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Friday, April 7, 2017

Scuba Diving on Grand Cayman (recap)

Before I go into my last Grand Cayman post (yes, this is my last GC post) I have to start with an apology.  I am sorry for being so on and off and inconsistent in my blogging lately.  Sometimes it can be tough to find the balance between the 40+ hour work week, adventures, and the blogging in between.  But nonetheless, I am here and we are going to recap my last Grand Cayman post.  Todays post is the finally sum up of diving on the island of Grand Cayman.  A breakdown of dive sites, the critters we saw and an interactive map with details on all our dive sites.  Happy Friday and let's talk about diving. 

If you've been reading along over the last few weeks, you likely read about Compass Point,  the dive resort we were staying at on the island.  We were excited about diving out on the quiet east end of the island, famous for its dramatic wall dives, pristine coral and serenity.  But you know how it goes, your plan gets tossed when mother nature has other ideas.  Due to some strong winds, we ended up driving about an hour to the other side of the island almost every day to dive with Don Fosters (another dive shop) in some calmer sea.  Considering our first day back on the East End I was as green as the sea and spent a lot of time with my head over the rail (more on THAT later...), I was thankful to have some calm seas and options for when the weather doesn't cooperate.  Towards the end of the week we were back on the east end and finally had the chance to experience the "East End" diving of GC.  Truth be told, it was also fun to be able to dive with a different company and see some other dive sites on various points around the island.  East End, West End, we got to do a little bit of everything while diving on GC.

Swimming with a Sea Turtle 

Day 1:  Fly In

Day one on the island was getting situated, getting groceries and most importantly, getting beer.  We had a long week of diving ahead of us and it was nice to have a day to get organized, stock up the fridge, and unwind after a long day of traveling.  Dive vacations are unlike most vacations as down time/relax time is much rarer.   Most of the week was going to be a morning of diving (about 8am to 12 pm) with a few afternoon/night dives mixed in the week.  Wake up early, get on the boat and spend the day diving.  It certainly isn't for everyone.   

We got in the water on Day 2 and the water temperatures remained at a steady 79 degrees and visibility easily over 100'.  The warm clear water was basically the exact opposite of diving here in New England and it's always a welcomed change of scenery to be diving in warm clear water.  

Note:  Following dive information originated from or  I made this little map (above) to pinpoint all the dive sites we dove on the island which are further detailed below

Day 2 

Dive #1:   Big Sand Chute (19.36491, -81.40251)    94 feet 47 minutes 
"Located just next to the Ex USS Kittiwake, Sand Chute is famous for a DOT photo shoot done atop the chute. A diver decked out in skis and winter wear stood atop the large slope to promote 'Ski Cayman' "

Dive #2:  Paradise Reef  (19.3392000, -81.38991)        49 feet 48 minutes 
"A shallow area, a spur and groove coral reef offering vivid displays of sponges and fish life".

Scuba diving in clear water!

Day 3 

Dive #3:   Marty's Wall (19.36011, -81.400)     101 feet 52 minutes
"Situated between two wrecks Marty’s Wall provides the diversity of wall life with the option to enter the Ex USS Kittiwake or Doc Polson. Deep cuts and arches create a feeling of closeness as you make your way down to 100 feet".

Dive #4:   Ballero      (19.34785, -81.39240)      66 feet 57 minutes 
"This shallow Seven Mile Beach is a favorite of local operators for relaxing afternoon dives. It's shallow interior reef drops down the edge of the deep wall giving divers a choice of profile. Lionfish hunting is common in this area particularly during dusk".

Swimming with the school of fish at La Mesa/Table Top 

Day 4  

Dive #5:    Little Tunnels  (19.36568 , -81.41023)           94 feet 48 minutes 
"A famous site on the west side named for one long, gentle swim through that leads to the Caribbean abyss. Watch your buoyancy as you come out on the wall".

Dive #6:    La Mesa/Table Top (19.32168, -81.39308)    62 feet 61 minutes    
 * Favorite dive *
 "A shallow tabletop drops away into canyon ways and coral fingers that head out towards the edge of the dropoff.  a spectacular shallow dive site on the West side of Grand Cayman. Teeming with life this is a site that possibly has the highest fish biodiversity on the entire island. A popular choice with our fish counting friends.  This coral “table” is completely covered with dozens of different schools of grunts, jacks, groupers and snappers. The schools of fish are so dense that you can actually “herd” them as you swim through their masses. A beautiful coral overhang boasts Azure Vase Sponges with Arrow Crabs inhabiting their holes. Barracuda float lazily mid-water as you complete your safety stop".

Dive #7:     Sunset Reef (19.30664, -81.08210 )             22 feet 51 minutes 
*UV NIGHT/GLOW DIVE * We used some pretty cool flashlights which made the corals glow all sorts of crazy "black light" colors at night.  It was beautiful to see brain corals and anemones glowing in the dark but overall, the dive site was crowded with just our group during the night and skippable. 

"Two large coral heads surround a large Spanish anchor sunk into the sand flat there at the bottom of the mooring. Grunts and snappers take a backseat on this site to the abundant sea anemones with their polka dotted peterson cleaning shrimp".

