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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
following text is an email and article that is re-printed with permision from
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 –