So Many Walls, Reefs, Wrecks and Rays
101 Top Sensational Dives in the Cayman Islands!
by Walt Stearns
When it comes to the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands have it all. What makes them such remarkable jewels among a collection of great dive destination gems? These three beautiful islands offer virtually everything the traveling diver could want, whether it be to get away from it all or to get it all in. With literally hundreds of diving opportunities, calm (essentially current free), warm waters (79F in the winter; 85F in the summer), and crystal clear visibility (80 to 100 feet inshore, often reaching 200 feet on the drop-offs), the Cayman Islands continue to charm dive travelers.
On the water, one seldom needs to travel a few hundred feet to get from one site to the next. For nearly every beautiful shallow reef or wreck, there is an equally attractive drop-off a short distance away. The Cayman Islands have more wall sites (beginning no deeper than 60 feet) than any other area in the Western Hemisphere.
All three islands;Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman;are the remnants of towering seamounts, a physical eccentricity that is the basis for some of the most arousing, spectacular and perilous looking descents around. Commencing as shallow as 18 feet from the surface, their profiles run virtually straight down to beyond the 800 foot mark before sloping outward in their journey to the abyssal plains at 3,000 feet.
And then there's the abundance of marine life. Besides the normal fare of small reef beauties, Creolefish, Black Durgons, friendly angelfish and schooling snappers and grunts, fishwatchers can enjoy endless opportunities for close encounters with Black and Yellowfin Groupers. There are also passing Eagle Rays, Tarpon, Barracuda, large schools of Horse-eye Jacks, an occasional shark and a parade of marine life celebrities such as Little Cayman's famed groupers Ben and his buddy Jerry. Throughout the islands, particularly off Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach, divers routinely come face to face with one of the ocean's ancient mariners, sea turtles. Thanks to the protection and release program run by the Cayman Turtle Farm on Grand Cayman, sea turtles have become more commonplace than sightings of Green Morays and Eagle Rays.
Interactions with Southern Stingrays, friendly, delta-winged members of the shark clan, have become the Cayman Islands' signature dive. Stingray City, discovered 11 years ago, has become the world's best 12 foot dive. In depths as little as four feet, even snorkelers can enjoy these relatively safe and endearing full-contact encounters.
The Cayman Islands are also not without their share of great, easily accessible wreck dives. Where else in the Western Hemisphere can you find a modern era Russian warship, sunk without a battle? That would be Cayman Brac's now famous MV Capt. Keith Tibbetts Memorial, referred to by marine environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, as the Destroyer for Peace, a symbol of our efforts to use these former killing machines as a basis for new life.
When it comes to exciting underwater topographic features, Grand Cayman and the Brac's multitude of underwater coral canyons, caverns and caves are considered some of finest in the Caribbean. Unlike most of the island's wall dives, typically starting at the 65 foot mark, the deepest you can go on any of these sites is 60 feet.
The ironstone shoreline south of George Town creates a convenient and accessible region for some of Grand Cayman's great shore dive sites. Depths can vary from as shallow as 5 feet to as deep as 50, just a short (100 to 150 yards) swim out. With governmental protection from fishing and industrial pollution, these sites constantly yield an ecosystem vigorously rich with coral, small invertebrates and fish.
Shore diving also provides the opportunity to supplement morning boat dives with a variety of additional afternoon dives. Shore sites often make even better night dives. After sundown, it is considered rare not to find at least one octopus and/or squid out on the hunt.
World-class services make planning a dive trip here simple. The experienced, quality dive operators throughout the Cayman Islands provide services to all levels of divers and most can accommodate large groups as well. With fully trained staffs, the courses offered range from resort, open water and advanced to specialty certifications. Also available are facilities sanctioned by the Handicapped Scuba Association.
Many of the watersport operations feature in-house photo centers, well-stocked with a fine selection of film and batteries and a full range of rental equipment. Many are staffed with experienced photo pros and have just about everything an underwater photographer might need in a pinch.
The Cayman Islands' highly impressive assortment of hotel and condominium accommodations range from economy to world-class. There's something for everyone, including dining choices to please most palates from gourmet to fast food. There are also several nightclubs and shopping areas on Grand Cayman. Visitor and watersport services are staffed by many amiable Caymanian residents, some with a special history of their own.
