Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bonaire Tec/RecTraining in Paradise!

Our International Scuba Tec/Rec team hit the island of Bonaire with a select group of students, tec divers and side-mount converts. I have visited Bonaire 10 times over the past 9 years and love the diving freedom and favorable conditions. In all my diving there I have never thought of Bonaire as a tec diving Mecca. In the past it was difficult to ensure the support for a group of tec minded divers. With the rise of side-mount, that has changed. No need to worry about finding doubles and I had heard rumors that O2 was easier to obtain. We were ready to look at Bonaire from a new perspective.

We drafted our plan for an ideal no fuss tec trip. We started by renting a house that served as our base of operations. It was located centrally on a nice reef and had private access to the ocean. We had plenty of room to set up gear and our large patio area was soon a buzz of activity as we gear up. We decided to give Buddy Dive a shot and had planned to augment the standard shore dive package with deco bottles as needed. I had seen several blurbs that they were now tec friendly. In theory it would be inexpensive and logistically easy to manage. In reality Buddy Dive is not yet tec ready. Several of the staff were very interested in what we were doing and they even have an onsite tec instructor, however we were unable to get O2 fills over 1800psi and it was hit and miss on when they would be available at that. I hope they can get it together soon.

On Bonaire a good dive truck is essential. I have always felt ripped off dealing with the rental agencies in Bonaire. They always try to get you for damages or missing jack and the trucks are often atrocious. A few years back I found out about Telerin Truck Rental. They make truck rental easy and painless. You reserve the truck ahead of time by email with Poppy. She will meet you at the airport with a clipboard and your keys. Sign a couple forms and off you go. Best of all if you use American Express and upgrade to renters insurance you don't get suckered on the CDW insurance like at other places. We even got a chance to see how well it worked. Only way to go and Telerin is the only place I've seen that takes Amex. On departure you leave the truck in short term parking with keys in the ashtray. Poppy will meet you if there are any issues inside airport. Otherwise I received a nice email thanking me and welcoming me to visit again. 5star service!

After all the confusion we had with Buddy Dive we headed next door and met up with Walt Starnes he runs a tec diving operation out of Captain Don's Habitat. It's a tiny room but looked like nirvana to a couple tec starved divers. Walt had bottles ready to go in a flash and is committed to his craft. Walt is re-breather savvy and can probably provide anything you need. As all tec divers know you don't hit the water till everything is checked and cross checked.

 It always seems like there are a few bugs to shake out on the first dive. Shore diving off our own patio made it stress free. On our own time schedule we could follow our procedures without eying the clock. This was great for our tec students getting their deco bottles wet for the first time. Right behind the house we had easy access to 150' of depth. The house reef was teeming with life, the reef gradually descended to around 120' before we hit a sloping sand bottom. There was very little current on the first few dives but we were challenged with a fairly strong current on the last 2 days of diving. Our students were well prepared and battle hardened from diving the colder low viz of our local quarries. Partly due to great conditions the divers made great strides thru tec 45. It was great to see their confidence build on each dive. Even surprise emergencies thrown at them to keep them on their toes didn't slow them down.

 Some of the better sites for tec dives included: Buddy Reef Great for a the final dives in tec 50. It was easy to get the depth with a short swim past the drop off. Our deco stops were filled with lot's of fish life and way too many lion-fish especially at depth. Karpata, not the easiest entry on Bonaire, but not bad once you get a few shore entries under your belt. Has a wall wall that drops off well past the limits of our newly certified tec 50 crew. The deeper reef is mainly large plating coral. I had fun following the sand chutes that break up the solid walls of coral. Takeyour time in the shallows to see how many of the anchors that are encrusted with coral you can spot. Red Slave Huts is one of the more southern sites, if conditions allow it is well worth the effort. Current can get quite strong depending on the prevailing winds. Lot's of larger fish and what I would describe as a different vibe from the other sites.

The nice thing about Bonaire is there is plenty of local color and friendly locals. On our trips to the northern dive sites we made a point of stopping for local cuisine at spots the tourists tend to avoid. We had a great lunch of Goat Stew and a heavenly starchy, almost corn masa like side dish called Funchi. We were given a tour of the property and found that they truly had farm fresh product. Goats, pigs and chickens all home grown were waiting their turn to be invited for lunch.

On one pass thru Rincon we stumbled upon an upstart distillery. At Cadushy they were making various liqueurs and flavoring them with local spices and fruits. My favorite was made from the plentiful cacti. Part of their business includes the restoration of an old movie theater adjoining their property.

One disappointment was that we were unable to secure any cave dives while on island. I have heard several first hand accounts of the unique caves that have been explored there. We had no luck finding anyone that could help us out. Our best lead actually told me that cave divers were "a pain in his butt". He explained that he made a much better living leading cave snorkeling. I asked if it was a money thing and he said it wasn't. I guess he is afraid we would share our experience and he'd have more people cavers hounding him. Maybe one day they will open the caves up to divers.

After a week of diving we were all sun burnt, waterlogged and pretty much dove out. I'm looking forward to our next Bonaire trip and look forward to diving the Windjammer a deep water wreck not far from the BOPEC Plant.

 I've noticed that Bonaire has a quickly adapting dive community, and I'm sure tec diving is going to become even better supported in the near future.

UPDATE: I recently spoke with Augusto the Operations Manager at Buddy Dive and he passed along that there is now a O2 booster and lots of DIN bottles with Left and Right valves. He also stated that there are plenty of Deco bottles ready to go for a large group of tec divers. I've known Augusto for many years and will give it another shot soon.


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