Last night I flew home from Ottawa. Once again I had to stay lower than I liked because of the engine break-in, but this time it was nearly perfect weather. Clear skies, not too bumpy, and a little haze south of the lake. The hardest part was that for the first time ever, I had to refuse a clearance and try to negotiate something different.
I had filed the Ottawa One departure, direct to Watertown VOR, direct to KONDO, then Victor 2 to Rochester. Instead, I got cleared on Ottawa One, Victor 145 to Watertown THEN DIRECT TO ROCHESTER. I had to say “unable due to long overwater – I’m breaking in a new engine”. The controller said “well, what do you want”, and I said “well, I want what I filed, direct to KONDO, or failing that direct to Syracuse VOR. He said he’d have to talk to somebody. He came back a minute later with the clearance for Ottawa One, Victor 145 to Waterdown, direct Syracuse, direct Rochester. I accepted the clearance. I was figuring that after I crossed the border I could just cancel IFR and continue on my own routing.
I plugged the route into my GPS and fired up. Now the Ottawa One departure chart shows the first two fixes on Victor 145 (V145) as ASHTN and REEDO. Evidently I plugged those into my GPS without looking at them too carefully. I took off and was given a vector to intercept V145. I had the proper radial from the Ottawa VOR for V145 on my second nav radio, and the first one all set up for the proper radial to Watertown VOR on my first one (although I wasn’t receiving Watertown yet). And then I made an embarrassing mistake. I was flying this vector, and it looked on the GPS that I wasn’t going to intercept the course line anywhere between ASHTN and REEDO – it actually looked like it wasn’t going to intercept at all. Ok, if I had been thinking, I would have dialed in the CURRENT radial from Ottawa on the VOR and then I could see that I was getting closer to the correct radial, which would have meant I was going to intercept it. Instead I trusted the GPS, and I called on the radio and asked if this heading was going to intercept. The Ottawa departure controller reassured me that I was getting close, so I checked the GPS again. That’s when I went to the “ROUTE” page on the GPS and realized that it said that REEDO was 2,000+ nautical miles away. Oh oh, I’d plugged in the wrong identifier – instead of REEDO, I had put in REEDD. Damn blocky font! I quickly changed it to REEDO, and now the picture looked a lot better.
Because it was down low and a little bumpy, I decided to let George (the autopilot) handle both heading and altitude this time. I became the systems monitor, which was good because it gave me more time for sightseeing.
After talking to Ottawa departure and Montreal Center, I was passed over to Wheeler Sack as I crossed the border. Wheeler Sack said “I have an ammendment to your clearance”. Oh oh. “8439Z, after Watertown VOR, fly direct to KONDO, Victor 2 to Rochester.” In other words, the clearance I initially filed. Great.
Around about this time, I realized the second mistake I’d made in my flight planning – the weather briefer had given me the winds at 6,000 feet at Syracuse, and I don’t know if it was because I was lower down, or because the winds shifted at the lake shore, or what, but I realized that I was going to arrive at Rochester about 20 minutes before I’d told Customs that I was going to arrive. I couldn’t slow the plane down because of the engine break-in. I have heard some horror stories about heavy fines for people arriving outside of the time they said they would, and I seriously considered cancelling my IFR clearance and going south to stooge around for 20 minutes. But I couldn’t really see how that would make the homeland any more secure, plus it would cost me more money. So I continued on.
I landed and taxied to customs. Nobody there. Ok, I thought, if nobody is there, at least they won’t see that I was there too early. So I waited. I already had Customs Form 178 (the “arrival report”) filled out, which is a very good thing if you want a quick customs stop. Generally I’ve found if you don’t have it filled in ahead of time, while you fill it in the customs guy either sits there and fumes and starts asking you lots and lots of questions, or he starts taking all your baggage out and pawing through it. While I waited I made sure I had the form ready, and also did the usual sort of housekeeping you have to do at the end of any trip – pack your flight bag back up, fold the charts up, fill out the log book. But even that didn’t fill in the whole time – not only was I 20 minutes early, but the customs guy was 15 minutes late. He came in and said “When did you phone this in?” I said “about 2 and a half hours ago”, which is the truth. But he said that they didn’t call him until 10 minutes to seven, and he lives 20 minutes drive away. Aren’t you glad to know how well organized our FAA and US Customs services are?