If you are in the ABC islands during the months of September, October or November, take advantage of the seasonal lull in the wind to dive the windward side of the islands. This is the only time of the year when windward-side diving is a real possibility. But be prepared because even during these fall months, the current remains very strong and access to the various dive sites by the shore is quite dangerous. In short, diving the windward side is a real expedition.
So why bother? For the adventurous diver, the wild side of the ABC islands has much to offer. Groupers, snappers, turtles, spotted eagle rays, manta rays, sharks and lobsters are much more plentiful and larger in size than those you find on the leeward side. On the windward side, the ocean’s forces have done a marvelous job of protecting marine species from human intervention—at least as good as any marine park does.
Having a manta ray swim up while you’re snorkeling on the surface, finding a school of two hundred tarpons, swimming with nurse sharks, or watching a school of Atlantic spadefish—these are the type of fantastic experience that the windward coast has to offer.
The windward side of the ABC islands also has plenty of undiscovered wrecks. Often, ships suffering from motor or navigational problems are carried by the waves towards the shoreline and crash on the coast. And as the windward side is pretty much uninhabited, a ship can easily sink with no one the wiser.
These wrecks are nothing like leeward-side wrecks. Lacking the protection from the waves and the swell that the leeward side provides, their remains rapidly become scattered along the rocky bottom and disappear. Today’s shipwreck can be gone tomorrow. And tomorrow a new shipwreck can magically appear.
Wild side diving requires a certain amount of preparation. A 15-foot dinghy, a 40-horsepower engine, surface marker parachutes for each diver and plenty of anchor line (except in Bonaire) is a minimum. There are a few places where the coastline permits shore diving, but most often, a shore dive on the windward side implies jumping off the cliff, like some local fishermen do. This style of stunt diving can be quite dangerous, especially when it comes to getting back out of the water, with the waves crashing down on the rocky shoreline. We recommend using a dinghy instead. Despite all these inconveniences, wild side diving is an exhilarating experience that any courageous, adventure-seeking person can’t miss.
Bonaire has numerous spectacular windward dive sites. Just off the coast of Sorobon, out past the windsurfers and before the drop-off, is a 30-foot aquarium-like enclave, called Blue Hole. With a sand base and light turquoise water, Blue Hole is a beautiful oasis. Perhaps Bonaire’s best-known windward site, this is a place where tarpons, turtles, nurse sharks and rays hide out and where fish are incredibly plentiful. As Blue Hole is very shallow, it’s an excellent free-diving site. With just a mask, snorkel and fins you can have a wonderful encounter with marine life—much more intimate than with noisy scuba equipment.
Blue Hole can be done as a shore dive by swimming out from the Malcultura shrimp factory or by boat by putting your dinghy in the water at Cai. In fact, a whole day of great diving can be done right around Cai. In the boat channel lives an enormous pack of tarpons. If you find yourself alone, at a depth of about 40 feet, as many as two hundred tarpons will make circles around you. Out on the reef are turtles and, depending on the time of the year, a school of eagle ray. After the reef bottoms out, down on the sand at 230 feet you will find the wreck of a fishing vessel called Zen.
Further to the north, at the base of the old Spelonk lighthouse, is a veritable graveyard of shipwrecks. There lie the remains of four boats—a wooden sailboat, a fiberglass sailboat, a metal-hulled freighter and a fishing boat.
Most picturesque is the fishing boat, whose interior is covered by beautiful red gorgonians. Still very much intact, this fishing vessel sunk within meters of a 200-foot freighter that had sunk on the spot many decades before. The large freighter was more than likely a late-nineteenth-century fishing vessel, given the small-sized openings of the cargo hulls. Found near this wreck, lying on the sand, was a bunch of clear glass tubes—perhaps a clue to the mystery of this vessel. The atmosphere surrounding these wrecks is very dramatic, with immense boulders on a bed of sand as well as tunnels and caves burrowed into the side of the cliff.
Diving Spelonk can be done from the shore—the entry and especially the exit are quite treacherous, but you can get in the water at Boca Spelonk. However, if you want to see the Spelonk wrecks, which are around the corner from Boca Spelonk, you must do it from a boat. Put your dinghy in the water at Lagoen and ride the waves out of the inlet—the diving possibilities from Lagoen are limitless, and usually include a manta ray spotting.
South of Lac Bay, you’ll find some easier shore dives. Though the reef isn’t too dramatic, Baby Beach and the reef in front of Malcultura shrimp factory provide great chances for spotting nurse sharks and rays. And the soft coral formations in front of Willemstoren lighthouse are spectacular.