East Coast Diving – Sept. 13, 2012

This morning (Saturday) I’m blogging a couple days late from the island of Curacao, which is nextdoor to Bonaire. I’ll tell you more about how I arrived earlier than expected on Curaçao on my next blog.

Photos here

Right now, I’m sitting at the Clarion Hotel which is beside the Curaçao World Trade Centre. I forgot to turn my alarm off, so got woke up at 6:30, and decided just to get up. Behind me I hear a large ship’s horn. In front of me is a beautiful swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees. To my right is a hill with several radio towers on top. There is a nice breeze blowing, and the temperature is just perfect.

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Thursday we were wakened by a wild thunderstorm at 4:00 a.m.—-thunder, lightning, and pouring rain! Joanna heard the dogs scratching at the back door, frantically trying to get in. She suggested that we let them in. I said it was a great idea, but first we would have to shut all the doors to the bedrooms, and cover the sofa with a sheet.

We then let the soaking wet, very frightened dogs into the house, and quickly dried them off with towels. Sure enough, they jumped right on the sofa, so we had to shoo them off. It took us nearly half an hour to get them quieted down and dried off before we were able to go back to bed. Bell seemed to be the most frightened, and actually ended up howling like a wolf at one point, out of sheer fear. In so many ways, dogs are like children that just need to be comforted once in a while.

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It wasn’t long before my alarm went off at six o’clock, as I had to be at Lac Bay by 7:45. I had signed up to dive the wild side with www.bonaireeastcoastdiving.com

When I arrived, one of the owners, a tall Dutchman named Hans, said we would have to wait until eight o’clock when the Coastguard opened to get an update on the weather conditions. I found it a bit strange that the Coastguard weren’t open 24 hours a day.

We could see storms moving off to the west. Fred, the other owner, had the radar pattern up on his I-phone, which showed the storms moving away from us. By 8:15, the decision was made to proceed with the dive.

The boat was a 25-foot steel-hulled military Zodiac made in Vancouver. They backed the trailer into the water, and then brought it alongside the dock. We then loaded all our gear onto the boat, and put anything remaining in dry lockers at the front of the boat under the wheelhouse.

We then slowly worked our way towards the mouth of Lac Bay at about three knots in order not to disturb the sea grass. Meanwhile, Fred explained the diving procedure. We would be completely geared up, including fins and mask, while still in the sheltered area of Lac Bay. Only then would we proceed out to the five-foot high wave area of the open ocean. We would be doing a backward somersault off the side of the Zodiac, but only on the skipper’s signal. This was to be a live exit, with the props still running in reverse so that we would drift toward the front of the boat upon entry.

The dive would then be what is known as a drift dive, with the boat following us, so we would not have to swim against the current to return. Throughout the dive, the dive master would tow a surface beacon, which was a type of elongated orange balloon, so the ship could follow us. With the rough waves, there was no way to detect our bubbles on the surface. At the end of the dive, we would proceed into deeper water, and wait to be picked up.

I was very impressed with the almost military-like precision of this dive operation. I personally like a certain amount of calculated risk if done with a great deal of preparation and organization. I knew even before I hit the water that this would be some of the best diving I’ve done!

Sure enough, the open sea was very rough, and we had to hold onto the grips on our seats in order not to fall off. Luckily, I don’t suffer from seasickness.

The order was given to prepare to exit. We sat backwards on the inflatable tubes. I was third out, and was soon bobbing up and down between the waves while I cleaned off my mask one more time. As soon as we blew off our BCs and descended, we saw two spotted eagle rays in about 60 feet of water. They came toward us as a pair, but then split, with the one going not 20 feet away from me. Unfortunately, I found the water a little murky, so the video is not crystal clear.

Fred was an amazing spotter, and pointed out about a dozen turtles on this dive. He had to carry a wind-up reel to which the surface marker was attached the whole time.

We moved at a fairly slow pace with the other five divers plus the divemaster, and had ample opportunity to explore the reef at our leisure. We were told that this was not a close-into-the-reef dive, but rather one in which you try to take in the entire seascape.

I was able to get several photos of free-swimming turtles, as well as other turtles sleeping on the bottom. Apparently the water inside Lac Bay is too hot for them to live there permanently. They come in to feed on the sea grass, and then exit to cool off and sleep.

