Bonaire Diving & Panama Waiting
23rd March to 5th April
The island of Bonaire is for divers. There’s not much else except a good relaxed feeling, a few hills in the north and salt works in the south (salt that goes to scatter on the highways of North America, I was told), plus a few easy walks or, if energetic, you can hire a Dutch bicycle and pedal about a bit. But it’s very hot.
For divers there are dozens of wonderful well-managed coral sites (the whole place is a Protected Marine Park), and you can readily go diving straight from shore without the palaver of getting there by boat.
I ‘discovered’ diving with a friendly relaxed Dive Centre that just happened to be opposite my first mooring -close enough to row ashore too. That first memorable and marvellous experience was with Yellow Sub Dive Friends, and Luke, a calm competent Englishman, one of the international dive addicts who seem to teach anywhere on the planet that has a recreational diving job and good diving. (A bit like surfers who have a similar addiction.) Anyway, within two hours of looking at Scuba stuff for the very first time, and after watching a video, we were kitted out and 10 metres down in perfectly clear water and hovering around hundreds of exquisite colourful tropical fish, marvelling at so much variety of coral and fish life – unbelievable!
Then, as Yellow Sub Diving Centre, didn’t immediately have an Open Water course for me, I went elsewhere, to VIP Diving another friendly helpful professional diving outfit where, after some mind-draining homework, Dutchman Ron, tried to teach a Canadian couple and me, how to do it properly. Ron was super friendly and helpful and pretty patient, but I was spellbound by fishes and not always good at paying attention! It takes a while to learn how to be a fish.
When you see pictures or film of divers, they’re usually either gliding effortlessly and elegantly along, fins idly flipping away as miraculously colourful fishes cruise by, or else they look like cartoon character frogs, looking straight at you, wide-eyed through their masks, blowing bubbles and looking lost, I was often nearer the cartoon frog end of the diving spectrum.
I used to think Scuba diving amounted to a bottle of air on your back and a hosepipe to your mouth. Take a suck of air when you wanted it. But it’s much more elaborate than that. There are lots of pipes, and weights and gadgets and miscellaneous stuff, plus a clever inflatable waistcoat sort of thing, as well as the bottle of air on your back.
Seeing fabulous fish, every shape and size and vivid colour you can imagine, apparently tame, (so accustomed are they to divers), and coral so close and in such abundance is magical. But I think diving isn’t really for me. I seek a simple life, free of the clobber and cluttering confusion of stuff. And, by its very nature (humans not designed to live ‘down there’), there’s too much clobber needed for safe diving. I’ll maybe dive again; but snorkelling is a simpler way of seeing underwater life – albeit not as close or varied as deeper down. (I also should have noticed earlier on that almost all keen divers have good teeth, really shining super white and strong teeth. Maybe I might have guessed it wasn’t really meant for me.)
After all that time underwater it was time to move on from the delights and challenges of Bonaire. (Already I was a few weeks behind the haphazard sort of schedule I follow, well aware that most sailing boats had already reached the Pacific, whilst “Henrietta” had about 750 miles to go just to reach Panama.) So, after a few drinks in the charming little bar “Little Havana” – renowned locally for its music and wide choice of Cuban cigars – we sailed out of Bonaire.
Six days later, yesterday, I reached Panama – regrettably missing stops in both Colombia and San Blas islands on the way. They’d been part of one of the original so-called ‘outline plans’. (Stuff plans! I’m not running a business school.) Sod’s Law of destination arrivals most often sees me reach new places after dark. Panama was no exception and in the dark and on chartplotter, the next few miles looked so chockablock with ships and buoys and miscellaneous hazardous stuff that I dared not enter at night and instead lingered sleepless for many hours before entering the vast canal approach zone after dawn, as instructed by the Cristobal Signal Station, following close behind a big red tanker.
The sail had been pleasant enough. Although the reputation of this patch of Western Caribbean at this time of year is for very strong winds, most of the voyage was a rolling run under just the poled-out genoa There was just one day of gale and near gale, when ‘Henrietta’ rolled wildly in turbulent ill-mannered swell with just a scrap of genoa, surfing at up to 10 knots, while I tried to make a pot of tea.
For now I have moored in calm and friendly Shelter Bay marina, the most popular waiting spot for yachts intending to transit the Panama Canal. I’ll tell you more another time. It looks like a long wait here, but meantime it’s good to have friendly multinational sociable company.