The scope of the diving in the Cayman Islands is boundless. To make things easier, well whet your appetite with 101 sensational sites.
This is the largest and most populated of the three islands, measuring 22 miles long by 9 miles wide. The dive sites are divided into four regions, North Wall, West Wall, South Side and East End; that equates to approximately 60 miles of divable walls, reefs, shallows and wrecks. Each region has so much variety it is nearly impossible to fit it all in.
Most visitors' first experience in the Cayman Islands will likely start here. Despite the islands' development, parts of it seem almost frozen in time. The difference between the island's Seven Mile Beach district and its remote corner of East End is shocking.
Seven Mile Beach's assortment of luxury resort hotels and condos, fine restaurants, nightclubs and shopping areas, lines one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Caribbean. And, off famed Seven Mile Beach is some of the most convenient, quality diving imaginable. From here, divers can combine the pleasure of exploring breathtaking drop-offs with the pampering of any imaginable modern convenience.
The commute on one of the area's dive boats seldom takes more than 15 minutes from any departure point on the beach. For added pleasure, West Wall lies off the leeward side of the island, shielding it from prevailing trade winds, thus keeping the seas regularly calm.
A typical day of diving Grand Cayman might start with a morning wall dive, followed by a shallow to medium depth coral reef. The afternoon might entail another boat dive or a visit to a shore site; night dives are also offered regularly. A vast selection of dive operators on Grand Cayman enables divers to explore most sites in the desired regions.
North Wall: When it comes to exciting denizens, North Wall is certainly the place to be, having the tendency to draw the larger fish species. In addition to regulars such as Eagle Rays, Hawksbill Turtles, Tarpon and large groupers, during late spring and early summer sharks are often sighted cruising along the drop-offs or over the shallows. During June and July, Caribbean Reef Sharks and Hammerheads will journey into the shallows to breed and pup. While breeding they're not as shy, granting those in the right place at the right time some very special encounters.
Much of the North Wall area yields an intense underwater topography. Deep winding cracks, canyons and tunnels marked with profound fish action and sponges of vivid hues embellish its face. World-renowned for their splendor, the majority of these sites are off the windward side of the island; consequently, surface conditions can present a few challenges from time to time, particularly during the winter months, November to March.
We begin our selection of 101 sites off the North Wall. Eagle Ray Pass (#1) is a consistent big fish producer. Named for its regular tenants, the site features a series of deep winding cuts and tunnels perforating the summit of the wall. The most notable characteristic is a large tunnel beginning at the base of a wide, sandy V-shaped basin. It drops 45 degrees, shuttling through to the outside at a depth of 120 feet. The site is frequented by groupers, Permit, Tarpon and African Pompano. Sharing similar topography, No Name Drop-off (#2), West Gate (#3) and Main Street (#4) provide their own excellent collection of pronounced undercuts and deep crevasses, some more than 10 feet wide and 40 feet deep through the edge of the reef. Nearby, Tarpon Alley (#5) is home to dozens of Tarpon. The alleys are 10 to 20 foot deep, white sand bottom canyons, with wide undercuts and swim-throughs running all the way to the edge of the wall. The upper 50 to 60 foot deep stretch of the reef is where most of the Tarpon reside. Eagle Rays and sharks, such as Hammerheads, Blacktips and Reefs, are also seen here.
Hepps Wall (#6) is on the northwestern edge of the island. Unique for North Wall, it features large, mound-type pinnacles of coral that skirt the edge of a sloping drop-off. Among these are deep chasms, the most colorful portion between the 60 and 100 foot mark. The main body of the site consists of two immense knolls rising from the inclined substratum to within 55 to 60 feet of the surface. Fixed to its rough contours are multitudes of large, deep water gorgonians and Orange Elephant Ear Sponges. Separating the two coral hills is a 30 foot wide, sloping valley of white sand starting from a large, deep amphitheater on the shoreward side and bottoming out at 80 feet. This portion of the site is known as The Basket (#7), and is well laden with schools of Creole Wrasses, snappers and Horse-eye Jacks, partly owing to its proximity to the island's turtle farm. Recycling its water several times a day, the farm's periodic dumping often includes uneaten turtle food, which the fish happily consume. Close by is Ghost Mountain (#8), an impressive, free standing pinnacle on top of a sloping drop-off.
