In the first of this two-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from the Come Dive with Us hosted trip to Bonaire in September 2021…
Travelling during the Covid pandemic has been challenging for some, impossible for most, and missed by all. We have been scanning the rules and regulations daily, and as soon as the UK Government allowed us, we were off!
What was supposed to be a trip to Mexico for a gang of 12 of us, just like most trips over the last 18 months, we were forced to change as the travel rules changed – we have been trying to get to Bonaire for ages, and this became the perfect opportunity – at last!
With our bags packed, negative test results and completed Bonaire health forms in hand – we made an early start for Heathrow, prepared for an 0630 departure. A quick flight and we landed in Amsterdam. As a Dutch Caribbean territory, all flights from the UK to Bonaire on KLM go via Amsterdam. In the airport, we met up with the rest of the gang who had travelled from Birmingham. After a quick layover we took off for Bonaire, where we arrived about 9 hours later. Our health documents were checked at the airport, and we grabbed our bags. It seems odd to have to fly East to then go West, but as we stepped out of the minibus at Buddy Dive Resort, only 10 minutes after leaving the airport, the sunshine and blue sky told us it was worth it!
Our accommodation for the group was made up of two 3-bedroom apartments, a stone’s throw from the water, dive shop, dock and Blennies, the main restaurant and bar. Buddy Dive also has 1- and 2-bedroom apartments along with studios, all comfortably furnished with either a garden or ocean view.
Each 3-bedroom apartment is spread over two floors – but a floor up from ground level. The ‘ground’ floor of each apartment offers a double bedroom (beds can be configured as twins or double in all rooms), a bathroom, lounge with balcony, and a very well-equipped kitchenette. Microwave, toaster, hob, fridge/freezer with ice-maker and enough pots, pans and utensils to satisfy the avid cook! On the upper floor, there are two further double rooms with ensuite bathrooms, both with balconies of their own. Each bedroom is air-conditioned, and the lounge and kitchen have celling fans. All in all, quite perfect for a home away from home for a fortnight!
The rules of group travel say we must unpack (empty bags onto floor or bed), sort kit out (look at dive bag and save it for later), put cameras together (er….NO!) and hit the bar – so being rule-abiding people that we are, this is what we did. Picking up the rental van for our stay would have to wait!
The next morning after breakfast, served in the Ingridients restaurant and right on the water, we attended the Buddy Dive orientation. The staff gave us a quick tour of the dock and resort including the famous drive thru tank shed offering both air and nitrox tanks ready and waiting to be loaded into your vehicle. Check in at the dive centre was easy… we all completed our diver forms online before arrival so with a quick hello we were handed locker keys for our kit storage. Time to head back to the room and get ready for our first dive!! That is why we’re here after all!
As with all trips, the first dive was a check dive, so we climbed down the steps into the water off the dock to go an explore Buddy Dive Reef. Finning over the sandy bottom, past the coral restoration project ‘trees’ and following well laid lines with directional markers we hit the reef after just a minute or two where you can drop to 35+ metres over simply stunning corals. This reef, just like the rest of the sites we dived, is super-healthy and teeming with juvenile fish wherever you look. Moray eels, turtles, octopi and HUGE tarpon on our first dive! What a great start!
The following day we decided it was time to explore the island. We picked up our 6-person minibus from Reception, pulled up to the drive thru tank station and grabbed 12 well filled Nitrox 12l aluminium (A-Clamp – not DIN) cylinders. With our guidebook in hand, off we went driving on the right of course, in search of marine life.
There are over 50 dive sites scattered around the coast of the main island, and even more on the island of Klein Bonaire accessible by boat. We chose a comfortable start by picking dive sites to the South where the entry seems to be a little easier on old knees and hips. We packed up sandwiches we made after a quick shop at the supermarket the day before, along with waters and a few essentials – towels, sunnies and bug spray.
I won’t bore you with every dive site name and description – the guidebook is the tool for that – but it is more than safe to say that we dived, dived and dived again! Every dive gave us far more than we expected, and the marine park surrounding the whole island delivered the goods without fail. Super healthy corals, plentiful marine life, warm and very clear water at 30 degrees made life easy. Parking the van up at the marked dive sites wasn’t difficult, and a few strides across the sand was far simpler than we had expected.
I will say that some sites are a little more challenging to get into the water from – anything more than three or four steps doesn’t float my boat! We adapted our entries for the group – some kitting up in the water, some not, but the rule of thumb quickly became step in up to thigh-depth, inflate bcd, fall flat on your back and paddle out before putting your fins on. Simple! Getting out of the water was pretty much the reverse of the above – stand up when you can, remove fins, and then navigate the rocks and sand channels before you walk up the beach. Nothing that an over-weight, under-tall chap in his mid-50’s with dodgy knees and even dodgier hips couldn’t cope with! (That is me by the way…..no offense to anyone else intended and no animals were harmed in the writing of this either).
We saw stuff – lots of it! Huge tarpon, French and Grey Angelfish, forests of Christmas Tree worms, anemones with Peterson, sexy and cleaner shrimp, clinging crabs, nudibranchs – especially lettuce-leaf slugs, coral-banded shrimp, lobster and so much more. Turtles everywhere, trumpet-fish in unbelievable numbers, and that was generally the story – all in very good visibility too! The corals and huge sponges were stunning with fascinating reef-structures offering all sorts of hidey-holes for critters!
