Manta Divers' Excellent Curacao Adventure -2008
It was a rude -3F when our group flew into Chicago after our adventure in Curacao. We weathered a nearly 100° difference in temperature, but at least we had our memories to keep us warm! The Habitat’s motto is “Diving Freedom” and we certainly took that mantra to heart, but divers should be aware, that as with all freedom, there comes responsibility.
The Habitat is a clean dive resort with a bar, restaurant infinity pool, and dive shop with two boats. The boats are rated for 20 divers, but thankfully they don’t usually fill them to capacity. Most days, our boat was occupied only by our group of 13-14, and only a couple of times took two extras. We had two boat dives per day, alternating between early morning (8:15AM), late morning (8:40am) and afternoon (1:15pm) boarding times. This was nice as it afforded us the luxury of sleeping in some days, or having afternoons free to explore the island. The dive shop offered the usual selection of T-shirts and divers’ incidentals, but they lacked any real repair capability, so if you don’t keep your gear’s maintenance schedule, budget for possible gear rental there. Habitat offers lockers at the pier so divers could conveniently stow their gear in a somewhat secure location. Locks cost $2 per week, but we used our TSA locks that were just as secure. The lockers were small, but adequate. I suggest you get a top locker. While it was a little challenging for someone of my height to reach to the hooks to hang my BC and reg, at least no one else’s gear was dripping onto mine.
As I mentioned, the motto at Habitat is Diving Freedom. This is stressed at the briefing. Unfortunately, many divers are so focused on getting to their first dive, they barely grasp the implications. At other dive operations, for example, the dive profiles for the boat dives are planned for you, with a prescribed max depth and bottom time. On Habitat’s boat dives, the divemaster gives a (very) brief description of the dive site, offers to serve as guide, reiterates that divers’ bottom times should not exceed 60 min., then shoos the divers into the water. It is up to the diver to figure out his profile. Now if you are diving tables, and on your first dive you want to stay down for an hour, your max depth is then 50ft. After this dive, you are in pressure group S. After the usual 45min. surface interval afforded on the boat, you were in group I. If you wanted to make another 60 min. dive, you would have to stay above 40 ft. I wonder how many divers ever think this out. Of course we always dove a multi-level profile and spent many minutes at 20ft. playing with squid, damsels and the like, and computer divers were compensated (nitrogen-wise) for that, but the tables can only figure a single level dive, so everything is based on the deepest you went, regardless of how long you were there. Another thing I noticed is that although they offer nitrox at Habitat and all the dive staff dive with nitrox, they never afford the recommended 1hr. surface interval between dives. Again, the nitrox certified diver is responsible for his own safety. I wanted to dive nitrox, but realized that I’d have to modify my schedule. I dove air first, then nitrox. I always had at least an hour between my boat dives and my next shore dive. Given that caveat, I still like the idea of the freedom to plan my own dives on my own schedule.
Curacao has a wealth of fantastic dive sites. Unlike Bonaire, however, they have not taken steps to enforce protection of the reef, and as a result, some of their “must dive” sites are not what they used to be. For example, the mushroom forest is not the pristine site it was just a few years ago, due to a combination of ocean temperature change, storm damage, and careless divers. The Superior Producer is off limits for security reasons if there are boats in the harbor, which seems to be the case more often than not. That said, don’t cross Curacao off your list of future dive locations. To start, the house reef at Habitat delighted every time I dove it. I was extremely impressed with the two green morays that live there. They are at least 5ft long and about as big around as a coffee can. On one of our night dives, we were treated to seeing them out and actively hunting. We frequently saw octopus on the house reef, as well as a variety of eels and shrimp. Two of our group were there ahead of us and turned us on to a site called Wata Mula. They had done it as a “drive and dive,” but had asked the Habitat crew to take them there another day by boat. They were told it was too far from the resort, but when the rest of the group showed up, I asked nicely and we were accommodated. (Ahh, the power of diving with a group!) It was everything we were promised: frog fish, spotted lobster, spectacular coral formations, riots of color and life. “Seldom” (or “Lighthouse,”as it is sometimes called) was also a favorite spot, with rays, squid and colorful parrotfish. My favorite “drive and dive” was Alice in Wonderland. It was both beautiful and easy to dive, with an entry off the Oceans Encounter pier. Since Ocean Encounter and Habitat have reciprocal agreements for tank rental, we simply had the Habitat staff call ahead to tell them how many tanks we needed, and the staff at Ocean Encounters had them waiting for us. This was a god-send because like Habitat, there are many steps to navigate from the parking lot to the dive shop and pier, so not having to tote the tanks was a big relief. On this excursion we saw not one, but two octopi. The most unusual, though, was that they were out and moving in the open, rather than peering out from a crack in the coral. This is an example of how active Curacao’s reefs were, providing so many great opportunities for the photographers in the group.
What’s more, Curacao offers plenty topside attractions, such as the Hato Caves. Formed during the Ice Ages, the caves show the geological history of Curacao. The Famous Queen Emma Bridge is a pontoon bridge that swings open to allow ships access to the port, earning her the nickname “Swinging Lady.” Take a walk across the bridge and hit the many shops in the downtown Willemstad. A few of our group took in the Kura Hulanda slave museum. Although Curacao had no plantations, it was a much used stopping off place for the slave trade. The museum traces the influence of the slave trade on the region’s art, language, and ethnic evolution. My favorite topside attraction was the Ostrich Farm. We toured this eco-friendly farm, on which nothing is wasted, then enjoyed a fantastic ostrich steak at the African themed Zambezi restaurant.
Curacao has something for everyone, diving, sight seeing and lounging on the beach. It truly offers the freedom to do what you like when you like. Just remember to do it safely!
EFR training: Monday, March 3 and Wed., March 5, 6:30 at the shop. This class is the first step towards your Rescue Diver certification. The class includes first aid for adults, CPR, and AED use.
Rescue diver class: If you have 20 logged dives and are ready to step up to the next level in your diving education, consider joining Rescue diver class. This will likely be the most challenging and most worthwhile class you will take! Classroom sessions are April 21 and 23, Pool sessions, April 27 and May 4.