Bonaire, Part Three: Getting the Hang of It

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 2:39 pm

With Ben and Kathy snoozing away (like any smart person would do after the exhausting trip we’d had), Jeff and I piled our things into the truck and struck out for Andrea II, a dive site just a little bit north of town. We wanted to stay close so we could return for a boat dive with Menno and the gang, and also wanted something with an easy entry, which the guide book assured us Andrea II had.

Now, we’re used to California beach diving, which looks something like this. It usually entails some combination of surf, sand, slimy rocks, and a lot of falling over. Despite hearing that Bonaire had “easy” shore diving, I was still a bit trepidatious. Imagine our delight when we parked the truck but a few steps away from something like this. Okay, it’s a coral-rubble beach with some rocks in the way – but check out that non-surf! I think the biggest wave we saw all week was maybe a foot high.

The guide book actually says that Andrea II is an easy entry if you enter at the channel. Many of the sites on Bonaire have channels carved out of the coral and rock near the entry, so that divers can just walk in instead of stepping on coral heads as they work their way through the surf. After Hurricane Lenny in 1999, the face of the beaches up north was slightly altered, so now those channels are usually entirely submerged and not obvious from the beach. Enough careful hunting around pre-dive usually exposes them to view. This being our first real beach dive on Bonaire (Buddy Dive didn’t count: they have a nice little pier with steps down), Jeff and I didn’t really know what we were looking for. I saw a nice, rock-free looking area on the sand, and assumed that was the mysterious “channel.” Unfortunately, as soon as we actually hit the water, we were ankle-deep in rocks and coral for quite a ways. We ended up sort of body-surfing our way over it to deeper waters, but it was uncomfortable to say the least (and not too nice for the remaining live bits of coral there)!

The dive itself was lovely – a gorgonian-covered slope full of fish life. We saw spotted drums, juvenile filefish, angelfish, and coral shrimp. I had a lot of fun hunting filefish in gorgonians while Jeff took pictures. He ventured a little bit too close to one of his subjects, and got a nice little fire coral sting on one hand. It’s always the photographer who gets injured!

Heading back towards shore, it was much more obvious where the “channel” actually was. We noticed it ended right at a big stick erected on the beach, presumably to show where the channel was. We saw another stick off to the right, and so (incorrectly, as it turned out) assumed that the two sticks marked the edges of the channel. We filed that away for future reference and rejoined the Brantleys at DBV.

Menno was just finishing up a dive briefing for two other couples who’d arrived the day before, and the eight of us headed down to his boat for our next dive. Eight people plus gear made it a tad more crowded than the day before, and I’m happy to say this was the only time we all dived together! Luckily, everyone was experienced enough to keep things moving pretty smoothly, and before long we’d all made our backroll entries (this time I wised up and put my fins on in the water, instead of dealing with them on the boat) and were checking out a Klein Bonaire site called “Sampler.”

The site has its name because every type of hard coral found on Bonaire can be spotted in this one place. Indeed, there was an impressive display of coral. But my favorite sight was a cleaning station: we spotted a big grouper hanging out under a coral head, with a fairy basslet giving him a good scrubbing. A blue tang tried to get in on the action, stealing away the basslet for a few moments. I’m a sucker for fish behavior!

“Lunch” was cereal at DBV, and then we headed south on Menno’s recommendation for a beach dive at Margate Bay. WOW. The slope here was completely covered with coral and gorgonians; you hardly ever saw any sand. On the way in, I found a secretary blenny hanging out in a hole in some brain coral – the first of many!

We also saw several eels, including one white-spotted eel (looks very snake-like) that was out hunting, sticking its head into coral heads and chasing smaller fish out. Slightly larger fish would hang out nearby, waiting to catch the fish that the eel wasn’t interested in. There were also quite a few barracuda out and about.On the way back to DBV, Ben suddenly said:”Oops – I think I just lost my sunglasses.”

“What do you mean, ‘just lost’?” I replied.

“Well, I put them on the ground behind the wheel of the truck so they’d be safe. I didn’t want them to be stolen.”

That’s right: we’d run over Ben’s $120 sunglasses. Oops, indeed.

