Oh, the trials I face here on Bonaire! It seems my wet suit is always wet! I hang it up to dry overnight, but by the time I’m ready for my next dive, it’s still damp. I know you are supposed to dry your clothes after you wash them, so the same must be true for my wet suit. But with my dive schedule, it’s impossible to get it completely dry. Whatever am I to do?
It’s going to smell before long, and I’ll have to wash it out in salt water again, which is, of course, why I go diving every day. After all, you can’t have it smelling. What would the neighbours think? So I’ll just have to persevere with my ‘always wet suit.’
But, wait. Do I hear someone say, Why not just stop diving for a couple of days? Now, don’t be ridiculous. Haven’t you seen the license plates down here? They read, Diver’s Paradise! I have no choice. I’m a diver. What can I do? Not dive every day? Perish the thought.
Oh my . . . moving on.
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Tonight I’m dictating my blog from one of the lawn chairs on the dock at Divi Flamingo Beach Club. In front of me is yet another aircraft approaching from the direction of Curaçao.
On our way back from our dive this afternoon, we noticed lines of cars parked at the end of the runway by the airport, so I asked Jay to pull over as well. I wanted to check out what people do for fun down here. Sure enough, there was the huge, three-engine KLM jet on approach. I was able to whip out my camera and shoot a video of it roaring overhead. How exciting!
You would think with the airport being the lifeblood of this island, flights would be a little more frequent. It seems they are mostly on Friday and Saturday. In fact, for the last while, direct flights are less common, and getting a flight to Bonaire can be somewhat difficult.
1st Dive: FRONT PORCH
This morning started with meeting Albert at the FRONT PORCH dive site. When I got there, I discovered that he had some Dutch people with him, one of which was going to accompany us on our dive. This was to be my training dive to become a volunteer for the Sea Monitor Foundation Bonaire.
Albert was very thorough, and described in detail what is involved. First, I was issued my official piece of Scotch-brite (a green, nylon scrub pad).
He demonstrated the data collector. He had a scrap sensor which he inserted into the slot in the reader. You then press a little lever (which contains a magnet) onto the casing, which turns the unit on, and the middle yellow light starts to blink, which says Transfer. The transfer takes about ten or more seconds while it downloads the last week’s data. Then the green OK light turns on, and you remove the sensor. Then you press the OFF button on the data collector.
Before you do any of this, of course, you have to clean the sensor off with your scrub pad. Even though we visit the monitoring sites weekly, there is actually a fair amount of algae that grows on it every week. The green algae is easy to remove, but the white algae is more difficult. Apparently the white algae is the precursor to fire coral. The fire coral takes root on the base that the white algae provides. Sometimes I have to use my knife to scrape it off.
Each sensor records the water quality reading every 60 seconds. Each reader is capable of storing 16 days’ worth of information. The battery is able to last for up to two years.
Once the data has been collected, it is downloaded to Albert’s computer, and given a quick assessment. If the data is all correct, it is then uploaded to a university in the United States.
The floater bottles are located at a depth of five metres. This was the agreement with the harbour master, as any ship can pass over it without getting caught in the mooring line. We also did not want boats tying off on our sensor lines. The first sensor is just below at about five metres, and is a single, full-spectrum sensor. The next stop has three sensors at 12 metres. The top sensor has a green filter over the optical input. The second sensor has a blue light filter, and the bottom sensor is clear.
Down further at 20 metres, this pattern of three sensors repeats.
We donned our gear and headed out to the sunken tug that I had dove to on Monday. Albert was going to demonstrate the first sensor, so I watched him as he vigorously scrubbed the two upside-down Coke bottles. They are attached to the rope by a zip tie. There was a fair bit of white algae on the bottles, so Albert took out his diving tool (knife) and vigorously scraped most of it off. He then ran his hand down the line, and started cleaning the first sensor. It, too, needed a bit of help from his knife.
He snapped the sensor into the data reader, and with me watching, clicked the ON button. Sure enough, the yellow transfer light began flashing, and then switched to OK. He removed the data collector, and turned it off.
Down the rope we went to 12 metres, where I took over, and began cleaning the first sensor. While I was doing this, Albert clipped the safety line of the reader to my BC. I then inserted the sensor, and collected the data. The next two sensors went just fine.
Next, it was on to the bottom sensors at 20 metres. By this time, I guess Albert figured I had a handle on it, and he swam off further down to the wreck where our Dutch friend had already arrived.
After I finished, I joined them, and tried to find the name of the wreck on the side. It is something … State… The wreck is at about a hundred feet, so after a few minutes, we headed back up the slope to about 60 feet.
We had just started swimming along for about three minutes when Albert said he had to go in the other direction, but we were to stay where we were. He swam off into the mist, holding his scissors. It was then that I realized he had forgotten to remove a defective sensor and replace it. He was back in about five minutes.
I did not bring my camera on this dive as I wanted to concentrate on the training session. As we got to shallower water around six metres, I discovered a sea cucumber, and picked it off the bottom and handed it to our Dutch friend. They are rather rubbery, but have tiny, sticky feet on the bottom. I made sure to replace it exactly where I had found it.
As we neared the shore, Albert started pointing up. It was the mother and what I thought was the sister of our Dutch diver. They seemed very happy to see us. I still had about 80 bar left on my tank, so I decided to see if they wanted to try breathing out of a regulator. I surfaced, and they were eager to try it out. At first, the young lady couldn’t get the hang of it, so her mother showed her how it’s done. You actually have to exhale with a bit of force to make the regulator work. I had forgotten all about this. I extended my arm, which she grabbed, so she wouldn’t float away past the end of my spare regulator on the longer yellow hose. We swam around for about three minutes, and then separated, and went to shore.
