October 2002 Bonaire Trip Report
All pictures are hyperlinks. Click on any picture to see a larger version.
After our last trip to Cozumel, the majority of the same group of divers got together for a party to share photos and catch up on how everyone was doing. We all had so much fun in Coz that we decided we needed to plan another trip together. Someone dragged out a map and we started pointing to the places we’d like to go. The Galapagos islands and Truk were high on my list, but too expensive for most of us, so somehow, we decided to go to Bonaire. I’m not exactly sure how we arrived at this for our destination, but it’s a fun group to go with, no matter where we wind up.
Originally, we had 34 divers going ( yikes! ), but after the group leader quit ( both the trip and the shop), the trip details became a bit "fuzzy" and we found ourselves down to a more manageable group of 15 crazy cold-water divers. It was a fun bunch, and we had a blast. To view a slideshow from the trip, please click here, or read the details below.
Getting There & Back
Capital Divers handled the travel arrangements for this trip, through Caribbean Dive Tours in Marietta, Georgia. This is the second time we have we have let them arrange our travel, and unfortunately, it will be the last time. Both trips were set up with very poor flight arrangements that were not flexible, and the travel agent didn’t even bother to seat couples together on the very full flights, or book the tickets so we could check our luggage all the way to our destination. We flew on DCA ( Dutch Caribbean Airlines ) the former ALM, which has a horrid reputation for being late and losing luggage, but I have to say, they did a great job. Both flights were on time, all of our luggage made it both ways, and I thought they actually did a better job than the American Airlines flights we had preceding and following the DCA flights.
Bonaire is a desert island, right? It’s not supposed to rain there, but of course it does. It rained almost every day we were there, and it rained hard. However, we’re used to rain ( living near Seattle ), and it was warm rain, so we didn’t mind. It didn’t really affect the diving until our last day when the visibility started to deteriorate. Did you know you can hear the rain hitting the surface when you are underwater? It sounds a lot like a distant boat and it’s interesting to watch the large rain drops pelting the water’s surface from below.
We stayed at the Lion’s Dive Resort, which has several different classes of rooms, including 'Regency’, 'Royal,' and ‘Imperial.' We were staying in a ‘Royal’ room. Only the bedrooms are air conditioned, so the living areas can get pretty warm during the day. We liked our room, which was very spacious, with plenty of room to spread out all of my camera gear and chargers.
Janet adopted a small group of cats that camped out on our patio where she fed them at least twice a day. One day, a donkey also showed up on the patio ( which faced the pool ), looking for treats. The resort was well appointed, clean, and we enjoyed our time there. We did also check out the resorts next door, and thought both Captain Dons Habitat, and Buddy Dive were actually nicer than the Lion’s Dive.
The power in Bonaire is a bit odd. They run 127 Volts at 50 Hz. This causes the transformers that come with your battery chargers, etc., to overheat and will eventually damage them. However, if you are careful, you will have no problems. I charged 3 sets of the NiMh batteries that I use in my camera and strobes every day, and had no problems. I was using a Maha C204F charger and a couple of Kodak chargers, and they all survived. I was careful to unplug them as soon as they were done charging.
One of the divers in our group left his flashlight charging overnight, and the transformer fried itself. Other than that, the ladies in the group had no trouble with hair dryers and curling irons, etc.
The restaurant at the Lion’s Dive is actually one of the best on the island. The manager worked very hard to accommodate our group, and actually left us a “large” table that was set for the 15 of us the entire week we were there. We ate breakfast there every day, and a few meals in the evening. If you are staying nearby at Captain Dons or Buddy’s, there is a gate between the properties, and I highly recommend you walk over and try out the Lion’s Dive restaurant. The “Rainbow Runner” margarita’s are not to be missed either! Also, if you are “dying” for a cheeseburger mid-week, this is the place to get one! Didn’t Jimmy Buffett write a song about that?
Around the island, our favorite restaurants would be Capriccio ( expensive, authentic Italian ), the Swiss Chalet ( very Dutch, very friendly ) and our favorite was Donna & Giorgio’s ( Italian, food is better than Capriccio, but they don’t have the location). We ate at some other restaurants that I really can’t recommend ( like Zeezict).
