Weber’s Joy and Dee

Today started off clear and dry. Henri was scheduled to do a photography class this morning, so I did the shore dive with Nick and the Hinzes. In the afternoon, Henri and I did Dee Scarr’s Touch the Sea program with the Nolan’s.

Weber’s Joy

Weber’s Joy, AKA Witch’s Hut is along side the road leading north to Oil Slick and Old Blue. There’s an abandoned shack, with a turn in along the road, and steps leading down to the water.  The water’s edge is lined with dead coral cobbles; once in the water, there’s a sandy bottom until you reach the wall. Since Henri was doing her class, I tagged along with Jack and Jane Hinz.

We crossed the sandy area, and descended  the wall to about 80 feet, and swam alongside the wall to the south; gradually getting shallower as we went along. It was a rather quiet section of the reef,  I didn’t take too many pictures, and it looks like Jack wasn’t shooting much video.

We continued to get shallower once we turned around,  and found some more things of interest as we got shallower. After John Wall’s presentation the other night, I started looking more carefully, and found a Flamingo tongue snail on one of them.

Watchamacallit
Watchamacallit on the soft coral... also known as a Flamingo Tongue. It's part of the mollusk family.

Intermission

The timing of the dives was a little inconvenient. I was scheduled to meet Dee at the drive in at the drive in at 2:00; we came out of the water at quarter of eleven. Allowing for an hour’s surface interval, another hour of dive time, plus cleanup, plus drive time back left me very little time to eat, replace my tanks and be ready for Dee. I decided it was cutting it too close and decided to head back, despite the fact the group was going to Karpata, which I’ve been wanting to do. In hindsight, they got back at 1:30; I might have been able to do it, but it would have meant a lot of rushing around, which I hate to do. I hate the time pressure, and it makes mistakes more likely.

Instead, I went back to the resort, had lunch at the restaurant (since I had the time), bumped into Paul, who was taking the morning off, and had a nice chat and relaxed. I then went back to the room, got some chores done and got my gear ready.

Touching The Sea

We spent the afternoon with Dee Scarr, a naturalist friend of Paul’s who is on a first name basis with many of the denizens of the reef, and runs a program called Touch The Sea.

Dee begins by giving a short description of what we’re likely to see underwater. Then everyone gears up, and heads into the water. First we headed for some concrete mooring blocks, where she showed us how the various coral colonies on the blocks were either growing together (in the case of the same species) or killing each other (in the case of different species). Then she showed us a male fish protecting its egg mass. Along the way, a couple of French Angelfish came along, and she fed them. Later, she had Henri feed them, and they immediately took a liking to her. They kept coming back for more.

Henri feeding French Angelfish
Henri feeding French Angelfish

Other things Dee showed us:

  • A razor fish, which dive into the sand.
  • Sponges siphoning water, which she demonstrated by syringing vegetable dive onto them, and watching it be absorbed, then ejected out the top.
  • A pair of lionfish, which Dee tried to dispatch.
  • Cleaner shrimp in some anemones
  • Three (!) squid, which came close enough to look us over, but not close enough for a good shot
  • A moray eel in a rock, which I couldn’t seem to light with my strobe
  • A snake eel. When Dee tried to feed it, the French Angelfish which had been following us swooped in.
  • A scorpion fish
  • A very small eel buried in the sand., which she fed. I got one shot, but the flash didn’t fire. When Dee tried to get it to come back up, the French Angelfish swooped in.
  • A couple of baby French Angelfish, only half an inch or so long.
  • A very small flounder.

Overall, we saw a lot, but I was frustrated with my own performance today. I picked up 18 pounds of weights Saturday, and it was OK then, but the wetsuit has gotten waterlogged, and I’m staying down more easily, so I felt very overweighted. Also, the strobe kept failing, or the camera would time out and shut itself down, and not be ready when I wanted it. Still, I got a few good shots that look like they’ll come up quite nicely.

Night Dive

The last dive of the day was a dusk/night dive with the Hinzes. Jack was using a special black light that he was shining on the corals to make them fluoresce; Jane and I mostly kept our lights off for the better part of the dive. I was using my main light and the modeling light on the strobe. Along the way out, I found a nest of three lionfish. On the way back, the tarpon arrived, and started circling us. Near the end, we ran into a cloud of small minnow like fish, swarming the area around the dock. When we came out, Paul had his spaghetti supper.

