As I write this blog, I am sitting on a small beach right in front of our Transmitter Site at the dive site called THE HILMA HOOKER. I have just completed my first deep-dive test in order to be certified as a deep diver. The Deep Diver course is one of the specialty courses that SSI offers (Scuba Schools International).
Let me first confess that I’m not actually typing this on the beach. I’m dictating the audio into my cell phone, and my mother, Eleanor McDonald, will later download it and transcribe it. Thanks, Mom.
The sun is about to set in 15 minutes, and the surf is gently rolling in. I had intended to go straight home after my dive, but the beauty of this place has kept me here.
On the horizon, I can see a Dutch coastguard cutter patrolling the coast about a mile off shore. Apparently it does regular patrols on Bonaire, and is based in Curaçao.
To my left, I can see the long piles of sea salt from the Cargill Salt Company. Some divers have just exited the water, and are enjoying the scene about a thousand yards down the coast.
About half a kilometre to my right are some beautiful homes.
Today began with my alarm going off at 4:45 in the morning. I was able to make a connection with the Gypsy Divers. This is a dive shop in the U.S.that maximizes their diving time by diving before dawn and right up until dusk. They get six dives in every day compared to the normal 2-4 for the regular diver.
I met them on the dock in front of the Divi Dive Shop, and they were already gearing up at five in the morning. It was dark, but we all had our flashlights. They were diving Nitrox, so I did the same. This allows us more bottom time and shorter surface intervals. We hit the water at 5:20, and proceeded out to about 60 feet deep. My gauge actually is set to metres and bars, so we were at 20 metres, and my tank started at 210 bars of pressure. I’m diving an 80 cubic foot aluminum tank.
I had hoped to see some phosphorus fluorescence in the water, but didn’t observe any. This was my first dive with my dive light, and it served me very well. It is rated for 200 lumens, and is very compact. When I shone it down the slope, I could see a hundred feet below me. There were five of us altogether on the dive, and two of them had light beacons on the back of their tanks so we could keep track of each other.
The unique thing about night diving is that the coral feeds at night by extending its polyps about one-quarter inch out into the water. Some corals are not noticeably different, while other corals have little translucent tentacles sticking out.
Just as I’m writing this, a flamingo is flying along the coast towards the north, and is almost getting lost in the sunset.
Another almost swallow-like bird just hovered in front of me and plunged into the water. Apparently, it is fishing for its supper. Now it is hovering, and now it just dropped again. It is not much bigger than a swallow, and I’m not sure what type of bird it is. It hits the water about every 30 seconds.
Back to my story:
The dive master began to circle his light on a certain spot, so I came over to investigate. It was a sea turtle sleeping on the bottom in between the coral heads. It had to be at least 50 feet deep there, and these are air-breathing creatures. I don’t understand how they can sleep under water without running out of air. He was rather lethargic looking, but did move around when he spotted us. After about half a minute, the dive master moved on so as to not disturb him.
I also spotted a parrot fish in a mucus membrane. I had heard about them sleeping in little bubbles, but this is the first time I saw one. It looks like a spit bubble, but is the entire size of the parrot fish. In this case, it seemed to be only on the seaside of the little cubbyhole that he was lying in. He was not moving at all. I saw two such parrot-fish bubbles.
Many of the fish were simply laying on the bottom at rest, or in sponge bowls. Only certain fish were active, like the large-eyed squirrel fish. We also spotted a moray eel, sticking out from under a coral head.
Both dives were 45 minutes in length, so at 20 minutes, the dive master gave the turn-around signal, and we headed back in the direction we had come from at a slightly shallower depth. About halfway back to the dock, the sun had come up enough for us to turn our dive lights off.
Just as we approached the dock, I spotted a few flounders in the water. Then the dive master started pointing at an old pipe lying halfway under the dock. As I got close, I could see a little eye staring back at me. It was a small octopus in about a four-inch opening. It was the strangest sight, as you could only see part of its tentacles, and this one eyeball assessing you.
Once we had got on the dock and swapped out our tanks, I asked him when the next dive would be. He said, “We only have to wait ten minutes, and then we go back in.”
Officially, a new dive isn’t an actual new dive unless ten minutes has elapsed on the surface. It wasn’t long after ten minutes when we again jumped into the water.
We were only in about 20 feet of water when a couple of the divers started pointing vigorously at the sand. I looked and looked, and only saw a bit of sand. They kept jabbing their fingers, pointing energetically, so I came in for a closer look. Lo and behold, there was a sand-coloured octopus looking back at me! His little oblong head and breathing gills were amazing. It probably only weighed a couple of pounds, and was about 10 or 12 inches across. I immediately switched to video, and got a good minute long video of him. As I moved in closer, he would flutter his “legs” out from under him and scurry a bit further across the sand, and then stop and stare at me. I’m sure I must have been annoying, but I was enthralled! After a couple minutes, I decided to leave the little critter alone, and resume the dive. The other divers had moved quite a ways away by that point. The rest of that dive was good, and we did spot another sea turtle on its way to the surface.
