Thursday, 6 November 2014

Round Robin

This is an occasional diary of life on the Falkland Islands for  British expat.  This week - a long-awaited birthday present becomes reality!......

Bravo November FIGAS flight awaits....
About a year ago, a received a very welcome Birthday present from my wife - a voucher for a Round Robin scenic flight on the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS).  This fleet of small Britten-Norman Islander aircraft run an essential service carrying people, post and penguins throughout the archipelago.
Pilot's view of the apron at Stanley Airport
However, before I could enjoy my birthday present, I had to be unexpectedly evacuated to the UK to fix an eye problem.   I was away a couple of months, and the problem recurred in March.  So, enjoying a scenic flight drifted down my list of priorities until September, when, while on a weekend break on Sealion Island (see recent post), I met a lady who works for FIGAS .  She suggested I send her some dates and they would see if they could fit me in.
Will we be as level after take-off?
 The planes only hold 6 passengers, but can be almost empty on some flights.  The Round Robin ticket allows a passenger to travel on a quiet flight, for a reduced fare, but with the restriction that you stay on the plane!  However, my resurgent interest in the flight coincided with the tourist season and heavy rain, which made landing at some grass airstrips tricky.  Extra weight, in the shape of me,  was not welcome!
No complaints here about aircraft noise!
 Eventually, on October the 31st, I got a call to get to the airport the next day as there was room on a flight!  November 1st dawned, and carrying only a camera, I checked in and found I was still the same weight as last year - all passenger are weighed before the flights!!
House at the end of the runway.  No long journeys for flights!
 As a special treat, I sat beside the pilot and could hear the chatter with the control tower through the headphones.  First stop was a small settlement in the north of East Falklands.  The pilot warned me that we get a bit close to the houses, but, having lived under the Heathrow flightpath I was fairly relaxed....until I saw the roof of a farmhouse rushing towards us.  With all the space available in the Falklands, it seemed bizarre to have the airstrip almost in the back garden of a farm!
Smylie's Creek
And I doubt many pilots get the advice from the ground control team..."Wind, 25 knots, gusting 30. Surface dry, but lots of cow and horse shit"!  Very accurate, though!

Paloma Sand Beach
After picking up our passenger, we headed over some beautiful countryside I had never seen before, towards Saunders Island.  We were flying over the route that British troops "yomped" or "tabbed" (depending on whether you were a Marine or a Paratrooper), during the Falklands War.  With Remembrance Sunday approaching, many veterans have returned, and all of the Islanders are extremely grateful for the sacrifice of these brave men and women.
Approaching Saunders Island's airstrip
 Saunders not only has a historic settlement, but is also often the location for many brilliant wildlife documentaries, such as BBC's "Spy in the Huddle".   One of the jewels in the Falklands' crown, but one which I had yet to explore.
Saunders' terminal
Sadly, as mentioned, I had to stay on he plane.  In any case, we were only landing for a few minutes, while passengers jumped off, and people leaving the island jumped on.  These might have been tourists, workers, schoolchildren (it was the end of half-term), doctors visiting patients, and so on.

Saunders' terminal
So, turning into the 25 knot breeze, and revving the engines, we were quickly airborne again, heading for Carcass Island.  This is another gem.  Throughout its 150 years of habitation, the  owners somehow have kept rats and cats off the island. (Many rats swam ashore onto islands after ships wrecked on reefs. And there are many reefs and shipwrecks in the Falklands).  This means the birds are extremely tame, and very easy to photograph.
The Neck, Saunders Island
Unfortunately, the approach to the landing strip on Carcass seemed to involve a very steep turn close to a large hill, and I found myself staring down at some boulders which seemed far too close for comfort.  Needless to say, the pilot could have landed on a sixpence in thick fog, and probably has, many times.

Unusually straight road, West Falklands
 Within minutes, we had exchanged passengers with the friendly host, who played the role of a flight attendant by offering the pilot and I a Mars bar.  Very welcome, as we had been flying for about 90 minutes.   Formalities completed, we turned to take off over that same hill, and headed south-east to Sealion Island.
Stanley runway, with harbour and town beyond.
With the wind now behind us, we skimmed over the waves, and into a bank of low cloud....  :-(
In effect, my scenic flight was just about over.  I saw some elephant seals basking on the beach on Sealion, but we zoomed over them before I could focus my camera.   All too soon, we were approaching Stanly again, where the cloud cleared.

Three hours had, quite literally, flown past.  And my lovely wife was waiting to take me home.  But, since I hadn't been able to leave the plane once during the flight, a quick trip to the toilet was in order!

A great day out.  Sometimes good things are worth waiting for!




  1. Hi. Like London buses we wait ages for a post on your blog and two turn up in quick succession. Wow that was amazing, what a brilliant trip. Gives me an idea of something to do in March!

  2. sounds a great trip (not for me :-D). Traced your route on a map and was surprised at how expansive it is - I thought you had almost "done it"all!!
    Looking forward to your new wildlife ceramics line! What was on Annie's?

    1. 778 islands to explore. We've been on about 10! Annie's ceramic had a vulture on it! xx