Sink beneath the waves
The Cayman Islands are surrounded by an awe-inspiring range of undersea terrain, but three unique dive adventures across each island were joined by one common centrepiece: the luxurious Clearly Cayman resorts, and their extraordinary Reef Divers’ Valet Service.
Countless dive companies line Cayman’s coasts, but Reef Divers exemplifies the gold standard that discerning travellers have come to expect.
Writers Ian Swaby and Adam Clark enjoy a dive on each island with Reef Divers.
World-famous Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman
As the day ends in Little Cayman the keenest divers are taking to the seas. From the Reef Divers boat, I watch the sun sinking below the shoreline, beside silhouetted palm trees, casting a warm, orange glow across the sky.
By the time the boat rests, the surroundings have darkened. The water has faded to navy except for a ripple of reflected moonlight, and as we stride into the waves, the ocean feels even more than usual like a bottomless void.
During descent, our only visual reference is the lights of the divers already below, but as our flashlight beams spread over the terrain, they reveal the beauty of this site known as Lea Lea’s Lookout, part of the renowned Bloody Bay Wall.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the seemingly untouched precipice of Bloody Bay Wall among the top three dive sites in the world, and as I explore its array of bright coral, I can understand why.
The giant tube sponges that seem to grow only along this stretch are found here in abundance. Large enough to fit a person, they tower over the surrounding coral. The critically-endangered staghorn coral, a branching heap resembling antlers, could be thought a common sighting by those who haven’t dived elsewhere.
The difference in a night dive is more than just night and day, as the reefs play host to a new cast of creatures rarely spotted in the light.
The first sighting of the night is a West Indian spider crab. Large and bright red, with a spiny and gnarled appearance and enormous claws, it moves warily away, sideways. A few moments later, my eye is caught by a long, snakelike sea cucumber. Like most of its kind, it appears motionless at first glance, but after a moment, it becomes clear that it’s edging its way along at a snail’s pace.
As we straddle the edge of the enormous drop-off thousands of feet deep, we find even more tube sponges before circling back over the coral. A slipper lobster, an exceptionally flat creature barely recognisable as a lobster, makes a surprise appearance as it emerges over the top of a brain coral.
Once the dive comes to an end, we sit on the upper deck of the boat and gaze at the stars, which are exceptionally bright beside this island with no city lights. It’s the perfect way to round of a stunning night dive.
Explore the Kittiwake on Grand Cayman
Among Grand Cayman’s most iconic dive sites, the USS Kittiwake is a national park, a playground for divers of all skill levels, and something of an underwater maritime museum. Sunk deliberately off the coast in 2011, it has seen notable changes since its installation, including coral growth, and a sideways tilt from Tropical Storm Nate.
It’s a pleasure to experience this majestic site through a dive operator that represents Cayman’s highest standard. It will turn out that Curtis, the staff member who guides the tour, knows this wreck down to every detail.
As the Kittiwake emerges from the blue, it feels unexpected amongst the natural surroundings of coral and barren sand. With its profound sideways tilt, it feels more like an accidental shipwreck and less like a planned attraction.
After we enter the dark interior through an opening near the hull, there’s a sudden disorientation. I’m completely lost as to which way is up and which is down, as the direction I’m being pulled by gravity doesn’t align with the floor. Awkwardly, I follow Curtis through a doorway.
Soon, I’ve learned as well as I can to ignore the illusion of direction created by the tilt of the ship, and to swim according to my physical senses. Numerous openings line the sides of the Kittiwake, making most levels of the ship suited to novice divers, yet this guided tour proves helpful for finding the points of interest and for exploring some of the more difficult areas.
We explore the engine room, with numerous tanks and valves, and a bathroom where the mirrors are still somewhat intact, despite the cracks and overgrowth.
There is also the ship’s recompression chamber, a place which most divers hope to never visit above the ground but is exciting to explore beneath the waves.
In some areas there are sizeable air pockets produced by the exhaust bubbles of divers. I peer into one of these and enjoy this brief look out of the water, 50-feet under the sea, but I don’t dare to breath in the air.
Finally, we emerge back into the blue, greeted by refreshing swaths of sunlight and the natural sight of large coral mounds. Just as we are leaving the wreck behind, a turtle glides gracefully over the bow of the ship. One of Cayman’s national symbols, it’s a beautiful finishing touch to the trip.
Crab Alley, Pillar Point, and Lighthouse on Cayman Brac
During a recent visit to Cayman Brac I had the opportunity to observe the marine life and coral beds that can be found off the south coast of the island in three separate dives at Crab Alley, Pillar Point, and Lighthouse, courtesy of Reef Divers.
The first dive is known as a deep dive (around 100-feet) and the other two were in shallower waters (40 to 60-feet).
All three dives offered something different, which may seem surprising as they are all located within a radius of less than a mile.
Crab Alley is the deepest, with depths reaching more than 100-feet. This site is interesting because I began the dive at around 50-feet and within minutes I was proceeding along a wall of coral located at around 90-feet. The colourful coral here is truly awe-inspiring. The mixture of colours blended with a unique appearance give this dive site a feeling that you have swam into another world.
The second dive was at Pillar Point, which is in shallower waters. Here the coral is shaped like large pillars that have fallen on their side. I was able to swim in-between each opening which gave this dive an excursion feeling, due to the direction that it takes. I could see so many fascinating things in such a short space of time. At the deepest point you can swim along the sea bed while observing marine life that are situated in very small crevices. This was truly compelling and something everyone must observe.
To conclude the dive experience, we visited Lighthouse. This site included cave like opportunities with entry points at different depths. Descending into these large holes gave me the opportunity to experience a thrill that I haven’t had before. The formation of these monumental rocks enables you to feel that you are exploring something other than the ocean. Dark crevices, steep drops with limited lighting in parts give this site a completely different type of escapade and one I would highly recommend.
Valet diving with Reef Divers
Dan Tibbetts – an International Scuba Hall of Fame member - opened Little Cayman Beach Resort and started Reef Divers 25 years ago. Since then the company has grown to fulfill its late founder’s vision of providing world-class diving at friendly, family-owned resorts on all three islands, now also including Cayman Brac Beach Resort and Cobalt Coast Resort on Grand Cayman. You will find a Reef Divers operation at all three.
Over the years, the company has built an enviable reputation by providing comfortable and well-appointed accommodations, high-quality culinary options, and world-class sport diving. One of the stand-out features of Reef Divers is their Valet Service, which ensures guests enjoy their diving instead of working at it. Indeed, the service begins before guests have even arrived, with staff helpfully assembling their gear. Once everyone is on board, it makes diving as simple as a boat ride and a stride into the water.
No guests are expected to carry their cumbersome tanks or waddle across the deck in fins, making this an excellent option for anyone seeking the most sublime levels of relaxation, as well as for anyone unable to handle the equipment. From beginning to end, your needs are handled by personable and expert staff, leaving you free to enjoy what you came to do: revel in the beauty of the Cayman Islands.
Visit www.clearlycayman.com to book your ultimate dive experience with Reef Divers at a Clearly Cayman Dive Resort.
Photo credit: Jordan Charles