Dawn till Dusk Diving – Aug. 7/12

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).

 Photos here

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.

Second Dive

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!

Captain Don – Aug. 6, 2012

The work week began today in spite of the Civic holiday back in Ontario. Apparently I won’t get a day off until Sept. 6th, which is Flag Day in Bonaire. As usual, Bob dropped by for the devotions. When he saw my Tilley hat, he asked me if I knew the famous story of the elephant who ate a Tilley hat three times, and, after a wash, it was just as good as new. I actually had the owner’s manual for the hat, so we passed it around. I was also able to take a photo of the group after devotions, but Bob had already left.

 Photos here 

My first order of business was to resume work on the new website. I was working on the Site Map when Laura shared a Google Doc of the site map with me. I guess she likes the collaboration feature of Google Docs. I think the staff here are quickly becoming fans of Google.

Next I finished reading all the Policies and Procedures of Trans World Radio. I must say, they are very thorough, but it all made good sense. Unfortunately, they are not in the public domain, or I would share them with you. Maybe I can work on that, as I think it is a model for any Christian organization that others may want to copy.

During lunch, I munched on my sandwiches while updating my blog. I’ve been fortunate to be able to enlist Brandon to proofread my blog before we make it public. He has helped me quite a bit with names and places, etc. I usually save it online as a draft, and notify him by email. Then he edits it, and hits the Publish button, which is when you guys get to see it. I’m finding that the iPad is not very WordPress friendly, so I have to tweak things on my lunch hour.

I’ve also had the help of my mother, keeping things looking word-perfect.

I  took a run to the hardware store with Dave during my lunch. It is a very large, professional looking store, much like the Home Hardware stores at home. It is just up the road from the graveyard. Right across the road is a Kentucky Fried Chicken. My, how things have modernized here!

Back at the office, Laura, Brandon’s wife, and I dove into the site setup again. We are both still working through the manual, and ran into some design issues. We will have to submit a tech support request to the U.S. office to see if we can get these worked out.
At the same time, we discovered some really great functions, such as scrolling banners for the front page. We also consulted amongst the staff on a few other content options. In order to keep track of the questions and issues we are working through, Laura asked me to create another Google Doc and share it with our team.

I got email responses from the local dive instructor at the Divi Dive Shop. We will be doing the first of my deep dives tomorrow night after work. I’ll be diving the Hilma Hooker, which is a former drug boat that sank just off of the transmitter site.

I also heard back from the Gypsy Divers’ dive group that is staying at the Flamingo resort. I had been looking for early morning dive partners, and they fit the bill perfectly. I am to meet them at five in the morning at the dock with my gear. We may be able to get two dives in before I go to work. This group does six dives each day, and uses Nitrox to do it. I am Nitrox certified, so I may do that, too. Nitrox is oxygen enriched air that has a 32% oxygen content. The result is only 68% nitrogen, which enables the diver to increase their bottom time on repetitive dives.

It was Monday, so Donna, of the finance department was in. She dropped by and gave me a tip that because it was Monday, Captain Don would be holding court at Captain Don’s Habitat. This is just the kind of local information that I need. That would begin at six.

When I left work, I decided I needed more photos of the island. My first stop was next door to the former Activities Building. It has now been sold to the Basisschool de Pelikan, or Pelican school (http://www.pelikaanschool.com) The building has been very well maintained.

Next, I drove back to my former home in Antriol. I walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. A nice Bonarian lady answered the door, and I explained that I used to live here over thirty years ago. She graciously let me take photos outside the house. It is rather overgrown, but the house is still in good shape. She is renting from an owner who lives in Curaçao. She is moving at the end of the month.

Then I drove down to Captain Don’s Habitat, which is half-way between the studio and the water plant. I noticed a fellow sitting in a wheelchair with a line of people waiting to talk to him. Sure enough, it was Captain Don. He is in his eighties now, and is missing his right leg. Apparently it never healed properly after he broke it during a salvage operation on a beached ship.

Don’s own ship sank off of Bonaire in 1964, and he decided to stay. He is mainly responsible for establishing the Marine Park that has preserved the coral reef surrounding Bonaire. The reef is now the chief source of income for the island in terms of scuba tourism.

We chatted  briefly, and I asked him if he knew Denny Hogan. Denny was a former TWR tower rigger, and an accomplished scuba diver. Denny still comes to Bonaire and climbs the towers, even though he is retired and in his seventies! Yes, Captain Don knew Denny Hogan very well. He said, “He has been trying to get me saved all these years. But I’m an hardcore atheist.” I said that hopefully Denny would succeed in influencing him to become a Christian some day. Then captain Don asked who was bringing him his drink.

