There is a dive site on the Caribbean Island of Bonaire that was not named for the fish one might see, the coral formations, or some romantic reason. It was named for the way in which the first divers entered the water. The name of this dive site is Rappel. The idea behind such an unusual method of getting in the water was to see if rappelling -descending a mountain or the face of a cliff by using ropes – was possible in full scuba equipment without too much danger.

Stan Gdowksi, a mountaineer, and diver from New Jersey, traveled to Bonaire with all the necessary gear and was in charge of all the aspects of the rappel. He also explained the techniques to me and together we made many practice descents on small faces of cliffs with the scuba equipment. Finally, after I felt reasonably assured that I was ready, a suitable location was chosen for the actual rappel in full scuba gear. We soon found it was possible, without too much danger, but the main feature of the entire exercise was what was discovered upon entering the water. Before this no one had dived in the area and neither of us expected such beauty underwater. Photographs from 1974.


Rappel is like no other reef on Bonaire. The 65-foot sheer face above the water line continues underwater to a depth of about 35 feet. Here the reef flattens out to a ledge about 50 to 70 feet wide before taking a spectacular drop to several hundred feet. Both the shallows and the drop-off are covered with corals of every description.

Just below the present-day water level there is a beautiful undercut formed when the oceans were lower. It is very much like swimming in a cave but with one side completely open. Waves smash overhead, causing a churning of white water and a deep rumble, that a diver can both hear and feel. Pockets of air trapped in crevices and holes disappear when a wave strikes and then suddenly return as the wave recedes. All along this cavern are orange cup corals, many of which, because of the low light, are out feeding. Their tiny orange tentacles wave relentlessly in the surge.

There is also a pair of French Angelfish that make this area their home, along with a large Tiger Grouper. Lately, a school of 10 or more Barracuda have been frequenting the reef.

Because the shallow area directly under the cavern is well covered in shadows from the overhead cliff, interesting available light photography can be done easily. Contrast from the outlined undercut and the blue water gives a very unusual effect. Sunlight beams down from the surface. Divers need only swim a few feet out of the shadow to become completely covered in strong sunlight, enough that a strobe is not absolutely essential.

At one time a very small section of Rappel was used as a dumping area for electrical fixtures such as air conditioners and small transformers. This was long before the rules governing the protection of Bonaire’s reefs were in effect. The dive operators on Bonaire got together, and with the help of about 10 divers, removed almost every piece of debris, making Rappel perhaps one of the most beautiful and unique reefs on Bonaire.

Nowadays at Rappel

The dive boats from all the shops and hotels take trips to Rappel and tie up to the permanent mooring there so no anchors will damage the reef. It is no longer necessary to push off the top of the cliff with rope and carabineers, laden down with full scuba gear to see the reef and fish. If you actually want to do Rappel the classic way you can bring your ropes – but the trip back up the cliff is a bit harder than getting down.


It is interesting after more than 30 years since the first and only two divers to have done this, how many people now claim they rappelled with Stan and me that and other days. Oh, how history changes over the years!!

Bruce Bowker

Repairs and Some Other Things

When you bring in a piece of equipment to be checked or repaired it helps if you can remember the following:

