Cayman Diving

Grand Cayman is a world-class diving destination, and I had really enjoyed the 2 dives I made on my cruise ship stop here. This trip would afford me the opportunity for 6 days of diving. Originally, I had signed up for a special tour called the "Best of Cayman" that involved three difference dive operators. I was going to dive 2 days with each, try a rebreather dive, use scooters, and get to see a lot of different territory. In the end, I spent all my time with a single operator: Fisheye. Even if you aren't a scuba diver, if you get to Grand Cayman, be sure to visit Stingray City for a uniquely wonderful snorkeling adventure.

Before the trip even got started, I got a call from Fisheye, who was handling the whole package, to say that one operator had dropped out of the package, but that they'd be happy to take up the slack. Once there, I had a problem with the other operator, Divetek. They were supposed to pick me up at my hotel at 1pm. I got tired of waiting at 1:30, and finally got a call from them at 1:45. It seems they had forgotten about me, but now they remembered, and would I like to reschedule? Needless to say, this is not a good way to impress a customer. Seems we're back to hating Caymanian "service" again. Since I had other bookings for all the days and I had missed their boat for that day, I couldn't choose another day. After reflecting on it for a day, I called Fisheye and asked them to take over the final Divetek dive. I didn't want to take a chance these guys would screw up again. In addition, Steve had called them asking directions and was told they didn't have Nitrox. I had a hard time signing up to go do a rebreather dive with an outfit that didn't carry Nitrox. Maybe they're a great operation, but they sure hadn't shown me a good time.

Fisheye, on the other hand, was an excellent dive operator, one of the best I've ever used, in fact.

That's Ian, the captain on the left, Ashley in the middle, and Bart, the divemaster on the right. Yours truly is in the background, wishing he could get back in the water without waiting for the pesky surface interval. Everyone from Fisheye is extremely helpful, and they all are fun loving people with great senses of humor.

I really like their boats. They're trimarans that look a little like the pontoon party boats you see on lakes. Getting in and out of the boats is really easy owing to the very calm water and the fact that its almost like rolling off a low dock. This is shutterspeed, the boat I spent most of my time on.

You go to the shop (they'll give you a ride if need be, but its directly across the street from the Westin where I stayed) and ride their shuttle to the beach. A short walk with your gear across the beach and you're aboard and ready to head out for a morning of diving. The boat ride is very short as all the sites are pretty close to shore.

Cayman and this type of boat is very well suited to divers who are prone to seasickness. I have never seen a boat that was calmer, or easy to get on and off of.

Diving here looks sort of like this, and no, I did not take this badly framed picture!

This is a shot of Steve on one of the bicycles on the popular Oro Verde wreck dive.

I actually wish I had more real photos of the diving here, as it was very beautiful. Fisheye teaches some excellent classes in underwater photography (its a specialty of theirs), and if I ever get back to the island, I plan to take the course.

Anyway, my dives were as follows:

     Orange Canyon: Deep, swim through of a canyon.

     Wreck of the Oro Verde: Very popular. Dove here on my cruise ship visit too. Wreck is interesting, but a shambles. Nearby reef holds more life.

     Orange Canyon (again!)

     Governor's Reef: Pretty. Adjacent to Aquarium, my other cruise ship dive.

     Round Rock: A rock you swim around. Saw lots of game fish--tarpon, jack, bonefish.

     Wreck of the Oro Verde (again!)

     Wreck of the Doc Polson (night dive): Cool dive. See how I got lost at right.

     Big Tunnels: Very nice deep dive through some arched tunnel-like things.

     Mesa: Prettiest dive. A small table shaped reef down towards the cruise ships. Saw a submarine!

     Hammerhead Hill: North end. Waves & current more like other places. Pretty, if deep dive.

     Lemon Drop Off: Also North end. Nice spot, but really a little deep for a second dive. Some people saw a small hammerhead here, but I missed out.

Here is the little submarine I saw at Mesa. It's a big acrylic ball, and the driver is a diver that straddles the back end like a motorcycle. It was fun to interact with the folks inside.

All the dives here were good, and I didn't mind going back to some of the same places at all--there was always something new to see. If I had to choose favorites, they would be Governor's, Big Tunnels, and Mesa.

One of the great things about Fisheye is they keep plenty of Nitrox on hand. In fact, their divemasters all use it. It adds about $10 to the cost of a dive, but I think it is well worth it from a safety and comfort standpoint. If you are not familiar with Nitrox, you should get certified. Basically, Nitrox is air to which additional oxygen has been added, and is sometimes called "enriched air". In this case, the bottles contain 32% oxygen instead of the normal 21% we breath. This additional oxygen means less nitrogen, resulting in a safer dive and in less fatigue after the dive. The only two disadvantages are cost, and the requirement that you not descend too deeply. With 32%, the recommended Maximum Operating Depth (MOD) is about 110 feet. That's as deep as I ever go anyway, so it works out well. You can program some dive computers (including mine) to know the new oxygen percentage, and thereby allow you to stay down longer. Or, in my case, I don't bother, and the computer becomes that much more conservative because it assumes I'm breathing normal air.