There were some really special sited that we loved, and Salt Pier was one. The Cargill solar salt facility is easily found with its distinctive line of white salt pyramids.Each pyramid, roughly 50-feet high, can contain up to 10,000 metric tons of 99.6 percent pure salt. Even more noteworthy, in addition to the acres of salt ponds, the facility is also home to largest pink flamingo sanctuary in North America. Our very own Chloe has written an in-depth blog about Bonaire and its pure salt so be sure and check it out!
Back to the diving! We were given a hint to drive just past the pier to park where we would find an easy sand entry to the site. We kitted up and finned out through the shallows where we encountered three juvenile hawksbill turtles along with a few smooth pufferfish fighting to feed on patch of sponges, and then made our way under the immense structure of the pier. There are several platforms supporting the conveyor belts that move salt to the container ships and there wasn’t much diver-traffic to contend with. We were amazed by all things weird and wonderful – big scorpion fish hiding under the metal work, angelfish battling for food, schooling fish up above you, and frogfish! Barracuda, Caribbean reef squid, spotted drums, octopus, oh! and more frogfish! Even a flying gurnard in the shallows! What a dive! And as it is shallow, it can be a very long dive too, especially with the 200-210 bar fills the drive-thru often gave us.
Check back for Part Two of this Blog tomorrow!
Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.
BVI Wreck Week – Diving (Part 3)
BVI Wreck Week allowed us to dive several of the wrecks the BVI has to offer, as well as sampling some of the best reef sites too. Our previous blog focused on the wreck of the RMS Rhone, so in this one we will try to give you a taste of the rest of the diving on offer.
And there is a great deal of wonderful diving to tell you about. Our first day of diving did not offer the best visibility due to heavy rain earlier in the week. However, we were taken to a rugged dive site that had Caribbean and Lemon Sharks swimming all around us. If we had been able to see the usual 20m+ I am sure we would have been able to talk of dozens of sharks on the site.
The BVI has plenty of artificial reefs, created from wrecks deliberately sunk. A couple of these are artistic creations from Beyond the Reef. The Willy T is a pirate themed party boat sunk in shallow water that now has skeletons of pirates duelling on the deck and going about their dastardly ways. It is a lot of fun and once you have had your fill, you can head up onto the shallow reef. Shark-plano is a series of three planes that were damaged in a hurricane, that have been turned into shark species and sunk. Both these sites are perfect for the diver that loves a bit of Instagram appeal!
Wreck Alley has a series of three boats sunk to create a super dive site perfectly aligned for a single dive where you can explore them all. Moray eels can be seen free swimming along the decks, huge stingrays back the sandy seabed their home. Turtles cruise past as you make your way around and then up onto the reef for your safety stop.
On every dive we did we saw sharks which absolutely delighted us. The local dive shops seem to be particularly engaged in conserving the reefs, taking part in coral reef restoration, lionfish hunting, cleanups and logging their sightings. We were filled with positivity at the end of each day.
We hope that we can return to do it all again at BVI Wreck Week 2024!
Watch out for our full feature on BVI Wreck Week in the next issue of Dive Travel Adventures coming out in July.
Nick and Caroline were hosted by BVI Wreck Week
The Moorings provided their yacht for the week
Host Dive Centres:
BVI Wreck Week – Diving the RMS Rhone (Part 2)
You cannot talk about BVI Wreck Week, or diving in the British Virgin Islands, without spending some time on the jewel in their crown of wreck diving – the RMS Rhone. So this blog is going to be dedicated to a wreck dive that we were happy to dive three times on our trip and would have been happy to dive every day!
The RMS Rhone was a UK Royal Mail Ship wrecked off the coast of Salt Island on 29 October 1867 in a deadly hurricane. Now it is the most popular dive site in the region. The dive briefings for the site are filled with stories of the fate of the ship and some eye-opening tales since.
The wreck and surrounding area become the British Virgin Island’s first national marine park in 1980. Many of the underwater segments of the 1977 thriller The Deep were filmed on the Rhone, requiring actors Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte and Robert Shaw to learn how to scuba dive.
You’ll need at least two dives to fully experience the RMS Rhone. The ship split apart on sinking and the bow drifted just a little before sinking. The two halves are about 100 feet apart with the bow sitting in deeper water (around 25 meters / 80ft). So you are best to explore the bow fully on a single dive and then head to the stern on your second dive.
Whilst the history, artifacts and stories from the movies are absorbing, as soon as we got underwater to dive her, it was the incredible marine life that had us hooked. Two seahorses had made their home right at the bow of the wreck. Stingrays lay buried in the sandy sea bed. The structure is covered in colourful corals and sponges. Schools of fish occupy the overhangs and metal remains. We saw sharks on all three dives and were treated to a huge spotted eagle ray gliding over the wreck. Lobsters waved their antennae at us from every crevice. Life is everywhere you look on this dive.
The marine park status has certainly ensured that this is one of the best wrecks we have dived in the Caribbean. Whilst we did not get the chance to do this – we bet it would make an awesome night dive.
Check out our next blog to find out more about the diving and watch out for our full feature in the next edition of Dive Travel Adventures Magazine in July!
Nick and Caroline were hosted by BVI Wreck Week
The Moorings provided their yacht for the week
Host Dive Centres: