This gallery contains 21 photos.
Friday brought the last day of diving. Since you need 24 hours to rid your body of excess nitrogen before flying, we had to be out of the water by 3 PM. We did two boat dives at Rappel, and … Continue reading
This gallery contains 42 photos.
Wednesday was a four dive day: In the morning, we all dove the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, and then the Salt Pier, in the afternoon, Henri and I did two dives on the house reef.
I’ve been back now for a few days, and am slowly settling back into normal life. But I had such a good time on the trip, I keep casting my mind back to it.
The diving was great. The water was a little murkier than usual, but that’s only in comparison to its usual clarity–by New England standards, it was still awesome. I don’t recall seeing baitballs before this trip, and I saw three of them.
I’m wondering if the boat dives are worth the schedule constraints they place on your day, though. The shore diving is so good, you can see a lot of the same stuff from the shore that you can see from the boat, the one obvious exception being Rappel. When you have a boat dive, you have to be at the dock at a certain time. With shore dives, there’s more flexibility.
My one big regret is not doing Karpata on Tuesday. It’s a site I’ve been wanting to get back to since 2004, but because I was scheduled for Dee Scarr at 2, I felt I would have been cutting things too close. It’s really a marginal call, and I’m not sure I made the right decision. The group ended up getting back by 1:30, which would have been tight, but doable. I thought it would have been later.
I was very obviously overweighted the whole trip. Because I was using 18lbs last trip, and have put on weight (fat) since then, that’s where I started, and by Tuesday, it was very obvious I was carrying too much lead. Because of the way the schedule worked out, I wasn’t able to trade down until Wednesday afternoon, when I dropped two pounds. I was still overweighted, but by the time I realized that it was really too late.
I’m glad I kept this blog during this trip, even though it cost me a little over an hour a day. I kept a blog in 2010 also (though not on this site), and in 2004 created a site shortly after the trip. By contrast, I didn’t do anything like that in 2006, and that trip is a lot less distinct in my mind. I would recommend to anyone that they keep some sort of record of their trip, even if it doesn’t wind up on the web. I don’t have any illusions that many people were reading this; but I’ll be able to re-read these posts in a couple of years and remember.
For this trip, I bought a new camera, a Canon G12, and I’d also gotten a new strobe last summer to replace one I’d flooded. I’m happy to report, that first of all, camera and strobe both survived the trip. Perhaps I transferred my bad luck; both Paul and Jack flooded cameras. I did find out about an additional cause of flooding, at least for polycarbonate housings–if left in the sun, they can get hot, then when they hit the water, they shrink abruptly and can leak.
Overall, I’m happy with the combination. The strobe covers well, and I got a sense fairly early on how much to adjust the power output or ISO to get decent exposure. I did have some issues with the strobe not firing; I suspect a lot had to do with the sync knob getting out of position. The camera still has some shutter lag issues, but not as bad as its predecessor.
I’m still seeing a lot of fish tails in my pictures. Also, I distinctly remember taking lots of pictures of sponges and corals because I thought they were interesting shapes. It turns out, not so much. Also, I thought I was shooting RAW, but wasn’t, so things aren’t as adjustable as I thought they were. I’ll post more pictures once I have then properly adjusted.
One thing I did right was to assemble the entire system before the trip and figure out the correct basic settings, and figure out where the controls I would mostly be using were located. Henri was having trouble with her strobe all week, thinking it was an aiming problem, when actually the sync setting for the strobe was incorrect. We didn’t discover that until Thursday night. Personally, I think the instructor for her class should have spotted this, but he didn’t.
The other thing I sometimes did right was to recognize when I wouldn’t be able make a satisfactory picture with the gear I had, lower the camera, and simply enjoy what I was seeing.
I greatly enjoyed the drives we took around the island. The northern end is very scenic; it it was good to get out of the resort and look around. I think I could easily spend a day just driving around and taking pictures.
On the flight down, we flew just to the east of the Florida coast, and was able to recognize and take a picture of Launch Complex 39
I picked up a neck wallet before the trip. It worked out great–I didn’t have to worry about documents falling out of my pockets when I took something out of them.
One thing I’d do differently is mark my bags better. The big LL Bean bag with my gear was pretty recognizable, but the small suitcase with my clothes was hard to spot. In Atlanta, I saw one set of luggage with dog paws painted all over it. That was a little over the top, but the basic idea was good.
One of the problems with this trip is that there is so much to do and not enough time to do it in. Things I’d like to have done but didn’t find the time for were a dawn dive, a walk through Kralendijk, Lac Bay, Karpata, a look at the Eastern shore, and more non-resort shore diving. One of these years I’d like to be able to afford to come for two weeks and do more.
Well, I’m back home again. Barely. My clothes are still in transit. Yesterday was not the airlines’ finest hour.
Daria and Harry’s flight to Miami was cancelled; they had to wait several extra hours to get a flight to Curaçao, and fly back to the UK from there. Our flight from Bonaire to Atlanta was delayed an hour. This turned out to be nearly disastrous.
