My wife

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Bar­bara and I were divers be­fore we be­came trawler own­ers. We learned to dive af­ter lis­ten­ing to friends talk about their fas­ci­na­tion with the un­der­wa­ter world. In the be­gin­ning, I was re­luc­tant–I had pre­vi­ously dis­cov­ered on my first at­tempt at snor­kel­ing that I was afraid to breath through a snorkel when my face was sub­merged. I had sub­se­quently over­come that fear by con­di­tion­ing my­self in waist-deep wa­ter, but I still found the prospect of strap­ping on all of the equip­ment for scuba div­ing to be daunt­ing. But my wife was ea­ger to learn, so I joined her in lessons de­signed to lead to a div­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion–the only way to safely learn. The lessons were grad­u­ated, so although each step was scary, I soon found that the skills of the pre­vi­ous les­son no longer caused trep­i­da­tion. By the time we bought our first trawler, we had be­come PADI-cer­ti­fied un­der­wa­ter divers, fol­lowed by ad­vanced divers, and then NITROX-cer­ti­fied divers.

It took us a while to re­al­ize what a happy com­bi­na­tion our two in­ter­ests would make. Ini­tially, we prob­a­bly took for granted the ben­e­fits of the sym­bio­sis, but af­ter nearly a decade of cruis­ing in the Caribbean, we have a keener ap­pre­ci­a­tion of each in­ter­est and of their mu­tual en­hance­ment.

We have no­ticed that al­most all cruis­ers ei­ther scuba dive or snorkel. To be sure, each pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the in­cred­i­ble sights and sen­sa­tions of the sea, but we feel that scuba has some clear ad­van­tages. Scuba div­ing al­lows you to get much closer to the bounty of col­or­ful un­der­wa­ter crea­tures so you can see them in greater de­tail and for longer pe­ri­ods of time. If that isn’t enough, scuba div­ing, once cer­ti­fied, takes much less ef­fort.

Trawlers pro­vide a par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing plat­form from which to dive. Want to visit a dis­tant is­land that is down­wind and would there­fore present a prob­lem on the re­turn trip if you were sail­ing? Go any­way. A trawler doesn’t mind hav­ing wind on the nose, even if the dis­tances re­quire a multi-day trip. And the gen­er­ous cargo space avail­able on a trawler, as con­trasted to many sail­ing ves­sels, means that stor­age of your dive gear is man­age­able. Fur­ther­more, the swim plat­form so com­mon to trawlers is of­ten ab­sent on sail­boats.

In­deed, at some lo­ca­tions one can do a gi­ant stride right off the swim plat­form and im­me­di­ately be in a re­ward­ing un­der­wa­ter en­vi­ron­ment. At other lo­ca­tions, the an­chor­ing or moor­ing site for the trawler may be a bit re­moved from the dive site, but with an ap­pro­pri­ately sized and pow­ered ten­der, made pos­si­ble by the ex­tra space and car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of a trawler, one can eas­ily reach even re­mote­dive sites. The flex­i­bil­ity of this lat­ter al­ter­na­tive is com­pelling, es­pe­cially if the dinghy is large enough to com­fort­ably ac­com­mo­date (a min­i­mum of ) two pas­sen­gers, the dive gear, and any cam­era equip­ment.

DIV­ING PAR­ADISE As I write this, our Kadey-Kro­gen 48 North Sea, Tusen Takk II, is float­ing off Kral­endijk, Bon­aire, in a moor­ing field that is pro­vided for vis­it­ing ves­sels. The en­tire is­land is sur­rounded (to a depth of 200 feet) by a Marine Park that for­bids an­chor­ing. Some­times, we are able to dive right off our boat, but of­ten we take our 12-foot RIB to one of the 80 marked dive buoys in the

Bon­aire Marine Park. We have taken our RIB as far north as the Karpata dive site, al­most 6 nau­ti­cal miles from our moor­ing, and as far south as the Hilma Hooker wreck, about four miles dis­tant. To the west, we’ve vis­ited the far end of Klein Bon­aire, also by dinghy, but we usu­ally visit sites closer to home in or­der to mim­imize our travel times.