I wandered off to the patio restaurant and ordered some fish Pizza. It was actually rather good. I took lots of photos, including the huge Tarpan fish that were cruising right below the terrace. Apparently they get the scraps at night.

Well, it is time for bed, as I have to get up before the birds tomorrow. The ocean is calling my name!

International Bible Church – Aug. 5, 2012

Today I was able to attend the International Bible Church, which has replaced the Activity Building that I had been used to when I was living on the island.  Actually, it is only about a block away from the old building, and is located just to the right of the road that heads towards the water plant.  It is a smaller building, although it is of similar construction to the old Activity Building.  Trans World Radio sold the Activity Building to a Bonairian school some time ago, as there wasn’t enough staff to warrant keeping it.

 Photos here

When I arrived at the church just before 9:00 a.m., I was welcomed by Dave Pedersen.  The first thing he said was, “You better get rid of that tie, or they will ask you to preach.”  I looked around, and, sure enough, the only other people wearing a tie were the song leader and the pastor.  Oh well, I don’t mind wearing a tie.  At least it made a good impression for the first time.

I sat over on the side that they indicated with the wide-open doors in order to get a bit of a cross-breeze.  I sat beside Donna, who works in the finance office at TWR-Bonaire, and on my other side were the Pedersens.

The worship leader was a retired American named Bob, who has lived on the island for several years.  He had a deep Carolina accent, and led a very worshipful song service of traditional hymns.  Sue Felix played the piano.  Apparently Sue is in charge of the music program.  There was another American lady and a Bonairian lady who were on the worship team during the vocals.

It wasn’t long before the Pedersen’s youngest daughter changed her seat to be able to sit beside me.  She is the sweetest little girl, and is incredibly friendly.  I was able to get her to stand up on her seat when we sang the hymns, and sing along with me.  Previously she was absorbed in a colouring book.  I pointed to how the words flowed in the hymnal, and before long, she was pointing to the words herself.  Apparently she can already read quite well.  Next, she kind of played with my watch, and I had to try to concentrate a bit harder on the sermon.  But it’s been a long time since my own daughter, Rebekah, was that age, and I rather miss the attention.

At the beginning of the service, the worship people asked if people could stand up and share some of the blessings they had.  I put up my hand, and asked if they had an hour to listen to all the blessings I had been given.  I related how it had been 28 years since I returned to Bonaire.  I actually started to get a bit emotional and had to sit back down.  The worship leader mentioned that I was looking for a dive buddy, so hopefully that will yield some fruit.

The speaker, Siegfried, was from Bonaire.  The regular pastor is on vacation in the United States.  Siegfried gave a good word about “by your fruits, you shall know them.”  He actually used the example of planting a mango tree, and then discovering cacti fruit on it instead of mangoes.  He had quite a dynamic manner, and it was a good sermon.

After the service, a lady walked up to me and said that her friend was associated with the Sea Monitor Foundation.  This is a non-profit group that has 14 different monitors in the ocean around Bonaire that require weekly cleanings and recording of the readings.  Basically it involves a diver going down once a week to retrieve the temperature and current readings.  I have emailed and asked him if he would like some help.  I’ve always wanted to be involved in environment efforts in the ocean.

I then got a photo of Amado and Sue Felix as well as their nephew visiting them from the U.S.  Another TWR family from Holland was there; the Veldmans, who have six kids. They are actually on vacation at the moment.  He is a new diver, and so may become a future dive buddy for me.

And then a Bonairian lady walked up and asked me if I was the John McDonald that used to go to HAVO.  I said I was actually in the first HAVO ever.  HAVO was the upgraded school system called Higher Education which inaugurated the year I entered high school.  Apparently, Alvin, one of my classmates, was her brother.  He is studying in Holland, but she will email him.

There was another lady, I think her name was Ella, that was visiting the Pedersens the previous evening who was also in the service.

Brad Swanson runs the sound system.

Overall, it was a very friendly congregation, and they seem to be very active.  Next week, they are taking up a food collection for the Food Bank.  Apparently some people are actually going hungry on the island and the church is stepping in to help out.

After church, the Pedersens invited me out to lunch, so I went to their place for a second time.  As the service was over at 10:30, it was a while before it was time for lunch.

On the way to their hosue, we drove around the sub-division in the Belnam area, and I noted how many new homes there were, but, as usual, there were a lot of homes that were incomplete and appeared abandoned.  While lunch was being prepared, we sat around playing video games for a while, and then had a breakfast-type of lunch.  It was again a joy to be surrounded by such a loving family.