The Dive Operation
Bon Bini divers sits right on the waterfront at the resort. They have 3 boats, and schedule morning and afternoon boat dives. They have full tanks of air available at the dock for shore diving 24 hours a day, or up at the “drive through” fill station from 8 – 5. There are large, built-in rinse tanks ( 4 of them ) that are separately marked for cameras, regulators and dive gear. There is also a fresh water shower that was very convenient, and a large, locked drying room to hang your gear ( they give you a key for 24 hour access ). Most of the operations on the island operate in a similar fashion. The larger dive boat ( the Sea Dragon ) is new, and a replacement for the boat which sank ( with divers on it ) last year. While this boat is fast and has a nice ladder, it is not configured very well for dive gear. The do not have tank racks at your station, so you have to set up your gear with the tank free standing on the floor as the boat rocks back and forth, which is less than ideal. The smaller boat is actually better, with nice racks that allow you to set up and secure your gear before you leave the dock. If only a few divers sign up for a dive, they take the smaller boat.
Each boat did have an ice chest on board that was filled with fresh water for cameras. It was a little too small to actually accommodate my camera with the dual strobe arms, but it is a lot better than a bucket. Back roll entries were used on the larger boat, which gave some people consternation as there was considerable freeboard so you had a fair drop to the water. Exiting from the water on both boats was via a sturdy aluminum ladder, then you sit near the transom, and they remove the tank from your BC and you walk back to your station wearing your empty BC. It works very well. The staff unloads and loads all of your gear for you at the dock, which makes life pretty pleasant.
Most of the week, we had Mananita Diaz as our Dive Master. She is very tiny, very strong and has a degree in Biology from Venezuela. Mananita did an outstanding job, with excellent dive briefings and was very good at finding those “hard to spot” critters ( such as seahorses). We occasionally had one of the other DM’s dive with us, and when Ian or Eddy were in the water with us, I don’t even know why they bothered. They essentially just hovered at depth and didn’t bother looking at or interacting with anyone in the group. Franny also lead one dive at Bloodlet, and gave us our initial Marine Park orientation and I thought she did an outstanding job. The operation is very safety conscious, which I appreciated, but allows you a lot of diving freedom. We dove our computers, and usually dove Nitrox, and the “rules” from the boat were simply to be back at the boat in One Hour, and they would “recommend” a maximum depth of 100’ on the first dive, 60’ on the second. Other than that, you were on your own. You could follow the DM if you chose to, and none of them were upset if you struck out on your own ( as photographers are prone to do).
We found that diving Nitrox allowed us to generally stay near 80’ in the light transition zone for about 30 minutes, then we would turn back to the boat, working our way up the reefs for an hour of bottom time on each dive. Our air diving companions typically stayed shallower, and missed some of the critters we would find down deeper where there is less diver pressure. The Nitrox mixes varied widely, and the tanks were rarely actually full ( generally 2800 – 2900 psi ), but we had no problems getting an hour out of a tank, and finished most dives with more than 1000 psi left. On the day we dove the Hilma Hooker, we had asked for 32% Nitrox and what we received was 36%. This put our Maximum Allowable Depth ( 1.4 ATA ) at only 95’, which can easily be exceed on the Hooker. We then had two lectures from both Ian and Eddy on the dangers of exceeding 1.4 partial pressure. I appreciated their emphasis on safety, and easily stayed well within the safe limits of the rich mix, but would have preferred that they supplied what I had signed up for on the previous day.
As part of our Dive package, we had 6 morning boat dives, but the travel agent had scheduled the flights so we could only safely dive on 5 days. Bon Bini was very accommodating, and allowed us to sign up for the extra boat dive any time we chose. This allowed our group to do a couple of afternoon dives over at Klein Bonaire which is quite pretty.
After a couple of trips to Cozumel, and Belize, I was skeptical about Bonaire diving. I really enjoyed the “freedom” you get from diving your own profiles, and the fun of throwing tanks in your pickup and heading off to shore dive whenever you want. The water is clear and warm, and the reefs are full of colorful sponges and coral. Bonaire is a great place to study the “small stuff”, and a great place for beginners. It is like a nursery for lots of little critters, but it seems to be missing many of the larger critters you might expect of a tropical Caribbean destination. We saw few lobster, only small grouper, and even the Angelfish were few, small and far between. The shore diving novelty wore off quickly in the face of the Crime problem on Bonaire (see below). I liked the sites at the Northern end of the island the best. Sites like Karpata, Ol’ Blue and Bloodlet are steeper and deeper, with bigger, more colorful sponges. These sites reminded me of Cozumel, but I missed the bigger critters. The southern sites are also unique, especially the double reef system near The Lake, Alice in Wonderland and the Hilma Hooker. If you watch the sandy bottom between the reefs, you’ll be endlessly entertained by the many garden eels poking their heads in and out of the sand.
