Bonaire SCUBA Diving Trip Report, ‘99

Scope

Identification

This page describes my dive trip to Bonaire from 24 June 1999 to 1 July 1999. The opinions are those of the author, S. Lott.

This trip report is prepared in the rec.scuba tradition of detailed trip reports. I found these invaluable in planning dive trips. This is the first time I gathered enough data to prepare a complete trip report.

Purpose

I went to Bonaire to enjoy as much SCUBA diving as I could during a one week family vacation. After having dove in Bonaire, the Bahamas, St. Maartin, Saba, Monterey and Florida, (not to mention New York, Massachusets and Maine) it was my opinion that Bonaire has the optimal mix of low-key caribbean island life-style, high-quality diving resorts and unlimited shore diving.

My family consists of an avid diving adult (myself, SFL), a reluctant diving adult (my wife, CAB), an avid junior diver (my 14 year-old son, ABL) and a non-diver (my 12 year-old daughter, HBL). We vacation together often, and I think we get along quite well. My children are experienced travelers, having been to Orlando earlier this year, and Phoenix in the fall of last year.

Preparation

Booking

We booked the trip through Great Southern Island Adventures. We purchased a standard package with 7 days at the Sand Dollar resort with 6 boat dives for three of us, and a non-diver as the fourth. We reserved a 2-bedroom condo. We also reserved a Budget Suzuki Samurai for driving around the island.

Detailed cost information can be found under Costs.

Packing Checklist

Clothing

Clothing
Item Qty
Bathing Suits 2
Casual Shirts 4
Dress Outfit 1
Foulies 1
Hat 1
PJs 1 or 2
Sandals 1
Shorts 4 pairs
Sneakers 1 pair
Socks 7 pairs
Sunglasses 1 pair
Towel 1
Underpants 7 days

Gear

  • C-Card
  • Dive Gear (BC, Regs)
  • Exposure Suit
  • Film & Camera
  • Fins
  • Knife & Slate<
  • Light
  • Logbook, Tables
  • Mask & Snorkel
  • Tools & Spares
  • Water Shoes

Medicines

Medicines
Item Qty
Adhesive Tape 1 roll
Band-Aids Mix of Sizes
Benadryl person/day
Dramamine person/day boating
Gauze Pads A few
Ginger Pills person/day
Kaopectate person/day
Motrin 1/day
Sting Kit person
Sudafed diver/dive
Swimmer’s Ear diver
Tums person/day
Tylenol person/day

Toiletries

  • Comb/Brush
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Washcloth

Travel

Travel
Item Qty
Amusements (Books, Cards, Toys)
Belt Pouch 1 ea.
Cash $100/day
Credit Cards
DAN Card 1/diver
Driver’s License
Gear Bag & Mesh Bag 1 ea.
Journal 1 ea.
Passports 1 ea.
Photocopy of passport
Tickets 1 ea.
Traveler Checks $100/day
Water Bottles 1 ea.

Pre-Trip Tasklist

Pre-Trip Tasklist
Task Person
Final Timesheet CAB & SFL
Gerbil’s cage clean HBL
Hide Jewelry CAB
Mail Stopped CAB
Newspaper Stopped CAB
Timers Set SFL
Voice Mail Greeting CAB & SFL
Water Plants CAB
Confirm Flights CAB

Descriptions

Bonaire

For more information see the Bonaire web site.

Bonaire is a low, nearly desert island just off the coast of Venezuala in the south-eastern caribbean. It’s about 12&deg; north of the equator, well within the trade-winds, with a negligable tide. It’s about 45&deg; or so west of Grenwich, in the Atlantic time zone (1 hour before EST, it matches EDT).

Immediately west of Bonaire (about 3/4 of a mile at the nearest point) is the island of Klein Bonaire (“Little Bonaire”). It is uninhabited.

Bonaire is part of the Netherlands Antilles, along with Cura&ccedil;ao, St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustacias; which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The currency is the Antillean Guilder or Netherlands Antilles Florin (NAf).

The weather (year round) is about 82°F during the day, with water temp about the same. Rainfall is only 22 inches per year.

Many people speak four languages: Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu. Dutch is the official language, but the Bonaireans mostly speak Papiamentu amongst themselves. Spanish radio (from Venezuala) is popular, and most tourists speak English as a first or second language.

While the electricity is 110V 50Hz, we were warned that voltage is unrealiable, and any sensitive appliances should have a transformer. The photo shop has a regulated power supply set up specifically to recharge camera and camcorder batteries.

