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The Bonaire Shipwreck Expo Capt. Dan Berg's Guide to Shipwrecks information

Historical and current Bonaire Shipwreck Information and images for scuba divers and fisherman.
 
 

COOPERS BARGE

This 100 foot long barge was sunk in 1972. Photo by Chip Cooper.

This barge wreck, nicknamed Coopers Barge, was sunk in 1972. Although an attempt was made to salvage this completely intact sunken barge, the operation resulted only in accidentally relocating the barge to deeper water. The Barge can be found directly in front of the desalinization plant on Bonaire, and this dive can only be done when a tanker is not off loading fuel. To find the 100 foot long wreck, you have to tie up to the southern most mooring and then swim about 100yards north. She is sitting in deep water, 130 to 140 feet.

   HESPER

The Hesper was a 40foot long, wood sailboat that had been purchased by Captain Don of Captain Don's Habitat for 300 gilders, or about 150 American dollars. She was moored in front of the Habitat, undergoing a complete overhaul that included a new mast when Hurricane Gilbert ripped past the area. After the storm, the Hesper was gone. She is now lying in 130 feet of water on a sandy bottom.

     HILMA HOOKER

The Hilma Hooker was a 236 foot long cargo vessel weighing 1,027 gross tons registered in San Andres, Columbia. She was originally named the Midsland when she was built in Holland in 1951. The vessel was later renamed Mistral, William Express, Anna,  Doric Express and finally Hilma Hooker.

The Hilma Hooker ran into some mechanical rudder difficulties while passing the island of Bonaire. She was taken in tow and brought to the town pier, where customs immigrations officials decided to search her after discovering that she carried no papers. It was soon learned that the FBI had been tracking the vessel by satellite on the suspicion that she was transporting illegal drugs. What they found on the Hilma Hooker was over 25,000 pounds of marijuana hidden behind a false bulkhead. The marijuana was confiscated, taken out of town and burned.

The Hooker remained tied up to the town pier for months while officials tried to locate the vessel's owner. After a while she was moved and moored just offshore. Her hull, which was not in the best condition, began to take on water, and her pumps eventually gave out. On the morning of September 12, 1984, at approximately9:00 AM, the vessel rolled over and sank.

Not too long after her sinking, local dive operators got together and took actions that made the Hilma Hooker a safe wreck for sport divers. They opened doors, cut cables, and drilled holes into the wreck's port side. The holes provided a way for air, generated from divers breathing on scuba to escape. This was done so no one would be tempted to remove their regulator while in a trapped air pocket, since air in these pockets is usually oxygen depleted from the rusting steel. Al Catalfumo, owner of a local dive operation, says that he and his partner cut a cable that was holding the vessel's cargo door open; if left alone it would have deteriorated and snapped, possibly when divers were under these huge doors. Al went on to say that the door fell with such force that visibility was instantly reduced to zero as the wreck was enveloped in a cloud of sand.
 
 


Bow and stern of the Hilma Hooker. Photos by Dan Berg and Joe Koppelman.


The Hilma Hooker now sits on her starboard side in 90 feet of water. She is completely intact and absolutely beautiful to dive as well as to photograph. Her large bronze propeller sits in 65 feet of water. She has a stern helm which is excellent for photos and, due to the usual amount of good ambient light, wide angle photographs result in nice bow and stern shots. The Hooker has also turned into a good fish haven. Her rusting structure is refuge to all types of sea creatures, large and small alike.

As a side note, the Hilma Hooker wreck is lying just next to a coral reef. This is an ideal location because divers can spend a good amount of time on the wreck, and then slowly ascend while exploring the reef. This extends bottom time exploration, while divers are still out gassing.

        LA MACHACA

The upside down remains of the La Machaca. Photo by Chip Cooper.


This small fishing boat was originally sunk in 120 feet of water and then relocated  as a dive site and fish haven. She is now lying upside down in 33 feet of water in front of Captain Don's Habitat. The wreck is home to a large tiger grouper and a pair of black margates.

MARI BAHN

Maria Bahn shipwreck Bonaire The Mari Bahn, which is Gaelic for Bonny Mary, was known for years as the Deep Schooner, or the Wind Jammer wreck. This three masted iron bark, owned by Fratelli Denegri and G.B. Mortola, was built in 1874 by Barclay, Curle and Company, Glasgow, Scotland. She was schooner rigged on the mizzen mast, fore and aft, and square rigged on the others. She was 239 feet long, had a 37 foot beam, and weighed 1,378 gross tons. At the time of her demise, she was sailing under the command of Captain L. Razeto from Trinidad to Marseille with a cargo of asphalt. The date of her sinking was December 7, 1912.


