I am writing the blog a day later, while sitting at Bachelor’s Beach on a ten-foot ledge above the water. There are stairs that go down to the water. Quite a few waves are washing in. I can see the lights of the town to my right, as I’m around the bend in the island.
The weekend has been too filled with activity to be able to spare even a moment to blog. I was up late both Friday and Saturday, but tonight, things are more relaxed.
Saturday began with dropping off the reader to Yellow Submarine just after eight o’clock when they opened. Then I went next door to drop off my empty tank and pick up two more from Wannadive. While I was in that end of town, I stopped by the new breakfast spot that Dave Pedersen had suggested, called Between 2 Buns, and found it to be quite good. Then I had to hustle off home to meet Jay at 9:30. He actually got there a bit later, but Saturdays I run on Bonaire time.
First Dive: South of Red Slave
Jay likes to try to head as far south as the waves will permit, as there tend to be more lion fish in these more remote dive sites. After checking the wave action in a few spots, we decided that we could enter just between the lighthouse and the radar tower, which was the most southerly point I have dived yet. The entry wasn’t too bad, although the exit was considerably more difficult.
The dive itself was spectacular! Dave went straight down to 30 metres where the reef meets the sand, and immediately found a few large lion fish. Further on, he found a little rock outcropping in the sand, and was able to bag three from that location alone. We ended up with seven lion fish, five of which were a good eating size. Because we were fairly deep, the dive lasted only 35 minutes.
Across from the dive site were some flamingos feeding right near the road, and I was able to get a few decent shots. I didn’t have my full-size camera with me, and I wished I had. Jay was looking for a way to keep the fish fresh, so we drove back to my place and put them in a bag inside my crisper.
The rule of thumb is to take at least an hour off between dives.
Second Dive: Tori’s Reef
We headed back south and stopped at Tory’s Reef. This dive site is next to the run-off stream from the salt pans. This entry was the most difficult of all, and we almost turned around to find a different site, but eventually did make it in. While not as spectacular as the first dive, it was very nice. I was able to get a video of a turtle up close. From what I learned the other night at the turtle conservation lecture, this was a Hawksbill turtle. Apparently they feed mostly on sponges, so their flesh can be toxic if eaten.
He is continuing to experiment with his spear, and, unfortunately, about half the lion fish do get away. One of the lion fish didn’t get away, but we were not able to take it home! Some greedy yellow-tailed snappers grabbed it right off of Jay’s spear. Jay had turned it over, and they were able to hit the belly of the lion fish, and within seconds, two of them had torn it to pieces. One made a huge gulp and swallowed the whole thing. I don’t understand how they can wolf it down without being hit by the venomous spines. Jay gave me the thumbs up, indicating that that was a good way after all to dispose of an under-sized lion fish.
One of the things Jay does between dives, which I have to catch onto, is we have some granola bars to keep up our energy.
After the dive, we stopped in at Port Bonaire and rinsed our equipment. By this time, it was nearly three-thirty, and we had to meet the boat for our evening cruise at 4:40.
Jay pointed out another tank that was a good foot-and-a-half taller than the ones we were diving. This was a 120 cubic foot aluminum tank that Jay’s friend, Walt Bensen, dives. Jay is very interesting in getting a similar tank, as he breathes a lot more air when he is hunting, as opposed to just sightseeing. I’ve heard these things cost well over $500. That may be prohibitive, but it would solve Jay’s problem of air consumption during a hunt.
Just as we left the dive shop, Jay realized that he had a flat. We jacked the car up, and he put the spare on, and as I was letting the car back down, we realized the tire had no air. Doesn’t it seem that these things always happen when you’re in a hurry?
Just then, one of Jay’s friends from the Dive Friends Dive Shop stopped by and asked if we needed help. I said, “Yes, I should go get my car and bring it back to pick up Jay.” He was a friendly Dutch fellow who took me back to my place, where I jumped in my car and headed back. I was halfway back when Jay flagged me down, going the other way. Apparently he had found his pump, and was able to pump the tire up.
By this time, it was four o’clock, and we had skipped lunch. Jay said, “Come on over to my place, and my girlfriend will give us lunch in a big hurry.” So that is what we did, and we were able to wolf down a proper chicken dinner in ten minutes! Jay and his girlfriend have been the most hospitable people I have met here on the island, next to the Pedersens.