The major industries seem to be tourism, the salt works, the BOPEC oil transfer station and some high powered radio stations.

The Bonaire Marine Park

For more information see the Bonaire Marine Park web site.

The Bonaire Marine Park is a protected area from the high water mark to a depth of 200 ft. around the island of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire. In order to dive you must purchase a valid admission to the park. They are good for a calendar year, and all dive operators sell them.

Generally, all the dive operators conduct an orientation on a daily basis. You must attend this orientation and do a check-out dive under their supervision.

Anchoring is forbidden. All boats must use the mooring bouys. Two boats can’t easily tie up to a mooring bouy, so sometimes your boat may have to go to a different dive site if another boat got there first.

Spear guns and spear fishing are prohibited. Fishing with a hook and line, however is permitted. Bonaireans seem to prefer to use a simple line with no pole when fishing from a boat.

Do not touch the reef. Most dive operations will warn you that you may not wear gloves. It is their experience that people without gloves are very reluctant to touch anything. Be very careful of your bouyancy. Many shops offer bouyancy clinics.

Do not handle or feed the fish. While there is a vast amount of spray cheese available in the stores, I’m very happy to report that I never saw anyone feeding fish from a spray cheese can.

Sand Dollar Condominiums

Sand Dollar has several buildings of oceanfront condominiums. We’ve stayed in both one- and two-bedroom units. There may be “efficiencies” but we’ve never seen them. Condos have kitchens, cable TV, air-conditioned bedrooms, and a balcony facing the ocean.

The facility has a pool and tennis courts. There is a bank, (very small) grocery store, ice cream shop and car rental on the property. Also, The Green Parrot resturant and the Sand Dollar Dive and Photo shop are on the property.

It is about a 35 minute walk to Kralendijk.

Sand Dollar Dive and Photo

Sand Dollar Dive and Photo is a full-service dive operation. They have complete training curricula, certified by PADI, NAUI and SSI. They open at 8:30 AM, and close at 5:30 PM. Briefings are at 9:00 (9:30 on Sunday’s). They offer 4 boat dives each day: 8:45, 10:45, 1:30 and 3:30. Once a week they offer a night boat dive. If you are planning a night shore dive, they will leave tanks out and leave the equipment locker open for you. A package typically includes a number of boat dives and unlimited shore diving.

When you arrive, you will open an account with the dive shop. Either give a credit card imprint or pay for your dive package. You are given a diver ID number, which is used for all transactions at the dive shop. You will also pay your marine park fee and get a tag which must be displayed on your gear when diving.

When taking tanks or joining boat trip, you simply write your number on the board. The dive shop staff will record this against your account. This number is also your assigned space in the equipment locker.

Equipment rental and the photo shop operate similarly. You will fill out a form, and use your ID number for all transactions. We rented a shortie wet suit, two BC’s with regulators. Weights are available free to everyone with an account. We also rented a camera for 24 hours and charged two rolls of film, print and slide processing to our account.

24 June 1999

This is a travel day.

  • 01:45 AM: Arise, breakfast.

  • 02:30 AM: Drive to Newark, NJ.

  • 06:30 AM: Park in lot G, and take the bus to the terminal. Check in for flight. Eat breakfast.

  • 09:15 AM: Continental flight to Miami, FL.

  • Claim bags, and carry them to ALM ticket counter. Check in for flight. Eat lunch.

  • 13:15 PM: ALM flight to Curaçao, NA.

    Delay from planned departure at 17:10 until 23:59 for flight to Bonaire. Stuck in Curaçao transit waiting area.

    Snacked on crackers and cheese from the little grocery store. Other delayed passengers talked ALM into letting us kill time in the VIP lounge.

  • 23:59 PM: ALM flight to Bonaire, NA.

  • 00:30 AM (25 June): arrive Bonaire, NA. Rental car area is closed, Norman (taxi #2) takes us

    to Sand Dollar. Night guard gives us key to our condo. Arrange with Norman to meet at 13:00 to return to airport and get rental car.

25 June 1999

Sleep!

Marine Park briefing is at 09:30 at the dive shop. Walk to the Sand Dollar grocery (right at the edge of the resort property) at 08:00 for breakfast items. After briefing, make the required check-out dive (69) on Bari reef.