Stretching east of the main channel are Hammerhead Hill (#9), Three B's Wall (#10) and Dream Weaver (#11). Sticking farther out on a shallow elbow of North Wall, these sites are subjected to a current, which often provides visibility and excellent aggregations of fish life, including regular sightings of Eagle Rays. Gail's Mountain (#12) is a massive hill of coral rising 20 feet from the top of a wall to within 50 feet of the surface. The base is nearly encircled by a deep, narrow ravine with several side channels leading into a network of winding canyons and splits through the wall. Not far from it is Grand Canyon (#13), a huge horseshoe canyon that bisects a tall, 150 foot wide rampart of coral bordering the edge of a steep drop-off.
Going farther off Cayman Kai is Andy's Wall (#14), featuring a highly dramatic, cascading front facing the blue. From the top at 55 to 60 feet on down, the wall is heavily punctuated with large coral buttresses. Not apparent until you drop over the edge, the wall is underscored by deep undercuts.
Delila's Delight (#15) (or Double Ds) is not typically bustling with large marine life, but the sheer scope of this wall is captivating. Most notable is its striking profile. Bulging out from the upper edge of the escarpment are two massive protrusions of coral. Descending to approximately 90 feet, the wall turns back in to a deep undercut, with one section featuring a small swim-through. The rugged overhangs created by the two upper protrusions provide a favorable environment to a large colony of red and orange Strawberry Vase Sponges. A thick forest of deep water gorgonians, twisted wire coral and vibrant, branching tube and rope sponges, and a few Azure Vase Sponges are thrown in for good measure. A good underwater light will bring the true color of Delila's Delight into perspective.
Some excellent shallow sites on the North Wall include White Stroke Canyon (#16) and Andy's Reef (#17), known for formations of Star and Mound Coral 20 to 30 feet tall (resembling a miniature mountain range) and lots of colorful reef fish. In addition, Lemon Reef (#18) and Pinnacle Reef (#19) are known for their large coral heads, ledges and abundance of fish in depths between 15 and 35 feet.
Diving with the Rays: The rays of Stingray City (#20) and Sandbar (#21) are perhaps Grand Cayman's largest single attraction. This extraordinary ritual of man meets ray commences like clockwork in the white sandy shallows (depths of 12 to as little as 4 feet) that are shielded by the narrow barrier reef that bridges the mouth of Grand Cayman's North Sound. When this experience began in 1987, the large rays numbered somewhere between 10 and 14; there are now more than eight dozen. Often, before the first diver can descend into the crystalline water, large numbers of rays appear below the boats swim platform. With their graceful movement and robust appetite for handouts (chopped squid appears to be a favorite), they are the island's most endearing marine denizens. The idea of frolicking in the water with such large critters can seem a little intimidating, but it is really a lot of fun! They can also be astonishingly gentle creatures, allowing themselves to touched, lifted and supported by outstretched arms. The texture of the skin that lines the belly bears a striking similarity to velvet. Equally entertaining is watching a newcomer's reaction as six or seven large rays eagerly clamor about, sometimes appearing to completely cover the individual.
West Wall: Paralleling Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach and George Town, West Wall offers a wide range of formations from walls and drop-offs with colorful coral and sponge growth, to shallow reefs with large swim-throughs. The water is so shallow even first time divers will be comfortable. Although it has more than 30 different named sites, West Wall's most pleasant aspect is its position on the island's leeward side, protecting it from prevailing trade winds. Conditions are usually flat calm with visibility normally more than 100 feet.
Typically, operators schedule morning dives (just a short 5 to 15 minute boat ride from shore) with a wall site, followed by a shallow or medium depth reef in the 30 to 60 foot range. Among the favorites on this side is Orange Canyon (#22), a reef tapestry brimming with color. This is a large, V-shaped canyon that severs the edge with a cascading drop-off laden with scattered clusters of giant Orange Elephant Ear Sponges. Inter-laced with these vibrant sponge colonies are thickets of deep water gorgonians and an active aggregation of reef fish. Around to the north, sharing many of the same attributes, including multitudes of Orange Elephant Ear Sponges and large Barrel Sponges, is Northwest Point Drop-off (#23).