Third Dive: Sharon’s Serenity (Klein Bonaire)
We arrived at the yacht harbour just in time, and discovered that there were only four of us on the cruise. The outing was billed as a “Lion Fish Cull,” although myself and the other lady were not armed with spears, but only our cameras. It was a fairly large diesel-powered boat, and I was surprised that we still went out with only four people. The operator’s name was Menno, who operates another dive shop called La Tina Divers.
We headed to the north-west side of Klein Bonaire, and tethered at the yellow mooring buoy that always indicate a dive site. The other couple were Italians that have been travelling for the last seven years. The way the husband put it, he could smell the recession coming away back then, and decided to get out before things got really bad. They have spent time working as freelance videographers, as well as doing other work related to the marine environment. He is actually a marine biologist, and his wife seems to be a qualified videographer. The camera she was using had two lights mounted on it, and ran video.
The dive was very nice, and Jay and the Italian couple were able to bag about four more lion fish each. Our group went one way up the shore, while the owner of the boat, Menno, decided to go deep and look for lion fish down close to 40 metres. He was breathing a reduced Nitrox mixture of only 27% in order to avoid oxygen toxicity at that depth. (Other than Bruce’s shop, all the dive shops use more Nitrox than air these days. I myself dive exclusively Nitrox now that I’ve found a cheap source at Wannadive.)
After we came up, he had a hot shower available on the boat to rinse the salt out of our hair, and were offered some hot tea, cup cakes and other snacks. The idea was to wait for at least an hour for it to get dark before hitting the water for our night dive.
It was interesting when I commented about the tanker that was on the horizon, that Menno said you can’t take a sunset photo any more without getting a tanker in the shot. As I’m writing this blog, I see two tankers out at sea, as well as another jet approaching the airport. No boats are allowed to drop anchor on Bonaire, so the ships just sit a few miles off of the coast until the pier is open.
Fourth Dive: Southwest Corner (Klein Bonaire)
The night dive was a bit of a treat for me, and I found my flashlight more than adequate. Jay had a helmet-mounted light as well as three other lights. At night, you see things that are not out during the day, such as moray eels completely out of their holes, on the prowl. In one situation, Jay backed off targeting a lion fish because there was a moray eel right next to it. The Italian gentleman didn’t notice the eel, and came in and got the kill.
One of the most unique things of this dive was that a large tarpon, which is almost the size of a tuna, started circling us, and began ‘fishing’ by our dive lights. It is a completely silver fish, and can open its mouth really large when grabbing its prey. He has learned that our dive lights sometimes stun the little bait fish that are always around us, and they temporarily lose their way. He flashes in and gobbles up these fish. He stayed with us for a good 20 minutes. At first, it was a bit unnerving, having this hunter grabbing fish not ten feet away from us, but then I began to get a kick out of it. It wasn’t until after we surfaced, that the lady videographer said that he had struck her camera, which is right between the two lights, thinking it was a fish. She didn’t seem very upset, but did say it startled her. I would have been more frightened than that.
On this dive, we only went to about 20 metres, as it was our fourth dive of the day, and we were carrying a significant nitrogen load.
Another fascinating thing about night dives is how certain corals extend their polyps far out into the water. One in particular, a yellow type of coral, had little multi-fingered hand-like orange projections from the reef, a good inch into the water. I’ve been trying to figure out what it looks like during the daytime, but can’t make the connection. About a third of the corals blossom at night, while the others seem to be more or less the same as they are during the daytime.
Another interesting feature was a sea star type of creature that resembles a bundle of tentacle-like branches that all seem to be quivering and moving at once. It’s like a living knot. During the day, you see them bunched up on the fern-type corals, but tonight, I saw them feeding on some of the tube sponges. It was an almost alien-like creature to see in action.
On the way back, the captain had turned on the light underneath the boat so we could spot our exit point.
The tarpon was basically with us the entire second half of the dive, and was probably sad to see us exit the water. Menno seemed to dislike the tarpon’s presence. In fact, he had instructed us on the way out that even if we speared a small lion fish that wasn’t worth keeping, that we were to take it with us so that the sea life doesn’t start to associate divers with food sources. Apparently a few weeks ago, a moray eel that had been fed once too often approached a diver “looking for a meal,” and scared him halfway out of his wits.
On the way back to port, I marvelled at the beauty of being out on a boat in these warm Caribbean waters. I’d say diving all day is the life for me!