September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye

September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation

September 1, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing

August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez

August 1, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind

July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap

July 1, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec

June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico

June 1, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua

May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising

May 1, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica

April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There

April 1, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama

March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money

March 1, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal

February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal

February 1, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific

January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week

January 1, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef

December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2

December 1, 2011

November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise

November 1, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question

October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers

October 3, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World

September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come

September 1, 2011
Sailing for Humanity

August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work

August 1, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish

July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books

July 1, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas

June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala

June 1, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise

May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now

May 1, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala

April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas

April 1, 2011
At Last in the San Blas

March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon

March 1, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!

February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2

February 1, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1

January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude

December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane

December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba

December 1, 2010
Stuck in Curacao

November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing

November 1, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks

October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe

October 4, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal

September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing

September 1, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea

August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao

August 1, 2010
Bonaire Diving

July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire

July 1, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles

June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent

June 1, 2010
Right Place, Right Time

May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle

May 1, 2010
To the Grenadines

April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon

April 1, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II

March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1

March 1, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing

February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations

February 1, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands

January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa

January 1, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............

December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing

December 1, 2009
Moving On To Morocco

November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med

November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone

October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol

October 1, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise

September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles

September 1, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well

August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca

August 1, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca

July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast

July 1, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia

June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa

June 1, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails

May 15, 2009
Into Africa

May 1, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia

April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy

April 1, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles

March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling

March 1, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports

February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta

February 1, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2

January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1

January 2, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time

December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear

December 1, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend

November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise

November 1, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz

October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman

October 1, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins

September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta

September 1, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story

August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

August 1, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians

July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca

July 1, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe

June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece

June 1, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey

May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey

April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living

April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip

April 1, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget

March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi

March 1, 2008
Home Sweet Home

February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising

February 1, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World

January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free

January 1, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni

January 1, 2008
About Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Voyage Itinerary

August 1, 2010
Bonaire Diving

By Tom Morkin

I lost my scuba diving buddy 18 years ago in Japan when she suffered a collapsed lung. When I say ‘lost her’ I don’t mean I really lost her. I mean Liz stopped scuba diving after they pumped her lung back up. This loss is not a total ‘black cloud’. We don’t have to buy and carry two sets of dive gear on the boat so we save a bit of money and storage space. However, when you sail into one of the premier diving destinations on the planet, the crew’s enthusiasm is a tad muted. Sure, being a kid in a candy shop is great but not as good as when your buddy is ther

e, and let’s face it, solo scuba diving is frowned upon in many circles. In fact I think “Thou shalt not dive alone” is one of the PADI and NAUI commandments.

So this was the situation on board Feel Free upon arriving in Bonaire. I was so close and yet so far. That is, until Jeff, Raine and Julia, all not just avid divers but also dive instructors, sailed in from Trinidad on their lovely J40, Gryphon. That’s when everything fell into place. The candy shop was open for business.

Cruising around the world on a sailboat, it is virtually impossible to avoid great places to dive, so why make a fuss about Bonaire?

Well, for a number of reasons: 1) Although there are 98 named dive sites, really, the entire island is one big dive site. Dive in anywhere- it’s all good. 2) The dive sites are easily accessible, by dinghy, by car or if you want to go with dive operators. We could dive right under the boat to see at least 50 varieties of fish, lots of corals and innumerable sponges. We even dived under a cruise ship docked at the town quay. 3) Tanks are easy to fill or rent, and cheap. For $99 we got 21 fills. 4) The whole island is a Marine Park. That means no spear fishing. The fish have learned that the thousands of divers they see in their lifetime are totally harmless so why waste energy swimming away from them when they approach in that clumsy, awkward way they do?

Bonaire is like an underwater petting zoo.

The impatient sinner that I am couldn’t wait for the Gryphon crew for my first dive. The first commandment “Thou shalt not swim alone” went out the window as I went over the side for my first dive. In my defence for diving alone, I should mention that although Jeff and Raine were gracious in their inviting me to tag along on their dives, it was made clear to me that instructing was something they did for work and they had come a long way to ‘play’ in Bonaire. They were not going to be my underwater babysitter. Since it had been 12 months since my last dive in Malta, I figured it couldn’t hurt to re-familiarize myself with all the dive gear and underwater procedures to minimize the likelihood of embarrassing myself with my buddies.

So over I went, slowly releasing the air in my life jacket-like buoyancy compensator as I slowly drifted down carefully but firmly blowing out while plugging my nose to equalize the increased pressure. Within 30 seconds I was below 30 feet, the usual limit of my snorkel trips. This put me on the sand bottom immediately below the boat. I knelt on the bottom to take stock of what was around me.

