Last Day

Today was the last day of diving. My flight leaves tomorrow at 3:30, so I wanted to be out of the water by 3.

Most of us had not yet taken all of our boat dives, so Paul was able to reserve a boat for two tanks this morning. The first site was Country Garden, to the north of the resort. Country Garden has a number of large coral outcroppings. Under one of them, the guide pointed out a very large sea lobster that put most of our New England lobsters to shame.

By the time we came up, it had gotten windy, and there white caps on the ocean, so the boat captain took us up to a site called Sampler, more or less in the lee of Klein Bonaire.

Parrot Fish

Parrot Fish

Moray Eel

Moray Eel

The site is called Sampler because it’s very typical of the marine life here. I got this parrot fish there, as well as the moray eel below:

I was noticing, though, that I wasn’t really that into the photography today. I’ve tired a little of chasing fish and fighting with the camera, so for a lot of the dive, I just looked around me.

In fact, for the final dive, off the dock, I went without the camera completely. I did a giant stride off the dock, which I would never do with the camera, and then had a very nice dive that took us up past the sunken boat to the north.

We got out of the water at 2:45, and that was it. You need 24 hours to shed the excess nitrogen your body has picked up underwater. So I returned my weights, cleaned my gear, returned my locker key, tipped the dive staff, and spread the dive gear out to dry.

Since we had a couple of hours before dinner, and because I haven’t done much terrestrial this trip, Mike and I took a drive around the island. We went up to Gotomeer, where we saw flamingos, and Mike managed to get a yellow warbler to perch on the passenger side window.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Flamingo

Flamingo

Then we continued on through Rincon, up to Seru Largu, which overlooks most of the island, and back again. As I write this, I’m by the pool, watching the sun go down.

Tomorrow promises to be a busy day; we have to pack up by 11:30 and be checked out by noon; my flight is at 3:30, but United is already skittish about the weather in Newark, and has advised us that there may be delays.

Karpata, Knife, and Oil Slick Leap

Fourteen years ago, near the end of my first trip here, we visited Karpata, a shore dive on the northern end of the island. You go down a number of concrete steps to the shoreline, and there’s an abandoned building up above. I remember liking the dive, and have been wanting to do it ever since, but for one reason or another, never have.

Today, I finally made it happen. We had an open morning, so after checking to see if anyone else was interested, I headed up there by myself. We were scheduled for boat dives at one, so I made sure to leave early enough to get up there, do a dive, and get back  by 11:30.

By Bonaire standards, it’s a difficult entry and exit. By New England standards, it’s not too bad. The shore is lined with cobbles, and there’s a big concrete pad, level with sea, that you enter from. The waves break over the pad, and you have to step on some wet rocks to get onto it. Once on the pad, you sit down on the edge, put on your fins, and slide off.

I was just looking at my notes from my first dive there, and I recorded that I saw a turtle then. I didn’t see any turtles today, but the fire coral is still there, and you still have a panoramic view once you get in. It was a nice dive. I started it around 70 feet or so, and swam along the edge of the reef. I encountered an old anchor left on the sea floor.

Blue Tang at Karpata

Blue Tang at Karpata

I did a 40 minute dive, mainly because that’s what I planned, to allow time to get back. The road there is one way, so you continue on north until you get to a cross-road that takes you through Rincon, and then back into Kralendijk. Frankly, I enjoyed the drive just as much as the dive — we’ve been doing mostly boat dives this trip, and it was nice to see the countryside.

I made it back with plenty of time to clean up the gear, have lunch, take a glance at my pictures, and get ready for the boat dives.

The first boat dive was on the northern side of Klein Bonaire, at a site called Knife. Lots of life here. Along the way, I saw what I’m pretty sure was the same kind of ostrocod I saw the other night. At first, it almost looked like a string of silt in the water, and then I saw there was a larger transparent area around the silt, with small cilia driving it through the water.

