GRAND CAYMAN, THE CAYMAN ISLANDS
Our boat is moored at North West Point Drop-Off, off the northwest tip of Grand Cayman. We splash in, follow the mooring line down in steady but manageable current and discover an amazingly healthy and thriving reef crowning a wall that drops down into blue-shadowed infinity. Kicking lazily into blue water, we plummet down to 100 feet of depth and begin working our way up past sea fans the size of card tables and brain corals that look as if they are awaiting transplant into the Jolly Green Giant.
We are diving with better than 100 feet of visibility. Rock beauties, black triggerfish, platoons of sergeant majors and clouds of blue chromis all add their own animation to the vertical seascape. When we shine a dive light into a nook or a cranny, squirrelfish and lobsters stare back at us. And when we arrive back at the reef atop the drop-off, we are greeted by parrotfish industriously converting coral to sand, and cruising green sea turtles. Later this same day, after the dive boat has dropped me off and I've had my daily bacon cheeseburger and Diet Coke at My Bar, a couple from San Diego approaches me with a request.
"We've been out on Sunset Reef a couple of times," the husband says, waving a hand in the direction of Sunset House's front-yard shore dive. "And it's been great but we, uh we can't find the mermaid. Can you tell us how to get there?"
He's referring, of course, to Amphitrite, the 9-foot-tall bronze mermaid sculpture that stands in 50 feet of water at the edge of the reef. I check the dive computer on my wrist.
"I've offgassed enough to make another dive," I tell him. "Why don't I just take you out there?"
Ten minutes later, we're giant-striding into the entry basin and exchanging OKs. Swimming slowly and comfortably, I lead my new friends over parallel ridges of tongue-and-groove reef and into a series of coral-choked canyons and ravines. We crest a ridge and there's our mermaid, hands out as if dancing to the music of the deep.
As we go, I can't help but reflect that, between dives such as North West Point Drop-Off, Trinity Caves and the deep wall dives of the East End, and engrossing shore dives such as this one, Grand Cayman not only has something for both experienced and newer divers it's a place where the only limits on your time in water are your surface intervals and the need for sleep and meals. It's little wonder that most of the traveling divers I know have lots of Cayman Islands stamps in their passports. This is one of those islands that's a staple.
Take a self-guided tour of the Cayman Turt`le Farm at Boatswain's Beach, home to over 16,000 green sea turtles, some weighing as much as 600 pounds.
1. North West Point Drop-Off
2. Trinity Caves
4. Sunset Reef
5. The Oro Verde
For More Information
Fast Facts in the same spot on Grand Cayman since 1958 >> Sunset Divers, located on site, is a 5-Star PADI IDC >> Cathy Church Underwater Photo Centre headquartered on site >> easy access to Sunset Reef, the most popular shore dive on Grand Cayman >> home of the legendary "My Bar."