A Firefighter’s Family Adventure Under The Sea In Bonaire


Diving is a family hobby for us, and the ocean has been a part of our lives since the children were born; we taught our children to dive when they were about thirteen years old, and we quickly discovered that diving was a great family activity our family together through the teenage years. This year’s family Christmas trip was to the island of Bonaire, part of the Dutch Caribbean Netherlands.

Buttenshaw family prepaing to Dive. Photo credit Devon Buttenshaw

Bonaire is located in the southern Caribbean just off the coast of Venezuela and is considered by many to be a diver’s paradise. The water is clear and teems with abundant fish life, the climate is warm year-round, and the water is equally warm. The diving sites at Bonaire are exceptional easy going, vibrant in marine life, and the diversity of sites makes it ideal for all levels of divers. Bonaire has maintained its charm and beauty as the government ensures that all divers take an orientation to the National Marine Park before they can dive, and all dive operators on the island are responsible for ensuring this is done before renting out equipment.

Sunset in Kralendijk. Photo Jason Buttenshaw

One of our favorite dives was on the site called the Hilma Hooker, a small freighter that sank with much mystery in 1984 and located at a depth of about 100ft. It is one of the island’s most popular dive sites. This dive was similar to the others; excitement hung in the air as we drove to the site, with all our gear loaded up and our tanks nestled in the bed of the pick-up truck. We are all experienced divers with hundreds of dives all around the world. One of the boys had just got back from six weeks of diving in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, and the other son works as a Dive Master in the Florida Keys, twin brothers sharing a common hobby and only 19 years old.

Hilma Hooker. Photo credit Jason Buttenshaw

We had donned our gear and swam the short distance out to the marker buoys signaling the dive site. Bonaire government does a fantastic job of marking every dive site with a tall floating yellow buoy, and the island is famous for its yellow rocks marking each site on the road going around the island. We swam out chatting about the dive; as is usual, we carried out our informal dive briefing. We discussed the depth we were going to, dive time, and direction we were going to dive. We do this every dive; many people don’t; however, being a firefighter/paramedic for over twenty years, safety briefings are the norm for me.

Tarpon sitting, waiting, watching. Photo Credit Jason Buttenshaw

The twins were excited about this wreck; since it only sank in 1984, it is in remarkably good condition. It has numerous swim through opportunities and is the home to many Tarpon that like to linger in its hold stalking smaller fish who may cross their path. Mandy, my wife, signaled that she was ready to drop down and go diving, and the twins signaled they too were ready. We all dropped down, and in no time, the shadow of the hull loomed into view. What a magnificent sight, the Hilma Hooker laying on her side, nestled in the sand. We paired up and dove our plan, the twins enjoying the swim-throughs, Mandy and I content looking at all the fish, taking photos, and just enjoying the dive.

Green Moray Eel. Photo Credit Jason Buttenshaw

I am a Dad first, diver by hobby, and a firefighter by profession. For me, when I wear my Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), it is a part of my daily job, and I know the risks I take. Removing it in what firefighters call an IDLH (an area Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) means serious injury or even death. Here we were on vacation, and as we swam at 90feet, I watched my two children swim off into the shadows and belly of the wreck. It was a strange sensation, I do my job knowingly aware of the hazards, but as I watched them swim off, I was struck by the fact that we were in essence in an IDLH.

Just boys having fun. Photo Credit Devon Buttenshaw

On this dive, nothing bad happened. We were all diving within our training and carrying the appropriate safety equipment.  But in that moment, as I watched them swim off, I was reminded of how, no matter how old and how much training our children receive, they will always be our babies. We watch them grow up, share adventures with them around the world, but at the end of the day, you must trust them.

Spencer & Devon just practicing neutral buoyancy.
Photo Credit Mandy Buttenshaw

Diving with my children is an amazing experience. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get close to your kids and I hope others can have the same sensation, diving with my children has been one of the greatest gifts we have given to each other as a family. I hope you will consider taking the plunge beneath the sea with your children. I promise it will be worth it.

Want to go on this adventure or others like it? Contact Jason at Fire Fighter Getaways or Mandy at Downunder Journeys and M&K Journeys for amazing experiences.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Mandy was my dive buddy in Vanuatu and she is a world class adventurer and travel planner! Click here to see some of our expeditions in Vanautu.

Lisa, Tree, Mandy and Sue at Mount Yasur Volcano in Tanna, Vanuatu
Lisa, Tree, Mandy and Sue at Mount Yasur Volcano in Tanna, Vanuatu

Jason Buttenshaw

I have been a career firefighter/paramedic for over 20 years, and currently a Lieutenant in a large metro fire department. Prior to being a paramedic, I worked on cruise ships for about 5 years and traveled the world visiting many exciting locations. There are not too many port towns that I have not traveled to. My thirst and interest in travel hasn’t stopped and if I am not working, I am thinking about the next travel adventure with my wife and travel buddy. I am a certified Dive Master with hundreds of dives all around the world, with a hobby in underwater photography. My wife Mandy is an experienced travel manager with over thirty years experience. You can contact us through any of the following sites:- www.downunderjourneys.com www.mkjourneys.com www.firefightergetaway.com

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