Caymanian Compass: Chopper makes for high time

(Published in the Caymanian Compass Weekender, Friday, 18 November, 2011)

With the roar of the propellers from above and the ok from air traffic control we gently soar up towards the skies. I’m joining Cayman Islands helicopter pilot and owner Jerome Begot for the inaugural flight from his company’s brand new location on the George Town waterfront.

As we start to gain height, Jerome tells me that the new helipad and offices, which are perched directly on the rocky iron shore, represent some seven years of searching and then a further two years to navigate through the necessary planning requirements.

“Now cruise ship passengers won’t have to travel to the airport. They can just walk down to our new location,” he says over the headsets. “My business is more visible and hopefully this new location will give it a boost.”

As we soar through the skies in the companies brightly coloured helicopter, the birds eye views from above are breathtaking. From our height of about 1,000 feet the whole of the Seven Mile Beach strip stretching across to the North Sound becomes visible. I grab my camera and snap away. The photo opportunities are endless and sat at the front next to Jerome on the controls the views are out of this world.

We fly over George Town and loop over the port buzzing with cruise ship passengers, across to Camana Bay and then up the Seven Mile Beach strip to the glitzy Ritz-Carlton before sweeping out to the Caribbean Sea just past Tiki beach. The colours of the sea, from a sparkling aqua marine to a deep blue are spectacular.

From above it’s easy to spot familiar sights and Jerome is an expert tour guide, pointing out places of interest. He is also a dab hand at picking out marine life gliding through the waters below. Lucky passengers may spot a turtle, stingray or even the occasional shark.

As we venture further out and away from the shore line, Jerome points out the sunken 251 foot Kittiwake which is clearly visible under the crystal clear waters. Surrounded by dive boats bobbing up and down on the Caribbean Sea, it now looks like it lies precariously close to the Cayman wall.  Strong waves from Hurricane Rina pushed the sunken ship some 60 foot away from its original resting place earlier this month, and a team of divers have been assessing the damage since.

Jerome opened Cayman Islands Helicopters in 2003 to offer tourists and visitors a unique perspective of Cayman. The popular Stingray City tour is a 20-minute hop, taking in the vistas of the North Sound as well as George Town and Seven Mile Beach.  Jerome also offers tours of the entire island as well as a shorter tour of just Seven Mile Beach for those pressed on time.

During our trip Jerome excitedly explains how he hopes his new location, in between Burger King and the Lobster Pot restaurant on North Church Street, will not only help give a boost to his business but also to others around him.

“I think it will be good for the island. For example, the Lobster Pot, we hope to boost their business too. Now cruise ship passengers will take a trip with us and see the restaurant and perhaps decide to take lunch there, when formerly they would not have spotted it.

“It was tough to find a suitable place to meet all the regulations, but it is great that we are finally here. I’ve had a lot of support from the business people around me, from government and the Civil Aviation Authority.

“I love what I do and I’m excited to finally be operating from our new location.”

All too soon it’s time to head back. We take a final flight round George Town harbour, decked up for Pirates Week and the ensuing festivities. We make a final circle over one of the docked cruise ships and the mock pirate ships Valhalla and the Jolly Roger, before we come in to land on the new helipad.

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