December 3, 2020

Dive Adventure: Grand Cayman

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mz-cayman-30By Michael Zeigler

Amazing underwater photography opportunities abound in Grand Cayman

When I heard that my employer’s annual “Apex Award” trip in January was to Grand Cayman (sweet!), I immediately started mentally preparing for all of the great underwater photo opportunities that were sure to present themselves. While I primarily enjoy diving in the rich waters of southern California, I was eager to don a much thinner wetsuit and plunge into some warm blue water. Lots of research ensued, and it all paid off.

A friend of mine that I met at our 2011 underwater photography workshop in La Paz highly recommended Sunset House, and it turned out to be a fantastic choice. Although most of the trip contained pre-planned activities with my company at another hotel, my wife and I stayed a few extra days at Sunset House to get in some much needed warm water diving. I was able to squeeze in eight dives during the trip, and I loved every minute.

Equipment

All photos were taken with a Nikon D7000 in a Sea & Sea housing, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens behind a 10″ Sea & Sea dome port, and dual Ikelite strobes unless otherwise noted.

Location

Located ~275 miles south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea and a short 90 minute flight from Miami, Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands. The other two Cayman Islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, are ~85 miles northeast of Grand Cayman.

Dive Sites along Seven Mile Beach

Big Tunnels

Massive sponge-covered walls, deep crevices, and swim-throughs greeted us in just the first few minutes of my first dive of the trip. I was sure to keep my eyes peeled into the blue for the occasional “big” critter. They recently had sightings of eagle rays, and the very rare manta ray. My dive guide, Pete, took me on a fantastic tour of the reef, and pointed out some amazing black coral which was surrounded by schools of fish.

Paradise Reef

This shallow reef (60 fsw) is also the home of the Oro Verde wreck. As I descended toward the wreck, I kept my eyes on the sand flats, hoping to spot an eagle ray hunting for garden eels. The wreck is scattered over a relatively large area, which allows for plenty of exploration.

Next to the wreck, the reef teemed with life, and I quickly turned my attention to it in search of subjects for my trigger finger. After a few minutes of slowly cruising over the reef … bingo. I almost swam right over it. A small (<2′) green turtle was tucked in to the reef in search of a snack.

Little Tunnels

An expansive reef surrounded by sand provided plenty of great photo opportunities. This was another great place to find eagle rays hunting garden eels in the sand.

Pillar Coral Reef

By far the main attraction at this site were the huge formations of Pillar or “V” coral. There were several of these along the edge of this relatively shallow reef (50 fsw). I was later informed by my wife (aka cooperative dive model) that a nurse shark passed right behind me as I was framing the photo below.

Kittiwake

The diving the ex-USS Kittiwake was amazing. In her prime she was a submarine rescue vessel, and was sunk in her final resting place off the coast of Grand Cayman on January 5, 2011. Sitting in just 60 fsw and with her tower only 15 fsw from the surface, this great wreck dive is accessible to scuba divers and snorkelers alike. After descending near a swirling school of horse-eye jacks, we made our way into the bridge, and then back into the head.

Note: As we descended past the school of horse-eye jacks and into the wreck, I knew that they would present a fantastic photo opportunity. I figured they would still be there toward the end of our dive, but I figured wrong. If you see them, go for it!

Stingray City

Stingray City is amongst the top of the “must do” dives, if Grand Cayman is your destination. The interaction with the southern stingrays is amazing, and it presents some wonderful photo opportunities. There are two main areas to see the stingrays, and those include the dive site (20 fsw) and sandbar (waist deep). I’ve seen some amazing photos at dawn at the sandbar location, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it there this trip. I guess that means I have to go back!

Sunset House

Sunset House is located at the south end of Seven Mile Beach along Grand Cayman’s west side. It’s a short cab ride to and from the airport, and transfers are included when you stay at the resort.

Sunset Divers offers daily boat trips to the multitude of dive sites along the western shore of the island. In addition, they make cylinders available for shore diving at their house reef 24/7.  Assigned dive lockers make it convenient to hang and store your gear at the end of the day. But with tanks available 24/7, does it ever really end?

In additon, if you’re in need of any underwater photography equipment, Cathy Church’s Photo Centre is located right on the property! They offer a wide range of gear ranging from point-and-shoot cameras to dSLRs and underwater housings, not to mention Cathy Church herself. She’s a wealth of knowledge and inspiration, and I would encourage you to stop by and say hello!

Sunset House Reef

Sunset Divers offered excellent service and unlimited diving at the house reef. The reef offers amazing underwater photography opportunities from wide-angle to supermacro. While looking closely at tiny, darting, sharknose gobies, I looked up in time to see a pair of great barracuda pass within 20 feet. Five minutes later we saw a nurse shark slowly cruising along the sand. This was all within 50 yards of the ladder.

Besides the gorgeous reef, there are two other main attractions worth visiting. The first is the famous Amphitrite statue, and the second is the wreck of the Nicholson, just a few kicks out from the mermaid.

Shore Diving Along Seven Mile Beach

Earlier in the week I attempted to rent a cylinder at a nearby dive site called Macabuca, and was surprised to discover the strict “no solo diving” policy at the dive shop. I found out soon thereafter that this was to be the case at every dive shop I visited. This obviously put a damper on some of my attempts to capture specific images, and it’s worth noting if you’re heading to Grand Cayman. Either bring a buddy, or hope that another single or group of divers is heading out.

There were two dive sites that I had planned to visit with specific images in mind. The first was Macabuca, where there is a known school of tarpon at ~60 fsw. The second site was Devil’s Grotto, which features shallow caves with amazing structure and are sometimes filled with dense schools of silversides.

Parting Thoughts

Getting there from the east coast is a breeze, but it was a bit of a haul from Los Angeles. We first had to take a red-eye from Los Angeles, endure a 4-hour layover in Miami, before traveling to Georgetown for our arrival at 1pm local (EST). There were no weight restrictions from Miami to George Town, other than the normal >50lbs. This was not an issue for me, since I carried on most of my camera gear in a backpack and small roller case.

Overall the trip was amazing, and there no shortage of photographic opportunities, ranging from supermacro to wide-angle. I certainly wish that I had more time to dive to take advantage of the great access to the house reef, especially for a night dive.

Special Thanks

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the folks at Sunset House that made our diving experience special. Many thanks to Keith, Pete, Cathy, Simon, Jackie, Rhys, Lowrie, and the rest of the Sunset House staff and crew.

Questions/ Comments?

If you have questions or comments, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to assist you!

Michael Zeigler is editor-at-large of the Underwater Photography Guide, trip leader and instructor for Bluewater Photo, and is an AAUS Scientific Diver. Michael’s underwater photography and blog can be seen at SeaInFocus.com.

Join Michael as he leads an amazing underwater photography workshop at the famous Wakatobi Dive Resort 11/21/13 – 12/2/13!

For more on this story and to see additional amazing photographs taken by Michael Zeigler please go to:

http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/diving-grand-cayman

 

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