Great Cayman Diving at Your Fin Tips
Make Your Vacation a Comfortable Adventure with
Don Foster's Dive Cayman & Holiday Inn
BY WALT STEARNS, May 1997
Grand Cayman is a rare and remarkable jewel in the center of dive destination gems. Part of its uniqueness is its world-class diving set within a community that combines the warmth of island life with the zeal of the modern world. From this vantage, divers are able to enjoy some of the Caribbean's most preeminent wall diving in easy sight of their hotel. The commute by boat seldom takes more than 15 minutes. You can leisurely explore breathtaking drop-offs with vibrant sponges hanging from abrupt contours in warm, clear waters with visibility seldom less than 100 feet.
Making experiences such as this a reality is one of the region's top diving and watersport operators, Don Foster's Dive Cayman. The size of its fleet, six large vessels in all, makes it one operation that is hard to miss. Most entrepreneurs I know claim there are three key fundamentals for success; location, location, location. With this in mind, I'd say Don Foster's has that department well in hand. It has established a new shore diving and operations headquarters at its Harbor Center near the wreck of the Cali in George Town. In addition, it has established a brand new facility at the Holiday Inn on the beach.
Occupying one of the most prime tracts of Seven Mile Beach, with the wreck of the Oro Verde straight out from its back door, this mid-sized resort has a reputation as a year-round center of activity. There is live musical entertainment provided by the infamous Barefoot Man several nights a week, an outdoor bar overlooking both the beach and the resort's large, freeform pool and two restaurants (one designed in British pub motif; the other offering one of the most invitingly priced buffet breakfast deals on the island). Almost every other night the Holiday Inn puts on an all you can eat poolside barbecue. Then there is, of course, Don Foster's Dive and Watersports facility. After all, what's an island getaway if you don't play in the ocean?
The dive service provides watertoy rentals (Waverunners, etc.), dive trip options, rental equipment (the latest BCs and regulators from Sherwood) and those needed scuba accessories, T-shirts and sunscreen.
Don Foster's Ocean Photo & Video Center has a complete rental line of Nikonos and Sea & Sea cameras (Sea & Sea's MX-10 included) and video services for capturing your underwater experiences on tape. The center also features an enhanced darkroom facility for E-6 film processing. Occupying one corner of the building is a new classroom for conducting scuba courses ranging from open water to instructor with PADI, NAUI and SSI. Furthermore, while they are not yet a full nitrox facility, for those interested Foster's does provide both basic nitrox instruction and services.
Diving With Don
The bulk of Foster's dive boat fleet; a trio of 52 foot, custom flattops named Cayman Star, Cayman Sun and Cayman Sea; provides exclusive service to the Seven Mile Beach area. Even when fully loaded with as many as 25 divers, the boats offer plenty of space but I have seldom seen them take more than 20.
Should a large group of 30 plus divers come along, Foster's will happily oblige with its fourth and largest member of the West Wall fleet, Skin Diver. While it might be the King Kong of flattops (65 feet in length, more than sufficient for handling large groups of up to 35 divers), it is used primarily for combination dive and snorkel trips.
Departure time from the beach at Holiday Inn is generally 9:30 am. It is wise to check in 30 minutes before all scheduled departure times. Cutting it too close could mean missing the boat.
Foster's picks guests up right on the beach. In the many times I have had the opportunity to dive with Foster's, the staff has exhibited a well rounded level of enthusiasm; showing guests many of the reefs and critters and sharing jokes during surface intervals. While Foster's does not offer a computer dive option it does allow buddy pairs (as long as both are using computers) a few extra minutes more than the boat's set profiles, such as its 100 feet for 20 minutes limitation on wall dives.
Several of Don Foster's West Wall favorites are also some of the area's most colorful and dramatic. Among the top ten is Big Tunnels, featuring a collection of tunnels, alleys and swim-throughs out to the wall, including a massive passage at 90 feet that is big enough to accommodate a medium sized truck. Next door is Little Tunnels, Round Rock and Trinity Caves. Trinity offers several large, winding caves and alleyways and a small pinnacle covered with a large variety of colorful sponges and small fish.