Lionfish Den
Lionfish Den

Update: More pictures here.

Monday

When I went down to breakfast this morning, it was cloudy and overcast, and it was obvious it had rained overnight. When I looked out over the ocean, there was a cruise liner standing in to Kralendijk, all its lights glittering in the gloom.

Some of the group did a dawn dive this morning; I decided to wait until later this week since I had to pick up some stuff at the dive shop, and Paul was running a shore dive this morning.

Oil Slick Leap

The first dive this morning was at a location a couple of miles north of the resort called Oil Slick Leap; I have no idea where the “Oil Slick” came from, but it’s definitely a leap. It’s a low cliff of fossilized rock about five feet or so above the water. There’s also a platform, and ladder down to the water; the ladder is the only way out. Most of our group did a giant stride off the cliff; since I had the camera, I climbed down the ladder.

There’s a mooring a short way out; we swam down to it and went down. The mooring is at the edge of the reef, and we spent our time here moving along the wall.

Yellow Fish

Moray Eel

Old Blue

The second dive of the morning was at a beach that used to be called Old Blue, and is now referred to as Tolu, to the north of Oil Slick Leap. It too has a cliff, but it’s only about three feet high, and there’s a notch in it that divers can walk down. At the base of the cliff is a narrow sandy beach. The sand extends out a short way, and then there’s a wall down to the deeper water.

As soon as we got to the wall, we found something special — another bait ball, similar to the one from yesterday, only smaller, and made up of small blue fish, rather than silver fish. We spent quite a bit of time with this bait ball; it was possible to herd it a little. After a little while, they moved away, and I decided not to chase them, and started looking at the other fish. Suddenly the bait ball was back around me again.

Bait ball of blue fish at Old Blue

There was a lot to see at this site; Henri found an eel out and about, and I saw a lionfish nearby. Just as we were turning around, I saw a damselfish chase a parrotfish out of its algae farm; I actually laughed out loud underwater.

Tour

It’s been sprinkling off and on all morning, and the heavens opened up right as we were leaving Old Blue. Paul took us on a scenic tour of the hills at the northern end of the island—cactus lined roads, goats grazing along the sides of the roads, and small shanties. here and there. A very stark contrast with the main town of Kralendijk.

Third Dive

Once we got back to Buddy’s, I had lunch and then spent some time on this post. By 3:30, Henri and I were both ready to get back in the water, so we did a dive off the dock. Buddy’s has a very nice house reef. The southbound longshore current that we’d been experiencing the last couple of dives had abated, so she suggested that we go to the left, ie, to the south. (the resort is on the western shore). It was a very nice dive. The fish were out in droves, and it seemed to be mealtime. I saw lots of black barred sergeant fish (I think that’s the name) lots of jacks, and a moray eel. During the dive, I experimented a bit trying to balance the strobe with ambient light, with mixed results.

Sponge and fish

I realized during this dive that I’m definitely overweighted. I hit the reef a couple of times today. I think while Henri’s doing a class tomorrow, I may take a couple of pounds of lead off and work on my buoyancy.

Once I finish this post, I’ll be heading over to the place next door to see a slideshow by Dee Scarr. I think we’re scheduled to do our dives with her tomorrow.

Random Observations

  • It hasn’t been raining all day here, but we’ve seen rain each day, and when it comes down, boy does it come down.
  • I’m starting to get the hang of a standard shift, but I’m still lurching around a bit.
  • There are tons of geckos around here.
  • I like the breakfast buffet here.
  • Internet access is very spotty here. I’m in a first floor apartment, and it’s generally unavailable. Nick and Paul are in a second floor apartment and have access. It’s generally better out by the pool.

Update: More pictures here

Bait Ball

A very full day today. We started with a dive off the dock here at Buddy Dive, went into town, did two boat dives, saw a slide show by the guy running the photo center, and then went out to dinner.

I used the first dive to test out the new camera housing. With the housing loaded only with tissue paper, I took it out on a dive to make sure there were no leaks. It passed the test, and I was ready to start shooting.