Norman doesn’t make it by 13:30, call another taxi. Taxi driver suggests that Budget is having financial problems, and many of their cars were confiscated to pay their taxes. This is partially confirmed when Budget takes me to the Hertz window to rent a Hertz Rav-4. The two-door Rav-4 is too small for four people with dive gear. Considering the situation, I take what I can get. I have already paid; I don’t want to pay a second time while hoping for some kind of credit or refund. A voucher in hand may be worth nothing if I spend time arguing.

Splurged on a big, late lunch at the Green Parrot after returning with the rental car. ABL fell asleep immediately afterwords. HBL went snorkeling with CAB and I, but when she got back, she fell asleep, also. CAB and I went to Food Giant (in Antriol) to get food for dinner. The Food Giant is somewhat cheaper than the Cultimara (in Kralendijk), but has a limited selection.

26 June 1999

ABL and I took the 10:45 boat trip to Sampler (70) on Klein Bonaire. This was my son’s first warm-water boat dive. He was shocked seeing that the water was clear enough to see divers at 40’ below the boat. Not like the cold lakes of upstate New York!

We took a siesta until about 14:30, then shore dove at Andrea I with ABL (71). CAB and HBL snorkeled there. We chose this because the dive site was described has having a gently sloping reef with excellent snorkeling.

Andrea I is quite close to the Sand Dollar but has mediocre shore access. Cars are typically left up on the high ground. The road down to the water is steep and consists only of crushed (round) coral chunks. We opted to drag gear down that road piece-meal. There is a small stand of trees where you can gear up. The tiny spit of sand where there is a break in the near-shore coral is ten or fifteen yards further north; we hiked the last bit carrying our fins.

This first time, we broke the gear down and dragged it back up the hill in pieces. The next day, when CAB and I dove this same site, we walked up the hill in our gear – a much better plan. We saw other divers who geared-up on the hill and walked down in their gear. We didn’t like the look of the coral rubble road.

CAB, HBL and ABL also snorkeled the southern part of Bari reef. This is the area S of the Green Parrot resturant.

We tried a night snorkel. Things went well until the cheap West Marine waterproof flashlights died. Two out of the three we bought stopped working.

27 June 1999

ABL decided that we should dive the Hilma Hooker (72). There is a shore entry S of the Punt Vierkant lighthouse. We didn’t check the snorkel conditions, and all four of us went. My son wanted me to rent a camera, since we were going to see a wreck. I had misgivings about attempting to take pictures; I’ve seen some pretty shoddy wreck photos.

This area is not sheltered by Klein Bonaire, so there is pretty big chop. Also, there was a bit of weather this morning. And there is a brisk N-setting current. This is not a good snorkel location. HBL and CAB tried snorkeling out to see the wreck, but turned back. ABL and I, however, could descend to escape the chop. We started down when we had 10 to 15 feet of water under us. No sooner are we down than my son grabs me and points out a turtle. I fired off five quick snapshots of the turtle before it got away.

Based on my compass heading, we descend the reef. Our plan is to stay above 70’. I’m a little concerned about IFR (instrument flight rules) – flying over the bottom by compass and depth guage, looking for this wreck. While descending the reef, we’re peering forward into that vast Atlantic blue, looking for the Hilma Hooker. At about the same moment, we both realize that the huge space in front of us isn’t the anonymous blue-grey of the ocean, it’s the hull of the boat! After some more looking around, we can see the vast curve of the hull and recognize the grey of the algae-covered steel different from the blue grey of the ocean.

Went to the photo shop to turn in the roll of print film and get a roll of slide film. It was too late to turn in the camera for a half-day rental. Might as well attempt some more pictures.

In the PM, CAB and I dove Andrea I (73). Since she had snorkeled it, and I had dived it yesterday, it was good to be able to focus in on some details. It was very pleasant to know my way around a bit and recognize specific corals. Got some slides of the wife, a barracude and sea anemones.

Dinner at the Den Laman, next door to (S of) the Sand Dollar. A limited menu, but very nicely prepared. Sea-side tables are available, with a reservation. As walk-ins, we had one of the tables in the middle of the dining room; but this is still spectacular. For a family of four: $120.

28 June 1999

I wanted to start a little earlier, so I signed up for the 08:45 at Rappel. ABL didn’t feel like diving that early in the morning. A boat had already moored at Rappel, so we went to La Dania’s Leap (74). S of the mooring, in a bout 55’ of water is a coral with a sea horse living in it. Shot the last of the slide film.