A typ­i­cal dive in Bon­aire be­gins with a sandy shoul­der that is usu­ally a grad­ual slope from 0 to 30 feet, and then falls more steeply through hard and soft co­ral to about 120 feet where the bot­tom re­turns to sand sand, and for a dis­tance, less steep. We fall over the 30-foot edge and briefly visit depths ap­proach­ing 100 feet be­fore as­cend­ing and cruis­ing into the cur­rent (al­most al­ways faint) at about 60 feet un­til our air sup­ply and ni­tro­gen buildup tells us to turn around. We re­turn usu­ally at depths around 30 feet, and when we ar­rive at our start­ing point, we linger on the bot­tom for at least five min­utes at 15 feet be­fore as­cend­ing to the sur­face. This as a safety stop de­signed to slowly vent ex­cess ni­tro­gen from our blood stream and body tis­sues; What is nice about div­ing in Bon­aire is that we still have plenty to see 15 feet be­low the sur­face.

What do we see in the clear and warm wa­ters of Bon­aire? Beau­ti­ful hard and soft corals, to­talling more than 57 species; fas­ci­nat­ing sea crea­tures, large and small. Over 500 species make Bon­aire their home. Some of the small­est crea­tures are also the most beau­ti­ful.

EX­PLORE THE HOBBY Learn­ing the names and be­hav­iors of un­der­wa­ter in­hab­i­tants has vastly in­creased our en­joy­ment of div­ing. Knowl­edge en­riches the ex­pe­ri­ences and lifts them from dumb awe at “pretty sights” to in­formed ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Knowl­edge en­ables the ex­cite­ment of rec­og­niz­ing a rare spec­i­men or un­der­stand­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of an un­usual be­hav­ior. Bar­bara and I have got­ten cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in fish iden­ti­fi­ca­tion; cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that qual­i­fies us to con­duct sur­veys for sub­mis­sion to the Reef En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion (REEF). The mis­sion of REEF is to con­serve marine ecosys­tems by ed­u­cat­ing, en­list­ing, and en­abling divers to be­come stew­ards of the oceans and to, in ef­fect, be­come cit­i­zen sci­en­tists. Whether or not one be­comes a mem­ber of REEF, learn­ing about the crea­tures of the sea in­dis­putably en­hances your en­joy­ment of div­ing. Bar­bara typ­i­cally dives with her sur­vey slate: On a re­cent sur­vey she iden­ti­fied and counted more than 100 dif­fer­ent species.

Un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy has also en­hanced my en­joy­ment of div­ing. I have spe­cial­ized in pho­tograph­ing small crea­tures, be­cause I en­joy cap­tur­ing im­ages that re­veal col­or­ful and in­tri­cate de­tails in im­ages that are larger than life. Con­se­quently, I al­most al­ways dive with my housed Nikon DSLR, a piece of equip­ment that keeps me too pre­oc­cu­pied to per­mit sur­vey­ing. I daw­dle as I pho­to­graph. Barb daw­dles as she sur­veys. The com­bi­na­tion works well and nei­ther of us gets bored while wait­ing for the other.

UN­DER­WA­TER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TIPS There is now a be­wil­der­ing num­ber of op­tions for un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy. But whether one chooses the diminu­tive GoPro, a bulky, housed DSLR, or one of the many in­ter­me­di­ate op­tions, cer­tain rules of thumb con­cern­ing equip­ment and tech­nique ap­ply. For equip­ment, use ar­ti­fi­cial light(s). As light trav­els through wa­ter, dif­fer­ent spec­trums are fil­tered out at dif­fer­ent rates. In light from the sun, red dis­ap­pears al­most en­tirely at a depth of 15 feet. The only way to get vi­brant col­ors in an un­der­wa­ter pho­to­graph is to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive light source that is closer to the cam­era and sub­ject. The al­ter­na­tive light source(s) should be moved out to the side of the cam­era away from the lens as far as pos­si­ble in or­der to min­i­mize the amount of light re­flected back to the lens from small par­ti­cles in the wa­ter.

If you are con­sid­er­ing hous­ing a point-and-shoot cam­era, pick one that has a min­i­mal de­lay be­tween when the shut­ter but­ton is pushed and when the pic­ture is ac­tu­ally taken, lest you re­turn with noth­ing but pic­tures of fish tails.