I excused myself around three o’clock and drove home, expecting to do a scuba dive.  However, the boats left at 2:30, so I was too late for that.  As it was, I was feeling rather tired from my hectic week, so decided to have a short nap.  Once I had been revived, I got up and worked on my blog for a little while before going downtown to get some supper at one of the seaside restaurants.  I’m getting rather spoiled, and will have to budget a little better next week.

Some of the restaurants were closed, so I ended up at Karel’s Restaurant, which is actually on top of a dock.  They cater to the yachts that anchor nearby, and actually have their own little water-taxi service to bring them to the restaurant.  I just got to the restaurant when Roy said Hi.  Apparently he was having a few drinks before flying home in the morning.  I ordered a seafood plate, and chatted with Roy for almost a couple hours.  It was an absolutely enchanting evening on the ocean front.

On the way home, I noticed a few motorcycles rumbling by. Bonaire has the highest per capita Harley-Davidson ownership in the world!  There is even an annual motorcycle rally in when people actually ship their Harley-Davidsons to the island for the event.  The strangest thing is that there is no helmet law on Bonaire.  Just like in a lot of the States, people ride around with no helmet at all.  It is rather scary to watch.

And so, after a rather relaxing day, it is time to head to bed and get ready for the busy work week ahead.

The Winds Reverse – Aug. 4, 2012

Saturday morning I got up, even without my alarm, at six o’clock.  It was my first day off, and I planned to make the most of it.

By eight o’clock, I was across the road to the Divi Dive Shop where I checked out the availability of a boat dive, since I don’t have a dive buddy.  It turned out that they were leaving at 8:30, which is what I figured, so I signed on.  I grabbed my gear, walked down to the dock, and picked up a tank on the dock and strapped it to my BC.  When the boat arrived a few minutes later, I got on board, and noticed that the tanks were already on the board.

 Photos here and here

The interesting thing this particular day was that it was overcast, and the wind was blowing from the opposite direction; it was going from the west side towards the east side, and the waves were crashing on the shore, although not very hard.  This was because of hurricane Ernesto passing to the north of us. I took a photo with my cell phone of the dive shop flags blowing inland, and sent it out on Twitter.  The winds only reverse about three times every year, so this is a real event.

Once on board, the dive master passed around a clip board and asked if I wanted to do a one or two-tank dive.  Everybody was doing two-tank dives, so I said, “Sure, sign me up.”  The two tanks were already onboard. The dive sites we were heading to were on Klein Bonaire, just over a kilometer away.  Apparently a boat dive is about $75, and gives you two dives off a boat, plus unlimited tanks for subsequent shore dives later on the same day.  The boat we were on had a rather large inboard diesel engine.

On the way over to Klein Bonaire, the dive master explained that we were going to go to the south side of Klein Bonaire, which was sheltered from the wind, given the direction it was coming from today.  Our first dive site was named Rock Pile.  We were only about 50 yards off shore when we docked.  Klein Bonaire still looks the same, just a coral-strewn beach without much sand at all, and a very flat landscape beyond.

On the way over, I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me named Roy.  He was diving with another fellow from Brazil, and I asked if I could join them as an extra buddy, as I was alone.  They both readily agreed. Roy is a fire fighter from New York City, and his girlfriend didn’t want to come with him on this trip.



One of the first things I spotted when we got down around 40 feet or so was a small LION FISH.  The lion fish has become a plague on Bonaire, as they are very aggressive, and kill off a lot of the other fish life.  They are not native to the Caribbean, but were introduced accidentally.  Roy said that last year, he spotted a whole host of lion fish on Bonaire, but this year there are not quite as many.  While all other type of fishing is restricted, it is always open-season on lion fish.  In fact, they have a group that trains people to kill lion fish.  You need a license to do it as they are extremely venomous.  If the lion fish is large enough, they are actually good eating, and are beginning to become a delicacy on Bonaire.

Our dive master was a Bonairian fellow by the name of Ebby, and he was carrying a three-prong type of tool with him.  I soon found out why, as he spotted a lion fish on the bottom, and moved in carefully, and grabbed it with a tool.  He then took a second tool out of his bag and slit its throat, as well as removed some of the spines on the fins.  He explained later that if he can get straight to the throat, he will do that, but often has to cut away one fin first in order to get close enough.  He then simply drops it onto the sea floor, and it dies.

I was able to get some good photos on this dive, including a couple of me and Roy.

We got back on the boat, and went about four dive stops down the coast of Klein Bonaire back towards the mainline.  The name of this dive site was Nearest Point, as apparently it is the nearest point to Bonaire.



On this dive, I got some good shots of a QUEEN ANGEL FISH, and some lovely SPONGES.