I felt a tug on my flipper, and turned around to see one of the lady divers behind me pointing vigorously to a crevice in the rock. Sure enough, a good-sized lobster was poking out from underneath, waving his tentacles at us. The lobsters here in the Caribbean do not have any claws, but have spikes on their shells. I was able to get a picture taken of me beside the lobster.

I saw the tail of a large green moray, and later on I was able to see the tail of another moray, and this guy ended up poking his head out to sleepily give me the once over.

What I found fascinating was how air-breathing turtles can sleep on the bottom. Many of them tuck in under a soft fern, and use it much like a pillow. You would see them gently swaying in the current, sleepily looking at you as you fired pictures and video. Most of them stayed put, as we had been instructed to never approach a turtle perpendicular, but to use a circular pattern to come up alongside them. Most of the turtles simply stayed in place, and were good subjects for the camera.

After about 50 minutes, Fred gave us the crossed-arm signal that the dive was over. We proceeded into open water at 5 metres deep. Each dive these days ends with at least a 3-minute safety stop at five metres just to make sure no one ever gets the bends.

It is a strange feeling to swim out into the blue ocean and slowly lose sight of the bottom, but I do, in fact, have my own compass now, if I was ever to do this alone.

As soon as we surfaced, the boat approached us, and the dive master boarded first. This particular Zodiac has a removable side tube, which is first partially deflated and then lashed to the back of the Zodiac. Metal stairs are then lowered into the water, and one by one we approached the boat, removed our fins, and climbed up the ladder. This was the most sturdy boat I have dove from on Bonaire.

With our gear still on, we took our seats, and headed for the bay. The waves splashed so much that I put my mask back on so that I could see. We docked, and an American couple exited, as they had not opted for the second dive.

We were out of the water for roughly an hour before our second dive, which is standard practice on repetitive diving.

Soon enough, we were again heading back to the open ocean with a pre-dive briefing by Hans this time. Apparently Hans and Fred purchased this company from another operator in January. Hans had a terrific sense of humour, which seems to be a common trait of many of the Dutch people here. He had been the owner of a tea shop for 30 years in Holland, so this was his retirement job.

Fred was from Belgium, and had been on Bonaire for seven years.

The dive site we were heading to had just been discovered two months earlier by Fred, and consisted of a shallower dive, followed by an even shallower exploration of a canyon-like configuration closer to the shore, towards the south of the barrier reef that protects Lac Bay.

As we were nearing our destination, the skipper, Fred, started pointing vigorously to something in the water. He thought it was some large fish near the surface. He said we were going to quickly exit and investigate. Within a minute and a half, we were all in the water, but by then, the fish had disappeared. While we had all been given our surface beacons, it was again only the dive master that inflated his and towed it along with us.

The first thing we discovered was another spotted eagle ray slowly floating by. I was able to get even closer to this one for a fairly decent video.

The reef had a fair bit of soft coral and fan corals, but not as much living coral as on the west coast. Within minutes, we spotted a full-size adult turtle resting on the bottom. This one was gently rocking back and forth as he stared back at the curious tourists.

I also noticed some abandoned lobster traps on the bottom.

The dive consisted of going from one turtle to the next. We spotted over a dozen sea turtles on this dive. I find turtles to be some of the most graceful creatures in the ocean. With their large eyes, they seem to be very relaxed, and they are just a marvel to be able to watch.

We then entered the shallower water, and discovered a small cave with three lobsters inside.

Then we made the most unique discovery of the trip! Not far from the lobster den was a stingray eel, sleeping on the bottom. It was smaller than the spotted eagle ray, with a much smaller tail, but a highly visible barb. It only fluttered its back fins ever so slightly. I was able to use my zoom lens to get a lot of good shots, but decided to keep my distance. The basic policy of most divers here is not to disturb the sea creatures by getting too close.

All too soon, Hans crossed his arms to signal the end of the dive, and we proceeded into open water. I always hold my depth gauge in my hand as it can be a bit of a trick to stay at exactly the right depth.

The sea was rough, and both Hans and me stumbled as I entered the boat, but no harm done.

The ride back was even rougher, and I had to wear my mask until we entered Lac Bay.