Burr fish

Burr fish

Looking into some sponges

Looking into some sponges

Pufferfish

Pufferfish

Shortly after that, Ginny pointed out a burrfish lumbering along the bottom.

By the time the last dive rolled around, I was pretty fried. We ended up at Oil Slick Leap, the same site I did the night dive at. This time, we were moored to the same float I’d been hanging on Monday night. I saw, but did not record, a spotted drum nestled under some rocks; there was no way to get the light and camera down inside. I also spent a little time trying to do some macro photography. I’ve been trying to get a picture of a rock beauty all week, (they move fast) and finally got one.

Rock Beauty

Rock Beauty

Paul’s steak and fish dinner is in about 15 minutes. Tomorrow, we have one more pair of boat dives, and possibly time for one dive off the dock before we have to stop diving. It’s been a fun week.

Shore Diving

We had no boat dives booked today, so today was shore diving day.

The initial plan was to go to Salt Pier in the morning, do one dive there, and another dive also at the southern end of the island, and then figure out what to do in the afternoon. Mike and I were talking about doing Karpata, despite the fact that Paul had mentioned doing it Thursday morning.

The plans went out the window when Salt Pier came into view, and there was a ship moored there. Cargill owns the pier, and they’re pretty good about giving divers access to it, but they can’t permit divers around when there’s actually a ship there; it isn’t safe.

So we went to Plan B. Plan B called for a shore dive in the neighborhood, plus a return to Salt Pier Thursday morning. Since Paul was now talking about Salt Pier for Thursday, Mike and I decided to do Karpata in the afternoon. So we chose a site called Aquarius just up the road from Salt Pier. It has a nice easy entrance, albeit with a bit of a surface swim. We did this dive with the entire group. It was a nice dive.

French Angelfish at Aquarius

French Angelfish at Aquarius

For the second dive, we split up. Ralph, Paul and the women went back to the resort, while Mike and Joe and I went down to Pink Beach. I’ve had some nice experiences at Pink Beach; it’s a little bit of a surface swim, plus it’s kind of out-of-the-way, so it’s less popular than some of the other dive sites, meaning the coral is in cleaner shape.

Basket Sponge at Pink Beach

Basket Sponge at Pink Beach

We had a nice dive, Joe did a great job of finding the boat mooring we used as a landmark, and then taking us straight in to the break in the shore where we entered.

When we got out of the water, we could see some kite surfers in the distance, so we drove to the southern end of the island to check it out. Curiosity satisfied, we headed back to the resort. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn coming out of Kralendijk, and started heading up toward the hills and Rincon. Eventually, we found our way back and had lunch, and the final change of plan.

Paul found out that Salt Pier will still be closed tomorrow; either the ship will still be there, or they need to do some work without divers around. Secondly, the dive shop firmly discouraged us from heading north this afternoon. It’s too windy and choppy, and entrances and exits would not be easy, or safe. Since Salt Pier is off the docket for tomorrow, Karpata is back on the schedule for tomorrow morning. So Mike and I ended up doing one last dive on the house reef; we headed south, (normally people head north on the house reef) and had a leisurely hour-long dive along the wall there.

Schoolmaster Snapper on the Buddy Dive reef

Schoolmaster Snapper on the Buddy Dive reef

Neither of us was in much mood for a fourth dive today. Paul had planned pizza night for tonight, so the timing would have been tight, plus we’re both tired. I also wanted to get caught up on posting here. So I went through my pictures, downloaded my dive data, wrote one post before dinner, and here I sit, after dinner, getting caught up. Just a couple of pictures to add, then I’m off to bed.

I Shot the Moray (But I Did Not Shoot the Octopus)

Tuesday was a big boat day for us. We had a two tank boat dive for our group in the morning, and for the afternoon, several of us signed up for the afternoon boat dive.