On the USS Kittiwake

Day 5  

Dive #8:    Round Rock (19.36483 , -81.40786)              87 feet 47 minutes 
"A site situated on the west side of Grand Cayman this beautiful shallow dive allows for a long bottom time. Work your way north of the pin to find a swim through that takes you to the main wall. The sites namesake sits out of the swim through’s exit and you can lazily spiral around this round rock reveling in the abundance of fish life going about its business".

Dive #9:    Smith's Cove  ( 19.27576 , -81.39318)       58 feet 60 minutes 
"A local hot spot, Smith Cove is a great beach location for snorkeling, barbecueing, or just hanging out in the sun. Walk right into the water from the beach and head left or right for shallow mounds of coral. Most of the year this west side area is protected from the weather making it calm and swimmable nearly every day".

Dive #10:  USS Kittiwake  (19.3619, -81.40121)         65 feet 42 minutes
"Commissioned in 1944 and launched into the American Naval Fleet in 1945, the Ex USS Kittiwake was a five deck submarine rescue vessel containing ninety-eight enlisted men with ten officers aboard. Decommissioned in September 1994, the Kittiwake made its way to the Grand Cayman in January of 2011, to be intentionally sunk. Within the ship you find ghostly sections like the captain’s quarters, munitions room, mess hall, radio transmission room, propulsion room, and weather center".

Divers on the reef below 

Day 6 

Dive #11:        The Maze (19.29401, -81.0923)                 70 feet 30 minutes
"Down along the wall three massive pinnacles give numerous options for swimming through “the maze.” Unless you are on nitrox, the depth limits bottom time to around twenty minutes making it possible to do this dive a different way every time you go. Mutton snappers accompany you through the canyons, waiting for a free meal should you spear a lionfish in the area. A surprising amount of Caribbean reef sharks gather in this area so always keep an eye out for the men in grey suits".

Three more dives this day but I was so seasick.  
Rough seas meant I spent the rest of the day puking off the side of the boat in front of 16 people, or sleeping it off during the day.  Happy Diving!

Diving above one of the tunnels below 

Day 7 
Dive #12:  River of Sand  (19.290600, -81.125770)         104 feet 31 minutes 
"If you love deep wall dives with swim throughs in and out of the wall, then you will love this site".

Dive #13:  Ironshore Gardens  (19.29141 , -81.14363)     52 feet 54 minutes 
* Favorite*
"Jutting topography with dozens of swim throughs protect the site from surge. It is a great site for swim through lovers and you can stay near the boat to explore, maxing out your bottom time. Docile tarpon cruise between the canyon ways and make shining photo opportunities".

Snorkeling with the Sting Rays at Stingray City 

Day 8

Snorkel #1  Stingray City *Favorite* (19.37587, -81.3046) 6 feet 20 minutes 
Snorkel in 3-6' of water with the stingrays that come to the sandbar to be fed! 

Swimming with my Fish ID card
Total minutes spent underwater:  646 minutes under water, almost 11 hours. 

If you are coming to Grand Cayman to dive, here is what you can expect to see.  Gorgeous wall diving, awesome swim throughs and tunnels, turtles, tropical fish, lobsters, grouper, morray eels,  a few sharks and lots of small critters.  If you are looking for whale sharks and sea lions and all those big critters, this might not be the place.  Diving in Grand Cayman reminded me to slow down and appreciate the small stuff.  I even bought a fish ID card so I could start to learn the names of all the beautiful little critters of Grand Cayman.  No more one fish two fish red fish blue fish for me which is shameful in the first place considering I have a marine science degree.  Diving around with little guide was definitely a highlight of the trip.  I saw lots of little gems like arrow crabs and juvenile fish.  We even encountered some stranger things like soap fish which I would have never been able to identify without my card.  

Also note that Grand Cayman is mostly all wall diving.  You dive along the walls jutting sometimes hundreds to thousands of feet from the ocean floor.  What this means is that you are not just following bottom topography but instead, need to carefully monitor your depth along the wall.  It's easy to chase after a critter and next thing you know be at 120'.  Pick your spot along the wall and be very conscious of your depth the entire dive.  Good buoyancy is also really important, especially when traveling through a lot of Grand Cayman's swim throughs and tunnels. 

File Fish

Fish at Table Top/La Mesa

Invasive Lion Fish

One of my favorite little fish on the reef


Soap Fish
Colorful sponges
Blue Tang 

 Bermuda Chub



Diving in Grand Cayman was a great way to escape the winter blues here in New England and check off another popular scuba diving destination off the trip.  While I really enjoyed the week on the island, Grand Cayman was a "one and done" sort of place for me.  Glad I went, really enjoyed the diving but with so many other islands and countries to explore, somewhere I don't see myself coming back to.  Clear water and smaller critters is the name of the game if you are diving on GC.  Check out the Kittiwake and make sure you get out to some of my favorite dive sites including Table Top/La Mesa to swim with the school of fish. 


  1. Oh my goodess, this looks amazing! Something I've always wanted to do!!!


    1. It was such a great trip! Get certified, you will not regret it!


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