One of the most amazing things on this dive was that I spotted a SEA TURTLE resting on the floor.  I was able to get in close, and shot a 2-minute video of the turtle looking back at me from about six feet away.  Eventually he became annoyed and swam away.  It is amazing how these air-breathing creatures can be so relaxed 40 feet down.  I was also able to spot a few SPIDER SHRIMP with their tiny, surgeon-like claws.

I came across two large TRUNK FISH.  They are triangular shaped, with a flat bottom, and horns on their forehead and on the bottom by their back.  What startled me was their colour!  There were two of them in what looked like a stand-off, and they were coloured blue!  I knew from experience that they were actually a spotted brown colour, but this must have been a mating dance between two rival males.  I fired off a few pictures, which distinctly recorded the blue colour.  Then they got annoyed and split up, and I followed one into the reef.  Sure enough, 10 feet away, it changed colour into its regular spotted brown colour.  I never knew they could change colour like a chameleon.

We then went back on board and returned to Bonaire.

I asked Roy if he would be interested in doing a shore dive later that afternoon.  He said that he had actually signed up for a boat cruise, but that it might not go due to the weather.  By the time I had finished rinsing my gear out, he returned and said that the boat had been cancelled, and he would be happy to go.  So we arranged that I’d pick him up at the tank locker in front of my house at 1:30.

I went home and dumped my gear, and then drove down into town in search of a quick lunch.  I found a lovely little restaurant called Brandaris (I guess like the mountain) and had barbecued chicken and ribs.  It was delicious.

When I picked up Roy, he insisted on paying me for gas, which was very generous of him.  We discussed where to go, and decided to head to the north end and dive A Thousand Steps.

On the way up, we spotted some goats on the tourist road, and then a donkey crossed in front of us.  I stopped, and took a couple pictures.  I then said, “Why don’t you see if he’ll smell your hand?”  Unfortunately, the donkey nipped him, and he got a bruise on his finger.  But he is a tough fire fighter, and said Not to worry.

The shortwave curtain antenna array for Radio Nederlands is still up, but apparently they are going to demolish it next month when shut it down.  There must be almost ten towers there with a massive grid of cables between them, forming a huge shortwave antenna system.  I find it amazing that they are going to go off the air.  Apparently it is due to budget cuts, as well as a drastically smaller listening audience for shortwave transmissions in this region.



We then arrived at A Thousand Steps, which is right beside Radio Nederlands.  A Thousand Steps is actually only 70 steps, but I’d say that with 70 pounds of gear on my back or more, it is a bit of a workout.

Entry was not too difficult, although there were a few waves coming ashore from the storm.  I found that the underwater scenery was more lush than Klein Bonaire.  My guess is that not a lot of divers dive the north coast as it is a long drive.

I spotted some type of WORM coming out from under a rock that was about three inches across.  I could only see about three feet of it up until it disappeared under the rock.  I didn’t get a good photo, unfortunately.

We exited the water, took our gear up the stairs, and decided to go to Rincon to breathe off a bit of the nitrogen.  We had previously calculated our residual nitrogen time for both of these dives.  The third dive of the day would be to 50 feet and be 40 minutes long, and the fourth dive could be also to 50 feet but only for 32 minutes. We needed about an hour and a half to off-gas.

Once in the car, we decided to drive straight to the Bopec Terminal.  I wanted to know if I could come back and get a tour.  We stopped at the gate, and a very friendly man came out and offered us all the information we wanted.  However, they do not offer tours of the oil facility.

Apparently, the oil is now shipped from Venezuelain super tankers, and then transferred to smaller vessels for distribution around the Caribbean and up to the U.S.

Then we went up the road to Goto Lake, or Goto Meer, as they say here, and got some nice photos from the Lookout area.  I believe it was a kibra hacha tree with the yellow blossoms that was growing in the parking lot.  We then carried on up to Rincon where we found an ice cream shop and got a bit of ice cream.  While eating the ice cream, I wanted to get to know some of the locals, so we walked over to a bar on the other corner where they were playing dominoes on the deck.  We walked up and greeted them, and one of the fellows got up and brought two chairs over for us.  So we sat on the chairs, eating our ice cream cones, and chatting with the old fellows playing dominoes.  They were quite friendly.  Actually, it was three old gentlemen and a lady.  The lady never said a word, but just concentrated on her game.

We then drove back past Goto Lake to where you turn left by Karpata to go back to a dive site about three dive sites down called Bloodlet. Unfortunately, we ran into a DO NOT ENTER sign.  Apparently, the tourist road is one way.



I decided that we would dive right there at the Karpata Dive Site, which is the northernmost dive site before you get to Washington Park.

