Diving in Grand Cayman - Part 2
Among West Wall's rich variety of dive sites, there's Sand Chute, a 50-foot-wide sand channel that slips down the wall like a ski slope, and Mitch Miller's Reef, an extremely shallow site where pockets of coral growth erupt from the sand to provide shelter for colorful reef fish like blue tang, stoplight parrotfish, yellowtail snapper, and the comical sharpnose pufferfish. There are a handful of wreck dives as well — the broken Oro Verde and the intact Doc Poulson, to name two — but some of the most stunning visuals are found on the shallow coral grottoes at the wall's southern tip.
Dives Less Traveled
On most days, weather and wind conspire to make conditions on the West Wall too good to pass up, but occasionally the winds shift and the seas of the broad North Wall lie down. When this happens, boats may race around to dive this side of the island, where the wall starts at 70 to 80 feet. The payoff is big drama — in the form of more pelagic species, including eagle rays, turtles, barracuda, and even an occasional Caribbean reef shark. At Hole in the Wall, a North Wall favorite, a coral archway, adorned with bushy black and wire corals, grows out from the wall.
The full brunt of trade winds and ocean currents strikes the remote East End of Grand Cayman, where a handful of dive lodges cater to customers with a taste for quiet nights and extreme diving. Be sure you've got the advanced skills to handle diving outside the barrier reef that caps the rounded coastline, where the drop-off starts anywhere from 45 to 90 feet. There are just a few novice sites like Grouper Grotto, a reef that rises to within 20 feet of the surface and swarms with packs of blue chromis and yellowhead wrasse. For new divers, however, the East End is better suited for lounging on deserted beaches. Just be careful where you step; these isolated stretches of sand are the last undisturbed turtle nesting sites on the island.
The exposed South Sound is dived only on those rare days when the weather conditions have gone completely haywire, forcing divers off the West and North Walls. Most sites start at 50 to 70 feet and take place in the spur-and-groove coral formations on top of the wall. These formations are like Mother Nature's grocery aisles — shelves of corals and sponges stacked high with tropical reef fish, crabs, and eels and separated by flat aisles of white sand.
With this kind of coral wealth, Grand Cayman was destined to be a popular dive island, but it hasn't stayed on top for more than 40 years simply for good bottom time. A thriving offshore banking industry and a tradition of colonial propriety have shaped modern Grand Cayman into the cleanest, safest, and most efficient island in the Caribbean. Jetliners from major U.S. cities buzz in like clockwork, and passengers are whisked away to the modern accommodations of Seven Mile Beach with the efficiency one would expect from a British Crown Colony. And if the pervasive influence of American tourist culture, the rush-hour traffic jams in George Town, and the strip malls begin to get to you, remember there's always an escape nearby. Just do what you came here for in the first place: Slip on a tank, slide beneath the water, and stroll on down to Atlantis.
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