Exploring the KittiwakeBrooke Morton explores the former living quarters of Kittiwake.
At first, the elements conspire against me. Easterly winds rake across Grand Cayman's coasts, whipping the water into a meringue of tiny whitecaps. Swells transform ordinary boat boarding into a dance demanding perfect timing. Standing on the dock, I fret. I need to grab my laptop and post an update on Facebook: Bad weather. What now?
This visit, I came packing the ultimate divers' cheat sheet to Grand Cayman. Weeks ago over drinks, Sport Diver's editors and I wondered aloud what would happen if we asked the magazine's 200,000 readers and 23,000 Facebook fans (facebook.com/sportdivermag) to plan my trip. Many of you are among the 1.5 million who visited the island in 2012: You've been here; you've done the wall; you've eaten the rum cake. I asked and you answered, dishing about the island's best secret spots, from the top shore dives to the best happy hour bars.
Since many of us share only sunny days and proud moments on social media, I pictured conditions straight off any Seven Mile Beach postcard - which meant I failed to ask about rainy-day plans. (Because Grand Cayman almost never loses a dive day to bad weather.)
"Look at the waves," Aaron Hunt, a captain with PADI Five Star Instructor Development Center Sunset Divers, says when I share my list of cherry-picked dive sites from Facebook. "Run times to the sites would be so long that you'd miss lunch. Maybe even happy hour."
We can't have that — this island is known as much for cuisine and cocktails as wall diving. We improvise.
After a deeper first dip at Eagle's Nest, we end up at Devil's Grotto, hailed by the Facebook majority as one of the best shore — and overall — sites on island. That's because it's less exposed to rough conditions, due in part to a path snaking through caverns. Here, count on a couple of sure things: silversides come summer and tarpon year-round, stalking cavern exits, and skirting diver collisions with tiny, almost imperceptible — but powerful — movements. Fix your eyes on them, and it's like sitting on a train at a station when the cars next to you start moving, tricking the senses instantly.
During my initial dive there, from the Sunset House boat, I had been so transfixed by the cavern dwellers that I hadn't given a lick of thought to navigation — so I welcomed the invite from locals Ellen Cuylaerts and Michael Maes to revisit the site later that afternoon for a proper shore dive. The wedded pair first connected with me via Facebook — where else? — and offered to show me around while capturing it on camera.
PADI Five Star Resort Eden Rock Diving Center, much like Sunset House Hotel, offers ideal conditions for shore diving, even on less-than-postcard-perfect days. It seems dreamed up by the minds like those that created indoor ski slopes in Dubai. Here you'll find limestone beaches; no sand affects visibility. Ladders ease the descent — nothing to jar O-rings. It's an easy swim to the site's buoy-marked start, and if you do it underwater, you'll likely spot Nassau grouper, schoolmasters and loads of tiny stuff, like spiny-head blennies. They're easy to pinpoint if you tote along the greatest aid to shore diving: a local.