HITTING THE by nikeborome



hITTIng The

The Cayman Islands are surrounded by deep oCean TrenChes
whICh make for verTIgo-InduCIng wall dIves. Rebecca Corbally
plummeTs The depThs.

                    loody Bay Wall is an intimidating title no       tantalising to dive deep and I wondered if I might see pirates
                    matter how you look at it, and during our dive   loitering in the spooky depths below.
                    briefing on Little Cayman I had to fight the        The light streams down into this marine park and the
                    urge to flee. There is a story from the island   colours are bright and bold, huge barrel sponges and
                    archives which reveals that pirates once used    gorgonians stretch out fanned fingers hoping to catch lunch
                    Little Cayman as a safe haven, and in a brief    in the gentle current that is alive with nutrients. Shoals of
interlude from pillaging they decided to scrub barnacles off         nosy Bermuda chub sit under the boat; tiny wrasse position
the bottom of one of their enormous ships in the lagoon. But         themselves on the wall frantically cleaning all fish that pass;
then British war ships appeared taking the pirates off-guard         clunky boxfish trundle around never covering much ground
and as they made a desperate dash for their other ship out           while swarms of feisty yellow tailed snapper and hunting
at sea a bloody battle ensued and the ocean waters over the          trevally cruise the depths.
sheer wall ran red.                                                     Giant grouper lounge casually, and their grumpy faces
     With this in mind I giant-stride off the boat and descend       venture so close it’s a struggle to get past. Most of the dive
across a coral ledge out to the wall. A lot of destinations          briefings include the pet names of the groupers, friends of
boast wall diving, but few can claim the drop to infinity            the dive guides from the three dive operations on the island.
which begins just a few metres from the surface. And down it         They often creep up on you, until you turn and find yourself
goes, to the first small ledge at over 2,000 metres. It’s            eye-to-glossy-eye. A face dominated by a pair of thick down-
                                                                     turned frowning lips seems inappropriate in a place so
                                                                     beautiful. It would nearly always begrudgingly tag along,
                                                                     desperate to be stroked and rid itself of tiny parasites.

                                                                     BLooDY BAY WALL
                                                                     Bloody Bay Wall sits on the north side of Little Cayman and
                                                                     due to the prevailing wind and weather, dives are mostly
                                                                     accessible by a calm boat ride all year. Nothing ever seems
                                                                     much more than 30 minutes away and every spot on the
                                                                     wall we sample is jaw-dropping. The gentle loll of a turtle
                                                                     would often catch my eye and unperturbed by my noisy
                                                                     presence they’d amaze me by ambling close. After a few
                                                                     seconds of close encounter they’d engage their powerful
                                                                     paddles and disappear as quickly as they arrived.
Deep on Bloody Bay Wall,
large sponges stretch out to                                            Although there is rarely a current and the water is
catch lunch in the current
                                                                     wonderfully clear and the temperature means wetsuits are
All pictures: Stuart Philpott

52        oUTDooR ENThUsIAsT SEPTEMBER 2010                                                                     www.oe-mag.com
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Once on the wall the
sensation is much like
flying as you hover
over an abyss.

The Tibbet,
Cayman Brac

                                                                                Laura Shelbourne with
                                                                                one of the many
                                                                                impressive soft sponges
                                                                                that litter the walls

                         The thick down-turned lips of

                         a Grouper, Little Cayman

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\                                                                                                           FEATURE DIVE CAYMAN

