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Aruba dive site

Wreck Dives of Aruba: Renaissance Airplane

There are two dive sites with sunken airplanes in Aruba.  The most famous one is the Renaissance Airplane dive site and the other one is called the Arashi Airplane dive site.  Our following blog will be about our Arashi airplane dive-stay tuned.

We did not get to dive at Renaissance airplane site.  But in the spirit of sharing information, I thought I would still post about it with the hopes that one of you can dive it in the future.   Matt and I tried to find this dive spot, looked at 4 different mooring sites where we thought it could be and never discovered the actual airplane wrecks.  The maps all show different locations for this site which does not help either.  So frustrating!

But, evidently, just in front of the Renaissance Island are two submerged planes.  Aruba has intentionally sunk two airplanes an YS-11 and a DC-3 to help create an artificial reef.  Many of the wrecks we have explored in Aruba have been intentionally sunk and are located in relatively shallow waters.

The DC-3 is a small aircraft at about 23 meters long and holding 40 seats.  In the late 1980’s this plane was confiscated during a drug bust and later sunk by authorities.  Originally it was sunk in fairly shallow waters, but in 1999 hurricane Lenny decided to find a better place for it in deeper waters – 28 meters and cut the fuselage into two big pieces. Several other pieces of the plane have been scattered around the sandy bottom reef called Sonesta coral reef.

Aruba dive site

DC3 Airplane wreck Aruba. Photo courtesy of AquaViews Online Scuba Magazine.

Aruba wreck dive

DC3_wreck_dive_aruba. Photo credit star5112.

The second airplane belonged to Air Aruba who donated it to the Aruba Water Sports Association in 2004.  This plane was a Japanese turboprop passenger airliner that was laid to rest on the Sonesta reef.  She is about 20 meters long and weighed close to 13 tons.  The cool thing about this plane is that she landed with its nose in 13 meters of water and its tail section resting at the 28 meters of water so it gives you the impression it is ready for take off.  The cockpit is still intact and provides for great photo opportunity.

Aruba dive site

Fuselage. Photo courtesy of AquaViews Online Scuba Magazine

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that we could not find the Renaissance airplane dive site.  I am sure we could have paid to go out with a dive group, but that just seems silly when we have all the gear and have found over 50 dives on our own.  This was the first elusive dive spot and it did not help that the dive maps are inconsistent and vague at best.  But nonetheless, it is a cool blog story and I found some great photos online.  Hope you enjoyed it!

Why we couldn’t find the dive site:

Several days later, we went to get our scuba tanks filled at Aruba Watersports and found out that the moorings for the Renaissance airplane site broke off and are no longer visible.  You have to go with a local dive group to do a drift dive in order to see the airplanes.  Phew, at least we weren’t totally off the mark.

Aruba wreck dive

Aruba Wreck Dive: SS Antilla

Aruba has several wreck dives that were intentionally sunk and others that suffered an attack.  We had snorkeled the SS Antilla Wreck and enjoyed the snorkel so much that we decided to come back with our dive gear.

The SS Antilla was 397 feet long, had a 55.4 foot beam, weighed 4,400 gross tons. She was built in 1939 by Finkenwarder at Hamburg and was powered by two steam turbines.

Aruba Wreck Dive

SS. Antilla before she sank

Although she was a brand new German vessel, the ship was sunk intentionally by her captain. She was an unarmed ship used by the Germans to supply their submarines during WW II.  She was nick-named the “Ghost Ship” by the allies who were never able to locate and attack the ship outside of neutral waters.

When Germany invaded Holland in May of 1940, the ship was moored
just off the shore of Aruba which is a Dutch territory. The local law enforcement immediately asked for her surrender but gave her captain a day to think about it. That night the Antilla was scuttled in order to prevent the ship’s capture. Her captain and crew were detained for the rest of the war in a prisoner war camp on the island of Bonaire.

The Ship now rests in 18-22 meters of water off the south side of Aruba.
She is one of the largest wrecks in the Caribbean and rests intact on a
sand bottom making this one of the best wreck dives in the area.

