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Cayman Islands Trip Report (January 2014)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Steppenwolf, May 4, 2014.

  1. Steppenwolf

    Steppenwolf Well-Known Member

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    In January 2014, I went on an excellent diving trip to the Cayman Islands and a visit to Everglades National Park on the way back. Here is a trip report.

    I had booked a week of liveaboard diving on the MV Cayman Aggressor IV between 11th & 18th January, followed by a visit to Little Cayman for some land based diving. The latter arrangement was made just in case the liveaboard boat did not cross over during the week and I was very keen to dive over the Bloody Bay Wall.

    I flew from London to Miami and connected to Grand Cayman on American Airlines. As I always do on such trips, I arrived in Miami in the evening, spent the night at the Miami International Hotel to get over the jet lag and connected to the Cayman flight next morning. The MIA Hotel was more than adequate for overnight stay.

    The weather was clear and sunny on arrival in Grand Cayman but at around 68*F cooler than expected. It warmed-up later and in any case they told us that the water temperature was going to be around 79*F. The Aggressor staff met and greeted us at the airport but as per local regulations, we were obliged to take local taxis to the place where the boat was moored. As we drove there, the most obvious thing that struck me was that compared with the other Caribbean places that I have been - Turks & Caicos, Belize, St Vincent's & Grenadines etc, Grand Cayman certainly looked more prosperous.

    The boat itself was something of a mixed bag, typical of Aggressor liveaboards. As before, they crew were friendly, professional and very efficient, quickly helping us to settle down. They boat was full with all 18 places occupied, all Americans except my Canadian cabin-mate/buddy and I. All the facilities on the dive deck, charging stations etc were perfect and the crew made us feel at ease right away. As with the previous two Aggressor boats that I have been on (T&C and Belize), the accommodation arrangements left something to be desired. The cabins were rather small and cramped and the en-suite bathroom rather primitive. (Oddly though, the accommodations on the Island Dancer in Fiji were much better).

    The food through the trip was good without being anything exceptional. Part of this might be me because I generally prefer low-cal type of a cuisine but there were no major problems.

    We woke up to a warm and sunny Sunday, our first dive day. We did a check-dive at Doc Poulso and this was uneventful for all concerned. With the seas relatively calm, we then moved north to Stingray City, a great fun dive as might be expected. There were 4 or 5 of them and seemed rather keen on introducing themselves to us. By the time we moved to Babylon for the third dive, the Captain had decided to do the Little Cayman run that night, taking advantage of the calm conditions and the dodgy forecast for later that week. The dive itself was good with lots of colourful coral and interesting swim-through channels.

    The crossing started around 4:30pm that afternoon and took about 9 hours. It was quite a rocky passage and I felt rather queasy despite taking motion-sickness pills and eating only fruit and yogurt for dinner. But arriving at Little Cayman and the Bloody Bay Wall made it more than worth it and the conditions were near-perfect on Monday morning. I did 2 dives over Randy's Gazebo and 2 dives at The Meadows, the last of that being a night dive. There was loads of marine life including a few reef sharks, turtles, groupers tec. But the divers who had been here before commented that despite the profusion of fish around us, the concentration of small fish species was not quite as much as what it used to be a few years ago. That made me wonder whether the many lionfish that we saw and continued to see throughout the trip, were responsible. On the night dive we saw a lot of crustaceans like crabs and lobsters plus a small octopus.

    Up to that point I was diving with a 3mm shorty and although my computer confirmed the claimed water temperature of 28*C. I felt very cold after the second Gazebo dive. I therefore switched to the 5mm full suit for rest of the trip.

    On the following day we dived at Leah's Lookout, Donna's Delight and 3 Fathoms. There was less coral at the Lookout but compensated my more profuse and diverse fish life, including a superb green moray eel, the longest that I had ever seen. There was also bit of a current at the shallows but not enough to cause problems. Donna's Delight was a true wall dive teeming with marine life, and among other things I saw what I thought was a small regal angelfish, not resident to the area. We saw a few banded shrimps here among other things. 3 Fathoms was another wall dive near the Mixing Bowl with lots of coral-filled nooks and crannies that helped us to shelter from the rather strong current here. Exploring these large 'cuts' into the wall was interesting and we saw reef sharks, stingrays, yellow snappers, barracuda etc. This was a good dive for those interesting in getting pictures of colourful coral formations.