A little farther around to the south is Sandchute and Big Dipper. Sandchute, as the name implies, is a large, white sand bottom canyon severing the edge of a cascading drop-off. Big Dipper has become one of my new personal favorites. Just south of Sand Chute, this site is graced by clusters of vibrant sponges interlaced with scattered deep water gorgonians and a massive Barrel Sponge the size of a cement mixer. It is also an excellent spot for seeing Hawksbill Turtles and, occasionally, passing Eagle Rays.
Following the morning West Wall foray, Foster's offers an additional afternoon, 2:15 shallow itinerary with visits to several of the region's shallow reef and/or wreck sites. These sites rest at depths between 30 and 60 feet; one being the 184 foot wreck of the Oro Verde. While the Oro Verde's beaten hulk is not much to look at, it has a sizable aggregation of fish life. The most visible is the resident collection of Horse-eye Jacks, Bermuda Chubs and pugnacious Yellowtails, I lovingly call 'Cayman Piranha.' Try your hand at feeding them and you'll find out why. Night dives to several of these same sites generally take place every Monday and Thursday evening. Foster's is more than happy to arrange additional nocturnal excursions for groups of six or more.
Along with their morning dive at West Wall, the watersport operation provides morning outings to Grand Cayman's legendary North Wall. While a great many of North Wall's spectacular plunges originate 60 to 55 feet from the surface, its most prominent features are its vertical contours playing host to a wide range of deep fissures, ravines and tunnels exiting through the summit crest to the open water. However, this intense underwater geography is only the half of it.
While a wide assortment of soft corals and sponges embellish these arousing profiles, they are seldom without a good share of big fish action. Several of the region's most consistent producers include Eagle Ray Pass, Tarpon Alley East and West, West Gate and Wayne's World. Besides a large school of Tarpon at Tarpon Alley, sightings of large groupers, schooling Permit, Horse-eye Jacks, African Pompano and, occasionally, reef sharks or Hammerheads are par for the course.
Foster's principal boat for this area is its Pro 42 jetboat, Cayman Wall. Departures run at the same time as the West Wall boats. Cayman Wall's itinerary covers a wide range of these sites for the first dive, followed by a stop on one of the region's shallower sites slightly inshore. Following the morning outing, departing around 2:45 pm, Cayman Wall heads for some fun with the stingrays at Stingray City or Sandbar. Foster's sixth boat, the 65 foot, two story monster, Emerald Eyes, is used more exclusively for snorkeling by the visiting cruise trade.
Between Don Foster's watersports and Holiday Inn's activities and creature comforts, you can't go wrong. For more information, contact Don Foster's Dive Cayman reservations office in Dallas, Texas at (800) 83-DIVER (833-4837), (214) 722-2535 or fax (214) 722-6511. They can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. In Grand Cayman phone (809) 947-5132, fax (809)-947-5133 or e-mail email@example.com.
DIVE! Grand Cayman CD-ROM: Now you can explore the undersea world of Grand Cayman before you go or recollect the unique experiences you had diving this world-class destination. DIVE! Grand Cayman features more than 30 minutes of live action, full color underwater video highlighting the best of Grand Cayman diving. The video is enhanced with music and narration. To navigate the various sites, the user simply clicks on bubbles found on the main screen. If you are planning a visit to Grand Cayman, this CD-ROM is perfect for maximizing your time because you can decide which sites you prefer to explore before you arrive. The CD-ROM also includes more than 200 photographs of the wide variety of Cayman's marine life. Additionally, a complete guide and listing of the island's top dive operations, accommodations, restaurants, golf courses and many more topside essentials, are included.
DIVE! Grand Cayman is compatible with PC (486 or later) and Macintosh (68030 or later) computers. It is available for $34.95 plus $3 shipping and handling. To order, contact Shoot to Thrill, Inc., at (800) 243-1515, ext. 650.