Big Tunnel (#24), another popular site, features 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, Little Tunnels (#25) and Trinity Caves (#26) have several large, winding caves and alleyways to explore and a small pinnacle covered with colorful sponges and small fish. Inside, Bonnie's Arch (#27) features a 30 foot diameter coral archway at 60 feet, often occupied by a large school of silvery Tarpon and Horse-eye Jacks.
Other popular drop-offs include Sand Chute (#28), featuring a large, white sand bottom canyon breaking the edge of a cascading drop-off. The sand is so white it has often been compared to snow. It was even used as a backdrop for a dive travel poster titled Ski Cayman. In addition, the site is loaded with large sponges and gorgonians. Just south of Sand Chute are Dragon's Hole (#29), Eagle's Nest (#30) and Big Dipper (#31), starting at depths of 60 to 65 feet. These sites are cut with deep trenches that run from a large sand flat behind the crest of the drop to the bottom edge at 130 feet. Along the crest, divers will find large Barrel Sponges, swim-throughs adorned with Orange Elephant Ear and Yellow Tube Sponges and gorgonian fans. All are prime sites for Hawksbill Turtles and, occasionally, Eagle Rays.
Just to the south of George Town, Devil's Grotto (#32) is one of Grand Cayman's most popular cave systems and one of the few such sites that can be reached from shore. A short swim out from Eden Rock Diving Center, this extensive system of deep chasms, tunnels and caverns forms a maze in a single massive rampart of ancient coral. Starting less than eight feet from the surface, the seaward edge of the Grotto drops to a maximum depth of 45 feet. Most of the ceilings throughout its network of alleyways and tunnels are perforated by wide cracks and fissures, allowing some natural illumination, so carrying a dive light is seldom necessary. However, all kinds of small, colorful critters take refuge in the Grotto's darker recesses.
Other notable West Side shore sites (working north to south from George Town) include: Parrots Reef (#33) (off Parrots Landing Dive Center), Sunset Reef (#34) with the wreck of the LCM David Nicholson (off Sunset House Resort) and Waldo's Reef (#35) (off the Coconut Harbour Resort). These sites are popular for finding a variety of invertebrates and juvenile reef fish both day and night.
With everything from fat Bermuda Chubs and yellowtails to clustered groups of grunts, snappers and passing Horse-eye Jacks, Rhapsody (#36) is one of the fishiest dive sites on the West Side. Because it features a large, flattop mound that rises 25 feet from the bottom and stops 35 feet from the surface, this site is also fittingly known as La Mesa (Spanish for the table). Loaded with amiable French Angelfish, Aquarium (#37) is also a favorite spot, known for its congregation of Tarpon and groupers, as is Angelfish Reef (#38) which also has several friendly angelfish.
A variety of shipwrecks make West Wall a wreck diving haunt. The Oro Verde (#39) is easily one of the most popular sites, often chosen for a visiting diver's first time out. This 184 foot freighter, deliberately sunk by the Cayman government in 1980, has pretty much succumbed to the forces of nature. Surrounding its flattened hulk lying up against Peter's Reef, at a depth between 50 and 60 feet, large aggregations of Yellowtails, Bermuda Chubs and Horse-eye Jacks are common. Other fish to look for include a few pugnacious groupers, schools of snappers and grunts, as well as a large colony of Garden Eels out in the sand. In all, the site is a great spot for observing and photographing fish behavior. North of the Oro Verde, lying in the same depth, is the 65 foot steel workboat, the Doc Polson (#40). Sunk in 1991, the vessel sits upright on a white, sandy plain, surrounded by Garden Eels; it is often filled with Silversides in the springtime. Other wrecks in the West Wall area include the Balboa (#41), lying conveniently off George Town Harbour. It offers great night dives owing to the wealth of small, nocturnal creatures residing in its broken apart hull.
South Side: When the weather is less favorable for diving on the North Side or even the West Side, many operations will dive the South Side, which offers excellent wall and reef diving. The mystique of this region, besides being less explored, is that most of the sites along this 20 mile stretch are dominated by extraordinary spur and groove formations. Steep drop-offs often begin at the 60 foot mark, offering everything from huge caves to monster sized pinnacles. Some of its more spectacular attribute are the large pinnacles dotting the edge of the wall. Palace Pinnacles (#42), next to the jagged vertical fronts of Hole in the Wall (#43) and Ron's Wall (#44), features three monolithic coral monsters rising from the ends of three large sand chutes. Covering their vertical structure is an array of sponges and deep water gorgonians. Farther east is a second grouping called Little Pinnacles (#45), equally attractive in size and stature, despite the implication of the name.
