29th May 2022
They say that all Caribbean islands are the same. The idyllic image has palm trees swaying the breeze while their shadows are cast down onto a soft sand beach and thumping reggae music providing an acoustic backdrop to this paradise. To gain entry to this image you have to go through a multitude of offices where the officers are typically grumpy, without humour and your mere presence is an offence. Bonaire is a Caribbean Island but offers none of this; it offers so much more.
Arriving in Bonaire our first task was to complete the check in process. Dressing in our finest clothes, we readied ourselves for the usual long and painful process and proceeded to customs. Instead of the usual pained looks we were greeted by ear-to-ear smiles and an instruction to ‘Sit, relax, enjoy yourselves and welcome to beautiful Bonaire’.
With customs complete we then thought our problems were about to begin. The immigration officer was nowhere to be seen and customs started tracking him down. Within moments a mountain of a man, armed to the teeth entered the office with his hob nail boots clinking on the floor. We were disarmed by his apology, his good humour and the only place we saw ruthlessness was in his efficiency in stamping us into this new country. Bonaire was offering so much more than the other Caribbean islands.
Before any fun could happen on Ruffian, we had to start addressing the causes of our Gut-wrenching Sphincter-tightening sail. First up was addressing why the boat computer spectacularly failed, with no errors and no warning. Iain employed all his MSCE* credentials and started getting into the depths of the machine and after hours he finally tracked things down to an overheating CPU; even when things were not hot, the CPU was not loaded and we were even considering peeling to boots and long trousers!
While Iain got more and more technical Fiona started taking a more practical approach. She came up with ways to better cool the computer, ways to improve the airflow and an innovative solution to fix it to the bulkhead. Power was applied, the computer powered up, stayed up and passed all its data to everything.
The same story happened time and time again. Iain got geeky, and Fiona got practical. The gremlin in the spare GPS was tracked down, the fault in the stern light resolved, and even the spare laptop was made to behave itself. Like being offshore, inshore we were proving to be a great little team.
With Ruffian on the road to recovery we could now focus on fun and what everyone comes to Bonaire for; the water.
Ruffian was sat in the most beautiful inviting water and as we plunged in it felt even more inviting. We could see far into the distance and, from underwater, Ruffian looked like she was hovering and not floating.
Just meters in front of Ruffian 1000’s of fish, of every colour, size and variety darted around soft corals that wafted in the swell and hard corals that offered protection. Eels curled themselves into tight balls or slithered between coral heads while octopus waited for night to make their presence known.
Swimming in this clear white water was like swimming in an aquarium, but behind us was deep blue water where other wonders lay. With just a few pumps of our flippers the depth under us went from inches to fathoms. A coral wall plunged deep into the abyss where we could make out the outlines of fish the size of boats and corals the size of houses. Once again Bonaire was offering so much more than other islands.
Bonaire’s little brother is called Klien Bonaire and is a simple dinghy ride away from the mainland. Forming an impromptu flotilla of dinghies, we zipped across the open water to its undeveloped coastline and its endless beaches in a bid to explore its huge coral wall which we hoped would be teeming with fish.
After depositing Brock on a strategically positioned dive ball and walking the beach upwind we waded into the water hoping that we could simply drift snorkel downwind. As we slipped through a channel in the coral, the wall fell away under us and wonders started to appear around us. Large fish hunted smaller ones and huge fish hunted the large ones. Diving into their domain the fish were unbothered and simply went about their business seeking both protection and sustenance in the corals that covered every surface.
The aquatic adventures continued on Ruffian and we were about to have a big adventure. Our first ever unsupervised dive, our first ever dive from Ruffian and our first ever dive where our safety was solely our responsibility. We went through all the critical BWRAF safety procedures, BCD, Weights, Releases, Air and Final and felt ready to plunge in.
Rolling off the back of Brock we put into practice all our training and after signalling we were happy and ready to descend, down we went. Everything was calm and controlled, ears were equalised and we were then enveloped in an underwater world. Stopping under Ruffian we were acutely aware of the perils that surrounded us and we once again, as per our plan, we checked and double checked we were both happy.
We could now start to move around in complete freedom descending further into the blue and gaining confidence with every meter. With our tanks reaching half pressure we navigated our way back to Ruffian, stopped on the seabed and performed our safety stop. Then just as effortlessly as we’d descended, we rose back into the world of man and the world of limitless air. We’d only taken a small step, but it felt like a giant leap and a huge adventure.
Bonaire isn’t the palm treed sandy beach paradise of other Caribbean islands, but with the water teeming with fish and with our ability to dive there is a paradise underwater that we are able to explore. Bonaire isn’t your typical Caribbean Island; it’s so much more.
* Iain doesn’t have any sailing qualifications but he is a low level Microsoft Certified Engineer, which clearly comes in useful when sailing full time!
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