Charlie Guttilla and partners near the Wind Jammer's bowsprit. Photo courtesy Jozef Koppelman


According to photojournalist Cathy Cush, she is sunk in 200 feet of water off the northwest coast of the island, just off the old oil terminal. The wreck is too deep for sport divers to explore but is visited on occasion by experienced professional divers. Photographer Chip Cooper says that her foremast rests in 35 feet of water and points the way towards her deeper hull. She lies on her starboard side with the top of her port side in 160 feet. Her main mast and crows nest extend down to 220 feet.
Photo Below: Stern of the Wind Jammer wreck. by Todd King




       TUG Wreck

This picture perfect little tug is resting on her port side in 70 feet of water. Photo courtesy Herb Segars.

This picture perfect little wreck is located directly in front of the Bonaire Scuba Center. She was originally named the Cavalier State but is more commonly referred to as the Tug. She is resting on her port side in 60 to 70 feet of water and is home to an exceptionally large moray eel. She is an excellent beach dive, and is visited by thousands of divers each year. Photographer, Herb Seagers, says the tug is resting on a sand bottom and is excellent for macro as well as wide angle shots.      

The following text is an email and article that is re-printed with permision from its author Bruce Bowker. Bruce reports some of the historical information listed above is more accurately depicted below.

Capt Dan – thank you for your email. I arrived on Bonaire in June of 1973 and made dives with Don Stewart on the barge soon after it sank, trying to raise it.  It could not have sunk in 1972. I think it was closer 1974 not that the date is that critical but I do like to keep history straight whenever possible.

I am including the article I wrote about the Hilma Hooker very soon after it sank. This appeared in Skin Diver Magazine. Some things that do not appear in the article are that a few of us went down to the ship late in the afternoon soon after the government towed it to its anchoring place. I went down inside and shut a valve that officials had opened to allow it to sink. At that time the ship was too far off shore and we were afraid if it sank at that point no one would be able to dive it.

I was also called in to the prosecutor’s office the next morning warning that no one was allowed on that ship.

Soon though we did get permission to move it and  nearly every dive boat on Bonaire (not that many in 1984) tried to pull the ship closer to shore. That was failing and BOPEC (the oil terminal) sent a tugboat from town and it pushed the ship close enough. We then secured it to some huge diesel radiators placed on shore and donated by Trans World Radio. We secured the ship to these with cable.  I went inside and opened  the valve again. It was dark and rather creepy with water sloshing around. The ship had already taken on a lot of water.

By next morning it sank.  There we no pumps working as stated and the ship was under surveillance even before it got to Bonaire as a suspected drug carrier. It was the engine that failed and the ship was towed in.

The last paragraph of this article was just a joke.


Skin Diver Article by Bruce Bowker

Perhaps it was just the name that made someone suspicious or perhaps an inside tip. Regardless, when she lost power just off the coast of Bonaire and was towed to the main pier on the island, it was not too long before a search was conducted. Soon after that the cargo ship Hilma Hooker went into the history books as a drug smuggler: 25,000 pounds of marijuana were removed from between a real and a false bulkhead and placed on shore by the authorities.

All of this immediately induced Bonaire dive operators to appeal to the government. They wanted the ship to be purposely sunk as a dive site. Hopes ran high as everyone wrote letters and called meetings to discuss a location for the sinking and what would be necessary to make the ship safe for diving once it was sunk. All these hopes and plans were soon dashed. The ship could not be sunk because it was evidence for the Attorney General's office of the Netherlands Antilles. If the owner was proven innocent the ship would have to be returned in the same shape it was in when confiscated.

The Hooker, therefore, remained tied to the pier as legal processes moved on. Of course, leaving this unmanned ship tied to a pier was not only expensive but also dangerous because of the many leaks in the very poorly kept hull. The owner apparently was not about to come forward to answer questions and pay any maintenance or towing charges or dock time, not to mention possible jail time. It was necessary that something had to be done soon or the ship could sink right at the pier causing very expensive problems. A decision was made to move the Hooker to a permanent anchorage until all legal aspects were cleared. Owing to a great deal of foresight within both the government and the Bonaire Tourist Bureau, another meeting was called so the dive operators could suggest an anchorage that, in the event the ship should sink, it would be safe for navigation; cause the least amount of coral damage; and possibly, become a dive site.

After many months of being tied to the pier and pumped of water, on September 7, 1984 the Hooker was towed to an anchorage. As the days passed, a slight list became noticeable. The list was even more obvious one morning. The owner was still not coming forward to claim the ship and maintain it so the many leaks added up until on the morning of September 12, 1984 the Hilma Hooker began taking in water through her lower portholes. At 9:08 am she rolled over on her starboard side and, in the next two minutes, disappeared.

As spectacular a sight as it was, hardly anyone watched the last few minutes of the Hooker's topside life. Within seconds after she disappeared from the surface she settled in 95 feet of water on her starboard side. There was no fanfare because it was not legally intended that the ship should sink.