not really necessary, it’s still not diving for the total novice. To
really get the most out of wall dives your buoyancy needs to
be faultless – should you go sinking down unaware of your
depth you’d soon be out of control and out of view.
   Once you are comfortable, however, you are treated to a
sensation much like flying. You are simply hovering over an
abyss, eyes glued to the blue watching for action. Sharks were
seen by others, but never by me – I was busy inspecting the
wall, being stalked by grouper and matching the turtles fin-
stroke for fin-stroke for as long as I could manage.
   Although the impressive Bloody Bay Wall is the main draw
                                                                                                                                             Rebecca Corbally with one of
for divers to the Cayman Islands, with 23 dive sites and only                                                                                the many Groupers in the
                                                                                                                                             shallows on Little Cayman’s
                                                                                                                                             Bloody Bay Wall
three dive centres to choose from, dives are never crowded.
Boats were always full, but dive guides are unusually happy
for buddy pairs to go where they please meaning within
minutes of finding the wall you can be blissfully alone.
                                                                       Great                     “you are treated to a
                                                                                                 sensation much like flying,
   Little Cayman has a school with only four children in the
class, its population has never exceeded 200 residents, it has
                                                                       walls of
four stop signs and just three small ‘resorts’ (two of which had
less than 15 rooms) all aimed at divers. It’s a Caribbean              Cayman                    simply hovering over an
hideaway as you’d imagine it to be, with bold colours and
                                                                       Rebecca flew with
                                                                                                 abyss, eyes glued to the
breezy bars carpeted by fine brilliant white sand.
   Gladyss, owner of Pirates Point, invites those coming to
                                                                       British Airways           blue watching for action.”
                                                                       (www.ba.com) which
dine into her private home for cocktails and chat on a Friday          operates a direct
                                                                       flight from London
and we tuck into lion fish sushi while listening to her tales of                                they please. Boats are licensed and in order to prevent the
                                                                       heathrow to Grand
over 20 years of diving on the wall. Sitting after a dinner of         Cayman four times a      rays from becoming lazy, dive boats adhere to strict feeding
tuna wedges and Asian-inspired noodle salads I sip gold rum            week while staying at    regulations so it always remains a supplement to dinner –
                                                                       Cobalt Coast (www.
in the breeze watching the stars. I forget myself in the                                        and not a three-course banquet.
                                                                       cobaltcoast.com) on
thunder of the waves and as the kind waiter offers me a lift           Grand Cayman and            These winged creatures are smart, however, and in the
home I try not to think how they must be haunted by                    diving with DiveTech     early days they’d bump the guide’s snorkel to flood their
hurricanes after the devastation of Ivan in 2004.                      on Little Cayman she
                                                                                                mask. The guide would then drop the squid to clear their
                                                                       stayed at Little         mask and bingo – they had designed a squid slot machine.
CAYMAN BRAC WRECK DIVE                                                 Cayman Beach Resort      Snorkels are now banned, and so the almost tame rays
Just ten minutes by plane is Cayman Brac, and for divers the           com) and on Cayman       sucker your hands looking for treats instead.
draw here is on the northwest coast. The Tibbet, a 330 foot            Brac she stayed at          Visions of being surrounded by enormous chubby over-fed
Russian-built Cuban naval frigate was sunk in September                Brac Reef Resort         rays wielding a mass of dagger-like stinging tails meant I didn’t
1996 and remains the only Russian warship in the western               and dived with Reef      share the enthusiasm of my fellow divers. However, these
hemisphere within reach of divers. Sitting in about 26m                Divers. Cayman           southern sting rays can only sting once, so you are fairly safe.
water, it’s a super wreck covered in big guns and easy swim-           Airways (www.            As our engines roared to a close a handful of rays were visible
through passages, as well as some darker and smaller                   operate regular          in the shallow water within seconds, dancing for their supper.
corridors for more serious penetration. The stormy seas in             shuttle flights             Divers knelt in a horseshoe while Sally our guide held tiny
the 14 years it’s been down have twisted it in half but the            between islands.         entrails of squid as an offering. Although wild, the rays know the
                                                                          hurricane season is
majority of the ship is there for the exploring and perfect for        from July to the end     drill here. They bustle for position and the males, smaller and
all levels of diver.                                                   of october. however if   feistier, whip in and have their fill while the larger docile
   The mother island, Grand Cayman, is home on the north               you are happy to risk    females fly the shallows brushing up and over your mask with
                                                                       the weather you can
side to the well-known Sting Ray City, made famous by a                get some good deals      their slippery soft bodies, happy to be rubbed by divers while
journalist at National Geographic who voted it one of the top          at this time of year     they wait their turn. The guide makes her best efforts to ensure
                                                                       and the water is still
ten shallow dives of the world. It all started with an                                          no ray dominates entirely and after the preview my buddy and I
                                                                       lovely and warm. high
observant dive guide who noticed the rays gathering when               season is November       wander the shallows to hunt for our own private show.
the fishing boats were gutting their catch. He went back with          to end of April.            In 1996 the Caymans were deemed a marine park, and its
                                                                       • www.cayman
a bucket of squid and over they rushed.                                                         beautiful walls were finally protected. All the dive guides I
   The baiting of fish doesn’t sit happily with all divers, and                                 spoke to had been working in the Caymans a long time, a
it can create a Disneyland-style attraction, but on our dive                                    rare thing in a nomadic profession. But when you have easy
we were the only boat there. The guide reminds us that                                          access to some of the best wall dives the Caribbean has to
these rays are not in captivity and they can come and go as                                     offer it’s of little wonder. oe

www.oe-mag.com                                                                                                    SEPTEMBER 2010 oUTDooR ENThUsIAsT                   55

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