At this point, we realized something. The day before, Jeff had neglected to check the O-rings, resulting in a housing flood. Today, Ben had crushed his sunglasses. That’s right – we were taking Stupidity Turns (or Jinxed Turns, depending on how you look at it). This meant Kathy or I would be next!

Back at DBV, Menno was having the “rum punch sunset cruise” on the patio instead of on the boat, due to the likelihood of rain. Sure enough, shortly after he started up the barbeque (for the post-punch dinner), it started to pour. Luckily, it quit again in time for food. Menno and Esther plied us with multiple salads, and barbequed fish, steak and chicken. Mmmmm. Most impressive was Menno’s technique of heating up the grill: he’d open up a tank valve and blow some air on it, sending up a fiery display of sparks that trilled and amazed us all. I tried to go easy on the “rum” part of the rum punch to avoid a repeat of my Cozumel pirate-cruise display.

Monday morning was a bit of a repeat of Sunday. Kathy and Ben originally wanted to join us for our early dive, but Kathy’s tummy finally rebelled at all the Bonaire food and she decided to sleep it off. Jeff and I decided to go do a deep dive in search of garden eels, so we headed back south to Alice in Wonderland.

Once in the water, I couldn’t seem to focus through my mask. For a while, I thought I’d left too much defog gunk in it – but by the time we headed down the slope, I realized the awful truth: I had neglected to take my contacts out before putting on my prescription mask. I could still focus, but it took a lot of concentration and made my head hurt after a while. I guess this was MY Stupidity Turn – that means Kathy’s next!

I was worried that the eels would be a no-show, but as soon as we hit the sand at 100 feet, there they were! They’re pretty creepy little critters; from a distance, it just looks like bits of seaweed sticking up out of the sand, waving around. If you can manage to get close to one (easier said than done: they disappear down into their burrows when they see you), you might be able to get a look at their enormous, head-sized mouths. We spent a few minutes chasing eels, then headed back up the slope, while I quit trying to focus on anything and just enjoyed a blurry dive. We didn’t stay under too long, as I was eager to make it back to town in time to visit the post office before meeting up with Ben and Kathy.

That’s right, the post office. For some reason, Jeff and I thought it would be an extra cool touch if our scuba-art christmas cards had Bonaire postmarks. I addressed them all in advance, putting “USA” under the addresses, and said things like “Hello from Bonaire” inside each one. Of course, once we actually arrived on Bonaire, we learned that: the post office is only open a few hours each day; it’s very expensive to send mail to the US; and it can take several weeks to get there.

Oh well – it was too late to tear them all open and adjust things, so we decided to go for it.

I could see why the post office doesn’t bother staying open very long. I went in at about 11am, and there was no one there except a very bored-looking employee. She asked if I wanted stamps or a label (“tropical-looking stamps, please”), and then charged me $57 to mail the batch.

Gulp. That’s about $2.50 a pop.

(It’s now 2 days before Christmas, and I doubt anyone has actually recieved one of these cards. But when they finally do, I’m hopeful they’ll have a very cool Bonaire stamp and postmark on them.)

Kathy was still feeling icky, but Ben joined us at the marina for another trip out to Klein. We discovered our favorite Klein site on this trip: Carl’s Hill. We followed Menno down to check out the resident seahorse, and then headed around the corner to the “Hill,” a vertical wall that’s swarming with juvenile fish and fairy basslets. On the way back, Menno pointed out two tiny baby trunkfish, which look like little balls of spotted fuzz, in a gorgonian. I also found my first queen angel (one of my faves) in some coral. The three of us puttered around for quite a while in the shallows under the boat, finding juvenile and grown yellow-tailed damsels, rock beauties, several butterflyfish, barracuda, a big peacock flounder, and lots of other tiny fish for me to chase.

Before heading back to DBV to meet up with Kathy, we hit the local grocery store (Cultimara) to stock up on lunch fixings for the week. I stayed in the truck with the equipment, and so missed out on what was apparently a bit of an adventure. The boys came back with lots of dutch-looking cookies and crackers, bread, cheese, and some mystery meats with names like “turkey ham.”

After our turkey ham lunch, we followed up on the recommendation of the other two couples staying at DBV and drove way up north to Karpata. It’s a bit of a drive, and requires taking an extra-long way back since the road is one way, so we took eight tanks along and planned to make two dives each.

