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Flying with Bryan

Pilot and HGTV star shows that dreams do come true

It's always fun to meet celebrities but you can't help but wonder: Is he going to be cool or is he going to be a jerk? Well, I am happy to tell you that the guy who rules any HGTV viewer's heart is very, very cool. And an accomplished, wonderful-to-fly-with pilot.

Photography by David Tulis
Zoomed image

Photography by David Tulis


In fact, Bryan Baeumler may have taken me on one of my most favorite general aviation flights ever, and that’s saying a lot for someone who has flown GA around the world for more than 25 years.

OK, so you’re asking, who is Bryan Baeumler? Those of us who are HGTV devotees will forgive you. If you live in Toronto, you might not be so easily forgiven. Or on South Andros Island in the Bahamas. Baeumler started his HGTV career in Canadian television, starring in construction and renovation reality shows such as Leave it to Bryan and Disaster DIY. A former handyman (he started his first company at age 14 doing odd jobs for neighbors), he worked with his father in air cargo before opening his own construction company. He then launched a website for homeowners in Canada, Baeumler Approved, which led to a mobile marketplace app called HeyBryan. The HGTV Canada show House of Bryan, which ran from 2010 to 2015, was the highest-rated HGTV Canada series ever. When he stops for gas at a Toronto station, people line up for autographs.

In 2017, Baeumler and his wife, Sarah, along with their four kids, set upon renovating a defunct hotel on South Andros Island in the Bahamas. After viewers in Canada and the United States watched the couple renovate the resort in Renovation Island, the Caerula Mar Club opened in December 2019, only to see the Bahamas ravaged by Hurricane Dorian. Then the family was trapped at the resort during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through it all, Baeumler retained his signature aplomb, reflecting later that the secluded time with his family on the island was some of the best times of their lives. And the people of South Andros are very pleased with the increased tourism this “sleeping giant” island has received (Andros is the largest of the Bahamian islands, yet one of the least developed).

Flying the islands

Baeumler’s father owned Baeumler Quality Sheet Metal in Toronto, manufacturing parts and making structural modifications to private, military, and commercial aircraft since 1974. Bryan helped run its family air cargo business in the late 1990s. He recalls that he spent hours flying along in the cockpits of cargo jets, but he never took the time to learn to fly. “If hours counted as a passenger, I’d have a lot from riding milk runs with my father. Aviation was always in my blood, but I was always chasing girls and chasing dreams. The pandemic pressed pause in time,” he said. “I think I was meant to fly; I don’t know why I waited so long.” During training he started researching the purchase of an airplane. He had a 1980 fully restored 172 in sight but his friend, commercial pilot, and aviation mentor Susan Carastro told him he didn’t need all that. “It was like $275K and she said her brother—who has a flight school in Mississippi—had a little trainer I should look at. I was still a student pilot and when I saw the airplane, she was a little rough. Mismatched paint, corrosion, no wheel pants. But I fell in love. That’s why I named her Cinderella—Cindy—because she now has a new dress, new slippers, and a nice place to live.”

Baeumler purchased the 1982 Cessna 172P for $35,000 and then put an additional $45,000 into its paint and interior renovation. He uses the airplane to fly back and forth from the family’s home at the Aero Club in Wellington, Florida, to South Andros. “It’s not the fastest airplane but it has the glide range with the proper altitude. It’s a cost-saver too. Getting four people across to the island is a lot more economical than flying charter 
or commercial.”

South Andros no longer has fuel available at the airfield in Congo Town (MYAK), but it is the Customs point of entry for the Bahamas, so even if you’re on a charter flight flying yourself into the island chain, you have to stop in Congo Town first. Baeumler says he is working with local authorities to get fuel back on the island and perhaps add an FBO. In the meantime, he takes several containers of fuel with him and stockpiles it on the island for an emergency reserve or to use when taking guests and friends on tours.

Sharing the island on flights is one of his favorite things to do; he also loves to simply fly alone and see the islands from above. He points out blue holes, shipwrecks, and patterns in the sand. “There’s nothing like jumping into the airplane, burning a little avgas, putting on music, and appreciating the island’s beauty. It’s the ultimate battery charger.”

The resort

Caerula Mar Club (the “Deep Blue Sea”) is really simply stunning. It is not the vibrant pinks and oranges and vivid blues and greens that one usually associates with Bahamian hotels. Sarah Baeumler allows nature to show off those colors. Instead, guests are greeted in a calm, relaxed atmosphere of natural tones and wood accents. Handed a warm towel and signature refreshing drink, a guest immediately relaxes. Villas and clubhouse suites are decorated in the same neutral tones, and the feeling is understated indulgence. From nearly every vista is a view of the pristine white sand beach and cerulean blue ocean. Although the resort is on 10 acres, the feeling is of seclusion and privacy; there are just 23 accommodations. Around the beachfront pool are cabanas and deck chairs; the beach is dotted with the individual oasis—two lounge chairs and a private umbrella. Sarah Baeumler calls her resort’s style “barefoot luxury,” and it is an apt phrase.

When the couple saw the abandoned hotel in 2017, Bryan says they fell in love with it and the decision to purchase the property was immediate. It became their “passion project.” They packed up their four children in 2017 and moved to the island. For two and a half years they renovated the resort and TV viewers watched the progress, first on Canadian television as Island of Bryan and then when the show was sold to U.S. and international viewers as Renovation Island. Caerula Mar opened in 2019 to great acclaim, and was fully booked until March 2020 when the world shut down. “For seven months we lived here with our chef and his wife and children in a fully stocked, vacant hotel,” said Baeumler.

The show’s success grew. “The timing during the midst of a pandemic was interesting. I think it gave viewers escapism, was aspirational for them…and a ‘let’s watch this train wreck’ moment during a tough time for the world. We, on the other hand, had a wonderful time.”

Giving back their resort refuge at the end of the pandemic was bittersweet. It had given the family a respite from their busy lives. But, as Baeumler admits, he gets “ants in his pants” if there isn’t a lot of activity in their lives. Plus, the kids have gotten older and found their own interests. It’s one of the reasons they chose to live at the Aero Club at Wellington in addition to their hangar home; son Quintyn’s equestrian club is located there.

“Fame is a double-edged sword,” says Baeumler. “It is mentally and soulfully exhausting. But I think of it as the cost of doing business. I love talking to people, helping people with projects. And pilots love bumping elbows and telling stories.” That many of the resort’s guests are pilots themselves is not surprising. The accessibility from Florida to the island and the convenience of a flight to Congo Town are appealing. That one can often run into Baeumler while on vacation and swap flying stories is a bonus.

“Life’s pretty good right now,” says Baeumler. “I think the biggest problem I’m going to have with aviation is my hangar’s not big enough.” He recently purchased a 1947 RC-3 Seabee and thinks he may “upgrade soon” from Cinderella. Fairy tales do come true.

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Julie Walker
Julie Summers Walker
AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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