Day One (8/30/01)
An underwater photographer's paradise, excellent diving and great accommodations, combined with a week's worth of shooting pictures and getting to compete for the latest in diving equipment and travel prizes...who in their right mind doesn't want that?
Well, Sport Diver - The Official Publication of the PADI Diving Society, The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and the Sister Islands Tourism Association have teamed up in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman to host the Sister Islands Annual Photo Challenge. With the help of our sponsors...
...participants have an opportunity to win some fantastic prizes. Myself (David Benz) and my esteemed Sport Diver colleagues Carolyn Pascal, Mike Comsa and world renowned photographer/contributor Walt Stearns have just arrived in Cayman Brac.
After checking in at the Divi Tiara Beach Resort in Cayman Brac, everything was laid out. The food and service was excellent and the diving operation was buttoned up. When I climbed on the boat, there were more cameras than a paparazzi mob at the Oscars. After the contestants hit the water, Walt, Mike and I jumped in to test out and photograph the latest diving innovations from Mares and Dacor. Mike donned the revolutionary Mares H.U.B. and I took on the Dacor Viper Gold.
Our intent was to get some in-water images of these products to showcase them to you, the reader, in a future issue of Sport Diver. I was amazed by the revolutionary innovations of the Mares H.U.B. (Human Underwater Breathing System) with its power inflation/deflation system, located in the lower left hand corner of the vest. This device allows the diver to make Buoyancy adjustments with one hand, without having to search for an inflator hose. The control fits in the hand perfectly allowing you to increase buoyancy with your thumb, and decrease buoyancy with your forefinger. Instead of using the ambient water pressure to deflate the BCD, the deflation button actually pulls the air out of the jacket. Also notable about the H.U.B. is the ''Airlock,'' a pneumatic tack band harnessing system. With this device, slipping tanks are a thing of the past. The Airlock uses a low pressure hose to cinch up the H.U.B on your tank. Everybody on the boat was like...wow that's cool!
We also had an opportunity to dive with the ReefMaster PRO Dive Set (with SL515 Reefmaster RC, SeaLife External Flash and Macro 3x Close-Up Lens/Underwater Filter). We found this camera to be super easy to use, complete with additional strobe and extended arm that places the strobe far enought away that your images do not get hit with a lot of back scatter. Complete with close-up lenses for catching the smaller critters and a carry case that let's you bring your vacation memories home in a bag, SeaLife has come up with the perfect u/w photography camera system. Click on the image for more information.
Our three dives on the north side of the island served up dramatic walls, an abundance of soft corals, swim throughs, rays and several turtles. We were then headed back to the Divi for a 160 slide show of some of the world's best u/w images of The Cayman Islands by Walt Stearns. The room was packed, the images were stunning and the questions about how Walt captured his images were forthcoming.
Well, I am off for pork tenderloin, shrimp and coconut cake for dinner!
More to follow tomorrow....
Day Two (8/31/01)
The great thing about making three dives a day is that you don't have to feel guilty about going back for seconds at the dinner table…and that is exactly what I did! The food at the Divi was excellent, and when the dinner bell rang, it was like that tractor beam on Star Trek, I couldn't control the gravitational pull of the dinning room. After breakfast, divers slowly made their way to the dock for the pre-dive briefing. It was another tough day at the office for me as I was headed back to the salt mines where I would once again serve as Walt's underwater dog…swim here, stay, look, say cheese. O.K., so I was surrounded by possibly the most incredible topographical scenery that our planet has to offer. Not to mention that I got to play with more turtles and a number of grouper hanging out at their favorite cleaning stations.
Back on the boat, I struck up a conversation with one of the most enthusiastic divers I have ever met, PADI Diving Society member Aleksandra Gioe from Force E Divers out of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Alekssandra was excited about the dive and curious to know all about what we were doing and how we were involved in the sport. She had seen many of Walt's images in the pages of Sport Diver and began to ask Walt about his world travels and the numerous large animals he had photographed over the years. We later joined Aleksandra and her friend Rick Casella back in the dining room to share more stories of the places we had been diving and where we were planning on going next.
That night, Mike, Walt, Carolyn
and I reviewed and voted on the
images for the various categories
of the photo contest.
