Navigating our scooters through the intricately-passaged sand chute, we followed a slowly deepening, tunnel-like course until it spilled out over the wall. We angled sharply to parallel the vertical escarpment and leveled off at 110 feet. Now we were 'wall flying.' With the scooters humming softly in our outstretched hands and nitrox on our backs, we were able to explore more of the famed Cayman Wall than ever before.
Although Grand Cayman is mostly known for its wall dives and marine life encounters, with the introduction of some advanced and technical diving activities in the past few years, divers are finding a host of new opportunities. We jumped at the chance to sample the wares.
Tom wanted to show me the best Grand Cayman has to offer, since I had never been there, and explained that to do so would involve diving the Three Corners of this stunning island, which lay perched on precipitous submarine cliffs.
Most divers will revel in the unique
experience of Stingray City.
The West End, with its calm waters, wrecks and numerous legendary dive sites would be our starting point. This is always a great place to 'get wet' again whether you are a beginner diver or have gills growing behind your ears. Our Three Corners experience would continue on the North Shore with spectacular terrain, wall sites and the unequaled Stingray City, where numerous Southern Stingrays, accustomed to divers, will provide you with the world’s best 12-foot dive. Finally, the East End of Grand Cayman remains so truly pristine and unexplored that many old timers refer to diving there as the best in the entire Caribbean. The deep walls beguiled us to want more no-decompression time and we were happy to learn that nitrox would be available at all three of our destinations.
While I couldn’t wait for our adventure to begin, Tom couldn’t wait to return. I’d experienced a few walls, but nothing could possibly equal my first dive on the Cayman Wall at Orange Canyon. There is simply nothing in the sea comparable to soaring in the blue along a sheer, undercut cliff dropping several thousand feet into the indigo depths.
While hanging suspended in the blue I was reminded that we, as divers, are gifted and privileged to witness firsthand what much of society views only vicariously on the omnipresent television. Our divemaster, Adam, promised that other sites would be no less inspiring. Indeed, other West End sites such as Trinity Caves, Big Dipper and Neptune’s Wall were not only breathtaking but provided startling backdrops for our photography. The wrecks of the Oro Verde, Doc Polson and Balboa kept both our wide-angle and macro lenses occupied.
After such an adventurous start, I couldn’t begin to imagine what lay ahead as we headed to the North Shore. The golden silence of rebreathers enhanced this already wondrous site. We were amazed at how much closer we could approach fish with the absence of exhaust bubbles. We called out, 'Here, fishy, fishy,' through our regulators, framed finned portraits through the viewfinders and tripped the shutters at will. Nancy, our rebreather instructor, later remarked, 'Now if you two could just figure out a way to make the cameras quieter inside the housings, you’d get even closer!'
A Foureye Butterflyfish
flits about the reef.
Our semi-closed circuit rebreathers afforded us all the advantages of nitrox--namely longer no-decompression bottom times with an extra margin of safety. Most important to our photographic efforts was the near total lack of bubbles that allowed us to interact with marine life as never before.
Things got even better as Nancy displayed an array of other toys for us to try: underwater scooters, communication devices and even trimix. Tek divers and experienced divers looking for new Cayman adventures will be in nirvana, especially when using these advances to explore Ghost Mountain, Hepp’s Wall and Cliff Hanger, some of the North Shore’s more unique wall sites.
The silent ribs and hull of
the wreck of the Balboa.
Of course, it doesn’t require any special skills to experience the world-renowned Stingray City. Everyone should do this at least once. Such a close and gentle encounter with Stingrays is unusual, rare and unforgettable. Photo opportunities abound with these cooperative subjects in the bright, shallow waters. I could have dived with the Stingrays again and again, but we had one side of our diving triangle yet to complete.
Ambling down a two-lane road, we made our way to the promised Eden of the East End through rural Cayman, leaving the amenities of George Town behind. By the time we passed through Bodden Town our anticipation was running high. Our very first dive at Jack McKenney’s Canyon revealed a topography of immense proportions, with reefs and walls in pristine condition. The coral formations, swim-through tunnels and canyon-like sand chutes can only be described with superlatives. Pelagics abound while Caribbean Reef Shark and Spotted Leopard Ray encounters are frequent. Rarely did we see another dive boat during the entire day. Babylon, Cabaña Wall, Cinderella’s Castle and Tunnel of Love are among the names of more than 50 dive sites that only hint at the wonders to be found off Grand Cayman’s East End.
|Tek divers and experienced divers looking for new Cayman adventures will be in nirvana...|
On our flight home we could only look back in awe at the thrilling variety of dives we had experienced. And combined with the increasing opportunities for advanced divers, we promised each other we would return to Grand Cayman soon. We were equally happy with our decision to not stay rooted at one location, but rather to sample the true wealth of the island. Whether you choose to rediscover Grand Cayman or visit for the first time, exploring the island using the Three Corners approach will guarantee an in-depth look into a rich and wild underwater terrain.