Cayman Diving

Sarah showing perfect form. In December Sarah booked a trip for us to go diving in the Cayman Islands as a Great birthday present. The trip down and back was somewhat complicated becuase it was initially a trip to the Florida Keys which was shifted a bit further south. Sarah had plans to visit with Janek and Emily in Miami (now that Janek has received her PhD. and is teaching at the International Univerisity of Miami -- Go Janek). So she flew from DC to Grand Cayman and back via Miami while I went via Atlanta. She managed to book the flights so we arrived within a half hour of each other at both ends.

Did I mention it was a dive trip? Grand Cayman is not really someplace to visit unless you are interested in diving, or perhaps lazing on the beach. There is little more to it. However, we had a great time swimming with the fishes and eating really fresh seafood (It only seemed a little hypocritical).

Located due south of Cuba, Grand Cayman is about 25 miles long and 7 miles wide. It's a "West Coast" place -- most of the population is on the west coast of the island which makes it hard for East-Coasters to keep the directions straight. That's my excuse anyway: I'm too used to the ocean being east, when it's west I often swap north and south.

David is still working on his form.
Grand Cayman, British West Indies

We asked our first waitress which way was north and she had a wonderful mnemonic for remembing the points of the compass (no doubt brought down from her native Canada): "Never Eat Shredded Wheat" (North East South West). That only helped when she remembered which way the sun set.

Speaking of the setting sun, we saw a very beautiful sunset at a spot called the "Blowholes." It's where the porous coral which makes up most of the island has tunnels from the waterline a bit further inland. When the waves come in and hit the tunnel, water shoots out of the holes 15 or 20 feet inland from the edge.

Blowhole at sunset.

Shore diving at Sunset Reef.

But it was a dive trip; that is what we spent most of our time doing. The most amazing thing to me was to realize there was such nice diving within a stone's throw of the shore. Our first set of dives were at "Sunset Reef," just south of Georgetown, the capital. We drove up with our scuba cards, mask, snorkle and fins and rented the rest of the gear and stepped off the jetty. The first dive we did was very shallow, staying pretty close to the shore and never getting deeper than about 25 feet.

After the first dive we had a beer at the restuarant next door -- most of the shore diving spots have a dive shop and restaurant side by side -- compared notes, realizing that was a perfect way to get our feet wet (I had to say that) because it had been a couple years since Hawaii and our last dive. After that break, we got directions again on where to find the deeper bit and the "Mermaid" The Mermaid, which sits about 55 feet underwater, was salvaged from the bow of a ship. For this time of year she had a "Merry Christmas from the Cayman Islands" sign in her hands. Unfortunately, the waterproof disposable cameras we had only work to down to about 20 feet so we didn't get our Christmas card photo there as we should have.

After that deeper dive, we spent a longer time out of the water, had lunch and then rented one more tank of air to go out again. Going left instead of right we found the wreck of the David Nicolson, a WWII landing craft.

The next day we went out with Aquanauts on a two tank boat dive. Sarah and I made up the diving party and our captain and dive guide Alajandro took us to a deep dive to start with called "Blue Pinnacle" before taking us to "Stringray City." More on Stingray City later.

The Blue Pinnacle dive was enlightening as it proved correct the atlas we'd consulted and which I though might be incorrect about the depths just off the coast of Grand Cayman. We dropped down to about sixty feet then wandered down and around a coral wall, through an archway and popped out at about 120 feet underwater on the outside of the coral wall supporting the island. Looking down, it just got dark but no sign of the bottom. Back on the boat Sarah asked Alajandro how deep it was there. "There it drops down really deep. About 6000 feet," he replied.

Vecina swimming between dive boats above Stingray City.

We were accompanied on our boat dive by "Vecina." (That's what our Honduran captian and dive guide called the neighborhood dog who liked to go out on the boats.) She knew all the boats and didn't mind swimming between them to visit while we were diving.

We met up with Aquanauts on the North End of the island. The North End also plays host to "Hell," Cayman Islands. It's named for the hard rock deposits which protrude from the ground like a very odd looking pond. Of course, we did the tourist thing and took pictures there.
Also on the North End is the Turtle Farm, established in the 1960s. Currently they are recoving from Hurricane Michelle which caused a lot of damage to the facilities and the turtles housed there. They seem to be well on their way to getting back to normal.
And Turtle Reef was our dive location the next day. Again we opted for shore diving. At Turtle Reef you can follow the canyons (light green) out to the edge of a coral wall (dark blue) that drops to a sandy bottom at about 65 feet (light blue). It was full of fish and interesting coral formations. The Divetech guys (in the big white building to the right of the Turtle Farm) said the further out coral wall drops from about 90 feet to about 1000 feet -- we were happy to play along the closer one -- not going so deep allowed our air to last longer and enabled us to get in two dives without too long a wait between them. This photo copyright by Courtney Platt, used with permission. Aerial photo of Turtle Reef and Divetech by Courtney Platt,
© 2001
Grazing fish at Turtle Reef.

I guess I forgot to mention that the water was beautiful! And the visibility even down at 120 feet by the Blue Pinnacle was excellent.

There's not much more to say about the trip. It was lovely and we both had a great time.

Sarah and I both think the most entertaining part was the visit with Alejandro and Vecina to Stingray City. I think the reason for the name will be obvious from the photos below. It was only about 15 feet deep and we saw lots of folks snorkling there, but it was really cool to be able to hang out with the 'rays, play with them, have them play with you and not worry about going up to the surface to catch your breath.

Look, this one has a straw! Sarah likes this picture best because it looks like one of the stingrays is trying to use my snorkle as a straw.