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   by Fred D. Garth

"Garth on the sat phone in Costa Rica."

A professional journalist since 1980, Fred D. Garth has been crafting dive travel articles for more than 15 years. He's held editor's positions at a variety of magazines including, Skin Diver, Southern Diver, Scuba Times and DeepTech Journal. In 1995, Garth helped launch the first online diving magazine, Scuba Times Online. His ground-breaking live web article in 1998 using a housed digital camera, lap top computer, satellite telephone and a modified wire coat hanger, allowed Internet potatoes to sit at home and follow a diving expedition at Cocos Island, 350-miles off of Costa Rica's pacific coast. A full-time writer living in Florida, Garth claims to be a registered voter. His last article for Skin Diver Online was "Scuba Trek Through the Florida Keys" in 1999.

Skin Diver Online presents
C A Y M A N     T E K

DAY 1

Cayman has always been an opulent place. Offshore accounts, million dollar condos, your basic Robin Leech-screaming paradise. From that respect, nothing has changed. As I flew in yesterday I spied a couple of monster yachts anchored off Georgetown. Turns out the biggest daddy is the water toy of Microsoft magnate, Paul Allen, with shiny black helicopter and all. Since I haven't quite reached mega-yacht status, I settled for a Hyundai Elantra rental and wheeled over to My Bar at Sunset House for a pina colada. Not that I really like 'em, but it's become a good luck ritual for me. Since I first came here 15 years ago and fell in love with my wife and fru fru tropical drinks, I start each Cayman visit with a pina colada. Call me superstitious.

"The America dudes."
Two doors down, the '70s band America was about to crank up an outdoor concert on the picturesque waterfront of the Sea View Hotel. It's sold out, but I finagled a press pass and slid in. My good luck colada was working already.

But something here has changed in a big way. At the bar I heard people talk about nitrox, mixed gases, rebreathers, scooters and stuff. I quickly checked my airline ticket. Yep, I really had landed in Cayman, a place that welcomed technical diving like the Middle Ages welcomed the plague. But even that passed. Could this have too? Now, amazingly, this tiny island country is emerging as a leader in paradise technical diving. Now it's actually possible to dive deep air, nitrox, mixed gases, both semi-closed and closed-circuit rebreathers and do it in one of the world's finest underwater environments. Count me in.

"Nancy Romanica at her new shop at Cobalt Coast Resort."
I hooked up with Nancy Romanica, who started Divetech a few years back. Nancy broke tracks down here and since then Sunset House and Ocean Frontiers have jumped in and developing tech programs of their own. Nancy set me up at Cobalt Cove Resort, a brand new hotel on the northwest corner of the island. It's perfect. Small enough to be intimate, big enough to have a pool, hot tub and restaurant. What more do I need? And Nancy has built a well-appointed dive shop on sight, with the emphasis on tek diving.

"Fred and his sporty Hyundia at Cobalt Coast Resort."
Speaking of which, I'm scheduled to dive the Carrie Lee, a renowned wreck that hangs on the wall at about 200 feet. I've wanted to do this wreck for years, even since I heard old salts boast about it after they drank too much. Now, it's the perfect deep dive, for air or trimix. It's perched on the edge of the wall at a 45 degree angle so that the stern juts up to 160 feet and the bow is at 230 or so. The deep air limit is 190 feet, so we can tour the stern and wheel house easily on air. Below that is mixed gas territory. It's my first day, so we decide to keep it simple and stick with air to 180 feet. That is, if you call double tanks, each rigged with its own regulator and connected by a manifold with isolator valve, a third tank and regulator with decompression gas (80% oxygen, 20% nitrogen) hooked under my armpit and more hoses than a fire truck, simple. This ain't for the untrained. Of course, neither is diving to 200 feet with a single aluminum 80 and no backup like al! l the old cowboys used to do. In the new tek-friendly Cayman Islands, there's good training and the right equipment to match. And, that makes it a helluva lot safer.

"Divers rigged and ready."
photo/Jesse Cancelmo
The water is so warm, clear and as calm as your bathtub, that 180 feet just doesn't seem that deep. I mean, from the wreck, I looked up and saw a snorkeler swimming around. Sure, I was a bit narced, but I know what I saw. The beauty of a wreck this deep, this wreck, is that it hasn't been trampled by the hordes. Red rope sponges grow undamaged and in abundance. Tube sponges are perfectly intact. I didn't see a single sign of human impact. Even delicate crinoids decorating the railings are in pristine condition.

To find virgin territory along the famed and heavily dived west wall, divers have gone deep. And by going deep they've discovered more than they ever dreamed of. But, that knowledge my friends, will have to wait until tomorrow. There's a particular brand of rebreather down here that everyone seems to like. And it has opened a whole new world. Until tomorrow, hang on to your mouse.

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Cobalt Coast Resort & Suites


"Ian Thomas setting up Inspiration Rebreather and tech rigs at Divetech."



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