Wind, Waves, Rain and Sand

Flying to Islands Series – Pretty in Pink

What is it about tropical islands that fascinate travellers?  There are entire glossy magazines and websites devoted to images of islands covered with lush green coconut palms, surrounded by clear azure waters and ringed by silky white soft sand beaches.

Islands off Palawan in the Philippines

Islands are a beautiful phenomenon that can truly be appreciated from above. As a pilot I have spent about 16,000 hours (equal to 4000 working days or 20 working years) flying in close proximity to the earth. I have seen plenty of  islands over the years.

As a seaplane pilot flying low, slow and visual over the earth I also get to experience the beauty of our earth’s changing geography and witness the making of shorelines, reefs, islands, forests, deserts, mountains, lakes from above. Since the big bang kicked-started our universe gravity has constantly been turning disorder into order – galaxies, suns, planets, continents, mountains, and if the atmospheric conditions are right, lakes, rivers, oceans, and, last but not least, islands are all formed from the action and reaction that happens when a powerful uniting force overcomes chaos if just for a moment in time.

Looking east from Pink Beach in the Philippines

Ariara Island in the Philippines

Islands, however, can only be islands if the planet has water. Islands build when geological forces push lava or rock up higher than existing sea level; volcanic eruptions (igneous islands) and emerging tectonic plates (granite islands) are the two biggest contributors toward building islands in the oceans.

Island in the Philippines

Hawaii, Fiji and Iceland are examples of islands born of volcanic eruptions.

Mount Mayon Volcano in the Philippines

The islands of Japan, Indonesia and Philippines are the result of both tectonic plate upheavals and volcanic eruptions.

Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines

But as fast as volcanoes and tectonic plate upheavals build mountains the winds and rains erode them down. In the law of entropy order becomes disorder again.

Mount Pinatubo Philippines

Tropical islands are an example of the third and most elegant way to build islands. The main ingredient is time. Approximately 3 billion years. When tectonic mountains grow old, when volcanoes sink and seamounts crumble, young islands emerge. Wind, rain and waves grind down rocks into tiny grains of granite, quartz and lava and forms these particles into beaches and shorelines.

Island in the Philippines

The Maldives and the Pacific Line Islands are examples of islands built entirely of sand deposited on coral reefs. The coral, a living organism, had originally grown around old dormant volcanoes that over million of years eventually sunk below the sea leaving the coral rings we see as atolls standing on their own.

South Ari Atoll The Maldives

Tropical beaches are often much whiter than granite or lava beaches because they are made up of coral sand which is the product of millions of reef-nibbling fish, such as parrot fish, grinding coral, calcium carbonate, into soft sand. The softest and whitest sand beaches, however, are formed by silica sand which is a purer form of quartz. You can walk barefoot at noon and not burn your soles because the pure white sand reflects the heat instead of absorbing it. Several islands in the Philippines have silica sand beaches including Pamalican Island home of Amanpulo Resort.

Pamalican Island home of Amanpulo Resort Philippines

Golden sand beaches are often made up of feldspar and sandstone giving them a sandy color. The more coral and quartz in the mix the less golden the sand will be.

Golden sand beach in the Philippines

Sand and coral beach in the Philippines

The prettiest beach, however, has to be Pink Beach. “Pretty in pink” sand is made up of bleached white coral and red corals. From a standing height of 6 feet the sand looks pink but close up you can see the individual grains of red coral.

Pink Beach Philippines

Pink sand on Pink Beach Philippines

To me islands are the exception to the law of entropy that says order disintegrates to disorder and complex erodes to simple. A soon as a tropical island emerges it becomes the breeding ground for all life as we know it. Islands provide the hub for life in and out of the oceans: living corals form reefs around islands proving protection for the likes of reef lobster, sea anemones, clown fish, parrot fish and nursing sharks.

Sea anemone and clown fish shot with a GoPro and red filter.

A living coral reef.

Soon mangroves and coconut palms gain footholds enriching the sand to become soil. Coconut crabs, salamanders, geckos and birds make the island their homes. The improbable becomes probable as life takes over any new island. After all if I was an amphibian sea creature I would be the first to crawl out of the ocean and live on a tropical island.

With 7017 Island the Philippines has every type of beach you can imagine. Now you just have to figure out how to get there.

Air Juan Seaplane

And what to do when you get there.

Bounty of the Sea

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Bare Foot Pilots Check Ride

The Seaplane Check and Training Captain – sitting in the back – feet up – observing the pilots during line training.

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Richer for a Day: Islands in the Philippines

In Canada and Alaska we not only fly to hunting, fishing, logging and mining camps but also to remote native communities. These small communities, built on the shores of lakes rivers or oceans  far from the economic centers of major city hubs, have no roads or airports and depend on transportation services from truckers braving frozen roads during the winter and bush pilots skimming the lakes and rivers in floatplanes during the summer. We call these air transportation services Bush Flying.

The British, however, have a formal name for bush flying – Air Transport Provisions for Remoter Regions. I never did figure out if “remoter” meant more remote than Hadrian’s Wall or more remote than London but all jokes aside Britain does have some very remote communities. The Orkney and Shetland Islands being the most northerly of these regions.

In Orkney there are at least 20 modern hotels, multiple excellent restaurants and a landscape filled with fascinating historic buildings and monuments built during the Viking times, and, most importantly, an airport. Along with several major car and passenger ferries, Kirkwall in Orkney is serviced by an airline that flies 6 times a day.

The islands, especially, in the summer are busy and thriving but it would not be this way without easy, quick and comfortable airline flights. It’s not cheap though. Flight costs run between $300 and $900 for a round trip ticket.