The shallows on the South Side feature the larger stands of Stag and Elkhorn Coral communities found around the island. If you're into huge chasms and swim-throughs, this is the place to go. The chasms are actually the gaps in the classic spur and groove formations seen in most coastal fringing reefs. However, the valleys here are more like canyons (15 to 30 feet deep) that bottom out at a depth of 45 to 50, even 60 feet in a few places. In several instances, the trenches running seaward through the reef are interconnected by short tunnels and swim-throughs, turning their passages into a giant labyrinth. The upper ridge is where most of the Elkhorn Corals can be found. Examples include Japanese Gardens (#46), Oriental Gardens (#47), Teachers' Caverns (#48), Spotts' Caves (#49) and Pedro's Castle (#50). There is nowhere else on the island, with the exception of East End, with as many sites offering coral formations of such magnitude in that depth range.
East End: East End is still one of Grand Cayman's most compelling regions. Far from the bright lights of George Town and Seven Mile Beach, East End has seen little change in growth during the last 20 to 30 years. In most ways, it is a world apart, maintaining a remote and simple air.
Unlike the walls around the rest of the island, these don't begin their sharp descent until 60 to 70 feet. The most alluring quality of East End is it has remained remarkably pristine and untamed, despite its 58 discovered and documented dive sites. Because it lies on the island's windward side and the West Side's docks are a good 13 to 15 nautical miles away, few boats venture this far very often. Consequently, East End is often regarded as wild and woolly and the operators cater to a more experienced crowd. Seldom do they lose a day to bad weather or high seas; there is almost always a place to dive.
While East End's drop-offs might begin deeper, limiting dive time, the drama of their plunging descents can be worth every minute. Some of the finer examples (traveling east to west along East End's south side), include Pat's Wall (#51), a bold, submarine cliff featuring a well rounded collection of deep, expansive ravines and undercuts. Along with its own collection of ravines and undercuts in the wall, Scuba Bowl (#52) also features one very immense, 50 foot wide crevasse. Just next door is Jack McKennedy's Canyon (#53) and The Maze (#54), both presenting a series of long, deep winding ravines that cut through the walls crest. Most interesting at The Maze is a large pinnacle concealed in the folds of wall in one of these crevasses. These bold, submarine cliffs also offer a rich tapestry of sponges, gorgonians and octocorals.
Three Sisters (#55) features three, magnificent 60 foot high monoliths perched along the drop-offs outer edge. Like huge Christmas trees adorned with decorations, each pinnacle is draped in a thick growth of soft corals and long rope sponges in red, lavender and green.
Along with East End's prevailing trade winds is the fortunate presence of light oceanic currents (seldom stronger than one-quarter knot) supplying much of the sponge and coral communities with the nutrients beneficial to their growth. As a result, gorgonian fans and Black Coral trees grow to strikingly robust sizes. On sites such as Mermaid's Point Drop-off (#56), Babylon (#57) and McCurley's Drop-off (#58), red and orange vase sponges grow in large clusters from Black Coral trees. In addition, the wall's craggy face is not quite as deep, starting around the 50 foot mark before making a grand exit to the void below.
East End is also considered the place to catch a better than average glimpse of sharks, Eagle Rays, large groupers and Green and Hawksbill Turtles.
East End also features excellent tunnels and caves. Snapper Hole (#59) is a series of ravines 25 to 30 feet deep, interconnected by several tunnels running through the reef floor, forming a comprehensive maze. There is also a huge anchor, circa 1892, from a ship named the Matusalem. Standing upright, it is held steadfast in the coral at the mouth of one of the tunnels. Besides occasional sightings of large Cubera Snappers (which can grow to weights topping 45 pounds), there is a sizable school of Tarpon.
Sharing similar geography to Snapper Hole, several other sites feature Tarpon including Chub Hole (#60), Grouper Grotto (#61), Catacombs (#62), Cinderella's Castle (#63) and Ironshore Caves (#64). During the months of July through October, these cave systems become filled with thick schools of Silversides, which appear to be the Tarpon's favorite food.