It was only down about a dozen steps, but the entry was just a pile of rock coral.  Getting in wasn’t too bad, although you had to be careful with your footing, and there were waves coming ashore.

This dive was even better than the one at A Thousand Steps.  I let Roy lead, and we only went 30 feet deep as this was actually our fourth dive, and he wanted to be extra safe.  We ended up only going about 39 minutes at 30 feet, where we could have probably stayed a bit longer.  I was able to get some good shots of a TRIGGER FISH. On exiting I had to struggle in the surf and got knocked down a couple of time. I now had a couple of scratches thanks to Ernesto.

We then returned through Rincon, and down the road that goes past Fontaine.  On the east coast, I spotted some large wind turbines.  I’ll have to go visit them later, as apparently they are supplying a fair bit of power to the island.  I dropped off Roy, and then headed home for a shower, and to rinse off my gear.

After I was changed, I drove down town and had a lovely fish dinner at one of the seaside restaurants close to the pier.

Four dives is actually a new record for me.  I must say, this was probably my best day here yet.  I’m now feeling very comfortable with all my gear, and can focus on the beauty that surrounds me.

Website Set-up Begins

This morning I was able to sit down with the staff and establish the goals for my time here on Bonaire. Without getting into details, my first priority is to launch the twrbonaire.com website. I will also be doing some marketing and communications projects, but more about that later.

In the afternoon, I was able to finally launch a temporary website, and start to play with the settings. I’ll be sharing the URL once we’ve done a bit more work on it. After planning this for months, It was very exciting to  be able to edit the actual website.

The template is a proprietary platform built and hosted by The A Group. Strictly speaking, we don’t have full control of the hosting package or much of the back end, so it can easily be maintained by the staff on the ground here. Although there is no email account associated with our website, people can still contact us by filling out an online form. All tech support goes through the TWR Cary office. The best thing is that it is browser based, so it does not require any software to update. Plus, it is a fairly robust package that seems capable of handling all of our needs at present. So we have a GO!

I spent Friday afternoon reading the manual for the website, and playing with each item. One page was for listing our ministry partners. The problem was that they were from Venezuela, and their website was in Spanish. So I copied their info into translate.google.com and got the translation for our website. First time I’ve done that.
While I was sitting downstairs in the lobby reading the manual on my iPad, a lady walked in and asked if there was a package for her. It turned out that this was the lady I was waiting for! Chris Dicks had given me a package of dress material that I carried down in my suitcase. So that connection worked out well.

When I got home, I decided to take some photos of my guest house, as people have been asking. This is just another example of how much the Lord has blessed me down here. The guest house is very well maintained, and has A/C for the bedroom, which  has been a life saver. There are even four dogs that I am babysitting for the director, Joe Barker. All I have to do is feed them twice a day. But since I am an animal lover, it is nice to receive the tail-wagging welcome when I get home.

The best part about my accommodations is the location. It is directly across the road from the Dive Flamingo Resort where they have an excellent dive shop. There is a secondary tank pickup locker that is three hundred yards from my door. It is accessible with a door code 24/7. How perfect is that?

Now a couple of comments about how this tropical environment has affected my health. When I first arrived, my body had to adjust to the heat. It is about 85 degrees Fahrenheit all the time, and humid. Normally the trade winds compensate, but they have not been consistent. But, within two days, I had adjusted. I just drink lots of water.

Back in Canada, I had been having trouble with a constant cough. I just seemed to always  be coughing to clear my throat. I now think it may be the smog or an allergy in Canada (Kitchener, Ontario). I haven’t had to cough since I arrived here! Even my eyes that used to water all the time (allergies?) are fine down here. So just one more blessing.

Friday night I was invited over to the Pedersens’ place for pizza and a movie. They live in the former Roswells’ house in the Belnam area near the transmitter site. Dave and I have been connecting about my iPad issues all week, so we’ve gotten to know each other fairly well. They have been on Bonaire for about nine months. They have three children, two dogs and two cats. Interestingly, Dave is a ham radio enthusiast, just like Chuck Roswell used to be.

I must say, their kids are adorable.  It was really great getting to interact with each of them and see all the distict personalities.

The kids are all home schooled, and you can tell by their positive attitudes. Unlike so many North American children, they are not jaded and withdrawn into their own little world of cell phones and earbuds. Their youngest daughter runs around giving everyone hugs without any fear. It was very refreshing to be in such a loving atmosphere.

The evening proceeded with a movie from Netflix, and, of course, home-made pizza. Dave also showed me his “man cave” where his ham radio is set up. I must say, I have never met a gadget man quite as skillful as Dave. He even installed AirDisplay for my iPad, which allowed me to display my diving photos on the big-screen TV directly from my iPad without any wires attached. Cool!