What’s a remote island in Britain or floatplanes in Northern Canada got to do with the Philippines? I was looking for a comparison. There a many remote islands in the Philippines, like many communities on lakes in northern Canada or on the ocean on the Alaskan or British Columbia West Coast, that have no airports. With no airport the obvious solution is seaplanes. With 7107 islands and only 89 airports there is lots of room for improvement.

So what do you look for when deciding if you should build an airport and start a air service to a remote community? Profitability to begin with. I am convinced a remote community can benefit from a regular air service but can they afford it?

The problem with comparisons between countries, however, is that governmental subsidies determined the affordability. Without the government chipping in by building roads, airports and port facilities and providing affordable fuel supplies the cost of running an air service to a remote community skyrocket. The higher the operational costs the higher the ticket costs and fewer tickets sold.

Next you look at the local population and figure out how many can afford to travel? That depends on the local economy. What is the industry? Is there governmental agencies, hospitals, banks, port facilities or other industrial businesses? How many of the population is employed? What is the local wages? Again… Can they afford to fly?

You also have to decide what outside visitors or tourists might be attracted to. Is there beach resorts, hotels, restaurants, car rentals, adventure tour operators, scuba dive shops or island hopping tourists boats? If not why would outside tourists or travellers bother to come?

But what if a remote community has none of these prerequisites for building an airport and running a connecting air service? What if the community is a collection of fishermen and subsistence farmers who can’t afford the $400 tickets?

Herein lies the problem. Local residents need easy and affordable transportation to the large city markets to sell their products whether it is fish, mangoes, cashews or coconuts. Without a larger market fisherman and farmers can’t catch or grow more than they need and can’t ever make a profit. No airport no growth.

Anyone who has visited the outer island in the Philippines, however, will discover that the locals have attractions that don’t have to be exported to have value. The Filipinos I meet on these remote islands glow with perseverance, cleverness, friendliness, helpfulness, willingness and most of all a sense of “true grit” that leaves me feeling richer after just having visited for a day.

I have worked in at least 14 different countries and I have discovered the Philippines as the most endearing and welcoming place I have ever been; especially the people living and thriving in the “remoter regions” of the island communities. I have to say, however, the people in the city are pretty cool too.

If you can sell friendliness and grit these little Filipino Island communities would thrive.

C208B EX Caravan Amphibian Seaplane on Wipaire 8750s

Seaplane in Palawan Philippines

Air Juan

Captain John S Goulet

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Common Sense and Seaplane Flying

“Common sense is no longer common,” says a veteran pilot talking about training new recruits. I have heard that phrase before but in most cases the person saying it has no idea of what it means or, in this case, how it applies to seaplane flying.

His misconception is the belief that the term “common” means being readily available and everywhere and the term “sense” means sensible. It implies that there is an intuitive norm – a predictable pattern of how events unfold that is easy to understand as long as you have this elusive common sense. But life is not predetermined. There is no destiny or fate, just actions and reactions. Common sense, the ability to predict a successful outcome, can only come about by education, experience and a basic understanding of geography, geology, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, logic and probability theory. Before the age of reasoning and science there was little of what we could call common sense. To explain this further lets start with the common definition of common sense.

John S Goulet

Tugawe Cove Caramoan Philippines. This cove is tucked in beside a deep water channel running between two large islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The dictionary definition of common sense is:

Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.
Source: Common Sense | Definition by Merriam-Webster

Another definition of common sense is “sound judgment in practical matters.”

These definitions beg the question of how common sense works in the first place and leads us to a misunderstand how common sense helps us to make decisions. In life situations common sense is simply:

The ability to distinguish random events from determined processes and use that distinction to make decisions.

Common sense is the sensibility developed by interpreting common patterns, (either repetitive or non-repetitive) remembering (correctly) common outcomes and determining the probability of a generated outcome. In other words, your actions based on your common sense decisions guide events (such as landing on a lake inside a volcano or maneuvering around severe thunderstorms) toward a higher chance of success.

We develop common sense over time when we learn how to determine likely outcomes (probabilities) based on our past experiences. These experiences can be life lessons or learned through training or mentoring. To be able to learn, however, we have to understand how a series of random non-predictable and/or patterned predictable events fool or rule our judgement.

Before I figured out that most people are incapable of determining probabilities, I was continually mystified by university graduates who still believed in god or chem trails, expatriate workers who never learned about local cultures during their “overseas” experiences or pilots who never learned from their repetitive mistakes. But then look at the greater part of mankind. Most people never learn from their mistakes because they don’t realize that what they are doing is wrong in the first place.

By my definition if common sense was common then there would be no religions or reality TV shows about aliens building the Egyptian pyramids or Mayan temples. As for pilots you have to ask, “If their decision-making ability is so corrupted then how can they possibly learn to fly?” To be fair the same should be asked of lawyers, doctors, politicians and the like. How can they do their jobs if they have no common sense?

Belief in any religion, a god or visitors from outer space, is the inability to distinguish random uninitiated events from purposeful patterned events. I watched a History channel TV show the other night and the narrator asked “Is it possible that aliens use the power of earth’s volcanoes to communicate?” And then as if to appeal to our common sense asked, “Is that why so many of earth’s cultures worship and pray to volcanoes?” That is how religious nuts, alien watcher kooks, and reality TV show producers appeal to the common masses. They link random unconnected events to make them seem that one affects the other in a patterned way that to the uninitiated appears logical. “If A=B and B=C then A=C” is logical but “if A appears at the same time as B and B appears near C then A=C” is not logical.