    After the then moved to Cayman Brac for the night and did a night dive on the Russian Destroyer. It turned out to be one of the best dives of the trip and one of my best night dives. There is now very dense coral formation on the wreck and as it was a relatively easy dive even to semi-penetrate at night, I went a bit mad with my camera (as you will see in the pictures link below). The multicolour coral looked superb at night and there were also plenty of fish. This is a highly enjoyable and strongly recommended night dive but those with little experience of night diving should be aware of the slight disorientation that the list of the sunken ship can create.

    By next morning the weather had started to turn with plenty of surface winds, although the skies remained clear enough. We started with a day dive on the Russian Destroyer and for the first time we explored the bow section that lies on its side. While this section is not as rich in coral as the stern, it is still a great dive with opportunities to penetrate with due care. As we went though the corridor, I saw a huge goliath grouper emerge from the depths of the wreck right in front of me, almost interposing itself between me and the diver in front. Further into the dive we explored the debris strewn mid-section before going back to the coral-covered stern. The big gun there is an excellent photo subject for wreck-divers

    With the weather still within the acceptable range, we went back to the north coast of Little Cayman dived a site called Bus Stop. This had a more rocky topography than elsewhere over BBW but we saw a couple of nurse sharks resting and a tiny jawfish with its eggs, among other things. By then the captain announced that we could do just one more dive over the Bloody Bay Wall before moving back to Grand Cayman and this was going to be over the piece de resistance, The Great Wall.

    Diving The Great Wall of BBW must count as one of the most memorable experiences for any diver who's been there, especially if the conditions were perfect. They certainly were just that when we arrived, like the lull before a storm. Clear sky, calm seas and perfect visibility were the order of the day as we jumped. The top of the wall is some 6m deep and from there we swam to the edge and floated off into the blue. I swam for 25 metres out into the blue and turned around to face the wall - an incredible sight. Right from the top at 6m, the sheer wall drops down into the abyss and is absolutely covered in soft and hard coral, sponges and teeming with fish life. The visibility was unbelievably good and there was no current whatsoever. We dropped to about 28m (90 feet), swam west for 20 minutes gradually decreasing depth and then turned around and swam back, finishing once again at the top of the reef. Sharks, turtles, French angelfish, lobsters, groupers etc were there in plenty but even the rich marine life was second to the serene feeling of swimming alongside this majestic natural phenomenon.

    After that we crossed back to Grand Cayman and despite assurances to the contrary, this was a longer and more turbulent trip. I hibernated in my cabin bed for the duration with a bottle of water and a couple of apples for company. The boat moored in the south coast of Grand Cayman sometime in the middle of the night and I woke on Thursday morning feeling like I'd been through a tumble-drier. Despite being on the 'sheltered' side, it was cloudy and windy and the first dive, the deeper part of Pedro's Castle was rather uneventful and routine. We explored The Shallows of the same reef in the next dive and by then the weather had improved and we saw a lot of fish, including barracuda, stingrays, pufferfish and blue tang. We then did 2 dives (including a night dive) on Bullwinkle reef and among other things saw several white and crested hogfish. There was some surge at this site and called for calculated finning. The night dive brought our crabs, ornate lobsters, octopi, conches etc

    For the last 2 dives of the liveaboard cruise on Friday, we moved to the site of the wreck of USS Kittywake. The weather had turned again and it was now sunny and calm once more. The ship had an interesting and eventful life before being scuttled as an artificial reef in 2010. Predictably for such a recent wreck, there was not much of coral around but it was a very interesting dive nevertheless. It lies almost upright in 20m of water and is an easy dive. There are good external photo opportunities and safe penetration is possible in several areas. In fact, I went as far as the keel plating to get pictures and there were plenty of fish on the way. On the second dive I went down the massive funnel and as I rose back-up, got a video clip of my buddy coming down. Trying to get back to the boat after the dive, we managed to take a 'wrong turn' and somehow ended-up back at the wreck! It was all fun really because both had plenty of air and managed to get back without further incident.

    Afterwards we did the usual washing and putting gear out to dry. I did not fancy the afternoon shopping trip into town but the evening cocktails on the boat was nice. Thereafter we went to a local restaurant for dinner.