  • If you are repairing an Air II, Air Source, Sherwood Genesis or equivalent (these are the regulator/inflator combinations on a BCD), also bring your main regulator. If the problem is a free flow of air, it is possible the first stage of your regulator is putting out too much pressure and causing the unit to free flow. Just because your main 2nd stage is not free flowing does not mean that the 1st stage is correct. Also, the repair shop may not have the correct hose so checking the unit would be impossible without the regulator.
  • A free flow is any air coming from a regulator, be it a bubble every 10 seconds or a constant blast of air. It is flowing and it is doing so freely. When a repair person asks if it free flowing, say yes if any air is coming out unwanted.
  • The world is coming to an end – I have an o-ring leak! An o-ring leak is not the end of the world. It is best to get it fixed but if it is one bubble every minute, one does not have to swim to the surface as fast as possible and walk across the water to get to land. It takes a huge leak to lose any appreciable amount of air. Someone who says they have a small leak, and their dive was 25 minutes shorter because of it, was doing something else wrong. One manufacturer actually built a regulator that intentionally leaks air. This is to keep the 1st stage water free and environmentally seals the first stage. The total amount of air lost is probably one or two breaths at best. A major air leak from a regulator or other item should be looked at and fixed immediately.
  • If you are diving and find yourself emptying air from your BCD a few times per dive and you have not put air in it, the auto inflator is leaking. This is usually a simple repair and should be done as soon as possible. With most BCDs, the inflator along with the corrugated hose can be removed from the BCD by unscrewing it at the top. I prefer working on them this way as it is much easier than with the entire BCD. If you do this make sure you do not lose any o-rings or a flat rubber ring.
  • A simple maintenance procedure is to dry the dust cap before placing it back on the first stage air inlet. This can be done easiest with just a small amount of air from your tank. Some people actually “dry” the regulator air inlet which in theory could not have any water and then put a wet dust cap in place negating whatever they thought they were trying to do in the first place. Obviously be careful not to blow the water from the dust cap, or from anywhere else, into the air inlet when drying. I put the dust cap tight against the tank valve and slowly open the valve. This allows just a tad of air to dry it and does not make so much noise that people need a set of Bose noise canceling headphones!
    • Although this is not really a repair it will certainly help save repairs in the future. The reason for the dust cap is to keep dirt out but more importantly it is to keep water out so make sure it is in place when washing the regulator. Some plastic dust caps have an o-ring in them. Without the o-ring it is probably not watertight so check that the o-ring is there.
  • Annual servicing of dive equipment – this will probably start arguments (actually it will start arguments) but I am not a great fan of yearly servicing. I have seen regulators that were 6 years old, looked brand new and had never been serviced and others that were 6 months old and should have been junked. A lot of it has to do with how well the user treats the equipment. Here in the tropics the salt water and sun wreak havoc on everything. A thorough washing is very important, not so much after every dive but for sure after the vacation is over. Dry the regulator completely and store in a cool dry location. And dry that dust cap after every dive – put it back in place and then rinse the regulator.
    • Some people charge as much as $100,- for a yearly service and I have heard of even higher than that–how about $250,- ! Think about this – if you don’t service your regulator for 2 or 3 years you can buy a new one! The manufacturers say this yearly overhaul must be done to maintain the warranty. Actually a few companies now say every 2 years. Their o-rings etc are no different so if they can go 2 years (and they can) others should be able. A professional might put as many as 400 dives on a regulator in a year. The average vacationer might make 40 dives. Should a regulator then be serviced every 40 dives or every 400 or yearly or every two years? One of the reasons I am not in favor of this yearly overhaul is that I have seen far too many regulators that were just serviced, and they do not work. Some were dangerously wrong while others were just some simple adjustments. One person paid an outrageous amount of money to have 5 regulators serviced. Of those 5, 4 did not work correctly. I always ask if regulators were working fine before servicing and almost everyone tells me “Yes they were working perfectly well.”
    • If you have a very reputable dive shop that has an excellent record, then overhauling yearly is fine providing you are not being charged too much. It is also interesting that many things that should be done in a service are not. The swivel on a high-pressure gauge should be cleaned, new o-rings installed (all of about $2, -) and lubricated with silicone grease. I rarely see this done. Also, the inflator system on BCD’s is rarely checked. Remember, never use petroleum products or something like WD-40 on any dive equipment. I know the price of service kits and for me anything more than about $60 for a service is too much. There are of course cases where certain parts can be expensive if damaged. These costs would be up and above the servicing costs. Some regulator first and second stages are extremely simple so this price could even be less!
    • Below are pictures of some poorly maintained pieces of equipment. The first picture shows a new regulator piston and one that someone allowed salt water in the first stage of regulator and never cleaned anything. Other parts were so bad that threads had been eaten away by corrosion. I doubt the regulator ever saw any fresh water. In a case like this I would say a regulator should be serviced every month!! You can see how the plating on the piston on the right has been corroded away allowing even more damage to occur. Normally a service would include the 2 o-rings and the little white(ish) seat on top of the piston, plus a few more things. Because of the damage done by neglect, this servicing was a lot more expensive.

The picture in the middel is the inside of an alternate air source. Again, corrosion has taken its toll. Even after being cleaned the chrome plating was all but gone allowing corrosion to start again. Above is another example of storing a regulator away without washing.

On the other end of the scale is the picture below. This regulator is over 35 years old and in excellent condition. Not a museum piece, this regulator is still in use. The chrome is near perfect. Although regulators have improved in areas of breathing, this is still a good functioning regulator for average recreational diving.