That’s like witnessing a bush burning, hearing voices and then attributing the voices to some miracle or greater power (especially powerful if that bush released hallucinatory chemicals after you lit up.) Would you want your professional pilot using that kind of common sense? Editors note: The inability to distinguish random events from deterministic events – not the hallucinatory chemicals. Obviously.

John S Goulet Cessna Grand Caravan C208B EX

Tugawe Cove Caramoan Philippines

Perceiving random events as if they have meaning and purpose, also called “intuition” and or “superstition” places an unreal biased importance on them where we expect or predict that these same events will influence a future event. For the human brain to recognize patterns is intuitive but to assign meanings to those patterns is not intuition. I usually see the face of Jesus as I am standing in the toilet facing the urinal wall, especially if the walls are sandstone or granite. His little face shows up everywhere. But to assign a meaning to seeing a face (especially a face where there is no photographs or drawn images for at least 325 years after his alleged death on the cross) in a toasted cinnamon bun or on a urinal wall is counter to common sense. Yet so many people believe that seeing the face of Jesus is a sign when in reality evolution programmed us to see faces.

“I see faces.”

I see faces from “Pacific Rim”.

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.
Source: Pacific Rim (2013) – IMDb


So, as pilots, how does common sense help us to make decisions?

To use a compilation example (a compilation made up from actual examples) a professional seaplane pilot flies to a remote island resort location, let’s say an island in Conception Bay east of Busuanga Island, at 15:00 one afternoon and encounters a severe thunderstorm. The pilot has to circle for 30 minutes until the storm passes and then manages to land at the resort in light rain. The storm matures and dissipates and he gets back to the departure airport about 35 minutes later than normal.

John S Goulet

Thunderstorm maturing over Catanauan on Luzon Island in the Philippines.

The next day the pilot is asked to fly back to the same location at the same time. He refuses saying, “This is the second time I have run into a thunderstorm at this resort at this time of the day. There will be a thunderstorm there today. It is not safe. I might have an accident.”

John S Goulet

Huma Resort in Conception Bay off Busuanga Bay in the Philippines. Calm seas and smooth sailing.

Is that decision based on a simple perception of the situation or facts? Or sound judgment in practical matters?

Did the pilot make that decision based on facts?

  • This is the rainy season so rain is more likely then during the dry season.
  • Convention heating (from the sun beating on land areas cleared by illegal logging of the rain forest) can create cloud buildup over the nearby large island.
  • Convention cloud buildup, with enough latent moisture, can develop into rain showers or even thunderstorms.
  • Since the sun is hotter in the afternoon the island is more likely to have rain showers between 14:00 to 16:00.
  • As the rainstorm matures it may drift with the prevailing winds towards and over Conception Bay.

Note that each of these facts has a probability factor. Rainstorms are more likely to develop during the rainy season but that is not 100% for sure. Not all buildups develop into rain-showers or even thunderstorms. Sometimes they build up in the morning and not in the afternoon. And when they do develop into heavy rain, turbulence and lighting the non-flyable part may only last for 20-30 minutes. So is the pilot’s decision based on facts or presumptions?

John S Goulet

Thunderstorm maturing over the Philippines Islands along the Pacific Rim.

What happened the day before when he ran into a thunderstorm (or any time there is a thunderstorm over the resort) is that a large number of random and varying conditions: moisture, temperature, winds, and maybe even butterflies, came together to produce a thunderstorm. This is the chaos theory in action. A thunderstorm may happen but more likely it will not happen. On the other hand, it is highly likely the plane will arrive about 15:00 that afternoon. Man can make that happen. What is the least likely scenario is that the thunderstorm will happen at the same time the plane arrives. There is no preordained or patterned action that causes a specific thunderstorm to build over a specific location each day at a specific time. Nature can’t make that happen or not happen in any precise or logical fashion.

This is simple mathematics but let’s codify it using the three events of A=aircraft arrival, B=thunderstorm, C=accident, and the law of probability. The likelihood that C happens = the likelihood that A and B will occur simultaneously plus the likelihood that A will happen and B will not happen. This adds up to mean that the likelihood of the plane arrival and the peak of the thunderstorm happening at the same time will not be more likely than the two events happen individually either at different times or in different locations no matter how slight.

In other words, if A happens and B happens that does not make C happen. That conclusion, to me, is common sense developed over years of flying in an and around thunderstorms. The pilot who refused the flight saw a pattern over two days and concluded wrongly, using Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts, that it will happen again the next day and because of that he might have an accident.

John S Goulet

Calm seas and smooth sailing in El Nido Philippines.

If you were to make decisions based on the knowledge of random events and thinking that there is a repeating and linear (one event leads to another in a deterministic process) pattern that can influence the future then you will more than often be wrong. Random events happen by chance and we all know in games of chance without the benefit of multiple returns (more opportunity over a longer period even the odds toward 50/50) the odds are against you. Of course if you perceive a pattern and can predict that pattern then you increase those odds, but that is not how the natural world works for seaplane pilots.

John S Goulet

Thunderstorm developing over El Nido resort near Palawan Island in the Philippines.

If we base our decisions on random events that appear to be patterned and/or linear (but are not) then we are not using common sense. Common sense is learned by observing and recognizing patterns where they occur (certain deterministic conditions will create a thunderstorm) and by understanding that non-repetitive patterns may not reoccur (the thunderstorm will not develop at the same time and place each time). The problem is that most people, professional pilots or otherwise, cannot distinguish between the two. Worse yet most people have a bias toward remembering the negatives and not the positives.

