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April 1998 Vol. 13, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Insider's Guide to Grand Cayman

Do it right and dive your own profile — do it wrong and get blackballed

from the April, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I’ve moaned about having to surface with 2000 psi still left in my tank while diving on Grand Cayman, and from time to time I’ve offered a few solutions to this problem by naming a couple of operations that offer more advanced diving. But how do you find out the inside skinny on a destination that has a hundred dive operations to choose from? We found a well-traveled Cayman divemaster we trust—one who formerly lived and worked on the island—who gave us the names of some operators willing to treat experienced divers as adults.

J.Q.

While I was a divemaster on Grand Cayman, experienced divers frequently complained that Cayman operators treated them as if they were newly certified. They were required to follow them along with ten other divers as they raced around a site, only to surface with their tanks still half-full.

The stories of these frustrated divers weren’t exaggerated. Safety is an island-wide priority, and Grand Cayman’s reputation for its strict diving policies is welldeserved. According to the Cayman Islands Watersports Operators’ Association, the maximum depth for any dive is still 110 feet, except on the East End, where the depth limit is 120 feet. This overriding commitment to safety coupled with an enormous number of visitors induces most operators to run very conservative dives.

On the other hand, experienced Undercurrent subscribers don’t need a divemaster to hold their hands and point out barracuda. There are dive shops in Grand Cayman that recognize that, while all divers may be equal, some are more equal than others, and they’re willing to give experienced divers more of what they’re looking for. Nitrox? No problem. Computer profiles? Just stay out of decompression and come up with 500 psi. You and your buddy want to explore the reef apart from the group? Don’t get lost, or you’ll owe the captain a case of beer. And as long as you don’t hold up everyone else on the boat, you can have all the bottom time you want, regardless of whether you’re diving with air or Nitrox.

There are dive shops in
Grand Cayman that
recognize that, while all
divers may be equal,
some are more equal
than others . . .

I want to share the names of several operations that give veteran divers a chance to dive on their own without being cavalier about the welfare of their customers. They’re computer- and camera-friendly, and most offer Nitrox. Of course, every operation has its own rules and caters to a slightly different niche of diving Grand Cayman, so you might call before you arrive to discuss your needs. These operations also limit the number of people per trip, so it’s best to reserve your diving in advance.

Divers Down (phone, fax: 345/945-1611) is across from Seven Mile Beach in the shopping center Coconut Place. It keeps its trips to a maximum of eight divers. The boat is small, but the staff is friendly and accommodating and will pick up guests in the shop’s minibus at their hotel or condominium.

Cayman Marine Lab’s (phone, fax: 345/945-5586) early departures usually ensure that they get their choice of dive sites. However, there’s no pick-up service, so divers must meet up with the boat at either the public section of Seven Mile Beach or the Cayman Islands Yacht Club, depending on where the trip is headed that day. During surface intervals, marine biologist Tom Byrnes gives lectures and answers questions on the coral reef environment so divers know what they’re really looking at. He’s widely respected and knows the waters of Grand Cayman as well as anybody on the island.

Dive’n Stuff (phone: 949- 6033, fax: 945-9207) is perhaps the most flexible operation on Grand Cayman. Customers can arrange personalized trips or night dives virtually anytime during their stay, usually with as few as two divers. The hardworking staff takes requests seriously and usually meets them. They’re also willing to pick you up, or you can meet them at their shop in Georgetown.

Peter Milburn’s Dive Cayman Ltd. (phone: 945-5770, fax: 945-5786) is one of the oldest and most successful dive operations on Grand Cayman. He somehow manages to run up to three boats at a time and satisfy both new divers and old salts alike. He also offers a convenient pick-up service, and the experienced staff helps Peter retain a loyal following among regular visitors to the island.

Dive Tech (phone 949-1700, fax: 949-1701), located a couple of miles up from Seven Mile Beach at Northwest Point, is the island’s only true technical diving operation. Anyone certified in enriched air, mixed-gas, or rebreather diving can rent equipment or arrange guided dives. While Dive Tech doesn’t run regularly scheduled boat trips, there are several good shore dives nearby. It also offers courses in all of its specialties, including introductory resort courses and full certifications. Students can request to be picked up at their hotel or condominium.

I took a resort course at Dive Tech on the Atlantis I rebreather. The entire course, including the dive, lasted four hours. My instructor, Dan, gave a thorough overview of the history and mechanics of the semi-closed system and how to use the attached pony bottle as a bailout option if anything went wrong with the Atlantis I. After practicing the bail-out in shallow water, we had a 90-minute dive with a maximum depth of 96 feet. Dan navigated the dive but kept the pace leisurely and let me wander as much as I wanted. The dive itself was fascinating. The rebreather’s reduction of bubbles allowed me to eyeball normally skittish squid from 18 inches away and to have gobies clean my hand.

Ocean Frontiers (phone, fax: 947-7500) is located on the East End, the least developed part of Grand Cayman. Because it has some of the most beautiful and pristine diving in the Cayman Islands, divemasters frequently come here to dive on their day off. Ocean Frontiers will pick you up at your hotel, even if you are staying on Seven Mile Beach. Their custom-built boat is stable in rough seas and takes up to 12 divers very comfortably. Most importantly, the staff recognizes that the reefs and walls of East End are special and reminds divers on deck, and underwater if necessary, to keep them this way. I have been diving with Ocean Frontiers several times, and on each occasion I had a first-class trip.

Hooking up with one of these dive operators isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be treated like Bob Soto. You might have to do a dive or two with the rest of the group to prove your skills. Live with it, and, after a day or two, talk to the divemaster before the boat leaves the dock. Don’t flash your log book stamp from Sipadan or brag about your experience. Divemasters see ten people like that a week. Just ask if it’s possible to do the next dive on your own, and offer to show your computer after the dive as proof that you did a safe profile. Chances are you’ll get the okay as long as you stay above 100 feet. On the other hand, if you don’t get the answer you want, it’s not a good idea to ignore the refusal and do your own profile anyway. Reckless and disobedient divers are only a fax away from being blackballed by every dive shop on the island.

D.E.

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