As I drove home, I reflected on how wonderful the universal welcome is that the body of Christ affords.

A Day at the Office

Today started as usual with my getting up at six, making my breakfast, feeding the dogs, and getting to work by 8 a.m. As I get to know the Bonarian workers during devotions, I’ve begun to realize that some of these guys really love the Lord.

During the morning I set up my computer with some of the software I’ll need. I also had the chance to discuss my vision for eventually including a listen-live button on our twrbonaire.com site. I was able to tweak Brad Swanson’s imagination with the suggestions from our engineer. Bear in mind that this is only an idea at this stage, and we are unsure if we’ll ever be able to make it a reality. He asked me to write up our discussion in a discussion paper that could be given to Joe Barker, the director, who is on furlough, once we had agreed on the concept. I was able to introduce the staff to Google Drive, and shared our discussion paper online with all of the staff. This is the first time some of them have used this collaboration tool from Google, and so far they quite like it.

Overall I was very impressed with how open-minded the TWR staff are to new ideas. When I pitched the idea to Benjamin on our Skype call, he basically said that I was preaching to the choir. However, implementation is very complex. Please pray for us as we work through what will be required to be able to deliver streaming audio of our Spanish broadcast to the entire globe. A concept is a fragile thing.

At about 10:30 we hooked up with Benjamin Tangeman from the Cary, North Carolina, office of TWR. He is a former MK (Missionaries’ Kid), just like myself. He works in the Cary IT department, and was very knowledgeable and helpful. I actually did most of the call with Brandon’s wife, Laura, who does marketing here, as well as many other jobs when she’s not caring for their son. I was impressed with Laura’s knowledge and experience.

Basically, what we have been given is a web template designed by the Agroup. It has been paid for by a gracious donor. We found it to be very robust, and could accomplish almost everything we need. While there is still a bug with the online shopping cart, everything else seems to be in place. We have a steep learning curve ahead of us over the next couple of days, but it is doable.

When we hung up two hours later, Laura and I were very excited about the possibilities of this new web design tool. It is proprietary software, however, but there seems to be a decent support system.

We have set up a brainstorming session for 11 o’clock tomorrow where we can set out the various tasks that need to be accomplished during my time here. So far we’ve established that the creation of this website is a top priority. That still leaves numerous marketing and communications projects that I can work on once the website project is complete. I must say, I’m very excited about the work that I’ve been given here.

On my lunch hour, I walked across the street to a new shopping plaza, and had lunch at Ellis Café. They were advertising traditional goat stew, but they had run out just before I arrived, and I ended up having a hamburger. A little lizard got a bit of my salad in return for letting me photograph it. I still haven’t figured out how to get the photos out of my cell phone.

After lunch, I took a drive down by the water plant, and took a few shots of mom and dad’s old house. They have kept it up very well. It is too bad that Trans World Radio no longer owns it. More or less across the street is the Britton’s former house. I took a few shots of that as well of the water plant and Capt. Don’s Habitat (a dive shop). Then I went back a bit early, and uploaded my photo albums. They are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/sirjohnamcdonald

I kept busy typing notes and installing software the entire afternoon, and left around 5:30. I decided not to attempt to go scuba diving today, but to get some chores done. The first stop was the warehouse supermarket, which is about four blocks from where I’m living. It is not a bad supermarket, and I got most of what I needed. I also checked out the huge Dutch supermarket about three blocks further up the road. I think that’s where I’ll begin next time.

The existence of such a new and very modern supermarket illustrates just how developed Bonaire is becoming. I spoke with my sister, Joanna, over Skype tonight, and was describing how impressed I was with all the new development.

Overall, it seems that this is a very positive development for the island. Bonaire changed the Island’s currency from the Antillian Guilder to the American Dollar back in 2011.
Signing off until tomorrow.

Back to the Garden

There was a popular song many years ago where the refrain went, “We need to get back to the Garden.” Well, today, 60 feet beneath the waves of Bonaire, I went back to a tiny piece of that Garden. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ivan, one of our Bonairian workers, has been serving with TWR Bonaire for 36 years.

As usual, at 8 o’clock we met at the studio where we held devotions. I love how the staff come together every morning to read the Bible and pray. I met one of the Bonarian workers, Ivan Statia, who has been working for Trans World Radio for 36 years.

After devotions, Brandon made contact with the States to find out when the conference call would be. In the end, it was rescheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. Please pray for this meeting today, as it will set the tone for the entire project that we are working on. I will be including my IT assistant, Pat Newman in Canada, in this conference call.