“Every time I turn final for the Boracay lagoon a large boat comes along converging with my landing path and cuts me off.” That is how the pilot remembers it but in truth this might have happened twice in 20 landings. We remember the times we are held up or delayed not the multiple times nothing eventful happened skewing our own view of the statistics. We then make decisions based on the incorrect memory of how many times we ran into thunderstorms or boats cut us off on final.

The real kicker is that a vast majority of the world’s population never develop common sense or use it in their decision making. That includes presidents and prime ministers as well as athletes, actors, singers, film makers, mayors, policemen and everyone else with doctors and lawyers being the worst.

So how important is common sense for a seaplane pilot? If it is important how do you teach common sense to a new pilot who hasn’t had the experience you have had? Not easy if they do not have the ability to learn the principles of common sense in the first place. Seaplane pilots often don’t know what to expect when going to a new ocean location or even when revisiting a known seaplane landing location. Wind, swells, waves and tides can affect the landing site. Lagoons, bays and beaches can all be so different each time you visit. Clouds, thunderstorms, lightning, shorelines, beaches, islands, volcanoes, rivers, currents, shoals, reefs, waves, swells, winds, tides and much more is all randomly generated and all these things affect a seaplane pilot’s decision making process. So how can we figure this all out and not end up high and dry on a reef or upside down in a lagoon?

Airline pilots know what to expect. Airports, airways, approaches, weather briefings are all purposely prepared to a standard. Airline pilots follow the standards as given to them before and during the flight. Despite the fact that seaplane pilots face an enormous number of variables we can still, like the airlines, establish a set of operational standards known as SOPs or Standard Operating Procedures specific to your geographic region, climate, and aircraft type for the events we can control or predict.

For example, we can predict the estimated size of waves knowing wind speed and direction (using the Beaufort Scale) although we may not be able to predict how the waves are affected by the shoreline or adjacent islands. Over time, like on the B.C. West Coast, where seaplane pilots have been flying since the 1920’s, the community of floatplane companies, harbour masters, tugboat captains, ship pilots, seaplane pilots and fishermen learn how the randomly generated waves and swells develop a non-repetitive pattern that can be predicted with a certain degree of certainty and if, possibly through the coast guard or Transport Canada publications or 40 year veterans, that collective information is passed on in a logical fashion it becomes part of our common sense for west coast seaplane pilots.

Captain John S Goulet

Captain John S Goulet

Starting with Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, we follow the rules, procedures and air laws. We follow before-start, before-takeoff, before-descent and before-landing checklists and to-do and flow pattern start, takeoff, after takeoff, climb, and cruise checks. We really learn our aircraft and learn to really fly the aircraft. We learn to navigate off airways. We learn to read the weather and not just to read weather reports.

When we fly toward a building thunderstorm we avoid it by at least xx miles -the regulations say 20 miles – I give ’em a good 2 miles berth. There is always a way around or a way out. We know not to fly between brewing storms or be suckered by a bright light at the end of the tunnel or be lured into the magenta or around through to the dark side of the radar. (This is starting to sound like training to be a Jedi.)

When landing on water we set up airport style circuits using downwind checks, crosswind shoulder checks and final landing checks before committing to land. When on the water we follow the rules and procedures of marine laws. We learn to read the ocean and the speed and direction of the wind and size of the ensuing waves and swells. We learn to give way to ships, sail boats, speed boats, love boats, kite surfers and most of all personal water craft whose drivers are often asked to turn in their brains when given a key to the jet ski. It lightens their load. Entering harbours we follow the red right returning rule. Red buoy on right and green on left. We don’t tie up to channel markers or enter swimming areas surrounded by white buoys. Anchors buoys are orange or blue. Not yellow. Don’t tie up to yellow buoys. (I am not sure why, I guess its like “Don’t eat the yellow snow” but just don’t.)

We learn to ask the right questions and to communicate with those who may know more about the places we go or how to get in and out of tough locations. We live within and attuned to our environment which is just a fancy way of saying our knuckles are scraped and scabbed, we get sweaty and smelly and our white shirts are black around the collar, yellowed under the arms and grease stained throughout.

As seaplane pilots, and pilots in general, we learn from reading training manuals and pilot operating handbooks, by following standard operating procedures and operational checklists written by experts, through repetitive training and line indoctrination and by sitting in the crew room, drinking coffee or in the bar having a beer, listening to stories from those who have more experience than us. Most of all, we learn by doing. Experience counts.

In fact, when I think about it, I kind of wonder if common sense is really all that important. My experience, as an instructor and training captain, is that common sense is no more of a requirement to becoming a seaplane pilot than it is to be a doctor, a lawyer or a politician. If they don’t need it then why would pilots? Most pilot don’t so I guess it must be OK not to. Looking at the bigger picture I am certain that if we all had common sense there would be no religion, poverty, pollution, wars, extremism, murders, accidents, lifestyle diseases, global warming, lawyers and all the rest. What a boring life this would be.

The difference is that lawyers and doctors don’t kill themselves and take along innocent trusting passengers. Pilots do. Just Google seaplane accidents anytime and you will find recent and startling stories about pilots killing themselves.

What’s left of a Beaver Float Plane

All five passengers and the pilot died when the sightseeing plane came down in a remote area of Quebec province.

Four Britons Confirmed Dead In Seaplane Crash

“These folks face danger on every flight,” a local said of float plane pilots.

Floatplane carrying sightseers crashes into remote Alaska cliff, killing nine – The Washington Post

Since 1985, 697 floatplane accidents have killed 258 people across Alaska, the LA Times reported, citing statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board.

