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For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
February 2005 Vol. 31, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Sunset Waters Beach Hotel

Contents of this Issue:
All publicly available

Sunset Waters Beach Hotel

Thumbs Down

Moving Your Weights

Divers in the Tsunami

Tsunami Damage

Caught in the Wave

Hawaiian Tips

Dead Fish, Dying Reefs

Pre-Paid Diving

A Guide to the Coral Reefs of the Caribbean

Flotsam & Jetsam

Editorial Office:

Ben Davison

Publisher and Editor


3020 Bridgeway, Suite 102

Sausalito, CA 94965

Contact Ben

Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles

from the February, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

Given my history of meteorological karma, complaining may be unseemly, but this fall the gods of weather frowned upon me. In mid-September, Hurricane Ivan flattened both the venerable Cayman Diving Lodge and the reservations my group of friends had made. After a mad scramble, we booked Thanksgiving week at Sunset Waters Beach Resort on Curaçao. Unfortunately the island, where rainfall averages 16 inches annually, got about half its yearly average in the days around my stay. Despite leaky rooms, a burst dam on the resort's road, and the reduced dive visibility the deluge brought with it, it was perversely consoling to know that Bonaire, where we had considered going, was getting an even more appalling drenching.

Curaçao, an arid, stony island sandwiched between Aruba and Bonaire, is covered with cacti and sear scrub brush. However, following the rains, the small mountains and rolling hills were so flower-covered and verdant that the view from my airplane window made me wonder if we were mistakenly landing on St. Lucia. After landing and moving through a perfunctory immigration and customs check, our van headed to the resort, negotiating sharp turns in the narrow road, washouts from the recent torrential rains, and “Curaçao cows” (goats).

The hotel, formerly the Coral Cliffs Hotel, has been given a new life as the Sunset Waters. Located on the northwest side of the island (about 40 minutes from the capital, Willemstad, and 30 from the airport), the resort is situated in an area of little development — only a handful of private residences and Habitat Curaçao a few miles to the east. Sunset Waters Beach HotelMost importantly for scuba, the Sunset Waters is the closest resort to the primo dive sites, and the ocean is calmer at this end of the island.

After the van dropped us off, my luggage was whisked to my room and my dive gear to the small dive shop down the hill (soon to be called “that damn hill”). Reception was but a few steps away. I got a key to the secure 24-hour gear storage and drying room; any time day or night I could grab a filled tank, load it and my gear into a yellow wheelbarrow, push it about 70 yards to the cove (which was protected by stone sea walls), then gear up and swim about 60 yards straight out. I did just that the next day, and at 25 feet, I poked through the cockpit of an old Aero Commander, its wings lying further down on a gently sloping wall. On the left, Mike's Reef dropped to 200 feet, but I found plenty to see between 35-60' (although never the rumored seahorses). The route is marked by a series of hands along the upper reef, one with a large finger pointing to the cove's inlet. (Curaçao, like Bonaire, has plenty of good shore diving; just drive north toward Westpunt, a town with charming little bars and restaurants, and pick a small beach along the way; you can get a map of the best sites from the dive shop.)

I also dived from the 44' Day Dreamer with twin inboard diesels, a stern platform for entries, two ladders, and a 20-diver capacity. It is shaded and has dry storage up front and two camera rinse bins at the stern, but its freshwater shower wasn't operational. The second boat, the 31' Day Tripper, has twin 100 hp outboards, two ladders, canopy shade, and limited dry storage. Entry off both boats is by giant stride or front roll. (Those weak of bladder or bowel take note — neither has a head.)

Mike and Michelle Day own Sunset Divers; however, Michelle was in the US and Mike, whom I recall from his days on the crew at the Cayman Diving Lodge, was rarely around, and when he was, he seemed preoccupied. Their apparent distance didn't help my planning. Before the trip, my e-mails took days to answer or weren't answered at all. On site, I tried to plan a 3- dive day to include a distant site, but Lynn, an earnest office hand and DM, gave me mixed messages, so I finally called Mike at home to sort things out. On the sunny side, Kevin was a jocular and capable dive shop manager. DMs Kurt and Bernd, both tall, thin, and pleasant chaps, switched the diver's gear, took roll call, and accompanied us on a number of dives. In contrast, Carlos, the captain and DM, was voluble, in your face, and very “enthusiastic.” He was well-meaning and pleasant enough, but his antics and poorly told jokes were irksome. For example, at a site named Rediho City, Carlos drove off leaving some divers, including me, at sea. Oh, just a joke, one humorous in a juvenile sort of way, I suppose, but the more somber in my group were not at all pleased. To his credit, Carlos knows where the critters are and showed us a yellow longlure frogfish and a pair of black seahorses, and he managed to attract a large pod of juvenile dolphin into the bow waves so we could snorkel with them. While occasionally suggesting dive times of an hour, he and the crew let dives run as long as divers pleased, 70 minutes or more.