We started with a visit to the southern side of Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited island off the western side of Bonaire. This is a site that can only be accessed via boat. It was a pretty site. I was busy taking pictures, and noticed Ken, then Jack, peeking into a hole. I didn’t want to glom onto their discovery, and Jack looked like he was pretty busy with it, so I let it go. I shouldn’t have; there was an octopus in the hole.

I did make a discovery that’s helped me out though; at one point I got deep enough that I could use the modeling light on the strobe, and found that it wasn’t aimed quite right. Once I re-aimed it, I started getting better coverage from it, and better exposures as well. I also put the diffuser on it, and that seems to have helped as well.

Parrot Fish

Parrot Fish

I burned through my air on that dive, and was one of the first ones back on the boat that dive. Once the others got back onboard, I found that I’d not only missed an octopus, but a  sea-horse as well. I’m just not good at picking animals out of their hiding places.

For the second dive, we did Small Wall, a small vertical wall just off the Black Durgon resort. The Durgon looks like a pit, but I rather liked Small Wall. In terms of photography, it’s easier (and more productive) to be shooting along a wall.

Four Eye Butterfly Fish

Four Eye Butterfly Fish

For the afternoon dive, several of us signed up for a one tank boat dive. The captain asked for suggestions, and Ralph asked for Old Blue, also known as Tolu. This site can also be done as a shore dive, but there is a mooring there, just off the cliffs to the north of the beach. I was cruising along the downslope of the reef, when I saw people beckoning and pointing at a crevice. I moved over, and saw nothing, until either Joe or Mike grabbed me and pointed the big green moray out to me.

Green Moray Eel

Green Moray Eel

One of the issues I’ve been having with the group dives is that I tend to burn through my air faster than the others; I compensate by staying shallower so that I don’t go through my air so fast. And yet, I wanted to go deeper. There’s less interference from ambient light deeper, and, at least at the Buddy house reef, the deeper parts of the reef are more vertical. I decided I wanted to do a dive by myself; I deliberately planned it for 30 minutes rather an hour, so that I could splurge on going down to 70 – 80 feet and take pictures along the wall. I felt that the conditions were well within my capabilities, and that if I planned it carefully, it wouldn’t be a problem.

I really enjoyed it. I was able to go at my own pace, without worrying about losing the group. I got down to 75 feet, noting that at that depth, I had 30 minutes of no decompression time. I stayed at that depth for about 3 -4 minutes, then gradually started getting shallower. As I got shallower, the no-decompression time got longer, of course. I went out along the south, where we generally don’t go, and had a great time shooting. The reef is nearly vertical there, and I was able to get some good pictures without worrying about bumping into anything.

Black Bar Soldierfish

Black Bar Soldierfish

I more or less followed my plan, adding about ten minutes at the end in the shallows since I had extra air and enough no-decompression overhead. When I came up, I was treated to a marvelous sunset.

We went out to dinner last night, and as it happens, had the same waitress we’d had Joe’s Place the night before. She was telling us she was from Sint Maarten, and had lost everything from Hurricane Irma. She’d been evacuated to Bonaire, with nothing, and now was working two jobs, and had started her own bed and breakfast. And she was indomitable! A remarkable woman.

Bioluminescence Dive

I’m sorry, but I have no pictures of the best dive I’ve done here so far. It would have been impossible.

I signed up for the Ostracod Bioluminescence dive for last night. There were five of us in the group, plus the instructor. We left Buddy about 5:45, and headed north to Oil Slick Leap. This site is set on a cliff; you can either do a giant stride off the rocks, or use the ladder and platform.

We arrived just in time for sunset, we hung out at the surface and watched the sun set, then headed into the water.

The first half of the dive was a normal night dive with lights. I’ve always loved night dives, especially here in Bonaire. Along the way, a tarpon started circling us; tarpon are big silvery battleships of fish around five feet long, and are attracted to diver’s lights (and the food they reveal).

