It was the final evening after our latest scuba dive trip to Bonaire, and all ten guests and staff members of our bed and breakfast met in the parking lot, ready to load into our vehicles and take the short drive to the harbor. Our destination was Slip #1, where the ample dive boat was transformed into a lovely vessel suited perfectly with snacks and beverages for a leisurely sunset cruise.
This dinner cruise was our third such sunset cruise with this particular bed and breakfast, and we always enjoyed the cruise on past trips, an excellent precursor to a delightful home-made dinner at the end of the busy week, prepared and served by the co-owner of the bed and breakfast. The dinner was usually en enjoyable commencement to a full week of scuba diving in Bonaire.
Except for this particular night, the events took a rather unusual turn.
After everyone was aboard the boat, drinks started flowing, and light snacks were served. The boat coasted easily out of the harbor, with just a slight breeze north/northwest, and the water was glimmering in the sunset.
Conversations were upbeat, and guests shared photos and stories of their dive excursions. Almost everyone took selfies with their cell phones or cameras, and the bed and breakfast hosts (also the Dive Masters and guides for most of the week’s boat diving) told stories, posed for photos, and laughed heartily at tales that occurred through the full week of scuba diving.
The boat cruised steadily along the leeward side of the island. Seagulls chased the boat in search of food scraps; you can bet these birds knew the route well along this particular stretch of water from cruisers past.
On one such trip, we were treated to two dolphins following our boat, dancing vigorously along the top of the water, then jumping high and performing back flips. Again, these critters surely knew that an occasional appetizer might depart from the cruise boat, spinning their way.
The boat circled to return to the harbor, just as the sun bid good night on the shimmering horizon. We could witness the dive lights of several shore divers in the distance, gearing up for a night dive, just in time for nocturnal creatures to stir in the depths below. It was a romantic evening.
As we entered the harbor, everyone on board was relaxed and happy. Appetites were wet for the upcoming dinner to be served back at the bed and breakfast, and a few guests had become slightly inebriated after enjoying a few too many tropical rum punch drinks. Cameras continued to flash, and chuckling filled the air.
The water was dark and as smooth as glass in the harbor, glistening slightly in the lights of the dock. All of a sudden, our boat jolted slightly. The captain was expertly maneuvering the boat through the narrow channel, but again, another bump! We were nowhere near the slip entry.
A passenger soon let out a gasp. More guests leaned to the starboard side of the boat, where the last bump had originated. As I peered overboard to see what the commotion was all about, I observed a floating object. At first, I thought it might be a lady’s jacket or piece of clothing, along with a hat, which appeared to be bobbing around as well.
Soon the Dive Masters and bed and breakfast staff members were speaking in rapid Dutch and German. Someone shouted for a flashlight. It was soon discovered that our boat had struck not a bundle of clothing or a sunhat, but a body. A woman’s body.
After careful navigation, the captain steered our boat into the slip, and a Dive Master jumped out on the ramp quickly, with his cell phone to his ear as he called the authorities. The body floated just beyond the reach of the walk way, but it was clearly visible as everyone exited the boat onto the dock.
The mood turned somber, and several individuals in our party stood at the edge of the dock closer to the body to garner the last look. The woman was face down in the water, arms outstretched, hat drifting away from her as the water rippled her body from our boat’s activity.
We were instructed to exit the area and walk to our vehicles and meet back at the bed and breakfast for dinner. Everyone did so, still in shock about what was just witnessed in the harbor.
Our hosts and Dive Masters met us back at the bed and breakfast over an hour later. We enjoyed the delicious meal much later in the evening, but the dialogue was guarded. Most guests pitched in for clean up, along one last drink before turning in for the night and packing for the trip home the following morning.
We found out after our trip that the dead woman was a single, retired European local who lived on a boat docked in the harbor. She had apparently just returned from the market while our group was enjoying the sunset cruise as two fresh bags of groceries and produce were found on the floor of her boat. Her two dogs were also discovered inside her boat; the dogs lived and traveled with her, according to neighbors who knew the woman. Foul play had been ruled out as it appeared the woman had only slipped and fallen, probably hitting her head on a hard surface as she tumbled and then drowned in the water.
So, a scuba diver never knows when the unusual will occur on a dive trip, be it below the surface or during a surface interval. Dead sea life, turbulent waters, and scuba diving accidents can be an unfortunate, unexpected occurrence. Dead bodies, not so much.