With Dave’s help, I tried to get my iPad to recognize my micro SD card from the phone. After several attempts and Internet searches, we were unsuccessful. So I’ll be replacing my cell phone with my regular camera from now on. It is just not quite as handy.
Dave has helped me with numerous issues on my iPad, which is just tremendous. He also invited me over to the pizza and movie night at his place this coming Friday. I must say, the entire staff certainly knows how to make someone feel welcome down here. With the finance person, Donna, I was also able to complete some refunds for expenses on my trip down.

It was the afternoon when we discovered that the conference call would not go ahead, so Brandon suggested I take the rest of the afternoon off and get some diving in. I told him he didn’t have to twist my arm. I was able to hook up with Larry and Regina Sanders who did the tour yesterday.

The really neat thing is that the Dive Flamingo’s dive shop has a system where they simply give you a door access code to the tank locker, which happens to be right across the road from my house. You simply grab a tank and mark it on the log sheet, and they bill your credit card later.

We decided to go to the south part of the island, just short of Far Beach, to a spot called Pink Beach, since it used to have pink sand there. The dive marker is a fair distance from shore, so we swam out and then dropped down. We went to 60 feet, and swam along the to the left.

One of the first things I spotted was a stonefish. It had just parked on the bottom and opened its mouth wide, so I moved closer to take a few shots. It was only then when I noticed that a tiny cleaner shrimp was inside its mouth, cleaning its teeth.

I was just in complete awe of the spectacular beauty surrounding me. There were 5-foot- wide swaths of orange sponges. There were beautiful French angelfish, parrotfish, and so many others I couldn’t identify. I really think that the reef environment is closer to the original Garden of Eden that was on land. The intense variety of hundreds of species within a few square feet is just amazing!

After we made the turn-around, Larry pointed to a large, spotted eagle ray about 30 feet from us. It was flapping away on the bottom, and apparently trying to fan away the sand in search of some meal. It was about 4 to 5 feet across, and had about a 10-foot long spiked tail. We got within about 20 feet before it spotted us. As it flew away, I marveled at the beauty of this creature that seems to  fly effortlessly through the water.

After we stowed our gear in my Jeep, we decided to continue on around the south tip of the island. The salt flats seemed to be very busy, and we saw the bulldozers harvesting the salt at one point. We also stopped by the slave huts and took a few pictures.
Then we came across the kite boarding school. This is where a surfer is tethered to a large parabolic type of parachute that pulls them through the water at high speed. It is spectacular to watch. But at $300 for three hours of lessons, I don’t think I’ll be doing that anytime soon.

Next we stopped by the lighthouse and took a few more pictures. Then we came across a large windmill near where the Sorbon Hotel used to be. A quick jog to the right, and we found a lot of people going windsurfing in Lac Bay. I think my sister, Joanna, will be doing that when she arrives here in about 4-1/2 weeks from now.

As we drove back to the hotel, I was again impressed about how much development is taking place in Bonaire. It really has become a busy place. You have the impression that there are a lot of funds going into Bonaire right now.

As I dropped them off at the hotel, we decided to meet again in an hour to go to lunch. After I had rinsed my equipment and showered, they met me at my house. We walked about 10 minutes into town, and found a lovely restaurant.

It seems the waterfront is now so built up with restaurants that they offer competing specials. We had steak and shrimp for a very reasonable price.

After we walked back to the Flamingo Hotel, Larry and I went out to the dock and sat admiring the waves and the stars, and talked for almost another hour. He is the director of Heralds for Christ, and was absolutely fascinating to speak with. His life experience is tremendously varied. We also looked across the water at the TWR towers, and discussed where the future of this wonderful ministry may be going. My thought was that we would begin to see more of a focus on Internet broadcasting.

And so ends another absolutely spectacular day on Bonaire! I came home and greeted the four dogs that live in the backyard, and finally got to pet the small shy dog, Kiko. As I sit here now, I can’t help but praise the Lord for blessing me so richly.

Back Home on Bonaire

Last night I finally touched down on Bonaire after a 28-year absence. And it was as exciting as I thought it would be. But, my Goodness, is it hot!

My flights all went according to plan, although it was a long day, as I had to get up at 2:00 a.m., and finally arrived at the TWR guest house at 7:00 p.m. Flamingo Airport is basically the same as you enter from off of the plane. Once you pass Customs and drive away, the first thing you notice is how built up and busy Bonaire is.

When I lived here as a teenager with my parents back in the seventies, there were only 9,000 people on the island. Now the population is around 16,000 people.  As I understand it (and I’m still piecing this together), back in 2010, Bonaire changed their constitution to actually become part of Holland. Previously they were a sort of colony of Holland, but were self governed. Now citizens of Bonaire can even vote in Dutch elections back in the motherland.