As mentioned above, we had rain almost every day. Toward the end of our week, the visibility began to decrease significantly, and the surge/swell began to increase. This made shore entries more challenging and the viz was so bad on our last night dive that several divers ( that are used to low viz diving ) became lost on the house reef and had to surface to get their bearings. The currents at the sites were also very fickle, they would often switch during the dive, but were only really strong on a couple of our dives ( swimming against the current on the Hilma Hooker was quite a chore ). You do have to make it back to your boat or entry point, so be sure to swim up current for 30 – 35 minutes and then drift back to where you started at a shallower depth.
We did sign up for Bonaire’s signature Night Dive at Town Pier. Mananita lead the dive, and we went very late to avoid the crowds ( 10 PM ) so had the place to ourselves. This is certainly a very colorful dive, as the columns are covered with orange cup coral and lovely sponges. It’s also a great place to see every size of Spotted Drum that you ever wanted to see ( there are hundreds of them here). I’m not sure this is a dive that I would care to repeat. It’s like diving the Blue Hole in Belize, you have to dive it once, but it’s not worth repeating. For those less experienced divers that do not have very, very good buoyancy control, I might recommend skipping this dive. The sand beneath the pier is littered with garbage, and the columns are very confining. You have to stay within the confines of the columns, keep off the bottom ( so you don’t silt it up for others) and the surge makes this very shallow dive a bit more of a challenge than it might seem. We did find a seahorse and chain moray here, and I actually enjoyed the dive and managed a few good pictures ( this was actually my first night dive with a camera), but many in our group had difficulties and were less than enthusiastic about the dive. Oh well! .
One of the sad things that you’ll have to deal with if you go to Bonaire is the petty crime. The island really is very small, and several locals indicated that they didn’t get ripped off as the island was too small and they would know who did it. Unfortunately, this courtesy does not extend to the tourists, and your belongings are fair game any time they are unattended. For me, this really detracted from the island’s charm. The shore diving is fun, but you can’t leave anything in the truck, and have to leave your windows down or they will be broken when you return and you’ll wind up paying for the broken window. Thieves are now even cutting fuel fill lines to siphon gas, and stealing/reselling spare tires.
I’m sure the police in Bonaire know exactly who is responsible for this (including the children on bikes and the adults loitering near dive sites) and it is a shame that they really are not addressing the problem. Instead they are letting it escalate to the point where some tourists are being robbed from their rooms ( even at night with them sleeping in the next room). When I contrast this with Cozumel, where you just do not have to worry about theft, it seems even more tragic. Bonaire is such a safe place, as far as eating and drinking whatever you want, it’s just such a shame to have this shadow of crime cast over an otherwise heavenly vacation.
Even in Belize, where it’s not safe to walk around Belize City, the Police have discouraged petty theft to the point where it is extremely rare. In Bonaire, unless you are extremely vigilant, it’s so common that many of the locals told us it was a “sure thing” that if you leave anything of any value in your vehicle, it will be stolen. This alone will keep me from ever returning to Bonaire, and I will recommend that others go elsewhere until the local government deals with the issue instead of ignoring it.
Dive Log Excerpts
Dive #1: La Machaca — Orientation dive on the House Reef. Sloping reef from about 22’ to 130’. Colorful sponges and corals. Spotted a sharp tailed eel, lots of morays and a couple of spotted drum.
Dive #2: Leonora’s Reef — Klein Bonaire. Our first Boat Dive. The highlights were a few interesting pictures of a slipper lobster, peacock flounder and lots of Lettuce slugs. The viz on Klein Bonaire is better than that on the shore dives near the resort.
Dive #3: La Machaca — Night Dive! A couple of golden tailed morays getting territorial, several Queen Parrotfish sleeping. We swam North this dive and found the Wreck the site is named after. Lots of basket stars unfurled on the sea fans which are very pretty.