More shoulder harnesses, alternate escape routes and improved pilot-monitoring practices were three factors outlined in the national safety agency’s investigation into the fatal float plane crash

TSB blames pilot error, bad weather for deadly B.C. float plane crash – The Globe and Mail

One of the accidents struck closer to home because I had just interviewed the pilot a few months before. Despite the fact that we had similar backgrounds and that he had 38 years and 15,000 hours of bush and seaplane flying, the interview left me feeling uneasy. A few months later he died in a preventable aircraft accident.

Man who died in the plane crash on Sunday was an experienced Canadian pilot | Icelandmag

What left of a Beaver in Iceland.

My point is that no matter how old you are and how many hours you have if you ever find yourself saying “I’ve been flying this way for xx years and I’ve never had an accident” then it’s time to quit. I change and adapt my flying style for each and every different environment and climate and geographic territory. You can’t fly in Africa as if you were in Alaska and you can’t fly in the Maldives as if you were in Canada. You have to constantly learn and adapt to survive. If you do wish to learn to survive, however, you need to learn more about the laws of probability and how they affect common sense decisions.  Start by rereading this blog – I did explain it along the way – and then take the test to see where you stand. Send in your results via the comments section or my emailing john.goulet55@ and I will get back to you.

Here’s a simple test of common sense. Remember your A, B, Cs.

Question One:
On a long flight at 10,000 ft the yellow low fuel pressure light comes on but the auxiliary (armed-in-standby-mode) fuel boost pump does not cut in. The pilot declared an emergency and landed at the nearest airport far from the home base. As an observer second guessing the pilot what conclusion is the most probable? You don’t need to be a C208 pilot to get this right.

A. The pilot was forced to fly around several severe thunder storms and is running out of fuel
B. The low fuel pressure light has failed in the on position.
C. The motive flow pump has failed and your low pressure sensor has failed to initialize the auxiliary fuel boost pump.

Question Two:
When practicing emergency procedures dealing with a possible “failure” the student pilot declares that the imaginary training scenarios is not real. (It=possible failure / Happened=actual failure.) Which of these statements is more probable:

A. Because it has not happened before pretending cannot prepare me for what might happen
B. I have been flying for 30 years and it has not happened before therefore it will never happen
C. If it can happen it will happen.

Question Three:

The regulations state that for any airline captain 60 years of age or older he must have a co-pilot younger than 60. All things being equal and considering all the pilots started commercially flying at the age of 20 which is these statements makes more sense.

A. The older pilot is more likely to drop dead of a heart attack than the younger pilot.
B. The probability of a pilot getting into an accident because of lack of experience is much greater than the probability of a pilot dropping dead during the 4 hours a day period that he flies.
C. Putting the youngest pilot of the company with the oldest will make the flight safer because the pilot’s ages will cancel each other out.

Question Four:

You are flying an amphibian seaplane and are 10 miles out over water on final for Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur the first day of the Cannes Film Festival. The tower says you are first in sequence for landing. Which is these scenarios is most probable.

A. Harrison Ford’s helicopter cuts you off and the tower tells you to orbit to provide spacing. You are now number two in sequence for landing. Once cleared you come in to land and realize during the final landing phase that you forgot to put your gear down.
B. The tower gives you clearance to land so you put your gear down. At five miles your engine quits and you are too low to glide to the runway. As you flare for a power off landing on the water you realize that you forgot your gear down.
C. John Travolta’s B727 cuts you off just as you select the gear down and the turbulence from the wing tip vortices causes your gear to not lock into position. When you land your gear collapses.

Good Luck.

“These folks face danger on every flight. If you take chances, they will eventually catch up with you. There’s an old saying here: ‘There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.’”

Source: Floatplane carrying sightseers crashes into remote Alaska cliff, killing nine – The Washington Post

The last place to find common sense is in the comments on most blogs or internet postings. If you had any common sense you would not post negative comments. For one, it does not make you look clever. If you post negative comments, moreover, you attract other postings and bring attention to an idea you don’t agree with. You have just made sure that idea is well spread and widely read. Common sense says that if you like an article say so, if you don’t…. just ignore it.

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Tugawe Cove Resort Caramoan Coastline

Flying to a new seaplane location is always exciting. No seaplane has landed at Tugawe Cove before and although it is on a distant south eastern peninsula of Luzon Island (the island Manila is on) there are no roads to this area. You get there by boat after a long road trip to the nearest port. On Google Earth Tugawe Cove, named after a native hardwood tree, appeared to be a difficult place to get into. The resort entrance is located in a tiny cove exposed to the open Philippine Sea. The beach looked promising but there wasn’t much in the way of protection if the winds or swells come in strong from the East.

The winds, however, were forecast to be light and from the west so the probability of making a successful landing and beaching were pretty high. We started off from Manila and flew down the East side of Luzon Island past San Miguel Bay, across the Camarines Sur down past the Caramoan National Park to the Caramoan Coast Islands.

Gota Beach on the edge of the Caramoan National Park Philippines

Gota Beach on the edge of the Caramoan National Park Philippines

I did an orbit around GoTa Resort to get a few pictures. I had been there before and might have a chance to go back there someday. I use the pictures to write up Route Guides for future reference. I shot these pictures through the Cessna window so the color is a bit off. The white balance could not properly compensate for the aircraft’s green tinted windows.

Gota Beach on the edge of the Caramoan National Park Philippines

On arrival overhead Tugawe Cove I could see large low swells coming in from the East – most likely from a distant typhoon heading toward Japan. The period was long making it easy to either parallel or land on the backside if necessary.

But the water in front of the cove, the landing area, was slightly protected by a large island. I did one orbit and set up for the water landing. The touch down area was smooth.