The largest of the two sister islands, 12 miles long by roughly 2 miles wide, the Brac is just a sliver of land 89 miles northeast of Grand Cayman. The word Brac is Gaelic for Bluff, and the island certainly has one. Rising from sea level to 140 feet, the jagged, vertical limestone wall stretches along the islands far eastern tip.
The flight from Grand Cayman takes just a 20 minutes. In addition to having all the amenities and services for a more than comfortable dive vacation, Cayman Brac has retained the simplicity it had 30 years ago.
If there is one thing the Brac is not lacking, it's walls. They begin around 55 feet, cascading straight down to;well, deeper than any of us would care or attempt to go. Underwater visibility never seems to drop below 100 feet, 120 to 150 is the norm, even on a windy day.
Operators schedule boat trips daily, leaving in the morning for two tank dives, which customarily include a wall followed by a shallow site. In the afternoon, there is usually a single shallow dive in the 15 to 50 foot range.
Because of the island's shape, most of the dive sites are on its north and south sides. Walls along the south feature highly serrated profiles. Virtually all are cut through with tunnels, winding crevices and narrow chasms. Some even offer a few surprises, such as the large, mysterious anchor wedged in the middle of a crevice at Anchor Wall (#65), on the south side. Somewhat different, Wilderness Wall (#66), also on the south side, has a huge, 55 foot high by 40 foot wide coral pinnacle standing out from its upper rim. Adorned with broad, deep water gorgonians and tangled tresses of red and lavender Rope Sponges, the pinnacle is seldom without a large school of Horse-eye Jacks. Other dives along this side include Rock Monster Chimney (#67) and Bluff Wall (#68), which are richly adorned with numerous ravines and sponge communities.
While the south side is known for dramatic contours, the north is the place for color. Three of the Brac's most acclaimed sites are Strawberry Sponge Wall (#69), Cemetery Wall (#70) and Garden Eel Wall (#71). With starting depths averaging 50 feet from the surface, their sheer faces are colonized with bright tube and rope sponges, deep water gorgonians and large Black Coral trees containing clusters of Red Vase Sponges.
The Brac has an equal number of shallow sites and walls. Several of the more prominent shallow reef sites are Berts Brothers' Boulders (#72), Green House (#73) and Snapper Reef (#74) on the north side. The key feature of these sites are the massive 10 to 20 foot high Boulder Star Coral formations scattered across the bottom like large haystacks. From there the bottom continues its short, sloping course to depths of 50 to 60 feet, where the reef terminates in a wall. Between these two zones, long, narrow stretches of white sand bottom harbor Eagle Rays. Reefs with similar bottom topography and coral formations include Charlie's Reef (#75), Duppy's Reef (#76), School House (#77) and Buccaneer Reef (#78). Back around on the south, The Hobbits (#79) and Tarpon Reef (#80) are named for their dominant corals and fish life.
Following the bluff around Cayman Brac's eastern tip is a region of virgin diving. Although diving here is weather permitting, it is certainly not out of reach for those who wish to do a little exploring.
Cayman Brac's newest mega dive site, the MV Capt. Keith Tibbetts Memorial (#81), is the only divable Russian warship in the western world. A product of the former USSR's Nalhodlka shipyards in 1984, Vessel #356, a Brigadier, Type-II Class Missile Frigate, has an overall length of 330 feet with a 42.6 foot beam. She was once a part of the Soviet Union's Atlantic Fleet. Sunk fully intact on the north side of the island (in September 1996), and resting on an even keel, the ship presents an arresting profile. Gazing up from the vessel's midsection from a depth of 60 feet, her bridge, watch tower and radar array seem to vault upward to infinity; in reality, they are a mere 15 feet from the surface. The foredecks two cannons protrude from the deck turret at 48 feet. During its short time down, the wreck has attracted significant fish action, with sponge and coral growth just beginning.
The Brac's other famous wreck diving attractions, all on the north side, include the Cayman Mariner (#82), a 60 foot, aluminum crew boat that sits on a flat sand bottom with colorful, red encrusting sponges lining the inside of its wheelhouse. The Kissime (#83), an inverted, 50 foot steel tugboat, is a great shallow dive at 40 feet.