We exited the water just after 7:00 a.m., and I quickly washed and collected my gear. You just leave the empty tank in the EMPTY TANK area. I actually have a locker right on the dock, so it is super convenient.
They were going for breakfast, but by that time it was 7:20, and I still had to feed the dogs, stow my equipment at the house, get changed, and be to work by eight, so I declined the breakfast invitation. After the dive master signed my log book, I hustled on home.
I quickly made some sandwiches for breakfast, and made it to work exactly on eight o’clock. In fact, I was the first one there, and had to wait for Brad to arrive to unlock the door a couple minutes later.
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Today we got a lot of work done on the website. I was able to go through the USER’S MANUAL and explore almost all of the features. That task should be complete by tomorrow.
Unfortunately, we’ve discovered several “bugs” in the web software. I am writing up a list of the “bugs” to submit to Benjamin Tangeman back at head office in the States. Hopefully, we can get these solved, but I think some of them we may have to live with. This is the problem with proprietary software as opposed to freeware. But over all, we were making good headway.
When I was going to break for lunch, I discovered that it was pouring rain outside. There are no windows in this former recording studio. No sound penetrates and there are no windows, so I have no idea what is going on outside. I waited another half hour and then drove Brad to his house, as he had ridden his bicycle. He has two very friendly Rottweilers. Then I had goat stew from Ella’s Cafe.
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As I’m sitting on the beach tonight, the sun is just setting, and the pelicans have moved in to fish. They are circling the water about 100 feet out, and then diving. I must say, I miss the ocean. It is a beautiful sunset with sun illuminating the bottom of the clouds halfway to the horizon.
Brandon was kind enough to let me work through my lunch today, allowing me to get off work at 4:30 in order to meet my deep dive instructor.
We met exactly at five o’clock on the beach, after I had swung by the Flamingo Resort to grab my tank, and by the house to grab my gear. A half-hour from desk to beach with all my gear is pretty good, I would say!
The dive instructor’s name is Ebby, and he has been a dive instructor for ten years. He is Bonairian and is very easy going and relaxed. Getting into the water was a bit tricky, as there really was no sand. It is all coral rocks at that location. We snorkelled out to the marker buoy, and then blew off our BC and headed down the slope.
I was at about 70 feet when, all of a sudden, the hulk of the wreck loomed up in front of me! It extends from about 60 feet down to roughly 100. It was rather eerie how it all of a sudden materialized not 20 feet away!
I was very conscious to keep my breathing slow and regular, and keep my dive computer in my hand to track the depth and my remaining air pressure. As I neared 100 feet or 30 metres, I began to taste the air becoming a bit oily. At this depth, I was breathing four times the regular pressure at the surface, or four atmospheres. The consistency does change somewhat, and I can’t say I really like it.
We rounded the bow and saw a interior of the ship in front of us. I would say it had to be about 400 feet long. My pictures didn’t seem to turn out very well, as there was a lot of sediment in the water, but I kept clicking anyway. We swam into the hold and through one of the partitions into the other part.
Then Ebby started pointing furiously to a crack just above the sand line, inside the haul of the ship. I could see a few tentacles inside, so I got down and shoved my camera through the opening, and took a few shots of a large lobster. We then exited on the other side of the wheelhouse, and for a minute, I lost sight of Ebby. I grabbed my noisemaker, but then he soon came around the side of the wreck again.
We went around the stern, and I got a few shots of me beside the propeller. We swam along the upper part of the hull, and discovered some very aggressive sergeant fish. Apparently they had laid their eggs on the hull, as there were purple patches every now and then. The sergeant fish would rub their sides on the hull, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and then they would charge at you, apparently defending their territory. The rubbing apparently oxygenated the eggs.
At this point, I checked my dive computer, and we were at 19 minutes. I gave Ebby the signal that we had one minute remaining of bottom time, so we started our ascent. You only get 20 minutes bottom time at 100 feet.
The rest of the dive was uneventful, with only a slightly difficult exit.
My only complaint is that my left ear is bothering me a bit. I’ve begun to shoot an alcohol solution in, designed to prevent swimmer’s ear. Hopefully, that will address whatever is irritating me. I’ve decided to hold off on the next deep dive until next week, just to be sure.
The sun has now set, and only a few of the clouds are still bright orange. And so ends another perfect day in paradise!