Philippines Sea

Tugawe Cove Resort Philippines

I taxied into the cove staying clear of the reefs I had seen from the air, feathered the prop and ghosted up to the beach. There was a slight swell and associated surge.

Tugawe Cove Resort Philippines

I swung the plane around tail in to prevent the surge from lifting and grounding the floats nose in. Getting it off the beach backwards would be much tougher than forward. Backwards the keel would get caught and dig in. Forward it could slide off. The beach was rough with broken coral embedded in the soft sand so I did not want to sit there long.

Even tail in and with the plane getting lighter with the disembarking passengers the surge was pushing the plane higher onto the beach with a receding tide. I couldn’t stay there without getting grounded so I fired up and moved her to the boat mooring where she would be safe for the day. The resort’s boat came to pick us up.

Air Juan Philippines

Captain John S Goulet

Tugawe Cove Resort Philippines

Tugawe Cove Resort Philippines

Air Juan’s Cessna C208B EX amphibian seaplane

#Wipaire Floats

Air Juan’s Cessna C208B EX amphibian seaplane

At the resort Mike and I had omelette, bacon and mango juice for breakfast. The resort has an infinity pool looking out over the cove.

Air Juan Philippines

Tugawe Cove Resort Caramoan Philippines

I climbed to the top of the lighthouse hill to get a vista over the surrounding islands.

Air Juan Philippines

Caramoan National Park Luzon Island

I watched a thunderstorm build over the island to the south. It spread its arms outwardly like the pincers of a coconut crap and scuttled sideways across the landscape.

John S Goulet

Thunderstorm over Caramoan Island Philippines

John S Goulet

Dissipating Thunderstorm over Caramoan Island Philippine

The thunderhead was impressive and scary at the same time. It built up, matured and dissipated in about one hour.

Tugawe Resort Cove Caramoan Philippines nestled in the hillsides

Air Juan Philippines

Captain John S Goulet

Tugawe Cove Resort is just 1:15 hours from Manila by seaplane. We departed Manila at 6:45 am and arrived for breakfast by 8:00 am. As we were leaving at 3:30 pm, having spent a full day hiking and island hopping, a family from Manila was just arriving by boat. They had left Manila at midnight to avoid the traffic and spent 15:30 hours on the road to get here. By taking our flight they would have added 2 extra days to their holiday.

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Seaplane Pilots and South Seas Pearls

Since early times gold, silver, diamonds and pearls have been on the top of man’s list of the most sought after and cherished valuables. Gold, silver and diamonds are formed and forged by heat and pressure during violent fluctuations deep within our earth’s inhospitable mantle. Pearls, a living and organic gem, are formed by the natural and gentle process of pearl oysters protecting themselves from an accidentally embedded irritant, such as a grain of sand, that they can’t naturally expel.


Cessna Caravan Seaplane on Flower Island TayTay Philippines

Oysters excrete an organic/inorganic mix known as nacre, or Mother-of-pearl, that builds in layers around the irritant to give a smooth, shining, iridescent and often round pearl that can be white, pink, champagne, black or gold depending on the oyster species and what the oyster ingests.

The big difference between gold and pearls is that pearls can be cultivated. Few men have mastered the art of pearl alchemy as well as former airline pilot Jacques Branellec the founder and owner of Jewelmer Joaillerie.

Jewelmer Philippines

Flower Island Resort

As late as 1990 most cultured pearls where white with black pearls being considered the most exotic . But Jacques noticed that there was a naturally recessive gene in some Pinctada maxima oysters that could produce a golden pearl depending on the environmental conditions. He set about to change the industry using the vision of a poet and the skill of a craftsman to finally, after an extensive breeding program, produce golden pearls from the gold-lipped pearl oyster native to Philippine waters. Jacques elevated the act of culturing pearls into the art of nurturing pearls.


Flower Island Resort TayTay Philippines

To produce the golden pearl, known now as the Golden South Seas Pearl, the environmental conditions have to be perfect and that includes being perfectly balanced with the biodiversity and sea life that surrounds the pearl farms. No pollution, no cyanide fishing, no fishing with dynamite and no destruction of the coral reefs for short-term gains. The workers at the Jewelmer pearl farms strive to protect the pristine environment they originally found in the Philippine islands of Palawan when they started farming in the 1980’s.

“The pearl is an indicator of the health of the planet. Upon its lustrous surface, every typhoon, every change in water temperature, every current caused by a dynamite blast, and every nuance in the cleanliness of the water is recorded. It falls on the highly skilled pearl farmer to act as a steward of creation. That’s why sharing with clients and helping them understand pearls and their relationship with nature is important.” Jacques Branellec, managing director.

Source: The Jewelmer Pearl Farm | Philippine Golden South Sea Pearls – Fine Pearl Jewelry, International Luxury Brand


Balanced Nature – Jewelmer Pearl Farms Palawan Philippines

Part poet and part craftsman Jacques, and his Filipino partner, turned his nurtured golden pearls of natural beauty into a works of exquisite crafted jewelry. To sell their exquisite luxury creations they created a luxury brand and did their own marketing.

Exceptional South Sea pearls are the centerpieces of the celebrated Jewelmer Joaillerie brand, which showcases the distinctive style and creative harmony of French design and Asian sensibilities, bringing fine jewelry to brilliant new heights.

Source: the company – Jewelmer Joaillerie | Golden South Sea Pearls

That is where the seaplane pilot comes into the picture. Although Jewelmer has their own helicopter for personal and work transportation they wanted something different to help market their ecologically friendly jewelry. Something that will fit in with their mutually inclusive luxury branding and their quest for ecological sustainability. The seaplane fits that description perfectly.