Dive #4: Hilma Hooker — Wreck Dive. The Hooker has some pretty growth on her, and this is a good place for some wide angle work with your camera. Unfortunately, I had my strobes set up wrong ( 1/16th power ) so don’t have too much to show for it. There are a few big Tarpon hanging out in the holds, and it’s always fun to see a big ship laying on the bottom. They look a little out of place sitting on the sandy bottom between reefs. The hooker is sitting between double reefs, so be sure to check out the critters as you make your way along the bottom of the hull.
Dive #5: South Bay — Klein Bonaire. A pleasant dive, with not a single note in my Log Book, so we must not have seen anything exceptional. I guess I was happy just to be underwater.
Dive #6: La Machaca — After discussing how rare Octopus sightings were here ( no one had spotted any on our night dive ), we proceeded to find one right in from of the resort ( in 20’ of water). This was our third dive on this reef, and they are beginning to all look the same.
Dive #7: Bloodlet — Pouring down rain, but a great dive. Linus was with us for his last checkout dive. Janet spotted our first Seahorse at 74’ down the wall. We also ran into a small green sea turtle, that you could tell was unhappy to see divers. The rain on the surface was very noisy and fun to watch. We were thoroughly pelted with stinging drops on the way back to the resort.
Dive #9: Karpatha — Even better site. I think this is my favorite site. Steep and deep that reminds me of Cozumel. We spotted 2 turtles here, a couple of Octopus and another sharp tailed eel.
Dive #10: Bonaventure — Klein Bonaire. Spotted 2 seahorses on the same sponge. A big guy and a small one. Of course they are very difficult to photograph ( especially since I had the Wide Angle lens on). This was a beautiful dive site. Spotted the largest grouper of the trip here, hanging out up in the shallows.
Dive #11: La Machaca — House Reef. More Octopus, Peacock Flounder, Spotted Drum and a Balloon fish. We dove a fairly deep profile this dive, and there are a different set of critters when you get farther down the wall ( 80 – 100’).
Dive #12: Town Pier — Night Dive! Lots of colorful stuff to see on the concrete columns supporting the pier. Also a lot of garbage on the sea floor. Photos of an Orange Sea horse, spotted drums and a chain moray that was hanging down from a column to startle several divers.
Dive #13: The Lake — Very cool dive on a double reef system. We swam out to the outer ( deeper ) reef where we spotted several triggerfish, barracuda and grouper. Deb was attacked by some aggressive Yellowtails ( it’s hard to laugh with a regulator in your mouth ) and I was fascinated with the garden eels in the “Lake” between the reefs. It is a fairly long swim out to the second reef, but it’s worth the swim.
Dive #14: Andrea 1 — Entertaining shore entry due to a lot of surf. We had to cut this dive short in order to make the afternoon boat dive. A pretty decent dive, with the largest spotted drum I have ever seen and the smallest octopus. A big Catamaran full of new divers dropped in overhead, and I don’t think even knew we were way down the wall watching them.
Dive #15: Ebo’s reef — Not much of a dive site. Mostly sand chutes and a lot of damage from storms. The mooring here is way out in 130’ of water, and you can’t see the boat or the mooring from the reef. We did spot a huge hawksbill turtle here, and were surrounded by hundreds of Creole Wrasse as we swam back to the boat. I’d skip this site and shore dive elsewhere if it comes up.
Dive #16: La Machaca — Night Dive, house reef. The visibility was really deteriorating and the surge and current were conspiring against us to make our last dive one of our worst. We also had a pair of Mutton Snapper that accompanied us for the whole dive, which ate anything we shined our lights on. Fortunately, we found several free swimming Morays which were a little too big for the snapper to eat. I even hit the snapper with my hands on several occasions and they didn’t even flinch!
Some credit for this report has to be given to Dave Read. His detailed reports inspired me to write this one even though I felt like the diving itself was not as good as we have experienced in Cozumel and Belize. His trip report on AKR in Roatan, kept me from going there, and as I'm sure you will notice, I largely "borrowed" his trip report format. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Thanks Dave!
Dive Log Details
Disclaimer: The trip report above expresses the author's opinions and experiences, they should not be construed as a statement of absolute fact, but rather represent Boydski's best understanding of the facts and his week in Bonaire.