Shore diving in Grand Cayman provides ultimate flexibility A name like Devil's Grotto can only mean one thing - caves! Forty yards offshore from Eden Rock Diving Center the bottom's virtually flat relief of the shallows moves into a series of huge, jagged rents that criss-cross the terrain. The reef's floor appears as if it had been fractured by some violent geologic event. Twenty feet down into these chasms, the Grotto meanders off in a network of interconnecting ravines and tunnels. Throughout the network there are ceiling holes that focus the sun's illumination into brilliant, slender shafts that split the darkness and leave the rest of the corridor concealed in shadow. There is always a discernable amount of ambient light with which to navigate, even in the deepest corners, but a dive light will prove useful for exposing a variety of creatures, from lobsters to small fish, using the cover of darkness to avoid predators. The Grotto's darkened alcoves end abruptly at 50 feet. On exiting, divers are greeted by a sun-washed world of white sand and garden eels. Here you may encounter large tarpon lingering between these two contrasting realms. While the Grotto is a great cavern dive, it is really so much more. It is the symbol of the fun and freedom that shore diving offers: dive when you want, as much as you want. Shore diving is the 24/7 solution. South of George TownThe Grotto is not, by any means, the only shore diving option on Grand Cayman. The reef continues away from the southwestern corner below Georgetown, offering a multitude of sites - Armchair, Waldo's, Parrot's, Seaview and Sunset reefs. The latter three sites are all named for their respective resorts. It allows these resorts to supplement their boat diving services with dive options literally at their doorstep. It also means you, as a guest, have access to scuba around the clock. The deeply creased and cavity-riddled reef of the Grotto gives way to a gentle, sloping profile over a distance of about 140 yards, before rolling off into oblivion on Grand Cayman's famed wall. Midway between the wall and ironstone shoreline, bottom contours in the 50- to 65-foot range progress as a series of short valleys and patch reef formations interspersed by broad patches of white sand. In addition to the reef's normal myriad of invertebrates and fish, encounters with sea turtles and submarines (that's right) are always a strong possibility. During the middle part of the week, the 60-foot-long sub Atlantis uses the small Nicholson wreck behind the Sunset House resort as part of their tour. The sub visits both the mid-reef and wall sections of Seaview's and Parrot's Reef, virtually next door. Tourists onboard the sub love to photograph divers on the outside. If you're stealthy, you can even sneak up to one of the sub's windows and scare the heck out of a passenger who is expecting fish and not a facemask. Another shore diving attraction is the 9-foot-tall bronze mermaid just behind Sunset House. Christened Amphitrite, this shapely siren towers over the bottom below the base of the reef's first slope, at 40 feet. After finding the mermaid, it's a simple 50-foot swim straight out to the Nicholson. A quarter mile south of Waldo's Reef, named after a huge, friendly, green moray eel that once resided there, is Armchair Reef. What makes this site particularly interesting is that the formation drops dramatically from 30 feet, down to 60 feet. When traced from above, the mini-wall follows a broad U-shaped pattern that resembles an armchair, hence the name. The reef is famous for octopus that tend to come out into the open after sundown. It's a good reason to make your shore dive at night. North of Seven Mile BeachGrand Cayman has several easily accessible shore-diving sites north of Seven Mile Beach up to West Bay. Bonnie's Arch, a 30-foot-high mini-wall with a 25-foot diameter coral archway running through it. The arch is at about 60 feet and is seldom without a large school of tarpon and horse-eye jacks. The most convenient point of access is from Bonnie's Arch condominiums. The site is easily recognized by a white mooring buoy 30 yards from the seawall behind the buildings. Farther up the road is Hepp's Pipeline and Turtle Farm Reef, located directly behind both the farm and Dive Tech's dive shop. These two northwest-corner sites feature a vibrant mini-wall that drops to around 75 feet. Tarpon are frequently found milling about beneath pronounced overhangs. Out beyond the mini-wall the bottom's broad sandy plane stretches off into the distance for another 80 to 100 yards before reaching the crest of Grand Cayman's North Wall. How to do it Resorts with access to shore diving usually include free use of tanks for shore diving on their property. Most will also allow you to take tanks to dive sites that have public access. However, as a matter of legalities, most water-sports facilities will not allow tanks to be brought into their shore-diving site from another establishment. Tanks must be rented from the on-site shop. Rentals average between $6 and $10 per tank. Some shops offer discounts on additional, same-day rentals. For example, at Sunset House it's $8 for the first tank, $4 for each subsequent tank. Most of the dive shops are more than willing to share their local knowledge of sites and access points around the island. You just have to be willing to ask. Take that information, a map and your gear and you're off to enjoy diving on your schedule - 24/7.
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