Cessna Caravan Seaplane on Flower Island Palawan Philippines

The modern turbine powered seaplane requires no runways, no helipads, and leaves no footprint of any kind behind. Pearl oysters are sensitive to noise and pollution and the seaplane is benign in both categories. Unlike boats motors that have their propellers under water, what little noise the seaplane propeller makes on takeoff is not transferred from the medium of air to the medium of water. Because there is no propeller or exhaust under water, again unlike boats, there is no residual pollution.

Jewelmer deputy CEO Jacques Christophe Branellec, son of the founder, arranged for me to fly out to their private island located just a few kilometers from one of the main pearl farms along with a photography team and a jewelry model. Although Flower Island Resort is mostly used as their private residence while they are working the pearl farms they also take in the occasional guests – those intrepid travellers who have the time and determination to find their way via commuter airliner to Puerto Princesa, 3.5 hour Jeepney journey to the port of TayTay and finally a long boat ride across to the island.

By seaplane, on the other hand, I departed Manila at 6:30 am and arrived at the island by 8:00 am just in time for breakfast.


Cessna Caravan Seaplane on Flower Island TayTay Philippines

My assignment was simple. Bring the seaplane and the film crew to the island and then wait. The golden pearls were the real star of the show and the seaplane was merely used as a backdrop for the jewelry campaign photo-shoot. Mike and I took our assignment seriously and settled in for the long wait.

Jewelmer Pearl Farms

Relaxing on Flower Island Resort Philippines

To be specific the model was the backdrop  for the golden pearls and the seaplane was the backdrop for the jewelry model.

Jewelmer pearl farms

Cessna Caravan Seaplane on Flower Island TayTay Philippines

At any one time the young lady was wearing up to $30,000 worth of golden south seas pearls flown in separately via the company helicopter and flown out again the same day.

Jewelmer Pearl Farms

Cessna Caravan Seaplane on Flower Island TayTay Philippines

Jewelmer Joaillerie Jewelry Model Philippines

The idea that these perfectly exquisite and valuable pearls were created by man’s intervention with a natural process, to me, represent the harmony of man and nature. Commercialism can coexist with nature as long as the poet and the craftsman work together to understand how they fit into the ecology they are working with.

We can protect and tune but ultimately we need to be able to sustain – both the natural processes of the environment and of the human community that lives in and off of the environment. If the community can profit from protecting the environment then a harmony and balance can be found. Not by politicians but by the poets and craftsmen.

To me seaplane pilots are cut from the same mold. Some of us are born to be seaplane pilots but we still need to take the time to learn how to be craftsmen. We have to train and study and practice until we get it right. Like the pearl farmers we need the clean waters, healthy biosphere and perfect beaches to fly to otherwise we would just as well work for an airline and fly airport to airport. That is not who we are.

Instead of flying to lush green tropical islands and clear blue waters filled with whale sharks, turtles, clown fish, sea anemones and pearl oysters we would be pounding the concrete runways. While all pilots are craftsman those of us who fly seaplanes are the poets of aviation.

Mike and I both agreed that you didn’t need to be a jewelry model to make the golden pearls look luxurious. One of the marketing managers was also wearing a set of trademark Jewelmer golden pearl earrings. We dubbed her “The Girl with the Golden Earrings.”

The pearl, featured on the 1000 peso note, is the national gem of the Philippines. So should be the Girl with the Golden Earrings.

Jewelmer pearl farms

The Girl with the Golden Earrings

This young lady, and all those who work the pearl farms with Jewelmer, represents the real national treasure of the Philippines and our future. Like Jacques Branellec said in an interview, “The pearl is the symbol of survival – when you have no more pearls you have no more humans on the planet.”

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Shades of Black – A Good Neighbor

In Memory of Douglas John Silvester

For you, after you die, there is nothing.  A void. A blackness.

For the still-living, when you die, you still exist. The memory of who you were lives on. Who you were (a good guy – an ‘A-hole’ – a craftsman – a  poet), however, depends on what memories you impressed on the people who knew you.

You can also be remembered by those who didn’t know you if you left behind accessible media such as photos, books, movies, or in the case of social media through your blog, website, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube postings.

The oldest social media method, however, for collectively remembering anyone who has “passed” is the obituary – usually presented at the memorial or what we today call a celebration of life and published in the local newspaper. For my Grandmother’s era the older you got the more obsessive you got about reading the obituaries. When the deceased’s obituary came out they become the center of gossip for the day.

For those (wife, husband, son or daughter) who were close to you (the deceased) the obituary may be the one chance to get your story out to the rest of the world. I guess this sounds like “too-little-too-late” but if you didn’t write an autobiography or keep a blog for the last 10 years this may be the only chance to set your story straight. What your loved ones write in the obituary will decide the shade of blackness that you descend into after you die.

If you don’t write a blog, keep a web site, post thousands of pictures or published books and articles, in other words – write your obituary before your time – you will have to count on getting a good obituary to tell your story. You will have to depend on someone else to get their act together. Considering that most of our modern society cannot be bothered to write a coherent tweet or use the spell checker on Facebook that is risking a lot. There is no second chance here. You die. You get forgotten. Gone. The blackest of black.

A good friend and mentor of mine, Stan Shilson, died and his family decided not to publish an obituary or hold a memorial or celebration of life. His daughter didn’t even contact me to break the news even though she knew Stan and I were very close. They most likely justified their actions by saying “he wouldn’t have wanted one.”  Or “he would have just wanted the immediate family.” You hear those meaningless excuses a lot recently.