The winners were as follows:
Grand Prize - Roger VanBaarle
Prize: Week at Carib Sands w/ diving from Reef Divers, and Round Trip Airfare from Miami on Cayman Airways
Macro - Jerry Baker
Prize: Oceanic Computer Console
Standard Lens - Charell Robinson
Prize: Mares Regulator
Wide Angle - Roger VanBaarle
Prize: Dacor Regulator
Land - Roger VanBaarle
Prize: Gift Certificate at the Captain's Table Restaurant
Best Staff Photo - Elizabeth Hillier
Prize: Round trip Cayman Airways plane ticket to Miami
Day Three (9/1/01)
Today we surrendered our dive boat to our photo buddies at the Divi and are headed to Little Cayman where the other half of the photo contest is taking place at the Little Cayman Beach Resort (LCBR). Dan Tibetts, owner of LCBR, was on his way from Little Cayman in one of his dive boats to take us over to the event. We had a full schedule between Walt's slide show, judging of the images and prize giveaways to the contestants. Long time friend Ron Kipp, owner of world famous Bob Soto's Diving in Grand Cayman, arrived on in the Brac that morning for a little R&R. After a little coercing, we convinced Ron to join us on our adventure to Little Cayman. Once we arrived, Dan gave us a tour of the entire island, complete with a visit to Bloody Bay Wall and to his other properties, Conch Club Condos, and his latest venture The Club, which is due to open next February. Keep an eye out for info about The Club as this is a totally new concept for a dedicated dive resort, complete with your own dive butler, island skiff and decked out dive cart including tank racks, fresh water wash down and shore diving map of the island.
Like the Divi, LCBR had an outstanding lineup of food for the day's lunch. It was then off to the ''Grouper Room'' where the participants in the photo challenge would get their turn at viewing Walt's incredible slide show. Again, the room was packed and the divers were blown away by Walt's vision of the underwater world of the Cayman Islands. After the slide show, the following winners were presented with some fantastic prizes:
Grand Prize - Sandra Gariglio
Prize: Week vacation for two at LCBR including airfare from Cayman Airways and Island Air
Wide Angle - Sandra Gariglio
Prize: Dacor Regulator
Land - Sandra Gariglio
Prize: Island Air ticket
Standard Lens - David Rutherford
Prize: SeaQuest wetsuit and Fins
Best Staff Photo - Elisa Buller
Prize: Airline ticket on Cayman Airways to Miami
After the ceremonies, we had the boat all to ourselves for a spectacular moonlight cruise back to the Brac. It is hard to describe the liberating feeling one gets when making a night crossing from Little Cayman to the Brac while riding high in the open wheelhouse of a custom 42' dive boat…Ahhh, the island life man!
Day 4 (9/2/01)
Back at the Divi we were headed out for our final day of diving, and what do you know, back to Little Cayman we go. This time to actually dive Bloody Bay Wall verses gazing at it from the shore. As one of the more popular diving location in all of the Caribbean, the divers were excited and could hardly contain themselves as they fumbled to dawn their gear and enter the water.
Walt, Mike and I allowed the other divers to enter the water first. Once we determined their direction along the wall, we took the opposing route. As we descended down this sheer vertical wall, it all came rushing back to me…I thought, this is what diving is all about. I looked back up the wall 100 ft. to the surface, looked down deep into the black abyss and then looked over at my buddy Mike. At that moment we both realized we were encountering the same experience and we both smiled and nodded at each other before continuing the dive.
At this point, I was completely synced up with Walt. All I had to do was watch his head movement. Having been a photographer for years, I could pretty much tell which breathtaking part of the wall he would want to use as his backdrop. Walt would drop down and set up and I would ease into position for a series of shots. As the dive continued, Mike and I would take turns, eventually ending up in the shallows for more shots and decompression.
One more spectacular dive on the wall and then back on the boat for the crossing back to the Brac. Many of us rode on the bow of the boat, hanging our fee over and watching the seagulls chase the flying ballyhoo as they dove after them.
After lunch we opted to sit the last dive out and do a little snorkeling and freediving. The dock at the Divi was quite and just inside the ''T'' of the dock was a school of bonefish loitering in the sea grass. As Mike, Walt and I snorkeled the inside of the reef, a large spotted eagle ray joined me at the beginning of our adventure. On our way to the outer reef, we located several spiny lobsters under a concrete marker and a grotto filled with baitfish and two nurse sharks. Towards the end of our snorkel, the beach heading back to the Divi was inviting, so I pealed off from my buddies to enjoy the ocean's edge. As I walked the beach, I took this parting shot with pretty much sums up the trip for me…friendly people, great staff, wonderful food and spectacular diving.
I guess the pictures will have to hold me until next time!
Regards to all,
p.s. Thanks to all the hard working managers, diveguides and staff members who made this trip possible!