Saturday, December 16, 2006

Captain Don's Habitat

Captain Don's Habitat resort in Bonaire stands out amongst other dive resorts as being the best of the best. One of the oldest and certainly most influential dive operations, in one of the best dive destinations in the world. When a cruiseship-sized yacht pulls into Bonaire and needs dive leaders, Capt. Don's staff get tapped for the job.

So it's almost (almost) surprising that a place which has so much to be proud of, is so friendly, laid back, and accessible to the average dive tourist. Capt. Don's is not so much a collection of achievements, as an attitude and feeling. Gezeligheid the Dutch call it. "Diving Freedom" is their term. Tanks, dock, support, a spectacular reef and all just minutes from your room or villa. All the experience of the highest quality liveaboards, without the sea sickness.

Most of what Captain Don's Habitat is can be traced to two great groups of people. First, there's Captain Don himself. DEMA Scubadiving Hall of Famer, he is responsible for the Marine Park surrounding Bonaire, the sinking of the Hilma Hooker, and starting the Habitat resort. The second and equally important part of the puzzle are the staff who carry on Captain Don's original dream.

From Jack, the General Manager of both Habitat resorts (Bonaire & Curacao) to Jheisen (Jason) your friendly provider of food and beer, each person understands that they are there to help improve your diving experience. And they all truly like what they're doing and so do a damn good job of it!

The resort staff are either part of the hotel/bar/restaurant or the dive shop. But it hardly matters. Everyone dives! The waitstaff are just as aware of the timing of the afternoon boat as the divemasters.

And the people, the customers, that this collection of tradition and preservation draws are second to none. No one shows up for the beaches. There hardly are any. We're all there of one common mind, to explore, enjoy, and protect the spectacular underwater world that makes this island special.

The Habitat is made special by the reefs it straddles. Just a short swim from the shallows surrounding the dock (be careful, that's firecoral there) and you reach the wall. Coral grows on everything. Sponges abound. Fish range from the smallest of fry to giant predators like the 7 foot long green eel who prowls the night beneath the tarpins circling above.

In fact, if you haven't been night diving yet, this is a wonderful place to start! Instructors, experienced buddies, rental lights and more mean you can overcome your initial night jitters and soon end up seeing more than in any daylight dive. "Shift change" on a sunset dive is the most spectacular. The schools that swam openly in the light come towards the reef and start choosing sheltered spots to sleep. At the same time, the things which hid out of site within the reef crawl out and start their night feeding. Lobster and eel and octopus are the most spectacular, but so is a bloom of living coral pollips; out of site, but no less fragile, during the day.

The resort can pamper a guest who chooses. Massage therapy for those cramped swimming muscles is there for the asking. But most there are too busy getting more cramps. Tired bones can also rest for the night at Rum Runner's Restaurant and/or the Deco Bar.

Unlike a traditional vacationer's resort, here the point of the resort is diving. Ellsewhere the point is more about the resort making money by offering services including some to divers. Semantics? No way!

Instead of going for the quick buck. Habitat has a long history of repeat divers who come over and over for the reef, and the atmosphere. Improvements are constant and ongoing, but cutting back on the diving experience is not tolerated. What used to be the head office is now a car rental agency. The old frontdesk now serves as part of the buffet table busy nights in the expanded restaurant. Grounds Keepers keep hedges trimmed and walks cleared, but it is the diving ammenities that set it apart. Rinse tubs are right there, fresh and scrubbed clean every day. Lockers hold gear right where you need it. Next to the short walk past drying wetsuits to the dock purposely build for your stride in and walk out. Fins, buddy check, waddle waddle, jump. It's so easy it feels almost wrong. Comfortable. And this will have rapid impact on your skill and confidence in the water. Some how every dive feels better than the last.

Is it any wonder I've already booked my next trip. See you there in May!

FYI: This short clip is designed to loop well.


IDiveAtNight said...

Note: In three of the Habitat pictures you can see t-shirts hanging from the ceiling in the bar. Dozens of shirts hang with fading signatures from past group trips. It's cool to see a new shirt go up, or to hear a diver describe the other four shirts representing previous trips.

Irene Bons said...

If they don't offer you a job now they are really crazy............... :-) :-)