Diving Hilma Hooker

We plan to leave tomorrow for a 5 day passage. The grocery stores in Bonaire, like most places in the world, have a poor selection of frozen foods, so Christi needed to make some freezer meals. She spent the morning cooking. She already had made some freezer meals over the last few days, but this morning was a flat out effort to make a lot of stuff at once. We also made a trip into town to check out with the officials. The check out fee was $10.00.

In the afternoon, we went on one last dive with Mike from Arielle. We went to the wreck that the dive center had recommended yesterday, Hilma Hooker. The rumor that we heard is that the boat had to make an emergency stop in Bonaire because it was taking on water. The authorities found lots of marijuana on board, so the Bonairian authorities seized the vessel. It was in bad shape and needed to be constantly pumped to keep it afloat. The authorities decided the best thing to do with the boat was tow it to a sandy site and let it sink, making an artificial reef. The facts that we know are it was deliberately sunk in 1984 on a carefully chosen sandy spot located between two reefs. The boat lies on its side. The highest point of the ship is 60 feet under the water and the lowest point, the tip of the mast is in 99 feet of water.

The site is close to the salt mountains. We tied to the mooring and jumped in. The reef around the mooring area is pretty, but we didn’t bother to stop and look around. Because this is such a deep dive, the plan was to descend quickly to the lowest point of the wreck, then slowly work our way back up. We’d enjoy the reef here at the end of the dive.

We all agreed that as we proceeded west it looked like the water ahead was murky with poor visibility. Each of us was wondering when this wreck would appear. Then it suddenly dawned on us that the dark area ahead WAS the hull, and in looking more carefully, we could see the line of the hull. We were staring at the bottom of the boat. Mike and Eric stuck to the plan, staying close to the floor. Christi was having trouble equalizing and was swimming along above them. She did eventually make it down to the hull, but never got down to the lowest portions of it.

We swam around the aft end of the boat to get a look at the topside. It looks creepy and haunted in the darkish water, as most sunken ships tend to look. The hull is still pretty well intact.

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The guys swam down to the mast and crow’s nest to check them out, but Christi couldn’t get down that low. The guys ascended to the hull and we all slowly swam around to the forward end of the ship, checking out both the boat and the growth on the boat. There is quite a bit of coral and sponge growth in spots, particularly the mast, crow’s nest, and portions of the upper deck, but it isn’t very big. The deck had a lot of the pipe cleaner looking coral growing on it. Coral sure grows slow! Other spots have no growth, particularly around the bottom. How is it possible that this bottom has less growth on it than Kosmos’ bottom?

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Apparently you can go inside it, but we didn’t see the opening to get in. We had no intentions of going in, anyway. Eric doesn’t like dark, enclosed spaces deep in the water where scary and hungry sea monsters might be lurking. We tried to peek into the portholes to get a look inside, but it was dark and we couldn’t see much.

Most of the fish are small, either babies or small fish in general. “Bigger” fish were species like snapper. We did see a big school of snapper and grunt swimming around. And there is an enormous tarpon that lives on the topside of the boat.

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After we had circled the boat, we headed back to the reef where we are moored and spent a good amount of time there. There are a lot of large soft corals and many fish to look at, but here again it was mostly small stuff and babies. There are definitely a lot less fish here than any of the other sites we have been to in Bonaire. Here are some shots of a few other fish we saw in the reef. The first two are different species of parrotfish. We’re not sure what the first one is called. The second one is a female princess parrotfish.

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The next picture is of a yellowtail damselfish, which might be the same species we have called “jewelfish” in other posts. While it looks similar to the ones we have seen in the past, this one is a little different. The other ones were dark blue instead of brown in body color and bigger in size. Whether the same or not, we haven’t seen many of the sparkly beauties in Bonaire.

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This one is called a bluehead wrasse. It is a pretty small fish and we have seen several of them on our dives in Bonaire.

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Here is a barracuda.

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There were also surgeon fish, blue tang, butterfly fish, damselfish, other kinds of wrasse and much more. In the corals we saw several flamingo tongues, the only time we have seen flamingo tongues in Bonaire. We also saw a chocolate chip sea cucumber, a species we have never seen anywhere before. Here it is, along with a soft coral plant.

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After the dive was done, we all agreed we were a little disappointed with it. We had heard rave reviews about the wreck so we had very high expectations set. We have all done better wreck dives in other parts of the world, and we were all expecting more coral, more fish and a more interesting boat.

We headed back to Kosmos. Christi decided to work on the underwater metal parts for a while. She was surprised to see that many little sea creatures had taken up residence in our keel coolers! There were lots of little baby fish, including tang, squirrel fish, file fish, and blennys. They were so cute! There were also a couple of banded cleaner shrimp and some crabs living in there. The shrimp are red and white striped and are really neat looking. There was a cleaner wrasse on hull, which is a small species of fish. She felt really bad about destroying their ecosystem. They looked so happy. They moved out of her way as she worked, but they never ran off, loitering nearby as she scraped away all their food. Unfortunately, in this photo you can’t see the fish very well, but we are putting it in for two reasons. First, so you can see what the keel coolers look like and get a better sense of how small the fish, shrimp and crabs have to be to live between the metal grates. Second, someone requested that we put in a picture of the keel coolers so people can get a better idea of what kind of labor is involved in scraping them. So, even though you can’t see the fish, we think the picture is worthwhile.

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That night one of the other boats invited us over for a small get together. Our neighbors on Nereia were there and they told us a hilarious story. Ever since Australia, it has been our practice to always leave our red LED courtesy lights on when we anchor/moor. It makes a faint red glow around the boat that makes us much more visible in the dark. We think it is good for safety and it certainly makes it much easier to pick out which boat is Kosmos as we motor around the anchorage on pitch black nights. Anyway, one of the crew of Nereia woke up the other one up in the middle of the night saying that the sun was rising early and it was the most beautiful sunrise he had ever seen. The other crew member peeked out the window and said “That’s not the sun rising! That’s Kosmos’ lights!”

From the way we have raved about the diving, you may think it is the best in the world. We have been to many better spots throughout the South Pacific and Indonesia. But, nonetheless, the diving is still great, and it is definitely the best we have seen in the Caribbean. There are three huge draw to Bonaire: how diver friendly the island is, how safe the sites are, and how many sites there are to choose from. You can pick up maps showing and describing all the dive sites here, whereas most places try to keep sites secret so you have to go with a dive company to find them. Most sites are free from strong currents, rip tides, and other hazards. Being able to just jump off our boat and be in a great dive site is amazing. Such a luxury is few and far between in the world, that is for sure. Having good diving so close to shore is also rare. It seems like in many places in the world, you have to go on a long boat ride to an isolated place to get to the good dive sites. And in most places in the world, it is not a good idea to get in the water without a local familiar with the area because there are hazards that one must be aware of, such as strong currents.

What is kind of ironic is that coral tends to thrive in places with strong currents. Some of the most stunning reefs we have been to in the world are the ones with the most current. So, the fact that Bonaire is so safe to dive from lack of current is the same thing that keeps it from being the best diving ever.

And, you may be wondering why we haven’t talked about food much. The food on Bonaire has been great, but, for the most part it is standard fare and we haven’t run across many new and different foods to talk about.

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