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    Treasure Island Divers & Sleep Inn


    by Walt Stearns

    It was a classic early August day on the North Wall. The seas were calm, the water, warm and the visibility, between 90 and 100 feet. We were diving Eagle Ray Pass and it was as beautiful as ever. An impressive, wide canyon, it connects a deep sand valley to the wall. A few Tarpon hovered lazily in the side passages of the ravine, adding to the serenity. This was our first dive and it was great but it was dive number two that made the day.

    Noting a current during our first dive, Treasure Island Diver's captain, Mark, and divemaster, Todd, suggested a drift dive. Live-boat drifts are seldom done in the Caymans because they require a strong current, which is rare here. Drift dives, however, offer the chance to see a lot of the reef, walls and wildlife.

    We jumped in over the edge of White Stroke Canyon, which features a network of winding ravines and splits through the wall. We drifted west past Grand Canyon, a huge horseshoe shaped canyon that bisects a tall, 150 foot wide coral rampart at the edge of a steep drop-off, and then onto Gale's Mountain, a massive 20 foot hill of coral atop the edge of the wall. When the dive ended near Chinese Wall, we had seen more than one-half dozen large Eagle Rays, a few Permit, several large Mutton and Cubera Snappers and a five to six foot Gray Reef Shark, along with numerous other wall dive wonders.

    Treasure Island Divers/Dive Inn: Treasure Island Divers' reputation on Grand Cayman's famed Seven Mile Beach has always been good. And, they've made some well received improvements. The boats haven't changed, there is still the same great trio of 45 foot Garcias: Milsap, Gatlin and Twitty Diver. They were named after country music legends, Ronnie Milsap, the Gatlin Brothers and Conway Twitty, who were avid divers and original partners of TID. In particular, the boats' tough as nails construction, solid feel in rough seas and roomy decks enable each to comfortably handle more than 25 divers. TID seldom pushes it beyond 20, keeping divers distributed evenly between the three boats. All include onboard heads, freshwater shower, cold drinking water, large ice chest for storing cold drinks and snacks, and a large camera rinse tank.

    Although TID's single story, beachside facility on the southernmost end of Seven Mile Beach is still the headquarters, TID recently (early '96) acquired the Dive Inn operation inside the grounds of the Sleep Inn hotel. Putting Dive Inn under its organizational umbrella made a lot of sense.

    When Dive Inn opened six years ago, it provided services few operations on Grand Cayman could offer. It catered to its guests, lugging their equipment everywhere. Having the right hotel or resort to complement the operation was equally important.

    Between George Town (a short walking distance from downtown) and the beginning of Seven Mile Beach, Sleep Inn is one of the few resorts that offer economy without sacrificing quality. The standard, superior and junior suites (totaling 115 rooms), all feature comfortable, modern amenities; wall to wall carpeting, queen sized beds, large shower, air-conditioning, telephones and cable TV. The suites include a sitting area with a sleeper sofa and office desk, as well as a small refrigerator/freezer and microwave oven. Sleep Inn also offers four specially designed rooms for handicapped guests that include extra wide doors and safety grip bars in the bathrooms.

    A franchise of Choice Hotels International (Comfort, Quality and Clarion Inns), Sleep Inn incorporates a modern, computerized security system for each room door using magnetized key cards. Every time a room is entered it is automatically recorded on a computer. For added safety, each room has a mini-lockbox for storing personal effects.

    The two story building's guest wings wrap around a tropically landscaped courtyard with large pool, hottub and sundeck. The dive shop's boutique and Sleep Inn's own Quarterdeck Bar & Grill are nearby.

    The Sleep Inn/Dive Inn combo provided divers with a small, intimate operation capable of furnishing full scale, personal service and convenience, with features commonly associated with larger facilities. The only setback was the size of the dive operation.

    The marriage of the Sleep Inn/Dive Inn and Treasure Island Divers has created an operation with a class act. This is evident from the moment guests check in at the poolside shop, where they are assigned to a TID boat and issued a numbered mesh gear bag for their equipment. From this point on, staff members take the bags to the boat each day and bring them back to the shop for a freshwater rinse before placing them in the storage area. Guests need only take care of their personal belongings and have a good time. I may be lazy but I love having someone else handle my gear!

    TID's rental service includes the latest Dacor and Sherwood equipment. Instruction (advanced open water, nitrox, divemaster, etc.) is no problem; the extremely helpful staff members are nitrox trained in addition to being PADI instructors. TID is one of only a few PADI Five Star IDC Centers on Grand Cayman, which means it offers Instructor Development Courses year-round. TID also has an U/W photo and video center, offering videos of your diving experiences, photography instruction and rental equipment from both Nikonos and Sea & Sea.

    TID's dive itinerary is fairly simple. Starting at 8:00, the morning series offers a choice between a two tank wall and shallow reef dive on either West Wall, (aboard Milsap or Gatlin) or North Wall (on Twitty Diver). In keeping with the island's watersport operators' rules, all deep dives are planned for 20 minutes and a 100 foot maximum, with 40 minutes for shallower, 50 foot dives. My morning dive was on West Wall, which began at Northwest Point Drop-off and ended at Caribbean Club Sand Chutes, which features several hills of coral, 40 feet from the surface, cresting the edge of the drop-off.

    In addition to Treasure Island Diver's new drift dives (weather permitting), a special three tank excursion to a remote region on East End's north side is offered every Saturday. An all day affair, its first two dives often include sites such as McCurly's Drop-off, Babylon, Mermaid Point Drop-off, Julie's Wall or Black Rock Drop-off. The third dive might be on Andy's Reef or Lemon Reef, a little closer to home. For anyone who has yet to experience East End, this trip is well worth it.

    The top of the wall at East End starts at 60 feet. Punctuating its face are deep gaps and overhangs alive with thickets of Black Coral trees and often adorned with Strawberry Vase Sponges. Vivid rope sponges hang like party favors from the wall's upper ramparts. In addition to these striking sponge formations, you may catch a glimpse of a shark or other large denizen of the deep. During the trip, Twitty Diver's crew will prepare a large meal of freshly made sandwiches, fruit, cookies, soft drinks and cold water to help keep energy levels high.

    The afternoon dive, at 1:30, is a two tank trip to shallow reefs along Seven Mile Beach. And, departing the same time every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, Twitty Diver takes divers and snorkelers to visit the friendly rays of Stingray City. Night dives take place every Wednesday and Sunday.

    Walk in bookings can be made either at the beach headquarters or the dive shop at Sleep Inn. A member of TID's staff will be there between 7:30 am and 6:00 pm daily. Like most dive operators on Grand Cayman, Treasure Island Divers provides free pick-up and return transportation for its dive guests. TID's packages with Sleep Inn start as low as $498 (low season, single occupancy) for a three night package with two days of diving and a standard room; the same arrangement with the junior suite is $624. The price goes down by almost one-third per person in any double occupancy situation, providing yet another reason to bring a buddy.

    For more information, contact Treasure Island Divers' reservation office in the U.S. at (800) 872-7552 or fax (954) 351-9740. On Grand Cayman, phone (809) 949-4456.