When we got to Atlanta, we had to uncheck all our checked baggage–and remember, we had a plane full of divers, not just us, but several other groups as well, and all with lots of extra stuff, and go through Customs. It was insanity, and we had an hour less time than planned. My bags took forever to come out.
Then we had to go downstairs to go through Customs, and get our forms stamped. And because we came out of the secure area to pick up the backs, we had to be re-screened again. I just don’t get it. Customs didn’t need to see our bags; they just stamped the forms. And if they needed to see them, couldn’t they have an agent look at them as they were being transferred from plane to plane, instead of making us go through an insecure area? Couldn’t they have had the flight attendants collect the forms in flight, and pull out anyone they needed to see, and send everyone else through a direct connection?
Once we cleared customs, we had to go running back to recheck the bags, and clear security again. Security was a seething mass of frantic people trying to make their flights. They were not willing to accommodate the fact that we had a connecting flight; probably because there were so many people. There was a long long winding line to get through it; Paul was convinced we wouldn’t make it. He made a point of sticking by me though, and I thank him for that.
I felt like I was doing a bit of a strip tease in line– in order to get through as fast as possible, I was pulling off my sweater, taking off my watch, pulling out my wallet, before we got to the scanners. I was traveling with my laptop and cables, so I had to pull all that stuff out. To make things more complicated, after the xray machine, there were three of us with MacBook Pros right in a row, and some idiot decided to put them all in the same bin. Fortunately, mine has a scratched top, so I was able to pick it out. I then shoveled everything back into my carryon, and still in my stocking feet, and with my pants starting to fall, because there was no time to put my belt back on, ran toward the gate. Run, run, run, take the tram, run some more.
We made it, with literally no time to spare. They were closing the plane door as we got there. I was ahead of Paul, and I wasn’t sure at first that he’d make it. Once I was in sight of the gate, I slowed down a little so they could see me, and then see Paul, and hopefully let him on. They did, and then they slammed the door closed.
And then we waited.
While they were not willing to wait for us, they were willing to wait for luggage. Then there were more difficulties with luggage–things were out of balance and had to be adjusted. In the meantime, we found out there were several people (not in our group) who missed the flight.
Still, finally, we were in the air, and soon we were back in snowy Boston, where we all trudged to the baggage pickup. My dive gear appeared; then there was an announcement that all the stuff was off the plane, and if you were missing something, to file a claim. Obviously, they knew they’d screwed up. Henri was missing a bag, Paul was missing two bags, and each of the couples was missing at least one bag. At least, I have all my expensive stuff in hand, and I’m only missing my laundry. Still, it was not a great ending to an otherwise great trip.
The second bag was just delivered.
Today was the last day of diving for this trip. You have to be done 24 hours before you fly.
This morning, Paul prevailed upon the boat crew to try Rappel, and unlike yesterday, no one swooped in and scooped it on us. We ended up doing both dives of the boat trip on that one site; the first heading north, the second heading south. During the first dive, we saw a green moray eel and a turtle; during the second, a squid. It’s a beautiful site, with lots of texture to it; the southern end has a lot of old broken coral while the northern side is more pristine. The mooring is right next to the shoreline; it’s a sheer cliff (hence the name) with an undercut; there’s lots of neat things to see under the overhang.
On the way back, the boat captain suddenly made an S-turn; I was wondering why when suddenly I heard someone shouting “Dolphins!” There was a pod of dolphins gamboling around us. The pulled up along side us then fell behind; we stopped and they dropped under the water; then we turned around and they started up again. I tried getting a picture, but they weren’t close enough, and the camera has too much shutter lag.
We got back to the dock, had lunch, and soon it was time for our last dive of the trip. Alec, Natalyia and I headed north from the dock. The camera battery was exhausted, and soon the lens retracted and refused to come out and play again. We saw tarpon on this dive, plus a third bait ball of very small fish spinning around underneath one of the dive boats, plus a school of jacks spinning around underneath them. It was a good end to the diving.
For the end of the day, Paul took us on a tour of the northern end of the island. I switched batteries, and off we went. We went up to the nature preserve, through Rincon, and ended up at an overlook looking over the southern end of the island.
We went out for dinner, and now all that remains is to pack up, settle up, and endure the trip home.
Update: More pictures here.
While it looked like it had rained overnight, today was warm and dry and sunny. We had our second set of boat dives this morning, and in the afternoon, Henri, Alec, Natalyia and I headed to Pink Beach.
Paul had been pushing for a very nice dive site called Rappel this morning, so we headed north.
In order to protect the reef from anchor damage, there are a number of boat moorings all around the island. The dive boat ties up to the mooring, and doesn’t have to drop an anchor on the coral.
We were literally about 100 yards away from the mooring, when a small dive boat from another resort zipped in and scooped it. Paul was utterly beside himself. There was an upside, though— as we headed for the alternate site, we saw a bunch of flying fish zipping along beside us. They pop up and glide about a foot above the surface for about two or three seconds. First there were a couple, then a few more, then suddenly a whole school came up.