I know Stan would have uttered those very words, but I also know that he really would have wanted his close friends to remember him and attend his burial. But whether he wanted me to add my “remember-the-time-Stan…” memories of him to his celebration of life is not the point. He is dead and won’t know anyway. The celebration is about those of us still living.

If we can write off our close friends and relatives so quickly when they die then what is there about our own lives left to cherish? Without that last memorial, celebration of life or obituary Stan Shilson may have never existed. A WWII veteran who spent his life helping others doesn’t exist except in my personal memories.

Not having a memorial or celebration of life for your “loved one” is just bad manners, but not having a good obituary is bad planning. We all know we are going to die. So face it. Prepare your obituary or find someone trustworthy who will do it for you. Don’t rely on your genuinely grief-stricken (or your genuinely lazy lay-about) relatives to cover your life for you. Otherwise be resigned to disappear. Just try to Google Stan Shilson. Nothing.

Recently a good neighbor and (after being our shared-fence-neighbor for the past 10 years) friend, Doug Silvester, died of cancer. He was diagnosed a few years before but with chemo and radiation they optimistically thought he was going to beat the odds. But when I came home to Canada, after being away for 10 months, he had given up all treatment with the realization that there was no containing the cancer’s spread. He knew he was dying.

We were not close and we had little in common but I admired his way of putting all things in context. He made light of problems and gave everyone a fair shake. His gossip was breezy and none malicious and if he didn’t like someone he didn’t say it out loud. He simply made a face that said, “I am not going to talk about this person.

Having Doug as my neighbor did, however, point out my biggest personal flaw and our biggest difference. He was always around and I was always away. When my son got the lawn tractor stuck in the ditch, when the truck battery died, when my wife needed someone to remove dead mice from the basement (she would phone him and say “Doug I have a dead body I need you to dispose of“) they could always rely on Doug being nearby and willing to lend a hand. And when I was home he was the third hand in any heavy lifting or difficult job I needed help with. And he never – not once in the time we were neighbors – asked for a favor in return.

When I got obsessive about getting anything done around the yard and worked too hard or too late he’d show up at the fence and yell “It’s happy hour!” I’d grab my wife and a couple of beers and join him and his wife on his backyard deck and watch the sun set below the treeline as we discussed local people and politics. After the beers ran out we’d then, reluctantly, get into his home-made “patio” wine which I believe came straight from a tap installed on the carboy. Doug was handy that way.

When I got home from being away for 10 months Doug made an effort to came over to my yard to greet me. As always he was cheerful and happy to see me. Two weeks later Doug died with dignity at home in bed. Watching him die, quickly and quietly over the next two weeks, hit me (and Holly and Logan) like few deaths before him.

For me personally the impact of Doug’s death was not in the same classification as losing a close family member like my Grandmother, Mother-in-law or my Dad but rather in the non-family class of Stew Wilson, a bush pilot who befriended me when I was 5 years old and who died suddenly in a Norseman crash, or Stan Shilson, a war buddy of my uncle and the voice of compassion and reason during my formative years, who died in his bed after a long and happy life.

These guys, including Doug, represent those few people in our lives that press something into our hearts, like a warm hand impressed on a soft pillow, if only just a glimpse of the true meaning of friendship or dependability or compassion.

Doug’s family did hold a celebration-of-life and asked his best friends and curling buddies to write and read an obituary. I attended the event which many people later said was a wonderful memorial. I left, however, feeling like my glass was half empty. I concluded from Doug’s memorial was that if you didn’t fish, golf or curl and get drunk and do something stupid while fishing, golfing or curling in a Bonspiel then you hadn’t lived. Doug obviously died with a full glass.

Randall, Doug and Pete

Doug was a good curler and golfer and loved to fish and somehow having a few too many drinks during these activities made those times somewhat more memorable, humane and identifiable. If we don’t have significant milestones and accomplishments to brag about then we make it up by making light of our life’s foibles.

We can all feel a sense of what it means to be human if we can identify with someone’s failings and in my town getting falling down drunk during a curling Bonspiel and telling stories about “sleeping it off” in the broom closet between games brings people together just like getting your car stuck in the snow during a blizzard brings out the people willing to shovel and push. Blizzards and getting drunk are an inevitable force of nature that compel you to realize that life is full of pitfalls and we just have to get up again and get on with it – whatever it is we do – and that in the end we need each other to help us out of the ditch.

Since I don’t curl, golf, fish or get drunk and fall down there will be nothing for people in my hometown to say at my memorial. Who can identify with what I do – flying into volcanoes in Indonesia, running guns and money in West Africa, starting airlines in South Africa and Madagascar, setting up a deep water helicopter operation in West Africa, flying million dollar pearl runs in Indonesia, or being the first to ever land a seaplane on a remote island in Fiji, the Maldives or the Philippines?

That is why Doug was special. He was a team player. He would be your third or join your foursome. He was the dependable guy who would always show up to pull you out of the broom closet or push you out of the ditch – during a bonspiel or blizzard or otherwise – and he did so without being smug or expecting something in return. He made you laugh about your predicament.

And he did so because he was aware of his own shortcoming. His foibles were your foibles and by sharing them we shared a sense of community. If it wasn’t for people like Doug there would be no curling bonspiels or golf tournaments or, ultimately, a community to come home to.

That is where the intolerance of prohibition and religious fanaticism fail. We may be prone to fail but if we recognize and share a laugh over our human failings we will be more tolerant of each other. In identifying this we, the living, will be in a better place. Doug may have gone into the void but our memories of him are a lesser shade of black because of his family and friends who did something to remember him by. If you Google Douglas John Silvester you don’t get a black out.

Douglas John Silvester

Doug Silvester

Throwing the Last Rock

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