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Our Cayman Trip Scuba Bowl 2008
SEAduction-Dive-Services - 11/08/2008 10:51 AM
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Category: Travel
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Our Cayman Trip Scuba Bowl 2008 Hard to imagine but there we were in the air looking down at Havana, Cuba en route to the Cayman Islands. We had been given the opportunity to go on a dive familiarization trip (or “dive fam” as it is called) for the SEAduction Dive Shop in Dunn, NC. My wife, Wendy, books trips and classes for them and I am a Scuba instructor there and they needed someone to go on this trip. They are going to start booking Cayman Island trips and wanted someone to be able to have first hand knowledge of the island and traveling there. The local tourism board of the islands, The Cayman Islands Tourism Association, funds the trips to bring dive shop owners and operators to the islands to learn about lodgings, restaurants, culture, diving opportunities, and other amenities in the hope that we will go home and book trips. All we had to do is get to the airport, board the Cayman Airlines plane, (they fly direct from Tampa, and Miami; US Air flies nonstop from Charlotte) and everything is already paid for. Not a bad deal, right? Little did we know that if we were on Deal or No Deal, we were holding the million dollar case. When you land in the Cayman Islands you get off the plane on the rollout stairs you see when dignitaries disembark for news crews and walk across the tarmac to the small but modern terminal. On the way you are treated by some local musicians playing at the terminal entrance door. A brief friendly welcome stop at customs and you are out the door with your luggage to the shuttle buses and off to your lodging destination. By now it has already occurred to you that this is not going to be an ordinary vacation. The cordiality and friendliness of the Cayman people is so genuine and welcoming that is a noticeable surprise. En the route to the hotel, the islands’ charms peek and beckon to you while you catch glimpses and views of this island paradise through the lush tropical foliage that grows to the roads edge. A quick stop at the front desk of our host hotel, The Sunset House, and its up to our rooms and unpacking we go. The rooms are nicely appointed with ample dresser, closet and floor space, a big and comfortable bed, cable TV, and a small refrigerator. There is no carpet because this is a dive resort but the tile floor is beautiful. The bathrooms are nice and the showers are huge. There are more towels in there than my closet at home. Once settled in the room and with time on our hands, we went for our own unguided tour. The ocean, no matter where you are, is a magnet that draws everyone and so we found ourselves looking at the beautiful Caribbean Ocean. People don’t realize that the Cayman Islands are actually a trio of mountains on the side of the Cayman trench that reach from the ocean floor 25,000 feet to the surface. Grand Cayman is a mountain peak 26 miles long and 9 miles wide and is populated by 35,000 people. When you stand on the shore and look at the ocean there is only 200 to 300 yards of shallow water before the bottom falls off into the deep blue ocean. This is what gives the Caymans its crystal blue shallows and shoreline. There are areas of the Caymans that have beautiful beaches and others, known as the Iron Shore, that look like volcanic rock but are actually prehistoric limestone coral reefs filled with fossils that extend all the way to the waters edge. The view outside our room was of the Iron Shore rock and this day the ocean was flat calm. The remainder of our evening included some more exploring and on to a dinner of the islands fabulous cuisine which I’ll discuss later. The next morning we awoke to a beautiful Cayman morning based on what sunlight we could see around the drapes. I went to the balcony door and drew back the drapes to find a Cruise ship aimed right at OUR ROOM and coming ashore! Remember I said the oceans drop off is only a few hundred yards off shore? Guess where the cruise ships park. Yep, right on the edge. We watched as the Royal Caribbean vessel continued in and began a slow turn toward the George Town area off to our right. They moored so close to shore we could see the passengers on the decks. The shuttle boats began the conga line of picking up passengers and taking them ashore for their Cayman adventure. There would be three parked there this day. We were picked up a little later and began our day of seminars at the Westin Casaurina Hotel with a fantastic breakfast that had all the usual foods that you would expect with the exception of grits. Yeah I know, “What no grits?” But they make up for it with a delicious local fish and vegetable offering that was great. The morning was filled with informative lectures about the islands themselves and the dive industry there and also about the business of booking trips to the islands. It was very interesting to meet the people who called the Caymans home and listen to the many different accents in their voices and those of our attending colleagues. At the mornings conclusion we were given box lunches and picked up by the shuttles to go back to our hotels and pick up our equipment to dive in the afternoon. The excitement was palpable, (we are divers after all), as we were taken to our assigned boats to take the quick five minute boat ride to our site on the reefs. Our gear was carried for us from the bus to the dive boat and put aboard. Once aboard it was assembled for us and we were asked to check it all before we departed. We could see the topography of the bottom clearly and even some fish as we made our way out. Over night the weather had soured somewhat and a low pressure front had taken the sea on the west side from flat to pounding breakers on the volcanic rock so we are diving this day on the south side of the Grand Cayman. The Caymanians will tell you proudly that they dove somewhere on the islands 350 out of the last 365 days and only because of the hurricane did they lose dive time. If a front or storm is hitting one side of the island the other is calm. And so it was on the south – small waves about a foot, with no wind or current. The dive briefing was concise and professional and all questions were addressed. The current was checked again and the okay was given to dive. It seemed like one continuous splash as the 12 eager divers hit the brilliant blue waters for the first time. We were rewarded instantly with a panorama like we had never seen before. The variety of sea life was fantastic as we saw yellow tail snappers, many different species of damsels, trigger fish, harlequins, gobies, wrasses, grouper, and other reef fish. The plan was to go up and down three fingers of reef and then return and do the same the other way. In some ways a reef is a reef is a reef and the topography of the Caymans is no exception but the difference of the Caymans is that there are surprises to be found around every corner. The bottom here is 55 feet at the deepest and you could literally see several hundred yards. While we didn’t see a turtle on any of our dives we saw several nurse sharks, a few stingrays, and so many lobsters I was looking for a pot of melted butter. This is a photographer’s paradise! The colors were radiant and we didn’t lose a lot due to low light. It was as bright at the bottom as it was on top. And there were plenty of opportunities here that just don’t occur in the Carolinas. We had a miles long school of silversides, (a small bait fish that is similar to a sardine), come through and there were Tarpon and Jacks following them. We went in a small cavern and the silversides were crammed in like well, sardines, and when we went in – they came out and the tarpon came with them. Them passed by so close you could, and I did, touch them. They basically ignored you. It is incredible to have a 6 foot fish swimming beside you like you are one of them. There were also many smaller delights to be found. I saw a Splendid Flatworm with its black body and scarlet trim moving li