Remember how I said it was about to be Kathy’s Stupidity Turn? When we reached Karpata, she realized she’d left her regulator in the dive locker. Whoops. The resulting conversation went a little like this (I am, of course, paraphrasing, since I sadly did not have a tape recorder handy to catch all the verbal somersaults).

Me, with obviously little enthusiasm: “Well, we could drive back around and get it. We’d still have time for one dive.”

Kathy: “No, I don’t want to mess up your diving. You guys should definitely go.”

Me: “But you haven’t even been diving once today, and this looks like a great place. We can figure something out. Why don’t you borrow one of our regulators after Jeff and I dive – we can take turns with it?”

Kathy: “Won’t that screw up your computers, though? I don’t want to pile extra nitrogen on.”

Jeff: “The computers pop right out – so we can just take out the computer, and leave you with the pressure gauge. You’d have to rely on Ben for depth and time, though.”

Ben: “She’ll have to use Jeff’s regulator – Anna doesn’t have the right inflator hose connector.” (Jeff, Ben and Kathy all have these combo octopus-inflators called Air 2.)

Kathy, to Jeff: “Can I try your mouthpiece?”

(Mouthpiece is ENORMOUS – no way Kathy can use Jeff’s reg)

Me: “Well, we have tools. We can take my regulator and Jeff’s inflator hose and put them together.”

(Turns out my regulator hose does not FIT on Jeff’s first stage. Argh.)

Me: “Ok – how about you just take my entire setup, BC and regulator. We both have small-sized BCs, right?” (Note: it turns out later that Kathy’s is actually an extra-small. Additional Note: The only reason I have ANYTHING in my arsenal that is a size “small” is that it corresponds soley to height, not width.)

Kathy: “Yeah, I guess that would work. How much weight do you have in there?”

Me: “14 pounds. But you can put your own weight pockets in.”

Kathy: “No, I have a different style of pocket. That won’t work.”

(Finally figure out we can just remove a few chunks of lead from my weight pockets, and it will be the right amount of weight for Kathy.)

This is a greatly shortened version of what was a roughly 20-minutes conversation. That was a lot more figuring-out than should have been necessary! You’d think 4 pretty-smart people would have been able to get their act together a bit quicker. Oh well; at last we’d figured out I’d just dump my whole get-up (minus some lead) on Kathy, and Jeff and I hit the water for dive #1.

Another WOW. Karpata is a nearly vertical drop-off, so it’s basically a wall dive. The visibility was the best we’d seen so far; while I didn’t see any particularly amazing fish life, I just kicked back and enjoyed the floating/flying sensation of diving next to a wall.

The Brantleys helped us out of the water (there’s a bit of slimy-rock hopping involved in this entry), and then took their turn under while Jeff and I hung out at the top of the steps to keep simultaneous eyes on the exit point (to help the Brantleys in return) and the truck (to keep things from being stolen). We killed the time by having a water-spitting fight, which almost resulted in my falling backwards down the stairs and killing myself.

Dive #2 at Karpata was full of tiny fish: I found multiple secretary blennies in their brain coral holes, popping out to grab food from the water, and also saw some larger red-lipped blennies zipping around in the shallows. On this dive, we started having yet another camera problem: the spring-loaded shutter button stopped being spring-loaded. And the zoom ring was still bouncing around loose. Rrr.

By the time we got out, the mosquitos were out and hungry! We de-geared as quickly as possible, piled in the truck, and headed out in the dusk to find our way back to DBV.

Getting around the island can be tricky. It looks simple. I mean, there aren’t that many roads, and judging by the map, they mostly go to the same place anyway. And yet, you can often wind up going in a direction that’s totally counterintuitive. It didn’t help that there was a detour near the end of our return to Kralendijk, and a serious dearth of signage. We followed the cruise ship lights until we were somewhere recognizable, as Ben and I took turns being annoying back-seat drivers (my husband is a saint to have tolerated us).

Tuesday morning, we were booked for a trip with Larry’s Wildside Diving on the east coast of Bonaire. As we loaded up the car and headed towards Sorobon, we joked that we’d worked our way around the circle of Stupidity Turns, and it was now Jeff’s turn again.