This is still the least populated of the three islands, with approximately 120 residents. As island communities go, its small town atmosphere is as laidback as it was 25 years ago. Convenient for travelers, Little Cayman is a quick 40 to 45 minute hop from Grand Cayman via Island Air and has a handful of quaint, comfortable resorts catering to divers, fishermen and naturalists. In addition, the island is visited by two live-aboards, the Cayman Aggressor III and the Little Cayman Diver II.
On a map, Little Cayman strongly resembles a polebean. Diving dominates the islands' north and south side; between the two is a considerable wealth of sites, the most popular marked with mooring buoys. Visibility is normally in the 100 to 200 foot range when the seas are calm.
Beginning their plunge from as little as 20 feet from the surface, Little Cayman's wall sites are some of the shallowest in the Caribbean. This alone makes wall diving here great for prolonged dives.
Also characteristic to Little Cayman are a variety of corresponding shallow coral gardens slightly inshore of the walls. In most instances, you can start your dive on a vertical wall and work all the way back to the depth designated for safety stops without ever leaving the reef.
Starting on the island's northwest corner, the vertical face of Bloody Bay Wall stretches a full 1.5 miles before connecting with Jackson Bight Wall. The sheer descents offer a level of intensity rarely found elsewhere. In Bloody Bay, Great Wall East (#84) and Great Wall West (#85) start at 20 feet, with sheer, undercut drop-offs. They are tensely vertical. Marilyn's Cut (#86) and Mixing Bowl (#87) start their abrupt fall into oblivion from a mere depth of 25 feet. In addition to a host of marine life, a pair of friendly Nassau Groupers, named Ben and Jerry add greatly to these sites, as does the presence of brilliant Red Vase and Rope Sponges. Nearby, Randy's Gazebo (#88) features a striking coral archway and sprays of bright Yellow Tube Sponges. Other popular hot spots along Bloody Bay include Fisheye Fantasy (#89), which features a prominent ridge running down the face of the wall, with three large holes through it at varying depths, and Zoo (#90), a shallow site known for excellent concentrations of marine life.
Jackson Bight offers an equally large assortment of wall and reef sites. The walls start deeper than those of Bloody Bay, typically beginning around the 30 to 35 foot mark. Several popular sites, such as Jackson Wall (#91), Coconut Walk Wall (#92), Blacktip Boulevard (#93), Nancy's Cup of Tea (#94) and Bus Stop (#95), are severed by large winding cuts, crevices and tunnels. Eagle Ray Roundup (#96) has several long crevices and tunnels that lead from a large, sandy flat to the vertical drop-off; a coral ridge separates the two.
Venturing over the edge of these impressive marine precipices, expect to encounter numerous bright colored tube, vase and rope sponges and deep water gorgonians. The Strawberry Vase Sponge is one of Little Cayman's most prominent calling cards, found as shallow as 40 feet.
What enhances these sites is their plenitude of marine life. They're a fishwatcher's heaven, particularly along the walls upper crest, all the way back to the mid-reef areas. Besides the normal fanfare of small reef beauties, Creolefish and Black Durgons, this is the prime stomping grounds for large Black and Yellowfin Groupers, friendly Nassau Groupers, passing Eagle Rays, groups of Horse-eye Jacks and reef sharks. Sea turtles are here in considerable numbers as well.
Also of interest on the south side are shallow sites, such as Windsock (#97), Gays Reef (#98), Pirates Reef (#99) and Grundy's Gardens (#100), which offer huge fingers of coral 10 to 20 feet high. Capped with stands of Elkhorn Coral divided by wide, bright white sand flats at depths of 35 to 60 feet, their dramatic topography is also a fish haven. Besides the normal denizens, which include large Barracuda, Yellowfin and Nassau Groupers, schooling Horse-eye Jacks, grunts, snappers and Bermuda Chubs, this is also where some of the best Eagle Ray and shark sightings take place. During the height of the summer, Grundy's Gardens can play host to millions of Silversides and a large populace of Tarpon.
Little Cayman also has a shipwreck, the Soto Trader (#101). A 120 foot long, steel hulled cargo freighter, she was sunk on the south side of the island in 1975. Fully intact, the wreck sits upright on the bottom at 50 feet and has plenty of fish action and growth for an exciting, easy dive.
There you have it, 101 reasons to plan your next dive trip. Well, don't just sit there, go diving!
To find out what's going on in the Cayman Islands, check out their Web site at http://www.cayman.com.