nous ... oh what? ... soi sont neuve ..." I look over, a bit puzzled. She's evidently reading something that has been written down for her. After a few starts and quiet corrections, she's saying a recognizable "soixante-neuf." Something from the weight and balance problem, perhaps? I can only hope.
She gets up to use the washroom, still repeating her new word and I turn a raised eyebrow look at the males at the table. They see me, and have the good grace to look sheepish. I think they realize that they'd better fess up or be busted by me, because shortly after she returns to the table I hear a shriek of outrage from her, and laughter all round.
I see her later on the stairs, and confess that I was wondering why they were so eagerly teaching her to say "sixty-nine." She rolls her eyes. The guys of course hadn't told her at first what they were coaching her to say, and had in the end only translated it by miming the sexual meaning, perhaps not realizing that the translation has exactly the same connotation in English. She had a good sense of humour about it.
We call back the customs broker and determine that our arrival is booked in Akron. Akron, Cleveland: it's all the same to us. I confirm that the other pilot is on the customs paperwork as PIC and I file to Akron.
Although she's PIC, she doesn't enjoy flying cross country, so I get the left seat and leave her with the radios. All good for me. There's a little bit of fog and cloud around as we fly south, but nothing to interfere with safe VFR flight.
The Canada-US border takes a funny zig-zag course through the lakes, so as we continue south we cross into the US and then briefly we're back in Ontario overhead its namesake lake. That's now four out of five of the Great Lakes I have flown across the middle of. One more to go. There's something really exciting about flying across big stretches of open water for me. If I ever get a job flying ETOPS across oceans, I'm sure the excitement will wear off, but flying across an ocean will be very exciting for a while.
During the flight, my coworker is trying to plan the next leg. "Anywhere in particular you want to stop?" she asks. Other than the fact that I've never been to Arkansas, there is nothing pulling me to anywhere in particular. You see, in the US there are hundreds, possibly thousand of runways that can accommodate our airplane. Almost all of them have fuel and a town with a chain hotel. And one Hampton Inn or Super-8 is pretty much interchangeable with any other one, so it really really doesn't matter where we stop, as long as it's on the way. That's why my plan to visit a friend in Indiana was in no way abuse of company resources.
"I'm partial to the 'funny names' method of choosing a nightstop," I opine. "All else being equal, stay at the place with the silliest name." She is familiar with that technique and goes through the map and the airport info book, looking at possible stops. We discuss the relative silliness of our options. I should have written down some of the names. It's going to depend a bit on weather, so we don't make a final decision.
We can see the bad weather to the southeast for the whole trip, but we remain in the clear right through our descent into Akron. We're right on time and we don't even have to taxi to a customs area: the customs official comes to us at the FBO. He's friendly and quick. I hand him both sets of passports at the rear door and he looks at them quickly, verifies that the number printed on the customs sticker on our door matches the one on the paperwork and he's done with us. Woo! Akron goes on the 'good place to clear customs' list.
I'll break the blog entry here as we order fuel and go inside for flight planning and washrooms. The day continues next post.