A Temporary Change in Latitude – and Attitude
Back to Bonaire: 12 degrees - 15 minutes and 0 seconds north
Bonaire, Netherland Antilles: Day four of spring break finds me on the verandah of my laid back Bonaire resort, looking out over the pristine maritime landscape. This week, we returned here for holiday, three years after first discovering this island jewel back in April of 2008. There is something for everyone here. One can do nothing, or everything. It is conspicuously hot, especially after enduring an especially cold winter in the states. Most people come here for the diving, which boasts some of the cleanest waters and most unspoiled coral reefs on the planet. As someone who has also experienced the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, I’m in a good position to make that assessment.
This morning, and with my wife safely off on the 9 AM boat for a snorkeling adventure, I furtively booted up for the first time, downloaded an avalanche of E-mail and checked in with my Mother up in Massachusetts. I keep a weather eye on the horizon for Debbie’s return; all clear for the time being. The down time gives me an opportunity to contemplate all that I have seen and experienced since arriving last Saturday afternoon. And this is an enormously interesting place.
A mere fraction of the size and population density of its two immediate and better-known neighbors – Curacao and Aruba – Bonaire manages to maintain its innocence despite a surprisingly active and diverse maritime industry. As I type, a large cruise liner is inbound just to the left of our resort, replacing another which briefly disgorged scores of tourists who collectively descended upon the little town center like locusts. To the right, and off in the distance, the oil storage and transshipment terminal has seen as many as seven tankers in less than four days. The two berths are rarely empty and it seems that another one is always on the hook, awaiting berth. Oh, the demurrage!
In the main town of Kralendjik, at least three enormous, multi-missioned SMIT tug vessels idle alongside, occasionally powering up to attend to a local task and then returning. The occasional coastal freighter, more resembling a typical OSV in the Gulf of Mexico – but I am sure used for something quite different – comes and goes.
Bonaire is one of those places where industry and tourism, residential housing and resort developments and of course, the environment, all seem to coexist nicely. As somewhat of a desert island, so I am told, the medium-sized desalination plant located a few hundred yards from our beach quietly and cleanly provides fresh water for the entire island. Had I not gone jogging in that direction on Sunday afternoon, I would have never known that it was there. This détente does not exist without the occasional hiccup.
In September of 2010, the oil terminal was struck with a particularly violent electrical storm which ignited a naphtha tank. The tank, according to local accounts, was allowed to burn itself out for the most part and caused no major or lasting damage. Nevertheless, and because the terminal supposedly holds as much as 12 million barrels of various feedstock and refined products in 23 shore tanks, local residents were nervous and rightfully none-too-happy. The waters here are crystal clear and protection of the environment seems to be Job 1 on everyone’s plate. That’s a good thing.
We’ve even got our own little invasive species thing going on. It seems that some sort of Lion Fish has infested local waters – no doubt courtesy of a tanker’s ballast tanks – and this has the local dive community up in arms. You know, that BWT standard, marrying a Coast Guard standard to the IMO’s version, just can’t come soon enough. What are we waiting for? Bonaire wants to know, too.
Yesterday afternoon, my 13-year old son and I took the “resort scuba course.” Today, that culminated in an open water dive to 30 feet or so. The activity served to give us another thing in common (a list which seems to be narrowing quickly as the whole teenager thing ramps up). The scuba adventure also delayed my cocktail hour. I’m told that they frown on it when you show up with a buzz on. There are, as they say, silver linings to all clouds. The voluminous paperwork and medical history form that I had to fill out will serve nicely to fulfill the requirements of the U.S. Coast Guard’s NAVC 04-08, which lays out the new parameters for mariner fitness to serve. And, my five-year license renewal is looming large in the proverbial porthole.
A week here at different latitude also serves to give me a change in attitude. That’s a good thing. With my batteries fully recharged once again, getting back to work will be a snap. The kids, however, have a different opinion about their upcoming return to school. I’m having a hard time explaining that “latitude/attitude” metaphor to them. Okay – back to the beach. There’s a cold one calling my name in the cooler. – MP
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Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of MaritimeProfessional.com. Additionally, he is Managing Editor of the new Maritime Professional print magazine. You can also read his work in MarineNews and Maritime Reporter magazines. He can be reached at [email protected] or at [email protected]. MaritimeProfessional.com is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.