In the quiet watery realm, I savoured each breath from the tank on my back, marvelling at the colourful splendour that engulfed me. What did I ever do to deserve this? I felt so fortunate and privileged to be allowed entry into such a domain and would, over the course of the next five days, do nine more dives.

When you spend a lot of time in the water and 99.9% of that time is with only a mask and snorkel, arriving at 30 feet in scuba gear means the lovely luxury of knowing your dive is not about to end within 30 seconds, it’s just beginning; that the world you normally get to see at only a distance, you will be putting inches in front of your mask.

Lionfish are indigenous in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and are not a problem in those oceans, however, their recent arrival in the Caribbean, believed to be brought about by one or more aquarium owners who, perhaps after tiring of their hobby, chose to release them into the warm waters of the Caribbean where they have virtually no predators. The speed at which they are decimating populations of indigenous fish is shocking marine biologists. Worse still, the population of the Lionfish has achieved critical mass and their numbers are just now beginning to explode. For Bonaire, this ecological disaster could be an economic one as well.

We dived the Fish Hut, Alice in Wonderland, Oil Slick, Tolo, Karel’s Pier, Something Special, to name some of them. We were lucky to meet up with Robert, an expatriate American who has moved to Bonaire for the diving. He too is a dive instructor with extraordinary knowledge of diving in Bonaire and proved to be a wonderful guide. In fact, the underwater pictures you see here are thanks to him.

Robert explained how Bonaire, like the rest of the Caribbean, is coming under threat from the invasion of the non indigenous ‘Lionfish’. These rather menacingly beautiful fish are not particularly large but are equipped with long spiny and toxic pectoral and dorsal fins.

So day after day for five days it was: get up, put the tanks and gear in the truck, drive three to seven miles to the dive site if they were shore dives, otherwise, drop in, swim or dive over 50 to 100 yards of shallow crystal clear water with a white sandy bottom of about 30 feet in depth. This sandy shelf is found around the entire island. Seldom does the shelf extend more than 200 yards before it drops steeply. It is at the drop off point between 30 and 150 feet that hundreds of scuba divers could be found on any given Bonaire day.

Although the variety of corals, fishes, sponges and vegetation is remarkably diverse, the bathometry was basically identical on all our dives.
After our first dive of the day we’d feast on peanut butter and jam sandwiches, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies while re-living the dive, Jeff and Raine so often ooh-ing and ahh-ing about rare tiny colourful Flamingo and Fingerprint tongues and other snails and little wonders that would be completely overlooked by this neophyte who was too blown away by the six foot long tarpon and barracudas that routinely drifted by.

I was also preoccupied by multiples of very tasty looking yellowtail and red snappers, parrot fish and groupers who seemed to know, that anywhere else in the world I’d be trying to take them home for dinner, but here I was content with the visual feast. After all, I’d had those peanut butter sandwiches.

In the afternoons we’d load the truck again and off we’d go on another magical mystery tour and so it went for five days. In addition to the shore dives and two dives off Feel Free, I had to take advantage of the many moorings available for dive boats only, no overnighting and no boats over 38 feet. I dinghied off, tied to a mooring and spent 45 minutes hanging out with a school of very ‘kick-back’, four to six foot tarpon. These large and lethargic silver beasts seem to have not much to do and seem content to just hover all day in one spot. Only by approaching them will they actually move. It begged the question: how did they get so big doing so little? They looked too lazy to eat. I couldn’t imagine them ever moving fast enough to catch anything to eat. But what a treat to hang with these big critters and that’s what I would do – drop down to 50 feet and slowly approach a couple of them within six to ten feet. These creatures, bigger than me, would just stare at me for 10 minutes or so, I marvelling at their size, shape and obvious power, they, probably bored, wondering why this land creature didn’t have anything better to do with his day.

As is always the case in this cruising lifestyle, you are constantly leaving your friends, or in this case, they were leaving us. Jeff and Raine were on a schedule. They had 750 miles to go to the Panama Canal, and then on to New Zealand and we were off to visit Curacao, the second of the ABC Islands. (Jeff and Raine emailed this picture of themselves in front of a fort after their arrival in Panama.)

I was later to discover that to see tarpon at night is an entirely different matter. Divers in Bonaire call them bullets for the speed at which they attack their prey. The loud thumps yachties report at night are usually terrified fish ricocheting off their boat’s hull fleeing these night bullets.

We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, knowing that within four months Gryphon would be on the other side of the planet from us. A little tough to take, but is just one of the hazards of the cruising game. On the positive side, chances are our wakes will cross again. Who knows where and when, but we can rest assured there will be stories to be told.