We arrived at our dive site, Cali’s Reef, and went in. Almost immediately, I noticed a turtle deep underneath us. Originally, I decided it was too deep, but eventually I went down and got a picture of it.
Overall, though, probably because I was dead tired, I felt out of sorts and didn’t see much that got my photographic sense going. I also managed to burn through my air pretty quickly. It felt strange to be the first one back on the boat.
That feeling continued through the second dive too. There wasn’t much big stuff to shoot, so I tried focusing on the small fish. The problem with that is that they move really fast. I did get a really good picture of a fairy basslet, though.
In addition, I was having problems with the strobe not firing. I tried plugging and unplugging the sync cable, and finally realized a dial was mis-set… right before it was time to come out of the water.
Two years ago, I dove Pink Beach with Ralph Fuller as my last dive of the trip. I was determined to do it again this year. This year, I did it with Henri and Alec and Natalyia. It was almost as good as I remembered (no dolphins or rays this time). The nice thing about Pink Beach is that the sponges and coral are in better health than other sites, so there’s more texture and more variety in the sea floor.
Pink Beach has a very wide sandy area before you start to reach the reef, so we snorkeled out, then dropped down once we started seeing coral. We ranged along the edge of the reef headed south, then turned around. When I thought we’d gone far enough, I popped up long enough to get our position. We were nearly in position, and I took a bearing to get back.
After we were all back and situated, we decided we didn’t want to do another dive right then. Instead, I drove down to the south to take a quick look at the slave huts and saw some kite surfers flying across the water near the southern end of the island.
Henri wanted to do another dive back at the resort. She likes the variety of sea life there, and, I believe, feels most comfortable getting in and out there. We both decided we wanted to do a dive and just enjoy it as a dive, rather than try to take pictures. It was getting closer to dark, so we both brought lights. Since I wasn’t carrying a camera, I did a giant stride off the dark.
It was a really good dive. We went to the south, and since there was a current running, it was a drift dive for parts of the way out. Because of this we turned around relatively early. As we were coming back in, I felt, rather than saw, something go flying past me. It startled the heck out of me. I then saw it turn on dime, then go flying into a school of small fish.
Update: More pictures here.
For me, today was a relatively unscheduled day. With no boat dives or visit to Dee, I was able to do the morning shore dives, and then do a couple of dives on the house reef. Unlike yesterday, the weather today was sunny and warm, with no rain.
The first dive this morning was to the Hilma Hooker, a freighter that sank right off shore to the south of Kralendijk (the capital city). The story is that it showed up deserted one morning off the coast, and when it was boarded, the crew was gone, and the holds were full of marijuana, and then one night, it mysteriously sank right at a handy spot off one of the beaches, where it’s relatively accessible to divers swimming out from the beach. The ship is lying on its starboard side, right at the bottom of the reef drop off, There are mooring lines at the bow and the stern.
Paul and Alec and Henri and I surface swam out to the bow mooring, went over our dive plan, then descended.
It’s about 85 feet to the port side of the ship, and about 100 feet down to the bottom. We went to the edge of the port side at the bow, then traversed to the stern. It’s an awesome dive, since the ship is mostly intact. We traveled along what is now the side of the wreck, and was originally the deck and wheelhouse, hanging over us.
You can see the freight booms, the wheelhouse, and at the far end, the stern railings and propeller. Once we got to the stern, we turned around, and ran along the bottom of the ship.
There were a bunch of sergeant majors there, and I was glad I’d done Dee yesterday, since I was able to recognize the egg masses they were protecting. Once we returned to the bow, we ascended the slope the ship sank against, and returned to shore.
After the Hilma Hooker, we headed south to Salt Pier. This is a big salt transfer pier from the salt pans on the island. We found out after returning to the resort that it was illegal to dive there, and we could have had our gear confiscated. Fortunately or unfortunately, we didn’t find out until afterwards, because it was an awesome dive. Lots of sponges, lots of fishes, including French Angelfish, Rock Beauties, and Queen Angelfish feeding on the sponges, and a bunch of tarpon, probably looking to feed on the smaller fish. I spent a lot of time on the angelfish, and boy, are they hard to get– they move fast. The sun beams shining through the pillars of the pier was very pretty.
We then headed back to the resort, where I reduced the amount of lead I was carrying, had some lunch, checked the news, and then did a pair of dives on the house reef. We had two really good dives. On the first dive, we headed north, and saw an octopus out in the open,
and a turtle. The dive was so good, we decided to cram in a second dive to the south before dinner. On the second dive, I got some decent pictures of a small yellow fish I’d been trying to get, and we saw another turtle.
I think the two pounds less I was carrying made a difference– it was a little easier to hover, and I could possibly take off more, but I’m leaving in two days.
For dinner, most of us headed out to a small restaurant called Cactus Blue, where Paul knows the owner. The food was good, but everyone was pretty tired, so it was just as well that we finished up pretty early.
Update: More pictures here.