Diving the Hooker

Island Notes 82

The time had finally arrived.  I had more than 20 dives under my weight belt now and figured it was time to dive the Hilma Hooker, a freighter that sank in 1984.  It is one of the few wreck dives of Bonaire.  The vessel now lays on its side with the deepest depth at nearly 100-feet.

I had never gone to that depth before but do know that problems become much more complicated deep down.  Some people become goofy in the head, a condition called nitrogen narcosis.  It is caused by having too much nitrogen in the blood stream and exhibits itself with confused thoughts and bad judgments.  Plus if your gear fails at that depth, you are in deep kimchi.  Your dive buddy is the only one to save your ass. And during ascent, you must spend more time decompressing than with shallower dives in order to avoid the dreaded ‘bends’, a painful condition arising from dissolved gases forming bubbles inside the body on depressurization. The trick is to reduce the excess pressure of inert gases dissolved in the body so they slowly dissipate. Taking repeated stops at certain depths during ascent is the ticket.

Yeah, diving is a high-risk sport.  It puts people in places where we have absolutely no business being.  If not done properly, trouble becomes your immediate dive partner.  I choose my buddy, Bruce, to accompany me instead.  He’s a veteran of hundreds of dives and I have full confidence in his skills.  Game on.

We enter the blue from shore and follow a white, sandy bottom to the first reef. We drop down its face to about 40-feet.  Peering below, I can just make out the mysterious dark hull of the Hilma Hooker.  The cargo ship lost power offshore of Bonaire one day, and when officials discovered 25,000 pounds of ganja stashed in false bulkheads, the 235-foot ship was seized.  Later, it was towed to an anchorage while the legal process stalled.  On September 12, 1984, the outlaw freighter began taking on water through the lower portholes.  She sank within minutes after rolling over, conveniently landing on the sand bottom between two reefs.

Bruce and I arrive at the bow of the beast and swim along the deck that now lays vertical.  Looking into the dark shadows of the hold, I a spot a 5-foot tarpon, motionless and metalic.  It resembles a fish mounted on a den wall.  I swim toward it.  But before I get within 10 yards, the tarpon vanishes with one powerful thrust of it tail.  I turn to look out into the light.  Bruce is floating there with a patient finger motioning me to come back to safety.  Yes, Sensei.

We continue on around the ship’s two massive masts.  We peer into another hold and swim through a wide bulkhead.  I mentally check myself to confirm if I got a case of the goofies. No, all systems still seem ‘go’. When we arrive back in the light, Bruce points upward.  He had told me earlier on shore to watch my bubbles rise at this 100-feet depth.  It takes them forever to reach the surface.  Yeah, we are not really supposed to be here.

I swim underneath another large tarpon.  A teeth-baring barracuda cruises by to check out my electric yellow-striped dive suit.  I grin back at the sleek, silver assassin.  We round the stern of the ship, glide by its rusting propeller, and then peer over the port side rail downward. We can see other divers exploring 30-feet below us.

It’s time to go.  We slowly make our way up the face of the reef.  Bruce stops to check out a spotted moral eel with its mouth agape.  The moray moves back and forth from his hole in the reef’s wall.  This is all part of our decompression plan, but it’s great eye candy too.  Later at 15-feet, Bruce calls for a 3-minute stop.  I stare at a piece of brain coral to pass the time and watch a couple of purple/yellow fairy basslets (tiny reef fish) dart around their home.  Bruce taps my shoulder minutes later and we push toward shore.  It is time to get back to land and its gravity.  The hammock will be especially delightful today. Hilma Hooker dreams are on the way.

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2 thoughts on “Diving the Hooker

    • Patrick – I am well aware if nitrogen narcosis from watching Sea Hunt reruns. Mike Nelson says it is also known as “Rapture of the Deep.” It’s a great plot device, though a serious hazard in real life!
      I also knew about not rising above your bubbles to avoid the bends, thanks to good old Lloyd Bridges.

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