Do I like hose protectors? Not really. Here is a picture of one that was not cleaned underneath. Do these protectors really protect or cause more damage? I can’t say for sure but sliding the protector back once in a while to clean under it certainly does not hurt.

Below are two pictures of the cute rubber covers on 2nd stages. I suppose they make the regulator sell better but look underneath. If you want to keep these, then slide them back frequently to wash them out.

  • One of the most common repairs to a regulator is the first stage high pressure seat. There are many styles, and a few are interchangeable. If you are traveling, it might be impossible to find the one you need. If you can, see if your dive shop will sell you at least one HP seat for your regulator. They may say no, stating that it must be installed by a recognized dealer or other reasons. You should be able to find someone at just about any dive destination who is competent enough to change a high-pressure seat. It could save a lot of money and lost time. These seats run from a couple of dollars to maybe $20 at the high end. Think of what the cost of renting a regulator for a week or more might be. If you can get a seat, wrap it is some tissue paper, place it in a film can or some protective container and take it with you.
  • A 2nd stage that never gets cleaned or receives a brief rinsing and is left wet repeatedly can wind up looking rather bad inside. The following picture is for mature audiences only. Viewer discretion is advised.

A really scungy (no other word to describe it) 2nd stage Most, NOT ALL, 2nd stages are not difficult to remove the front cover and diaphragm. Some have a side pin or a clip. Most have nothing. Just unscrew the front cover and carefully see what comes next. Some have a friction ring. Others have another screw-on ring with a friction ring under that. The last item should be the rubber diaphragm which might be blue, black, clear, or white and possibly other colors. Aqualung (US Divers) makes a very small 2nd stage called the Micra that can be a bit of a problem. I have a special tool to remove and install the cover so you might not want to tackle that model. Some really old 2nd stages such as metal Dacors and Scubapros have a ring that holds the cover, and the ring is held by one or two screws. These are a pain but not impossible.

I have had some newer regulators that I needed a strap wrench to unscrew the cover only because they had been on for so long. Some manufacturers make special tools although there is usually a way around this. Using a kitchen rubber top removing cloth thing pad works wonders also. With care, an old soft toothbrush can be used to scrub out the inside if necessary. Perhaps the dive shop you use can show you how to take the cover off explaining any “tricks” such as keeper pins or friction rings etc. Of course, the best thing to do is clean and dry the 2nd stage well after diving by running water through it, not just soaking.

One last point – when you do have the cover off, clean the threads if it is a screw on cover. There can be sand pieces in there which don’t help when putting it back together. Just screw the top down snugly. Do not over tighten. After all is said and done, take a gentle breath through it to make sure you get no air. If you get air, you have not put the diaphragm back correctly or the exhaust valve got disturbed. Note – if the 1st stage dust cap is not in place it is possible to draw in air through the 1st stage. There are a few 2nd stages that have a system that keeps the orifice open, so the seat lasts longer. It is recommended these 2nd stages do not get soaked since water could enter the hose and wind up in the first stage.

  • Many divers bring regulators in that leak water or as they say, “I get water when I inhale.” There is a quick check for this which is to inhale lightly when the regulator is off the tank and the dust cap is in place. It is important that the dust cap is in place and sealing or air can be inhaled right through the 1st stage. If you cannot get air that it is extremely unusual that you get water. If you do get air, there are 3 basic places to check.
    • First, is the mouthpiece tight? Is the mouthpiece zip tie or whatever one calls them in place and tight? Does the mouthpiece have a pin hole, a tear, a rip, or another hole somewhere – other than the one you breathe through!
    • Second, is the exhaust diaphragm curled under itself or a piece of something stuck in it. On many regulators you can look in the exhaust T and see the diaphragm. Sometimes using a blunt object such as a popsicle stick, you can straighten it out. Other times it is necessary to remove the front cover to better access the exhaust diaphragm. It is also possible that the exhaust diaphragm is weak and needs to be replaced.
    • Third, is the main diaphragm torn, has a hole or maybe out of place? This can only be done by removing the front cover. After each step try inhaling again to see if it fixed the problem. On rare occasions the actual regulator case may be cracked, or another external o-ring seal is bad. But the above 3 are the most likely.

Bruce Bowker