Disclaimer:  Sorry for the funny color on the photos, we forgot the red filter and I could not photo shop it well.  But here you go…
Aruba wreck dive

SS Antilla Wreck in Aruba

Aruba wreck dive

SS Antilla Starboard Side

Timing is everything when you give this site as you don’t want to be there with all of the tourists from the charter boats.   There are a few windows during the day where the site is empty, but by the time we jumped in another dive boat and a small charter boat arrived.  Once in the water, you quickly come to the stern of the boat which is only in about 12 meters of water.

The majority of the ship is covered in marine life including giant tube sponges, and coral formations.

Aruba wreck dive

Beautiful coral on the SS Antilla

Aruba wreck dive

Tube coral on SS Antilla

We came across a couple of giant puffer fish and enjoyed following them around their home town.

Aruba wreck dive

Puffer making its home around the SS Antill

Aruba wreck dive

Another puffer hiding in the wreckage

Matt had camera duty so he captured me swimming around:

Aruba wreck dive

Me enjoying being back in the water.

Aruba wreck dive

Enjoying the bottom of the wreck

Aruba wreck dive

SS. Antilla wreck


Wreck Dive: Hilma Hooker

Wreck diving. Typically I am not a fan of wreck dives as they make me really sad to think of the overall loss of life, cargo, and ship. But then I learned the history of the Hilma Hooker wreck and I decided to make an exception.

Hilma Hooker image courtesy: Bonaire Pro Dive Guide

How the Hilma Hooker sunk according to Wikipedia: In the summer of 1984, the Hilma Hooker had engine problems at sea and was towed to the port of Kralendijk, Bonaire. It was already under surveillance by drug enforcement agencies. Docked at the Town Pier, local authorities boarded the ship for an inspection when her captain was unable to produce any of the requisite registration papers. A false bulkhead was discovered, and held within was 25,000 lb (11,000 kg) of marijuana.  The Hilma Hooker and her crew were subsequently detained while the local authorities on Bonaire searched for the vessel’s owners, who were never found.

The ship languished under detention as evidence for many months and through general neglect of her hull she began to take on considerable amounts of water. It was feared that she would sink at the main dock on the island and disrupt maritime traffic. After many months of being tied to the pier and pumped of water, on September 7, 1984 the Hooker was towed to an anchorage. As the days passed, a slight list became noticeable. The list was even more obvious one morning.

Image courtesy of Bonaire Pros.

The owner was still not coming forward to claim the ship and maintain it so the many leaks added up until on the morning of September 12, 1984 the Hilma Hooker began taking in water through her lower portholes. At 9:08 am she rolled over on her starboard side and, in the next two minutes, disappeared.

Hilma Hooker image courtesy of DailyScubaDiver

The Hilma Hooker came to rest on a sand flat between two coral systems in an area known to divers as Angel City. The wreck has subsequently become a prime attraction for scuba divers. It lies in approximately 100 feet (30 m) of water and at 240 feet in length provides ample scope for exploration.

However, rumor on the island was that the local government did not want to sink the boat, but locals did.  The locals believed this would make an excellent dive site.  So, at the dark of night, several locals brought the listing boat in between two reefs and “assisted with the sinking process” with the hope that she would sink straight down on her bottom.  Unfortunately, she was listing so bad that she sunk sideways and landed on her side hitting part of the first reef.

Hilma Hooker is 72 meters (236′) long and 11 meters (36′) wide.  Her stern is about 21 meters (69′) below the surface, the bow is 26 meters (85′) below and the mast is 30 meters (100′) below.  Her original name which can still be seen on her transom is “Williams Express” from Panama.  There are two large open holds, but you are required to be certified wreck diver to swim in and around the interior of the wreck.

Diagram courtesy of ArtToMedia.com

Being so far down, 29 meters (95′), I was content hanging out around the exterior of the wreck.  Remarkably, I found some of the most interesting aspects to be on her bottom (where coral and sea life hung precariously to the bottom of the ship (upside down).  It is also where we saw a giant green moray eel and several trunk fish.  Many sponges and hard coral grow on the bridge and lots of little sea cities can be found all around the ship.

Hilma Hooker image courtesy Zeal.net

Since this was such a deep dive we did not bring the GoPro to take photos, so the images provided were taken by other photographers, credit give on each photo.