Pilots of the Caribbean 2 – Stranded in Paradise!

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The 3 Aviatin’ Amigos–Leon, Pierre and I at the pilot hut!

There I Wuz!

Stranded, jobless, homeless, in a 3rd world country . . .

(Continued from last week)

Oh, you may think, stranded in paradise ain’t so bad. But all that cash I had squirreled away in Alaska had quickly evaporated in the muggy Virgin Islands air while waiting for my checkride, and awaiting my first meager paycheck. In the insanely ‘spensive Caribbean, no less, where everything has to be imported. Even, inexplicably, the fruit.

I could jumpseat home to Mommy. Or, I could once again roll the dice.

My buddy Pierre, one of my fellow aviating roommates, quit with me. But, unlike me, he had an Ace in the hole: in a month’s time, he had been invited to a ground school with the local kings of the air, the Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle (VISS.) Pierre didn’t have a seaplane rating, and neither did I. But the VISS was ramping up service in land-based, 19-passenger, twin-engine turboprop Twin Otters, and they were hiring a class of Captains and First Officers. With his time, Pierre would be walking into a twin engine turboprop Captain slot. Perhaps, Pierre suggested, I could tag along and snag a First Officer position.

Pierre starts a BBQ with a hair dryer

How does one build a BBQ out of nothing, and fan the flame? Pierre, the Master of Salvage, knows!

A call to VISS Director of Ops John Stewart-Jervis* confirmed: all slots filled, but he invited me to show up, in case a First Officer position might open up.

No promises.

One month away. One month with no job, no shelter, no pay or promises, and the amber, Low-Level $$$ light flashing in my face.

I could easily jumpseat back home to Mommy. Lick my wounds, send out some résumés. Flight instruct.

Or, I could once again roll the dice.

Really, sleeping on a Caribbean beach for a month didn’t sound all that bad, did it? Time for a well-earned, if shoestring, vacation.

I was in.

Sleeping on a Caribbean beach for a month? Time for vacation.

Immediately, Pierre and I caught a lucky break. Brenda, a local “Frenchie” (the Caribbean equivalent of a Creole) offered us her father’s “cabin,” an abandoned cement bunker in the middle of the St. Thomas wilderness. With no electricity, no water, and jungle and critters encroaching from every direction, it at least had a roof that, during daily thunderstorms, didn’t leak. Mostly. Even better, the beach was a stroll away. That, and the local pub.

We moved in. Hacking the place into shape with machetes, we literally carved out our own piece of paradise.

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The Master at Work! A frequent site with our Island car. From this experience I learned: short of Kaylee’s Catalyzer on the port compression coil, with a little ingenuity, anything can be fixed.

Pierre was a master of salvage, having once driven a jalopy across the Sahara, where you must fix your broken transportation or die.

Repairing his equally-dilapidated Island car with bailing wire and a wooden dowel, we at least had wheels with which to navigate the winding, left-driving island roads. And thus began our shoestring vacation.

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Happy Hour! Menudo: Cocoanut juice with a dash of cocoanut, shredded cocoanut appetizer and cocoanut stew!

One thing we had: cocoanuts. Lots and lots of cocoanuts.

One of the things we had going for us, we found, were cocoanuts. Lots and lots of cocoanuts, the top of which we would machete-hack.  Free cocoa juice, and free meat inside. Tropical and tasty, if a tad too vegetarian for our tastes.

Of course, Happy Hour found the cheap local rum mixed inside as well. The Master of Salvage and I were nothing, if not creative. Indeed, we had discovered the original cocoanut rum. As a result, I am not really able to relay the details of that fabled month in ersatz paradise, as they are a bit fuzzy, other than to say a good time was had by all.

I slid my logbook across the table like it was a winning poker hand.

Finally, well-rested and penniless, with cocoanut juice oozing from our pores, Pierre and I jumpseated 30 miles south, over to the island of St. Croix, where the VISS was based. We walked into a ground school class set up for a crew of 24—twelve captains and twelve first officers. To my chagrin, all the FO’s showed up . . .

But only half of the captains.

Desperate, DO Jervis and Chief Pilot Marty searched the room for qualified captains.

A sly grin grew across my face, as I slid my logbook across the table like it was a winning poker hand.

I had more than twice the required total time, but only half the twin time. With a little extra training and paperwork, they decided, they’d make it work. 

Instead of the hoped-for First Officer position, I waltzed straight into the left seat of a twin turboprop airliner.


And that is how I landed my very first Capn’s position, at the ripe old age of 26.


Cap'n Eric in the Twin Otter

The Cap’n…in his first Capn’s seat!

Yes, indeed, looking back, a pilot’s career is nothing but timing and luck . . .

But sometimes, you gotta create your own luck.


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The venerable workhorse Twin Otter (DHC6.)

Every time I have rolled the dice, adventure ensues.

That, and success—often couched in disaster.

So, roll those dice! But stick to your guns. Be prepared to walk away.

As the saying goes, when one door closes, God always opens a window . . .

me fly Dh6

Or a seat.


Me Pierre STX bar!

The Sunset Bar, Frederiksted, St. Croix. Our favorite hangout, where Van Morrison once popped in and played on that stage!

This is Capn’s Aux & Pierre . . . signing off!

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Dedicated to the memory of VISS Director of  Ops, Captain John Stuart-Jervis.

John Stewart-JervisA  former Royal Navy pilot, Captain Stuart-Jervis was tragically lost to us in 1995 while competing in Europe’s most prestigious balloon race,  inexplicably shot down by the Belarus military.

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Related Post:

Cap’n Aux vs. Hurricane Hugo!

Cap'n Aux and his Twin Otter, totaled by Hurricane Hugo

Welcome aboard! No, this isn’t Cap’n Aux’s first landing in his Twin Otter. This poor plane met Hurricane Hugo!

What happens when a brand new Twin Otter Cap’n runs into a Hurricane?

Find out in, “Gone With the Hurricane!”

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Lined Up & Waiting

Departing January 22


The Best of Cap’n Aux, 2014!

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Taxiing for Takeoff

Departing January 30

Word on the Ramp 5!

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Our First video vlog of ’15!

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Now Boarding

Departing Feb 1


Blogging in Formation!