Before I left home, my editor, Ben Davison, passed on to me an early edition of the Chapbook, where a fellow reader warned that the dive operation was staying too close to home and foregoing better, more distant sites. When I arrived, I requested that they take us to the best sites and they did, asking what sites we'd like to dive and only returning us to those we okayed. Although organized groups have more say in site selection than divers in pairs, it never hurts to make matters clear with the shop.

So, according to plan, I dived the fabled Mushroom Forest, both the flat and deep sections. Floating down to 40', I passed large schools of brown chromis nibbling on plankton and frenetic Creole wrasse flashing their impressive purples and yellows. A seemingly endless vista of mountainous star coral paraded down into the distance. Boring clams and sponges that created a mushroom-like appearance have eroded the bases of some formations. Nestled in the innumerable coral heads were corkscrew, knobby, giant, and branching anemones with Pederson cleaner shrimp and yellowline arrow crabs. Tiny secretary blennies peering from their holes eyed a variety of gobies. The formations make ideal homes for a booming population of eels, including purple mouth, chain, golden spotted, sharptail and goldentail, some swimming in broad daylight. Copper sweepers strutted between corals.

At Sponge Forest, tube sponges reached nearly 6' in length. Schools of reef squid tracked me as I followed a juvenile puddingwife with baby blue and gold stripes and bars and oscellated black spots. At Rediho City, I saw grey flannel spotted soapfish, deep red bigeyes, and glasseye snappers. Looking deep into crevices, I found barred cardinalfish, flamefish, and blackbar soldierfish. (This site, as well as some others, could benefit if the dive shops on the island sent their staff out to clean up the bottles, cans, and Styrofoam cups that cast a cloud over the otherwise pleasant diving.) With the exception of several small turtles and a southern stingray, the biggest creatures I spotted during my dives were several impressive porcupinefish.

Because the reef profile at many of the dive sites gradually rises to within 10' or less of the surface, they also double as good snorkeling spots. Many of these shallow areas are covered with large stands of elkhorn coral with an excellent array of fish.

The real golden rays of Sunset Waters are the hotel managers, Jim and Gaynor Hunter, a Californian and a Brit. Want liquor not on the shelf? If it's to be found on the island (sadly, Patron is not), they'll have it by the next day. Something wrong with your room? They'll move you, often to an upgrade. Want coffee in the room? Soon a percolator and a pound of grind will show up. And, for an all-inclusive, there is a minimum of nickel-anddiming — no extra for premium liquors, and only the lobster and paella carried surcharges. To indicate the fair-minded attitude, when, due to the rains, there were no fresh lobster to be had and only frozen lobster was available, John served it at no extra charge, and, when someone did not care for the paella, they took it off the bill.

The resort's high perch on the bluff, which gave nice views of the ocean, and the landscaped garden area with a large pool and swim-up bar add to the overall attractiveness of the property. Accommodations range from standard rooms to superior oceanfront rooms as well as spacious junior suites and one or two-bedroom lofts. All but the standard rooms have a small balcony, and most have an ocean view. Many standard rooms have been renovated and now feature new furniture and large tile floors. My one-bedroom loft had a spiral staircase (watch your head!) leading up to a king bed, dresser, and closet. Downstairs was a futon/couch, tables and chairs, an unequipped kitchenette, phone, and TV. Both levels have their own AC's and ceiling fans with individual controls. The tiny bathroom downstairs included a hair dryer and large shower, albeit with a sluggish drain. From the balcony, I had a direct view of the multi-hued blue ocean as well as the resort's nude beach section, which was only sparsely used (although in September, two weeks are dedicated to naturist activities, and you can dive with folks who don't need hot dogs to attract the grouper.) The unit was kept very clean and linens and towels were changed daily. When I asked for more towels, they appeared almost instantly. However, during one night's torrential downpour, water leaked in in half a dozen places.

