Grand Cayman Diving

December 1-8, 2011

I always look forward to our annual trip to Grand Cayman. It's usually cold enough in Wisconsin to appreciate some 80 degree weather, but still too early to get really enthused about skiing/riding the snow (or lack of it) at home. As usual, my first day was spent mostly on the beach, hanging out with the gang from Madison: Pete, Jill, Fran, Rachel, Marty and Kay. Chris, Trish, Lisa and Woody were AWOL this year, so there was bound to be less drama this time...

Unless, maybe, Peter's claims about the new nude beach next door proved to be true ?

As if !
But after one full day on the beach to acclimate and a few phone calls to local dive operators, I was ready to pay another visit to the "World Without Sun" again. First stop would be the Cayman Wall on the West End, just offshore from Seven Mile Beach. This is the famous dropoff that surrounds the whole island, starting at about 50' below the surface and leveling off around 6000' or so... until you hit the Cayman Trench and drop even deeper into the Abyss. But most divers limit themselves to the first 100', unless they have really bad buoyancy control. See ya !

The Wall is covered with exotic coral formations, barrel and tube sponges, fan-like gorgonias and other fantastical fauna. And yes, almost all of these are really animals, not plants. They feed on the mostly invisible plankton drifting through the water, just like Great Blue Whales. The bigger they get, it seems, the more they depend on all those little guys. Hmmm...

Oodles of tropical fish and other sea creatures have moved in to make this place their home. Like this moray eel...

And this spotted eagleray cruising over the sandy bottom, closer to shore...

But even a school of rather ordinary reef fish is a thrill to coast through, especially when they form a nice arc around you...

Unfortunately, not all spectacular looking fish are entirely welcome here. Lionfish are an invasive species in the Caribbean. It's the only fish that divers are allowed, even encouraged, to kill within the boundaries of the protected marine park. The Caymanians are working on new Lionfish recipes all the time. Humans are currently their only predator (those spines making up the "mane" are highly poisonous).

After a morning spent mostly underwater, it's always nice to stroll down the beach. Along the way, I passed by the canopy-covered beachside bed that we refer to as the Porno Bed. How picturesque ! But please... change the sheets next time. Eew !

My final beachwalk destination is a bar named Callico Jack's. This year I was greeted by one of my favorite sounds in the world... the sweet samba-singing voice of Elis Regina.

Two Brazilian girls at the bar gave me high fives when I asked the bartender to keep playing Brazilian music instead of switching back to that pseudo-reggae-rap crap that infects most of the local radio stations. And he was OK with that.

The next day, I dove the West End again, this time at a great divesite named "Sand Chute". Visibility was excellent. This was the location of a famous Cayman dive magazine advert that featured a scuba diver on skis, schussing down the white slope that gives the site its name. Two of my favorite sports rolled into one !

This site also features a shipwreck. The Kittiwake tragically sank here last January in a freak accident that involved a case of dynamite and many more cases of Caybrew beer. Fortunately, nobody was injured and the reef fish were excited to move in and start decorating !

Besides the dramatic Wall, there is other inviting underwater topography in Grand Cayman. Many tunnels, coral canyons, and assorted swim-throughs can be found throughout the surrounding reef.

On the East End of the island, the dive sites are more pristine. But the underwater current can be a problem when the winter trade winds are blowing strong, as they certainly were this year. Who's up for a drift dive ?

Don't worry. We'll all float on OK.

"You can't beat fun."
- Silas "Chum" Spengler

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