When I got there, I could see Albert had just barely got out of the water, so I asked her if she would like to try submerging while still breathing. I simply blew off my BC and sank to the bottom, but she had a hard time submerging, as she had no weights on. She was able to grab a stone and stay under for about a minute. She seemed very excited about the whole experience.
Once I got to shore and had removed my equipment, I discovered that she was actually the Dutch diver’s girlfriend and not his sister. It was a bit awkward, but at least I think I may have encouraged her to take up diving some day.
Next, it was off to the Hamlet Dive Shop to be introduced to the staff there. I registered my scuba card so that I can pick up free tanks of air when I go diving to service the sensors. I plan to go next Friday.
One thing I’ve noticed about Bonaire is that there are dive shops all over the place. This particular one looked to be no more than a year old, and the owner was busy painting something.
To the south, we could see a rain storm by the transmitter site, and Albert said he wasn’t sure my afternoon dive down there would be a good idea. He then waved goodbye to me, and said, “Welcome aboard!” It seems I have passed his training course, and am now part of the Sea Monitor Foundation Bonaire.
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After a quick lunch and a pickup of two Nitrox tanks at Wannadive, I headed over to Jay’s, and we loaded things in his truck. He said he wanted to try to dive RED SLAVE, which was almost at the south end of the island. As we were passing my house, I dropped my car there, and we carried on in his truck. When he got to RED SLAVE, he said he wanted to look further south to see if it was calm there as well. We went to the radar tower and checked, but he didn’t like the breakers out at sea. We went even further to the lighthouse, where he again got out and checked the sea, but there were too many rolling breakers there as well.
We returned to halfway between the radar tower and the RED SLAVE dive spot, where the breakers were only coming in one at a time, so off we went.
2nd Dive: RED SLAVE
Shore entries can be sometimes tricky. Jay said to watch the waves, as a big one hits every seventh wave. Once we were in the water, we put our mask on and then our fins, and then swam on our back to conserve air on our way out to the drop-off. I’ve discovered that most experienced divers don’t use a snorkel as it is cumbersome once you are submerged.
This dive site had a great deal of mature staghorn coral. In fact, it is the best site on Bonaire for this formerly common coral species. Jay was very excited to see that one area of the reef had survived the devastation of five years ago.
Once we got out to about 30 feet deep, we submerged and headed down the slope. Jay wanted to go to 30 metres, as that is where the lion fish tend to hide.
The first lion fish he almost had with his spear, but it managed to escape. The second one also disappeared beneath a rock. We did discover two lobsters under a rock ledge. The next time, he was successful, and was able to place a medium-sized lion fish in his carrying bag.
The fourth lion fish was also a medium-sized one, but when he put it in his bag, the spearhead fell off and ended up in the bag along with the lion fish. There was no way he could retrieve it without getting hurt, so that was the end of our hunt. We then turned around, and headed back in the direction we came from.
At the end of the dive, I was pleased that I had a fair bit more air left over than Jay did. It seems I have gotten used to moderating my breathing, as all professional divers do.
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This was a two-tank dive, but we needed an hour’s surface interval between them, so we went to the kite surfing spot about a kilometre up the road. I was able to shoot some good videos of this amazing sport. It is especially impressive when they catch about ten feet of air on their turn-around. Jay said that he has been trying to learn it, but has only gotten out of the water once so far. I’m just going to stick to scuba diving.
We drove further up the road, and got out at the salt pier. Jay laid out the underwater geography. There are about eight mooring points for the large freighters that pick up the solar salt. There were no ships at the dock today.
3rd Dive: SALT PIER
This entry was very easy, although you had to watch your step on some slippery spots. Since this was the third dive of the day for both of us, we stayed fairly shallow, only going down about 15 or 16 metres.
Under the dock, I found a trio of queen angel fish which appeared to be fairly young and remarkably tame. In my estimation, queen angel fish are the most beautiful of all fish. They seem to have a sapphire jewel mounted on their forehead, along with bright blue and yellow colours. I got a few good shots and even a video of them.
As we came out to the front of the dock, we noticed a great deal of debris strewn across the bottom that had apparently been thrown off the dock at some point.
We spotted a large barracuda down deeper, and as we rounded the side of the dock, we saw a five-foot long tarpon. The tarpon are fished here to service the restaurant business.
I saw numerous schools of fish sheltering in the shadow of the dock. I also noticed some blue tangs feeding in a group of about 20, all in one spot.
Over all, the beauty of this reef was in the decorated pilings going down into the sand to support the dock. Nature can take over artificial objects and do a remarkable job of beautifying them.
After we exited the water, Jay drove to Bonaire Port, which is the new cut-out into the land where they have built a luxury-home development. This is where the road used to go straight along the coastline toward the airport, but you now have to drive all the way around the development. Jay did not know that this entire harbour area was man made. This dive shop also belonged to Yellow Submarine, and we were able to rinse our gear there.
This part of the development near the shore seems to be quite well done. However, in some of the back bay areas, construction has stalled.
After Jay dropped me off, I sorted my photos, and then headed over to the Divi Flamingo for supper.
As I said to Jay, I’m starting to fall in love with this lifestyle, and may be loathe to go home on September 15. Thanks to Paul Wagler for choosing a shift for me that starts with a Monday off.