He insisted that Hughes get Padi certified, which Peter did on December 12, 1975. Plans on opening a resort in Jamaica fell through and Ray finally sent Peter to Bonaire in late December of 1975 to explore the idea of opening a dive operation in conjunction with the Flamingo Beach Club. The Hughes were to be there a short two weeks and send Ray a full report on their observations. Accustomed to the verdant, rich scenery of both Tobago and Roatan, the couple were grateful that they were to spend such a short time on the sparsely vegetated island.
However, less than a week after their arrival, Peter saw the tremendous potential of opening a dive operation on the island...after all, the island hosted only one dive shop, Aquaventures, owned and operated by the colorful Capt Don Stewart. After a brief phone conversation with his employer, Peter was hesitant to inform Alice that they were to stay on and open a dive shop for Ray. Alice expressed what they both were feeling when she burst into tears, wondering aloud 'how on earth they could stay on this barren island another six months!' The couple made the best of it, however, and began the business of “managing a dive shop” with a very old 15' Boston Whaler boat, old steel tanks, and 1 x 7 cfm compressor.
With Ray's support, the Hughes built up a very successful dive business right on the grounds of the Flamingo Beach Resort. Ray's desire to expand quickly in other areas, however, backfired and his company went bankrupt in 1977, enabling the couple to buy the assets of the company on public auction.
It was then that they started their own company called Dive Bonaire N.V. The Hughes developed many systems for land-based dive operations, air fill and delivery systems, boat design, boarding ladders, tank racks on boats, etc that allowed them to handle up to 250 divers/day for 3 dives/day..for six consecutive weeks repeatedly. The business handled 6,500-7,000 divers/year with this streamlined system in place. The systems the couple developed are now the standard of the dive industry and are in place the world over. Not content with just numbers, the couple took their dive operation a step further, developing on-site photo labs, the Nikonos Shootout, as well as free buoyancy control workshops.
Peter recalls that two major things happened in his life while working in Bonaire, both involving the venerable Capt Don Stewart, his sole dive shop rival. When Hughes was younger, his focus was on getting as many kids to learn to dive as possible, but it was in Bonaire that his focus shifted to getting more women into diving. Capt Don was operating under the popular philosophy of the time, “If you're not strong enough to carry and load your own tank, you're not strong enough to dive with me.” According to Peter, Alice's response to this was something to this effect, 'Nonsense, I am going to enjoy having you or one of the other hooligans we have working for us not only carry and load my tank, but all of my dive equipment, too. Furthermore, you and your hooligans can also load the tanks and equipment for every guest we have from this day forward.' There was no arguing with that reasoning, and practically every dive resort in the world now follows that protocol.
The second major impact felt by Hughes in Bonaire was Capt Don's placement and use of permanent moorings to mark dive sites, minimizing the need for anchoring and destroying coral. Peter hales Capt Don as a true environmental pioneer in this venture. When Peter arrived in Bonaire there were 12 marked and moored dive sites and so he approached Stewart, requesting permission to use them. To his surprise and chagrin, permission was denied!
The next day, Hughes again approached him, informing the Captain that if he wouldn't allow Peter the use of his moorings, any damage inflicted on the coral by his dive boats' anchors would be Stewart's fault. If, on the other hand, he allowed them permission to use the sites, Peter would install 12 new