For im­proved tech­nique, get close to the sub­ject to min­i­mize the amount of wa­ter be­tween the cam­era and sub­ject. The wa­ter will be clearer and the light­ing will be brighter and the image will be big­ger with sig­nif­i­cantly more de­tail. Avoid shoot­ing down on a fish; with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of floun­ders, the best fish por­traits are taken from the side and usu­ally the back­ground will be less clut­tered. Take your time as you move through the wa­ter. The slower you go, the more you will see, and the less skit­tish the fish will be.

Fi­nally, wield­ing a cam­era is not a li­cense to aban­don buoy­ancy con­trol. Be aware not to make con­tact in any way with live co­ral, be­cause each of these ac­tions is fa­tal to frag­ile co­ral polyps.

HOT SPOTS For a num­ber of rea­sons, Bon­aire is one of the best places to dive in the trop­ics, or for that mat­ter, in the world. It has an abun­dant and var­ied fish pop­u­la­tion that has re­cently re­ceived recog­ni­tion as the most di­verse in the Caribbean. It has a re­mark­able num­ber of named dive sites. Its wa­ters are warm and clear, with tem­per­a­tures rang­ing be­tween 78° and 84°, with 100 feet of vis­i­bil­ity be­ing the norm. It

has a thriv­ing in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port divers and div­ing, with well- main­tained moor­ings and a plethora of dive shops where all man­ner of equip­ment and sup­plies can be ob­tained.

It has a long and sto­ried tra­di­tion of div­ing free­dom, where the rules are few but strictly en­forced. By div­ing free­dom, I mean that, un­like many other trop­i­cal is­lands, nei­ther con­di­tions nor reg­u­la­tions re­quire one to en­gage a pro­fes­sional dive boat or to be ac­com­pa­nied by a pro­fes­sional di­ve­mas­ter. Strictly en­forced rules in­clude pro­hi­bi­tions against an­chor­ing, wear­ing gloves, spearfish­ing, chem­i­cal light sticks, or re­moval of sea shells, lob­sters, and so on.

There are, of course, other trop­i­cal is­lands where di­ve­mas­ters are not re­quired and where the div­ing is good enough to be en­joy­able. We have en­joyed div­ing free­dom in the Ba­hamas, in the Span­ish, Amer­i­can, and Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, as well as in many of the French Caribbean is­lands, in­clud­ing Guade­loupe and Mar­tinique.

For­mer Bri­tish is­lands tend to be more re­stric­tive, re­quir­ing that one en­gage a lo­cal dive boat and/or a di­ve­mas­ter. Re­stric­tions not with­stand­ing, we have had pleas­ant ac­com­pa­nied dives along the coast be­tween the Pi­tons in St. Lu­cia, and good-but-not-great dives in Gre­nada, where the wa­ters tend to be murkier due to the silt flow­ing north­ward from Venezuela’s Orinoco River.

In ad­di­tion to Bon­aire, two other Dutch is­lands of­fer great div­ing. Saba is spec­tac­u­lar and a charm­ing is­land to visit for non­divers as well. We have had in­ter­est­ing dives in St. Maarten, as well. But in both places it was ne­c­es­sary to use the ser­vices of a dive op­er­a­tion.

Whether you dive in Bon­aire, some other Caribbean is­land, or some other sea for that mat­ter, point your ves­sel to clear wa­ters and ex­pe­ri­ence the ad­van­tages of the free­dom of div­ing from a trawler. Get cer­ti­fied. You won’t re­gret it.


¹We’ve been AYB customers for over 10 years. They’ve main­tained the Pa­tri­cia K con­tin­u­ously over that pe­riod, plus we’ve stored her there in cov­ered fresh­wa­ter stor­age dur­ing win­ter and sum­mer months. They are ex­tremely cus­tomer friendly and they have es­pe­cially com­pe­tent long-term em­ploy­ees that meet sched­ules and are al­ways ready to give ex­pert ad­vice. And, as a bonus, their fa­cil­i­ties and lo­ca­tion are out­stand­ing!


Above: Sail­fin Blenny; at work. An un­der­wa­ter por­trait of the au­thor

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