    After the usual farewells and disembarkation next morning, I returned to the airport with a group but unlike most others who were returning to the US, I took the short Cayman Airlines hop to Little Cayman. It was nice and nostalgic arriving at a little no-hassle airfield with staff from the resort waiting for us a few steps from where the little plane parked. The Little Cayman Beach Resort itself was excellent in all respects, including the Reef Dive Centre. After settling in quickly, I spent the evening lounging around in the colourful bar sipping cocktails and uncomprehendingly watching on TV what the Americans call 'football' [​IMG]

    The diving started the following morning with clear and sunny skies but rather windy. The day boats provided for the dives were quite well organised and we had 2 divemasters plus a trainee for some 12 of us divers. The senior DM said that the weather conditions did not allow the boat to make the "turn" required to reach the north coast and BBW and so for the first 2 days we were restricted to the southern shore of Little Cayman. We dived the Dynamite Drop Off first and this was surprisingly rich in coral and fish life including nesting groupers and another jawfish. Next we explored the wreck to the Soto Trader - a true wreck - and resting under the bow was a large nurse shark. It was so well camouflaged that I mistook one of its fins for a stingray and only realised what it was when I moved closer for a photograph! The wreck itself was interesting with some coral and areas suitable for penetration. Plenty of fish including turtles, crabs and (this time a real) stingray. For the third and last dive of the day we went to a shallow reef walled Wind-sock.

    Conditions had not yet settled on the second day to go north and so we started at Charlie's Chimney. This included a long swim through a tunnel and our group consisted of a divemasters plus 5 divers, with me being the last of the train. The swim-through was great with plenty of coral and fish and in stopping for photos I lagged slightly behind the rest. As I arrived at the exit, all I could see was a wall of silt kicked-up by my predecessors and could make out no details. But further below was a second exit that was clear and by the pre-dive briefing I knew this to be at around 135 feet (40m). I made-up my mind, went though it and uneventfully ascended to join the others. The rest of the dive was routine and as I had not gone into deco, did a routine safety stop. No problems afterwards.

    For the next dive we went to Pirates Point reef. Once again, very profuse for marine life and interestingly, an unusually large number of juveniles. Our DM seemed to think this was because of the spawning season. The last dive of the day was over Grundy's Gardens known for its profusion of sea fans and we also played hide-and-seek with a small turtle (it won).

    The third day, and my last diving day of the whole trip, saw the weather improved enough to go to the north coast and to the Bloody Bay Wall. The boat trip was interesting in itself, going around the western tip of Little Cayman in a wide arc. On arrival at BBW, we went to The Great Wall once again and I enjoyed the dive every bit as much as I had done the first time (on the liveaboard). This time we explored it further west and got closer to the gigantic barrel-sponges that are well known at this site. A green moray eel kept us company for a while and there was plenty of other fish too. After this dive we anchored over an area somewhere between Marilyn's Cut and Mixing Bowl. Since we were obliged to wait nearly an hour here to allow sufficient surface interval after the previous dive, the DM came up with an elaborate briefing and dive-plan that included exploring both reefs. My buddy and I followed the DM though the dive, keeping above 75 feet and exploring the picturesque swim-through between the two reefs. The entry to this tunnel is well camouflaged, but once through it is quite roomy and rich in marine life. This dive is particularly good for video clips.

    Well, that's it. I disembarked after the second dive as planned, washed the kit, put it out to dry, cleaned-up myself and had lunch. Went out for a hike in the Salt Rock's Nature Trail in the afternoon and spent the evening at the bar. The following morning I caught the local flight back to Georgetown and connected to Miami in the afternoon, to start my visit to the Everglades. But that's another story.

    Here is the Flickr link for the photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25941505@N04/sets/72157640394291104/
     
    Andy Stevenson likes this.
  2. furryman

    furryman hmmmm
    Staff Member UKD Supporter

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    That "surprised grouper" in #77 would make a brilliant avatar...
     
  3. Steppenwolf

    Steppenwolf Well-Known Member

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    Be my guest.
     
  4. PeterT

    PeterT .

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    A great read, :bookworm: thanks
     
  5. Richard65

    Richard65 Active Member

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    A great report. I have to say the BBW is not to be missed. When I went there in November we were dropped 150ft off the wall so it was nothing but blue. We were told to descend to 60ft and swam in towards the wall. As it appears before your eyes it is magnificent.

    I see the reef shark in one of your photos has been tagged. Its interesting to keep track of them.

    What camera do you use? I use an Olympus EPL5 and twin strobes but am set up for macro so miss out on some of the wide angle stuff.

    Let me know if you come back.
     
  6. Steppenwolf

    Steppenwolf Well-Known Member

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    I used my trusty old Canon S95 with a couple of Ikelite AF35 strobes. Also have an Inon wide angle lens.
     
    Richard65 likes this.
  7. puddle fish

    puddle fish Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing :)
     

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