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  • The beat of far-off steel drums swirled in on the cooling sea breeze, and the sound of the waves lapping against the ship’s hull mingled with the mouth-watering smells that emanated from the ship’s galley. In briefing the guests on the sun deck, the Cayman Aggressor IV’s Captain made it quite clear that for the next week his very existence was dedicated to our having an experience we would not soon forget and that we were about to embark on a live-aboard odyssey that would include a golden fleece at every stop. In retrospect, it was a humble statement.

    After an overnight to Little Cayman, we geared up for a first dive on the famous Bloody Bay Wall. As we descended, there was a shallow reef flat below us and beyond, the wall. We went over the wall and just hung there, as if suspended in blue air. The visibility had to be in excess of 150 feet. Below was only the deep indigo of the abyss. The wall was an intense work of art, with sponges, corals and fish arrayed in every color imaginable. At times, it became an overhang, providing a haven for vast shoals of Yellowtail Snapper while Horse-eye Jacks swirled about in open water. On top of the reef, a small Green Sea Turtle visit ed for a bit before buzzing away.

    We were anchored at this site until after lunch, which allowed divers to explore at their own pace. Schools of barracuda waited to greet each buddy team and bright yellow Coneys and parrotfish, triggers and Nassau Groupers hung out like tour guides for tourists. It was a morning filled with underwater surprises, the sort of diving where you can encounter just about anything.

    The next day began with a visit to East End. There was no shortage of marine life. Fascinating swim-throughs started shallow and came out on the wall face at about 100 feet. As we exited one of the swim-throughs, we were greeted by a giant school of Horse-eye Jacks that circled just above our heads.

    Little Cayman’s Windsock Reef is a great place for underwater photography because there is such a diversity of marine life and the site is fairly shallow (about 45 feet). The extra light and longer bottom times allowed me to set up the shots as I imagined them in my mind’s eye. At Windsock, stingrays were everywhere, cruising like a squadron of Stealth Bombers awaiting orders for their next mission.

    As I was going back to the boat I noticed a shadow of movement sliding over a coral head. I quickly realized that it was a Spotted Eagle Ray swimming right in my direction. Almost as quickly, I realized I was out of film. There was only one thing to do—enjoy the moment. Between dives we off-gassed while paddling around on the Aggressor’s two kayaks, and we would warm our bodies like seals on the sun deck, which is complete with a bar, and my favorite feature, the hot tub. It offers an incredible vantage for watching sunsets.

    Just as we began to think that things could not possibly get any better, they did. Our good fortune harkened back to the theme of live-aboard diving. Maximum water time means maximum opportunities for incredible encounters. Minutes into my first dive at Three Fathom Wall, I met a friendly Nassau Grouper that seemed to want to pose for the camera. After shooting multiple frames, I moved on, looking for something else to shoot. But the vain grouper kept getting in front of my lens as if Hollywood had come calling and it didn’t want to miss out on its big break. It is, admittedly, a nice problem to have. Later, we went over the wall just in time to meet a Green Sea Turtle as it was coming up. The turtle swam around us and then came right over to my wife. It was like meeting a pleasant stranger on the street. We swam away feeling both surprised and quietly delighted.

    We had spent the entire trip, so far, off Little Cayman, due to a pesky little cold front. Luckily, Captain Tom was able to apply his veteran knowledge of the area and keep us on the best dive sites despite the weather. On the sixth day, however, things settled down, and we headed to Cayman Brac.

    We made two morning dives on the 330-foot Russian Destroyer, now named the Capt. Keith Tibbetts, the Cayman Islands’ signature wreck. Open and safe for exploration, she harbors French Angelfish, Yellowtail Snappers and hoards of juvenile reef fish, and divers frequently find Spotted Eagle Rays in the sand flats around the wreck. Diving the Tibbetts was the perfect finish for our odyssey of diving. Walls, reefs and wrecks, after all, form the holy trinity of the diving experience. And all of it is easily available to live-aboard divers in the Cayman Islands.

    A Pirate's Holiday | Full-Blown Cayman
    Little Shop of Colors: Discovering St. Vincent and the Grenadines
    In the Shadow of the Pitons: Diving St. Lucia | Easing into Bonaire
    The Wild Side of Eden: Dominica | Getting There | Index