See how roomy this boat is? During most of our trips, the boat had no more than about 8 divers. Gearing up is a real joy when you aren't banging off other divers and their equipment!

Going, going,...

Gone!

Night diving here is so relaxing and beautiful. It's warm and the sea is very calm. We dove the wreck of the Doc Polson and had a great time. I saw octopus, huge lobsters, and a smallish moray, not to mention all the fish.

Interestingly, the visibility steadily closed up as the night wore on. There was some sort of plankton bloom going on, and we saw these scary wiggly things called bloodworms that were attracted to our lights. They're harmless.

Lost on a Night Dive

I managed to get lost on the night dive. Shame on me! I had been the first one in/last one out every dive due to my lower air consumption, so I was used to being off by myself at the end of the dive. There's a reef adjacent to the Polson that I decided to explore. My plan was to follow the outer edge of the reef around to the backside away from the Polson and circle all the way back to where I started from, ending up on the inside (nearest to the Polson) edge.

I could see other diver's lights around the reef and periodically would encounter some divers. It was just beautiful, and very peaceful. Periodically, I turned off my light to watch the bioluminescence and see where the other diver's lights were. I got further around the reef than others and decided it was time to cut across the reef and swim back up to where the Polson should be, rather than follow it all the way around. Unfortunately, the reduced visibility started making navigation extremely difficult. When I started, I could see across the 50 feet of sand that separated the Polson from the reef. By the end of the dive, I could only see 15 to 20 feet.

My navigation plan was now in jeopardy, since I would not be able to reliably see the Polson from the reef. No matter, I thought I had a good idea of where it was at the tip of the reef. I would just swim to the tip and then head across the sand the appropriate distance. If I missed it, I'd just surface and should be close to the boat. It turns out there was a little cul-de-sac in the reef on the inside edge that I mistook for the end of the reef, at least that's my theory. I definitely came to what looked like the end, saw sand all around, and decided to swim towards where the Polson ought to have been. After covering a good distance, I took a look at my air--1000 lbs--and concluded it was time to surface. I was sure by now I had been the last in the water for a little while, and the captain had said if you don't know where the boat is by 1000 lbs of air its time to surface and track it down.

So I ascended slowly, did a 3 minute safety stop in 15 feet of water, and then completed my ascent. When I got up, I saw two bright lights that had to be the boat, but they looked awfully far away, and somehow, I had gotten out to sea so that the lights were between me and shore. Oh well, no biggie, I must have swum right under it while thinking I was headed towards the Polson. So, I held my light up pointed at my head, which was the signal we'd agreed would tell the boat I was okay, and then I started swimming towards it on the surface. I kicked and kicked and kicked for a good ten minutes and the damn lights didn't seem to be any closer! This was really the first point at which I felt a little tickle of alarm, so I stopped, calmed down, and tried to think about what was going on.

I pulled my mask up to try to see the boat more clearly. No help there, its a prescription mask and I couldn't see well at all without it. Then I did what I should have done way back when I first surfaced. I decided to scan the sea for a full circle. Guess what I saw directly behind? Two bright lights that looked exactly like our boat, and this time I'm between those lights and the shore. Damn! Which one is it? Could there be another boat? I saw the lights out to see were definitely a boat and they were shining dive lights into the water as though looking for someone. This had to be my group. I finally decided the lights I had been swimming towards were a mile or so way on shore.

So, I shined my light on my head again so the boat folks wouldn't panic, and started kicking towards this new target. Before too long I had made it back to what was clearly our boat. I was pleased, the Captain and Divemaster were pleased, and life was good once again. In fact Bart, the divemaster, had quite a laugh when I pointed out the lights I had been swimming towards.

Morals of the story:

    - Visibility can disappear far faster than you'd ever expect.

    - Its very hard to perceive distance when you are swimming in the water with a prescription mask. The two lights actually looked identical to our boat, but they were on a house and a good deal further away. They were the same color, brightness, and separation, in fact.

    - Get all the information you can before making a decision. I should never have headed for the first thing I saw without looking further to make sure.

    - Its very easy to make a mistake when trying to visualize where you are underwater, especially with limited visibility.

In the end, it was an interesting experience that didn't really raise the adrenaline too much. That's a good thing for learning experiences!

February 2004 Cayman and Cayman Brac Dive Trip...

 
All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.