Meals, served in the spacious open-air restaurant with excellent views of the sea, were toothsome and plentiful. The breakfast buffet included bacon, sausage, toast, bagels, rolls, eggs, and omelettes. For lunch, there was hot soup and a meat and fish selection as well an Italian dish, or you could order a hamburger, a club sandwich, or a hot dog. Supper consisted of a meat (such as steak, prime rib, or pork chop) and a fish (such as mahi-mahi or snapper) offering, along with a nightly special such as paella. There is always a salad bar. One evening at the beach bar and grill, the Savage Turtle, they did a barbecue with chicken, pork, and steak. For dessert, there's fruit, a variety of cakes, or creamy, delicious ice cream that's made fresh on the island.

Sunset Waters Beach HotelHotel guests included Americans and Europeans, including several Dutch guests, which added a friendly international flavor to the resort. While many dived, some came just to sit in the sun — when it was out — or pass time putting on the 18-hole miniature golf course, taking out a kayak or pedal boats, or hanging out in the pool at the swim-up bar — all nice amenities for a hotel with so much good diving available.

Curaçao diving is about healthy and prolific corals and tropical fish, nearly all those found in Humann's Reef Fish ID text. I saw trumpetfish in various sizes and color phases — even an iridescent blue spotted coronet fish — as well as slender filefish hiding in the sea rods and adult spotted drums patrolling their grottoes. While grouper and angelfish were in short supply, a rainbow of Christmas tree worms festooned almost every coral formation. As for coral, Curaçao has among the best in the Caribbean: stony varieties such as pillar, finger, yellow pencil, lettuce, knobby, brain, flower, solitary disc, Atlantic mushroom, boulder and great star, along with some very photogenic elkhorn. Soft coral varieties include lush black corals at surprisingly shallow depths and graceful wire and sea rod corals. Diving takes place around 60' and above, although the gently sloping wall has sections that take you to 200' and well below. The nature of most sites allows for gradual ascents up the reef with plenty to see in the 15-20' range.

As an added boon, the diving is easy. The crew loaded and unloaded my BC and regulator each day and rinsed it after the last dive. I transported the rest in large plastic tubs to store overnight. I dived Nitrox ($120/week); though they advertise blends up to 40%, they can't give precise blends — my mixtures ranged from 31.5 to 35.7. Tank fills ran from a scanty 2,700 to a more normal 3,000 psi. Water temps underneath the ubiquitous thermocline ranged as low as 79, while above they could hit a much more clement 84° F. The heavy rains lowered the visibility from its usual 125 feet to the 60-100 foot range, although closer to the surface the odd plume of rain-driven mud could reduce visibility to the 10-20' range. Currents were mild to nonexistent, though once we did get enough current to require us to surface on the mooring line, which was encrusted with nematocyst-bearing creatures. Once onboard, I discovered the boat had no vinegar, meat tenderizer, nor other neutralizers aboard; fat fingers, swollen palms, and persistent gripes were evident for several days. Since gloves are not prohibited, shove a pair into your BC pocket, just in case.

A few stingers aren't enough to dampen an otherwise enjoyable week, although it was dampened by rain. Sunset Waters is a pleasant resort with fine ambiance, easy shore diving, relaxed boat diving, and outrageous Caribbean corals teeming with small marine life. It's a fine venue for beginning divers, photographers, and divers with nondiving spouses who want to soak up the sun — just be sure to pick a better weather month than I did.

Sunset Waters Beach HotelDiver's Compass: American, Air Jamaica, and others fly from various gateways. . . . My week, including room, food, all beverages, two boat dives a day, and unlimited shore diving, ran $1,300. Call 866-5-SUNSET or visit . . . The dive shop has little for sale beyond the usual dive shirts, but they rent full a range of gear as well as digital cameras. . . ..The office contains a PC for guest use at $5 for 15 minutes; outside is a pay phone for which the resort sells calling cards. . . . There's a small shop that carries toiletries, batteries, candy, snack food, T-shirts, and a few gift items, but supplies are limited, and it's a long trip to the nearest stores. . . . The main city of Willemstad features a row of pastel-hued buildings across the channel from Otra Banda to Punda, clearly a photogenic site. One can cross the river (which is filthy with flotsam) on the quaint Queen Emma floating swing bridge or the free ferry. Gazing to the left brings into clear view massive petroleum refinery storage tanks and tall towers belching smoke, all framed by the impressive Queen Juliana span bridge. . . .The downtown is a typical tourist/cruiser venue; there are bargains on shoes and clothing, Curaçao liqueurs, and fine chocolate.

— Doc Vikingo

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