After the dive, Henri and I picked up our rental car and then Paul led us into town to pick up groceries– it’s much cheaper and faster to have lunch in your rooms than it is to get lunch in the restaurant. It was only the second time I’ve driven a standard shift car, and it showed, but everyone survived and I’ll get better.

Paul promised us something special for the boat dive today, and delivered. He took us to see a “bait ball”– a swirling, writhing ball of fish, all frantically swimming in circles, kept intact by hovering predators. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was totally awesome. We swam through the ball, and then they swept past us, then switched directions and bowled through us. In the middle of it, it was like being in a sandstorm of fish.

Paul Adler in front of the bait ball
Paul Adler in front of the bait ball

The second dive wasn’t as dramatic, but was still good. The dive spot is named “Just a Nice Dive” just off Klein Bonaire and it was nice. Nice coral formations, nice schooling fish, nice eel, and the guide pointed out a not-so-nice looking scorpion fish to me.

So far, I’m pleased with the way the new camera and strobe are working. The camera still has some shutter lag, but not nearly as much as the S70. The strobe generally covers the picture area well, and I’ve gotten a general idea of the power settings to use. I have lost a few shots to mis-fires, but I was using some batteries that weren’t entirely fresh. The bigger issue is learning to be patient, get close, and wait for the fish to settle back down.

At the end of the day, we went over to the restaurant at the resort down the street. It was fun watching Nick and Paul play off each other.

Update: More pictures here.

Greetings From Bonaire

Greetings from Buddy Dive in Bonaire. I’m here for a week of diving as part of a dive trip through East Coast Divers. This will be my fourth time here, and the group is a mix of familiar and new faces.

I don’t know why, but dealing with airports really stresses me out. I worry about filling out forms wrong, going in the wrong direction, holding up the line in security with all the crap you need to take pictures underwater, and losing my papers or passport (I have a talent for making things disappear). In addition, whether it was caused by this worry, or was simply coincidental, I’ve been dealing with acid reflux this week, which lead to chest pains, which led to more worry, which caused things to tighten up even more. leading to more chest pains… I was not pleasant to be around this week, I’m sure. I finally reached the point mid-week when I decided that I had to get it checked out, even though I was pretty sure it was mostly in my head. It was; everything checked out OK, and the antacids are finally doing their job.

Unfortunately, while I was cleared to fly, my dive buddy Ralph is dealing with real medical problems and had to drop out of the trip. I dove with Ralph here two years ago, and off and on in New England, and was looking forward to diving with him again. I’m hoping he’s feeling better soon.

All that worry turned out to be over nothing; unlike two years ago when we had to deal with a cancellation, rebooking, and delay of the Boston to Atlanta leg of the trip, this trip was completely smooth sailing. I got to the airport early enough to go through security without hurrying too much, the flight left on time, arrived early, and getting through the Atlanta airport was pretty painless. This morning’s flight was packed, but uneventful; there are several other groups besides ours here this week.

It was a bit of a zoo at the baggage pickup and again at check in with all the groups trying to check in at once. I’m afraid I snapped at Paul, who was trying to get the dive paperwork done; I’d just finished dealing with baggage and needed a little time to get my act back together.

Finally, round about four, I was able to get to my room, unpack and get my stuff together. Because we’d been here two years ago, my next door neighbor Henri and I were able to skip the orientation, and had time to get a dive in. We went in a little after 5:30, which is a great time to do a dive. The sun is still up, but getting low. You can still see well underwater, but the light level is just low enough so that if you bring a dive light, it brings out the color in things.

The dock at Buddy Dive
The dock at Buddy Dive

It was a great dive. There were a lot of fish out, and they were schooling up and down the reef. To our left, we saw a couple of large tarpon patrolling the deeper water. What we weren’t really aware of, at first, was the stiff longshore current we were swimming against. There’s a wrecked boat a little way to the north of the boat; it’s typically the turn around point of a dive. It took forever to get there, but when we turned around, we practically flew back. Henri saw a very large fish under the boat, but I missed it.

When we got back, Paul had gotten barbecue take out from a restaurant in town, so we all went over to his place for supper.

Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day. In the morning, I want to do a dry run with the new housing, to make sure it’s OK. In the afternoon, Paul says he has a special dive he’s working on for our boat dive.