Finally we reached the halfway point, and Lars, the instructor, had us turn off all the lights. It was magical.

I’ve seen bioluminescence before; I’ve seen what happens when you swish your hand through the water at night. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, you could see more and more. It was like looking out of an airplane in the dark at city lights. We could see the speckles of light around each other as we moved, and we could see the ostracods, tiny little shrimp, glowing in the dark. The were hanging on to each other, forming little lines of lights. My eyes are not good enough to focus sharply on them, but it was like seeing little lines of Chinese lanterns. At one point, I saw one just to my left, and as I watched, it lengthened at the top, extending upwards another couple of minutes.

We swam on in the dark for about 10-15 magical minutes, and then we encountered another group of divers. We saw their lights in the distance, and then as they got closer, the ostracods faded from view. They may have well still been there, but it was too bright to see them. The divers passed, blinding us with their lights, and separating one of our buddy teams. We circled back, found them, then continued on in the dark. Finally we arrived back at the cliff, and turned the lights back on to find the ladder, and clambered back up, getting stung in the process by small jellyfish attracted by the light.

I’ve never seen anything like this before. On the face of it, going diving in the dark with no lights does not sound like the sanest thing I’ve ever done. And there was no way I could have captured it with my camera. But I am so glad I did it.

 

Rappel and Something Special

This morning was our first day of boat diving.

Paul asked for “Rappel” as the first site. Like most of the sites here, it was named by Captain Don Stewart way back when. He did it as a shore dive, dropping a rope off the cliff and then rappelling down and back up again. For us, it was a boat dive.

Rappel is a tricky site; it’s very pretty, which means it’s popular, but the mooring is close by the cliffs. The boat captains can’t moor there if the wind is going to swing the boat into the cliffs.

It took me a while to figure out it was the plan, but this morning we dove it as a drift dive. We had the dive planned for an hour; the guide headed us in into the current, and then turned around and started heading with the current. Around the 30 minute mark, I realized he wasn’t going to head back for the boat. Because I’ve been so sedentary lately, my air consumption sucks; so I started shallowing as the dive got longer to conserve air.

Near the end, the guide pointed out a turtle heading into the shallows.

Turtle at Rappel

Turtle at Rappel

Shortly thereafter, we came upon a second mooring, and the boat was nearby. The seas were choppy enough that they had us surface out away from shore, and boat captain picked us up.

 

Along the way to the second site, I saw a couple of schools of flying fish. Very neat. Ken remarked, “I wonder what they look like underwater,” and he was right; neither of us could recall seeing them underwater, but then he pointed out that perhaps they prefer to stay in the blue water.

For the second dive, we headed south again, just outside the marina, to “Something Special”. There were a couple of different stories about how it got its name, but most of them boil down to a brand of rum called Something Special. This was a nice dive too; I spent more of the time in spectator mode; I’ve learned the limitations of this camera now, so now, for example, rather than trying to capture a school of gray chromises coming up along the wall, I’ll just float there and enjoy it.

Anemones at Something Special

Anemones at Something Special

The plan for the rest of the day is to do another dive off the dock around 2:30, and then I’m going on a guided bioluminescence night dive, while the rest of the group has Paul’s spaghetti supper. Paul’s promised to save me some.

Diving Begins

Today was the first day of diving for the half of the group that arrived through Houston yesterday. We had a brief re-orientation from Augusto, the manager of dive operations here; everyone in the group had been here before, so he just highlighted a couple of changes, and reminded us of the park rules. Then it was time to get in the water.

Turtle passing by

Turtle passing by

Right after submerging for the first dive, a turtle happened by. I got a quick grab shot before it moved on. I was diving with Ralph for the first dive, and we pretty much stayed in one area and saw what there was to see.