HBL and CAB snorkeled the middle section of Bari reef. This is the area right in front of the dive shop.

Went to the photo shop to turn in the roll of slide film and the camera. Expect to see the results by 5:00 PM, today.

ABL and I tried to find the shore dive site called “Small Wall”. It turns out that the map we were using was incorrect: Small Wall is a boat-dive only site. Petrie’s Pillar (listed as “closed”) is somewhat south of Andrea I. (From another map I can now see that Small Wall is off shore from the Black Durgeon inn, and not accessible from shore). We parked south of Andrea I, toted our gear down the steep path to a very short shoreline of coral rubble. We geared up and dove this unnamed site. (75) There isn’t any convenient spit of sand indicating a break in the coral, but we did find a gap which was manageable.

We’ve since thrown out that out-of-date map. Check the official marine park dive site book at the dive shop before setting out. The best Bonaire map is the Skyviews Guide to Bonaire, available as advertising collateral for Plaza Resort Bonaire.

CAB and HBL walked into Kralendijk. Commonly described as a 15-minute walk, it took them 35 minutes to get to the center of town.

Took a stroll around Harbor Village Marina to drool over the cruising yachts parked there. Especially the Yang-Ki, a huge motor yacht. I’m not a fan of motor yachts (the cost of fuel being so extreme), but this yacht was so large with every detail of floor mats, fender covers and crew clothing matching perfectly.

29 June 1999

ABL and I took the 10:45 boat to the Hilma Hooker wreck site (76). Again, quite choppy on the surface. Got the good seat (first one off the boat). Waited on the surface for most of the other divers, then descended mooring line. Could see the second reef (100’ below) from the surface! I did a “free fall” descent, paralleling my son as he held the anchor line, putting in little puffs to reduce my descent rate as my BC compressed.

CAB & HBL did the northern part of Bari reef (77). There they saw a school of reef squid and played with them for quite a while. They were able to get the squid to change color without being scared off. In fact, when HBL moved away, the squid followed her!

ABL, CAB and I did Bari reef in the afternoon. Why drive? we asked ourselves. So we just ambled down to the shop, checked out three shore-dive tanks. Geared up and flopped into the ocean. Saw my first flounder up close.

Went to “happy hour” at the Green Parrot. Drinks are still $4.00 each, so it isn’t a bargain.

30 June 1999

ABL and I took the 10:45 boat to Barcadera. Since we would be back by noon-ish, this left us 24 hours before flying.

Went to Jibe City (on the Eastern shore in Lac Bay) to try wind surfing. I had done it a few times before (CC was kind enough to take me many years ago when he and AS lived in Andover, MA). The kids never. We had not called, and could not get a formal lesson, just a few quick pointers. We rented three boards for an hour, and that was enough falling in the warm, shallow water for us. We all got going a little, but had so much leeway, we couldn’t get back to windward. We dragged the boards to windward and then sailed back to the beach area.

Since I was done diving, I could commence drinking! I went to Pete’s Playa Place and the Montecantini, but the only beers were Amstels and Polars. Wound up at the Cultimara where I could get Grolsch.

1 July 1999

This is a travel day.

  • 10:00 AM: drive to airport to return car and check in for 10:30 to Curaçao.
  • 12:10 PM: ALM flight to Curaçao, NA.
  • Delay from planned departure at 13:50 to 15:15 PM for flight to Miami. Ate lunch in the small cafe in the transit area.
  • 15:15 PM: ALM flight to Miami, FL. Delay from planned departure at 19:55 to 23:00 for flight to Newark.
  • 23:00 PM: Continental flight to Newark, NJ.
  • 01:30 AM (2 July): drive from Newark NJ.
  • 05:30 AM Home!

Sleep until about 10:30 AM, then go to a diner for a big bacon, eggs and coffee celebratory breakfast.

Costs

The following were items paid in advance.

Paid in Advance
3 Divers @ $543 $1,629.00
1 Non-Diver @ $369 $369.00
Budget Suzuki Samurai $288.00
Air Travel $1,993.60
Total $4,279.60

The following items were paid during the trip.

Paid out-of-pocket
Car Rental $90.94
Dinner at Den Laman $111.33
Dive Gear Rental $239.63
Exit Tax $40.00
Food $189.31
Misc. (most likely food) $154.92
Parking $64.00
Wind surfing $60.00
Total $950.13
version:1
date:2/28/02

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