Grand Cayman, BWI -- 7/98

As I write this, I'm back on Grand Cayman and have been on island for eleven days. Cayman is a wonderful place and after five years of frequent visits I'm are less inclined to "do" the island. Instead, the days have been filled with visiting friends, diving favorite spots and spending evenings in our regular haunts - The Lone Star Bar and Grill and Pirate's Den.

The island is changing dramatically however. Some of that isolated Caribbean charm has already been lost. Traffic on the main thoroughfare, West Bay Road has become almost unbearable at 'rush hour'. New hotel complexes are under construction and it's apparent Seven Mile Beach will one day stretch to Indies Suites, my favorite place to stay and dive.  

 

  The one thing that hasn't changed on Grand Cayman is the diving. Every morning I roll out of bed at 7:45 and head out to one of Indies' two dive boats "Members Only" and "Members Too". "Members Only" heads to the North Wall just out of the sound where dramatic drop offs take your breath away as you approach from the reef and hang over the 6,000 foot abyss.

 

Eagle rays drift by regularly, often up close if you remain still. Purple and green tip anemones sometime provide shelter for small critters like this Diamond Blenny or a Spotted Cleaner Shrimp.

 

Diving on the West Side from "Members Too" is just as fantastic but in a different way. There you can dive the less steep wall, long wonderful finger reefs rich with life or one of several shipwrecks. Two antennae moving about invites one to peer under a ledge and confirm the presence of a lobster. Turtles are becoming a more frequent sight thanks to the conservation efforts of the government and the Turtle Farm (my favorite night dive).  

 

For years the Turtle Farm has been raising turtles, some for market and many are released when old enough to fend for themselves. The oceanside facility pumps fresh sea water through the huge tanks which house the turtles. Eventually the effluent, rich in nutrients flows back to the sea where it has fertilized a mini wall into a lush garden where coral, sponge and fish grow to gargantuan size. I like to dive this site at night. The wall starts at twenty-five feet and drops to sixty to seventy feet and it's usually best dove to the west, currents permitting. I am often able to spot the uncommon Lettuce Nudibranch at the top of the wall.  
     
As I descend and swim along the bottom, moray eels are out on their nightly forage for food. Banded shrimp boldly stand out from their crevices to grab at the worms attracted to the light from my lamp. The area has also treated me to images of a rare Orange Ball Anemone and even the rarer White Ball Anemone.  

As much as I would like to have spent all my time in the water, this trip has a dual purpose. While the time in Grand Cayman has provided a wonderful vacation, Chris and I are here to make ready his thirty-seven foot Endeavor sailing yacht for a journey to Cuba. "Defiance" has been docked here for six months and our afternoons have been filled with clearing her out for the voyage, scraping the bottom and re fitting her. Most days have been unbearably hot with record temperatures recorded last week. Even when over cast and raining, the cabin was sweltering with temperatures over 110 degrees.

  This seahorse lives under the dock by "Defiance" and provided a most welcome respite from the chores and heat as I jumped in to visit with him. From his extended belly, I suspect he's pregnant and hope to be here long enough to witness the birth of baby sea horses. The weather's been poor for the past three days with thunderstorms and twenty to thirty knot winds causing high seas. The yacht is almost finished and only needs provisioning, however we are stuck here until we can get a break in the weather. Our hop is to see the series of tropical waves that holds us here diminish and allow us to begin the voyage to Cuba in three or four days.

 

We'll sail to the south coast and do exploration dives along the cays east of Casilda and perhaps head west towards Cayo Largo and dive the cays there. We're planning a month overall which should also allow ample time in the port cities of Cienfuegos, Casilda and Trinidad. We may also hire a car and explore the interior of Cuba. I hear the mountains are beautiful and it will be interesting to see the Cuban people in the countryside. But that's another Trip Report!  

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1998 John Petrak