The result is a huge building boom on Bonaire over the last five years. I’m still amazed at how built up Bonaire has become. But there are still a lot of unfinished projects. The development by the airport has been sitting idle for about 10 years.

Today I arrived at the office at 8 o’clock, and was met by Brad Swanson. Like everyone here, he is very friendly and helpful. First we held staff devotions with Brad, the acting Station Director, Brandon Neal, the Business Administrator, and Dave Pederson, the engineer. There are also three Bonairians on staff who maintain the towers, etc. The strange thing was that when we asked one of the Bonairian workers to read the scripture reference, he read it in Papiamentu, the local language of Bonaire, which I don’t understand.

Brad set me up in an office on the second floor of the studio. It has a very nice computer with a double monitor running Windows 7.

Next I sat down with Brandon, and we had a good long talk about his plans for the project. I’ll have lots to do during my seven weeks here. We seem to get along very well, and he has a good sense of humour. Tomorrow we are supposed to hold a conference call with the IT Department in the U.S. After that we should have a pretty good idea of what they want us to do. That is when the work will begin in earnest.

In the afternoon, Brad picked me up, and we went to the Flamingo Resort across from my house to pick up two tourists from Herald of Truth, who wanted a tour of the transmitter site. It turned out they didn’t have their own vehicle, so I ended up sitting in the loading area of the Jeep, and we drove off to the transmitter site. Things are pretty relaxed on Bonaire, so we didn’t get a ticket or anything.

The transmitter site has changed a great deal since I was there almost 30 years ago. The five huge towers in the front have all been removed, and were  replaced by four towers in a perfect rectangle closer to the transmitter building. There is also a smaller STL tower that links the office building to the Transmitter site located behind the transmitter building.

The electricity needed to power TWR-Bonaire’s broadcasts is purchased from the island’s power grid. The old method of producing our own power is no longer cost effective, so those old generators (called “ma” and “pa”) are longer in use.

The most amazing thing was that the entire transmitter site is now completely automated. The 100,000 W transmitter that sits there now can be controlled remotely by computer. Any alarms generate a text message to Brad’s cell phone. It is coupled to a tuning array, which can direct the signal to specific parts of the globe. Previously we just blanketed the entire South American continent. Now we can broadcast the Gospel message to over 64 million people in South America and all over the Caribbean – especially in countries where good Biblical teaching is not readily available.

Next we returned to the studio to continue the tour. I must say, there is a lot of road construction on Bonaire, and the roads are very rough. The studio too is largely automated. Everything is sent to us via FTP. We broadcast at night from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. The office area of the studio is now rented out to a school. There is also no driveway between the office and the studio buildings.

The large sound studio is now used as a conference room. There are two on-air studios where we can actually transmit from. The studio is connected to the transmitter by a 100-foot tower at the back of the building and there are also satellite dishes in the back. I was able to find an old staff photo on the wall with mom and dad there from 1975.

I used my car to help shuttle the tourists back to the hotel. Brad suggested that I quit early so I could register at the scuba dive, as they close at five. So I trundled my suitcase of scuba gear across the road and over to the dive shop. It is only a four-minute walk for me.

Once I signed about a dozen forms and paid the $25 environment fee for the reef foundation, I was assigned a locker on the dock. (See stinapa.org) I told him I wanted to do a checkout dive right then, and they agreed after some persuasion. A checkout dive is only done to a shallow depth to test your equipment.

Just as I was getting in the water to check out my equipment, two Dutch girls asked if I would like to dive with them, as they were also on the check-out dive. I readily agreed, as I prefer to have a buddy with me. I had to readjust my weights, but otherwise everything checked out. We ended up doing a 45-minute dive to about 60 feet.

I must say, it was wonderful to be back on the reef! We saw a couple of barracudas and a small sunken boat. There was actually a fair amount of debris on the bottom, which is now all overgrown with coral.

Once I got changed, I got in my little Suzuki Samurai Jeep and went and found a Chinese restaurant for supper. I then wanted to see if I could pick up some stuff at the supermarket, but they had already closed. I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

So I decided to drive around town, and discovered that my old Catholic high school is now some type of shopping mall. I even drove by our old house in Antriol, and found it to be very well taken care of. It was dark, so I couldn’t be sure, but I think the flamboyant tree I planted in the back yard is gone.

Now I am back in my house, using my microphone to type up this blog. I’ve run into trouble getting the photos off of my cell phone, so there won’t be any photos uploaded tonight. I’ll have to speak to David at the office, who is an expert on iPads. I’m sure we will figure it out shortly.

And so, after my first full day on Bonaire, it seems like this will turn out to be an awesome adventure!