After the dive, it was time to get some business done. Paul had gotten my paperwork to the dive shop, but I needed to sign off to get the marine park medallion. Then it was time to  pick up the rental truck, and get some groceries, and I had a very unpleasant surprise: I’ve been driving on an expired license since last fall. I thought it was up for renewal this year, but it expired last year, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not send license renewal reminders. Happily, they do permit renewals online, and somewhat to my surprise, the Bonaire IP address was not blocked, and I was able to renew my license online. I’ll need to carry a print out of the mail from the registry with me until the new license card arrives, but I’m back in business.

We did two additional dives this afternoon, the first, early in the afternoon, the second, around five. The early afternoon dive I did with my roommate Mike, the second with Mike and Ralph and Joe. For both of these dives, we headed north towards the next resort, until we reached the sunken boat between the two properties. The earlier dive I spent a little more time deeper, using the strobe, and the second one I stayed shallower, and tried the red filter again.

One of the things I spotted the first dive was a small spotted eel; he was writhing in and out of the coral heads.

Spotted Eel

Spotted Eel

 

This little guy was about two feet long, it was the first time I saw one of these actually come all the way out of the coral and move along the sea floor.

On both dives, when we reached the sunken boat, we found it protected by several sergeant majors — or more accurately, there were several egg masses on the boat, and the sergeant majors were protecting them.

The last dive of the day was especially nice. We finished up just before six, in time for the sunset. I’m always a sucker for sunsets.

I still need to figure out the best way to light my subjects. In the viewfinder, everything looks fine color-wise, but I’m still struggling with color as I did two years ago. I tried using the camera’s neutral density filter, to kill the ambient light exposure, but it really eats up a lot of light. The pictures with the filter have a nice existing light feel to them, but the color is weird, and I lost a number to motion blur. In any case, I lost the filter fitting after I switched back to strobe, so I won’t be using it again.

We went out to Joe’s Place tonight for dinner. Most of the others are in a three bedroom suite, so they’ve been given a large van. To save taking a second vehicle, we all piled in. We got to the restaurant, had dinner (I had a nice steak and a rather decadent sundae) and piled into the van. It didn’t start. Maybe it had something to do with the funny smell we were smelling on the way over. Even stranger, we realized we were in the wrong van — despite the fact that the key worked. Paul called the front desk, and they sent over another van to pick us up.

We have a boat dive early tomorrow morning, and I’ve signed up for a bioluminescence night dive for tomorrow night.

 

Hello from Bonaire

We got into Bonaire this evening just past sunset. It’s been a long day. I was up at 1:55 to get to Logan by 3:30; it was a good thing I was early because the line to check in was enormous; I didn’t have my boarding pass in hand until close til 4:30. Thankfully, the flight, which had been scheduled for 5:30, didn’t leave until close to 6; It was a good thing, because Jack, who’d been trapped in the checkin line, just barely made the flight. Even better, they made up for the delay in transit, and we arrived in Houston nearly on time.

I had a window seat for both legs. I like looking at the scenery, and it was especially nice at sunrise and sunset. I would have liked to have used the map so I could know what I was seeing, but United put the map behind a paywall.

Overall, aside from the madness at Logan, the flights went pretty smoothly. The other half of our group went through Atlanta, and got here earlier. We touched down here around 7; it took the better part of an hour to get our luggage and get to the resort.

The difference in weather is shocking. I went from about 3 degrees and absolutely desiccated air and windchills below zero, to eighty plus degrees and warm humid breezes.

I’m glad to be back.

Bonaire 2016 Pictures: Friday

Gallery

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Friday marked the last day of diving. In the morning, Ralph, the Quinnans, Debie and I revisited Aquarius, because of its easy sandy entry. Interestingly enough, possibly due to Barbara making me more aware of them, I saw a ton … Continue reading

Bonaire 2016 Pictures: Thursday

Gallery

This gallery contains 24 photos.

Thursday started with a pair of boat dives. For me, the first one was kind of embarrassing, as I burned through my air and was the first one back on the boat. The second one was actually pretty productive, as … Continue reading