Captain Larry and dive guide Martin run a pretty slick operation! Larry has a custom-built RIB for dealing with the often-rough waters of the east side. You put your gear together on the dock and hand it off to Martin, who assigns everyone to a spot on a bench. On the way out of the harbor, everyone gears up (Martin does all the heavy lifting; you just slide into your BC while sitting on the bench). Once out at the dive site, everyone turns around and sits on the edge of the boat, and does their backroll when Larry instructs. The first dive is normally a drift dive, so it’s important everyone stays together. Luckily, we managed to hit a day when there was no wind and virtually zero swell: extremely unusual, according to Larry, but we weren’t complaining!

We all did our backrolls at the first site and gathered around Martin – and realized a diver was missing. Jeff was still on the boat, fiddling with the camera. Larry yelled out that we should go ahead and descend; he’d follow Martin’s safety sausage and drop Jeff in to join us.

We descended onto a gentle slope covered with fan coral and fish life. I kept an eye out above me for Jeff, and after a few minutes he joined us, sailing down to 80 feet. He was there for all of 2 seconds before he waved a water-filled dome port in my face and bailed for the surface again.

I elected to stay with the group (anyway, Jeff was Ben’s buddy on this dive; I was Kathy’s), and after a few more minutes Jeff once again joined us, minus the camera. I gave him a question sign, and he gave me a “camera dead” sign.

Aaaargh! Not even halfway through the trip, and our housing has flooded and killed my beloved Canon!

We continued the dive, though Jeff was obviously miserable. (I think Ben has some cute video footage of the two of us diving holding hands for a while, as I tried to convey to Jeff that we could still have a good time without the camera, and wasn’t it fun just to be diving together?)

Towards the end of the dive, we spotted several turtles off in the distance, which totally made Kathy’s day. She had a slightly leaky inflator hose (which I should have noticed, but was distracted by all the camera drama), and so ran out of air a little faster than usual; the two of us surfaced a bit before the rest of the crowd. That was actually fine with me, as it meant there was plenty of room at the ladder to get back on the boat.

Turtle screen-grab from the Brantleys’ video:

Larry filled me in on what I’d missed with the camera: before Jeff entered the water, the dome port had suddenly fallen off and rolled down the boat. Now, the dome port is hard to get on, but once it’s on, it’s on – Jeff always gives it a good hard shake to make sure. So that was weird. But I guess Jeff just figured he’d bumped it loose, so once he and Larry had it back on, he elected to continue the dive.We still don’t know what actually went wrong – odds are, the O-ring got bunched up somehow, or there was a little hair in there; who knows? We have yet to test the housing at home to recreate the problem.

What we do know is: saltwater and Canon Digital Rebels do not get along.

It’s pretty spectacular, actually. The focus rings rusted within a day, and the inside of the lens got all covered with salt crystals. The camera even smells funny, and the battery somehow melded itself to the contact springs. At least we’d been offloading the pictures every day to Jeff’s laptop, so it wasn’t a total loss!

Once all of us were back on the boat, we realized that it had, indeed, been Jeff’s turn to have something go wrong. Suddenly, the Stupidity Turns weren’t so funny (nor were they entirely applicable; I’m going to chalk this one up to 95% equipment, and only 5% human error).

It was a slightly subdued group of us who continued on to the second Larry dive…


  1. It is really sad that you and Jeff have a sign for “Dead Camera”. :(

    I love all your detailed narrations! Sarah should be proud — you can write well!!! :) My concise log of our trip is up on the web now — peruse at your own pace, but don’t expect tales like yours that make you laugh out loud!

    P.S. Thanks for letting me borrow your BC + regulator!

    Comment by Kathy Brantley — 12/23/2004 @ 4:36 pm

  2. And I just looked at that video, Ben did getcha and it IS cute :)

    Comment by Kathy Brantley — 12/23/2004 @ 4:45 pm

  3. I am, and Anna does. (Kathy, I’m looking forward to reading your account next!)

    Comment by Sarah — 12/26/2004 @ 2:32 pm

  4. I think you should write a story about the Cozumel Pirate thing.

    Comment by Sarah — 12/27/2004 @ 6:34 pm

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