Dive leaders tout lesser-known sites: more choices for divers, stress relief for more popular sites
Trinity Caves, Orange Canyon, Big Tunnel and Tarpon Alley – dramatic wall dives on Cayman’s West side that have attained legendary status among visiting divers and helped cement Cayman’s reputation as a world-class dive destination. Other sites such as Devil’s Grotto, Eden Rock and Sunset Reef are also on Cayman’s “hit list” of must-do dives on any vacation. But with 365 moored sites on all three islands, local dive leaders want to spotlight other sites worthy of being on Cayman’s Hit List.
“Visiting divers can choose from a variety of amazing dive sites here in Cayman, and while we love showing them our best-known sites, we also want them to know other dives, especially at East End, where reefs remain pristine and filled with marine life,” said Rod McDowall, Red Sail Sports General Manager. “In addition to showing them something new, we are helping alleviate the environmental impact of diving on our most popular sites.”
Here are dive sites that make the list according to Cayman’s dive professionals.
- Jack McKenny’s Canyon, East End – Named for dive pioneer and videographer, Jack McKenny whose works have inspired viewers to visit Cayman, this site features giant narrow canyons leading to the East End drop off.
“It’s a spectacular boat wall dive, where you access the wall via a beautiful long meandering canyon,” said Nigel Coles, a divemaster for Tortuga Divers at East End. “The corals are both vibrant and abundant, with fields of swaying soft corals. But it is the animal life that really makes everyone love this site. On an extremely lucky day you’ll get to see up to 5 sharks! And they’ve become so familiar that we’ve named a couple. The biggest females are Smudge and Big Bertha, and they’ll will swim by you within 20 feet to check you out, so bring your camera and be amazed!”
Ocean Frontiers co-owner Steve Broadbelt puts Jack McKenny’s Canyon at the top of his list, “Jack Mckenny’s Canyon is Cayman’s #1 site for seeing Caribbean Reef Sharks!”
Photo Pro Lois Hatcher agrees. “We see sharks almost 95% of the time.”
- Princess Penny’s Pinnacle, Northside – Named for well-known free diver Penny Ventura who loved this site, this deep wall site has the pin in about 50 feet of water. Next to the pin is a plaque honoring Ms. Ventura.
“You can enter a swim-through at 50 feet and exit at 80 feet, making an amazing entrance onto the main wall,” says Divetech owner Jo Mikutowicz, of one of her favorites. “As you swim east along the wall you come to a large pinnacle situated just next to the main wall, its covered in sponges, black corals and schools of fish. You can corkscrew around the pinnacle as many times as you like.”
Divers continue along the main wall checking out nooks and crannies while keeping an eye out in the deep blue for eagle rays, often spotted at Princess Penny’s. On the swim back to the boat, divers can enjoy the shallow site on top of the wall where sea turtles and green moral eels are at home.
- Randy’s Gazebo, Bloody Bay Marine Park in Little Cayman – The wall in Bloody Bay is shallowest at 25 feet under the boat. Swimming down the mooring line divers are greeted by a myriad of fish fluttering about the top of the wall before coming to the drop-off plunging into darkness below. Close to the pin is hole leading vertically downward into the wall, and this “chimney” is large enough for divers to swim through. The chimney opens out into the majestic blue at 85 feet and the entrance is adorned with black coral stands.
“Further down the wall divers reach the gazebo, an outcropping of coral which forms an arch on the wall that divers can pass through easily which is beautifully covered in colorful sponges and coral. Giant barrel sponges surround the entrance to the gazebo and make wonderful photo opportunities,” says Southern Cross Club’s Neil van Niekerk. “On the way back, is a second swim-though that traverses laterally into a cavern that rises from 45 feet back to the top of the wall leaving a curtain of bubbles rising through the limestone. One of my personal favorites!”
- Hepp’s Pipeline, North Wall, Grand Cayman – This north side dive in Grand Cayman features a mini wall that starts at 70 feet and goes up to approximately 40 feet. The mini wall curves over itself as it gets near the top, looking like a large wave about to break, but frozen in time, thus the surfing reference in its name, Pipeline.
“This site has large sponges growing off the side of the mini wall, and loads of tiny wire corals that are home to tiny shrimp and decorator crabs,” said Jo Mikutowicz. “We see a lot of turtles here, and it’s easy to find up to 5 lobster on every dive, hiding in holes and under corals.”
- Grouper Grotto – This is a system of caverns, archways and swim-throughs in the reef at East End. The top of the reef starts at 20 feet and drops down to the bottom of the canyon at 60 feet. Although named for grouper, tarpon and silversides become the main attraction during the summer when millions of the tiny fish migrate to coast areas and fill the swim-throughs of the grotto. This is a prime spot to witness Cayman’s Silver Rush experience, when Tarpon feed on the silversides. Grouper Grotto is also a great place to see other marine life the rest of the year.
- Snapper Hole – This is a shallow dive with open tunnels and swim-throughs. A large Spanish anchor is located under one of the overhangs, offering a great photo opportunity. The site has stunning corals and marine life, and during the summer months, silversides fill the area, so it’s another great site to experience Cayman’s Silver Rush.
The Dive 365 initiative, launched in 2008 continues to highlight the Cayman Islands’ dedication to divers by offering them many choices for diving while preserving the marine environment. The U.S. Kittiwake is one of the newest dive sites created through the initiative. Cayman’s creative dive remain committed to opening-up lesser-known areas for divers, while alleviating the environmental impact of recreational diving at more popular sites.