One of the other couples on the boat was Joel and Lori who were on Joanna’s Curaçao-to-Bonaire flight two weeks prior. They were retired school teachers, and the most friendly tourists I have met here. I had them sign my log book and give me their email so we can stay in touch.

While Fred removed the boat, Hans took our credit card statements. I found them so relaxed about the business end of the deal that it was rather refreshing.

Unfortunately, I discovered the surface marker in my BC pocket when I got home, and contacted them so they could drop by and pick it up later.

I would highly recommend this dive to anyone visiting Bonaire. You simply do not see such numbers of turtles and large sea life on the west coast.

After they left, I decided to check out the fisherman’s dock, and was able to get some close-up photos of the pelicans. The one pelican actually hopped onto the back of the boat, with the owner still standing there. He shooed it away, but it appears the pelicans know where they can get a free handout. There was also a Catholic shrine to Mary beside the dock, which I am guessing was erected by the fishermen.

Then it was time to head home and get a quick lunch before Joanna headed back to Lac Bay to do some windsurfing. While Joanna had elected not to do the east coast diving, it was the windsurfing that I couldn’t do. It simply requires too much co-ordination. We each have our own areas of interest.

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The windsurfing place was called Jive City, and put me in mind of a California operation. When we first arrived, there was no attendant in the office, so Joanna had to talk to a fellow giving a lesson at the water’s edge. Soon enough, Joanna had her sail and board put together, and was walking out through the small channel between the sea grass to the sailing area beyond. I was able to use my zoom lens to get multiple shots of Joanna in action.

After about 20 minutes, she returned to get a smaller board to see if she could get some more speed. Joanna seems to be pretty good at this, as other than a few false starts, she never fell off her windsurfer. I wish I was that co-ordinated.

Then my phone rang, and it was Jay asking where he could meet me to give me the data recorder for the Sea Monitor sensors. We agreed to meet at Port Bonaire where he was dropping off his tank. Just then, Joanna came ashore, and I told her I would be leaving, and headed down one of the few straight roads on Bonaire from Sorobon to the west coast. Just before leaving for furlough, my parents used to drive on this road as fast as they could, trying to get used to the faster speeds that are the norm back in Canada.

Jay was very proud to show me his container full of what he said were 12 lion fish. I thanked Jay for making my dive experience on Bonaire one of the most memorable in my life. Without him as a dive partner, my opportunities would have been extremely limited.

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Just as we were about to leave, I noticed a gigantic car-carrier ship pulling into the harbour. It was about ten stories high, with solid sides. It was so massive, it towered above the surrounding landscape.

We got home and quickly showered, and then jumped into the car, and decided to have lunch at the Rumba Café in order to get a closer look at this huge ship. We walked down to the harbour, and took photos as they started to open up the side ramp to offload the vehicles. Apparently this is not a common occurrence on Bonaire. Supper was very good, and I would have to say that the Rumba Café is probably the best restaurant on Bonaire, with good food and reasonable prices.

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After supper, we picked up some bed sheets from the house, and headed to the most southerly point on Bonaire to do some star gazing. We ended up going far past the last of the slave huts to the kite-surfing beach, which is the last remaining bit of sand on the south part of the island. The beach is only about 300 yards long, but served our purposes perfectly. I brought my dive light with me, and we settled down on the sand to gaze upwards at the stars.

We had decided earlier not to camp overnight, as we wanted to make sure we got a good night’s rest each evening. Once again, I was awestruck at the amazing number of stars visible, and the clear view of the Milky Wave. Joanna observed that Bonaire has much more light pollution than it used to. Places like Arizona are now trying to combat the needless waste of light and electricity that destroys star gazing.

But here on the southern tip of Bonaire, God’s handiwork was clearly visible. We spotted at least one satellite, and half-a-dozen shooting stars. We lay there for almost an hour-and-a-half, chatting about life in general. It was a very memorable time, and I’m so glad we did it.

And so ends another perfect day on Bonaire!

2 thoughts on “East Coast Diving – Sept. 13, 2012

  1. Pingback: Exploring Curaçao – Sept. 15, 2012 | John A McDonald

  2. Pingback: East Coast Diving – Sept. 13, 2012 | John A McDonald | Diving Adventures Scuba Diving Travel

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