The Hilma Hooker was a general cargo ship with a length of 71.8 meters. She is about 11 meters wide, her tonnage, 1,027 and was built in Holland in 1951. Prior to being the Hilma Hooker the ship was known as the Doric Express. Before that she was the Anna and before that the William Express. Before that she was the Mistral and before that, the Midsland!

Because the ship was being held as evidence in a drug case, nothing was allowed to be touched. The Hooker sank with everything on board. It is not one of those totally stripped wrecks made for diving but a true, honest-to-goodness shipwreck. This can create problems, though. The bunk rooms were still filled with debris such as beds, dressers and, occasionally, some articles of clothing. Many doors were still attached and those made from steel can be hard to move. A great deal of caution and discretion is necessary for anyone planning on diving the Hooker.

For those familiar with Bonaire, the wreck is in the area of the well known dive site called Angel City. This is a system with an inner and an outer reef separated by white sand. The Hooker rests on the sand bottom.

Only 90 minutes after she sank, the first divers went down on the Hooker. The harbormaster of Bonaire wanted to know if the wreck was deep enough not to be a navigation hazard. He needed this information as soon as possible. Exactly 50 feet of water was between the surface and the ship, making it plenty safe for navigation and diving.

A reddish brown haze surrounded the lower half of the wreck as rust and dirt settled out of the cargo holds. It was an eerie feeling seeing a ship that was floating on the surface only a few hours ago. The temporary low visibility added to the feeling. Already, many fish were looking over the wreck, probably arguing about who would get which room for a new home. A large ocean triggerfish swam slowly over the hull, apparently not taken aback by this new addition to its territory.

Air still bubbled out of various holes rusted through the hull at the waterline. It was obvious that little was done to keep this ship in shape except for its one main job of making some quick money. An occasional drop of oil, mixed with the air bubbles, slowly made its way to the surface. It was amazing how little oil there was. The only real pollution from the wreck was an odd piece of wood that someone will eventually find washed up on shore on another island or coast.

Boats showed up the next day with many anxious divers waiting to get a first look at the Hooker underwater. Even from the surface it was obvious there was a shipwreck. Its outline, 50 feet below, could be seen easily from above. The visibility had already cleared up 100 percent and no one could see the entire ship in the crystal blue water.

The ship itself has two large deckhouses, one aft and one amidships. The galley and crew's quarters were aft. Amidships is the wheelhouse and chart room. In front of each is a huge cargo hold, completely open, with no debris. Below the aft house is the engine room: No one should venture here. Loose deck plates that once covered the bilge, and many other objects, are cast about haphazardly. There are countless Items upon which a diver could very easily get hung up. Visibility is very low with virtually no light penetrating the compartment.

Although the shipwreck has areas that are dangerous, it is still a wreck divers of all levels can fully enjoy if just a bit of good judgment is used. Beginners who want to explore it can easily stay at a depth of 60 feet and swim around the outside. Those with a bit more experience can dive to 70 feet and explore some open passages. This should be done with an experienced buddy. It should be planned well so no one gets too deep inside the wreck. Very experienced wreck divers may want to see as many different compartments as possible. The maximum depth is about 100 feet so everyone must really pay attention to bottom time and depth. One comment most divers make is that it is so easy to go a bit deeper than expected and for longer than planned.

Because of the size of the wreck, numerous moorings have been placed for the dive boats. All of Bonaire's dive shops visit the Hooker on a regular basis. Because it can be deeper than most, the trips to the wreck are usually the first dive in the morning. It would be very difficult to crowd this wreck. And, since it lies between two reefs, it is possible to finish the dive among the many varied corals in shallower water.

Photographic possibilities are unlimited. One of the favorite shots is with a diver next to the large bronze propeller. Another is the outside steering wheel on the aft cabin house. This is near the funnel of the engine room, which is another favorite shot. Views down the passageways and silhouettes are spectacular in the clear water. These areas are all outside the wreck at reasonable depths, making picture taking possible for everyone. Many fish have made the wreck a permanent home.

For years Bonaire has looked for a ship that could be used as a wreck. With the Hilma Hooker, what began as a bad idea for someone turned into a lucky break for Bonaire and its divers.

Post Script: Since completion of this article new evidence has been brought to light regarding the actual sinking. The source of this information wishes not to have his/her name mentioned but it can be said it comes from high up in the Cap'n Don's Habitat staff-sort of at the very top, you could say. This source says he/she witnessed a phosphorescent wake cutting through the water late the night before the Hooker sank. It is claimed it was a torpedo from the German submarine U-156, which has not been seen in these waters since last attempting to blow up the Aruba refinery on the evening of February 13, 1942, Capt., Hartenstoin, skipper of the U- 156 his not been seen since then either, so he was not available for questioning.

 

Bonaire Shipwrecks information and images taken from Capt. Dan Berg's Tropical Shipwreck book.

 

 

 

For more information about Bonaire visit the Bonaire Board of Tourism’s official website – www.infobonaire.com


     
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