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Dive Review of Sunset House in
Cayman Islands/Grand Cayman

Sunset House, Oct, 2011,

by Patrick Flynn, DC, US ( 1 report). Report 6278.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving NC & FL, throughout Caribbean & tropical Pacific.
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm
Water Temp 87 to 87 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility 75 to 125 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions 100'
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks None Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 2 stars Tropical Fish 2 stars
Small Critters N/A Large Fish 2 stars
Large Pelagics N/A

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 3 stars Shore Diving 4 stars
Snorkeling 5 stars
Value for $$ 3 stars
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments During this trip, I decided that the Caribbean is no longer a dive destination for me. The reefs have deteriorated too far and, though there are signs of hope, they are pitiful. The experience is depressing. Here in the Caymans, the reefs should be the healthiest in the Caribbean, but they are in decline and everybody knows it. Although the multiple compounded threats of pollution, diver damage, warming, acidification are the chronic problems, overfishing is, I believe, the primary culprit at this stage. One reef we dove (Eagle Ray Rock) showed it is holding on, even recovering, but it is like a ghost town in terms of mature fishes. No breeders, no brood and it is only a matter of time. Of "keystone species" algae eaters are needed most. There are hardly any schools anywhere along the west coast.

On another dive, Eden Rock, I asked our captain where the protected areas of Grand Cayman are and he told me that we were in one. The reef is virtually dead. The Eden family, now dead themselves, were one of the founding dive operators in Grand Cayman. Cruise ship folk are now its patrons and a few people snorkel there, but I don't know why. I also went for a night dive off Sunset's house reef. Saw one flamingo tongue and a barracuda. What was once a reef now looks like poured concrete. This is characteristic of much of the house reef above the wall.

The rest of the 10 or so sites we visited over the rest of the week, all up and down the west end, were not as well off as the 2 at the extreme north and south of the west end. All sites show chronic stress by consisting more than 50% of dead coral covered with algae. Though over the course of a week one sees all of the Caribbean fishes that are considered "common" in this area, none of the populations are abundant. Schools are rare, as are mature specimens, though there are a few very large mature specimens scattered among all the sites we visited by boat.

The three best dive sites we visited are Northwest Point and Eagle Ray Rock, at the extreme north and south ends of our range, and the Sunset House house reef - this last because it is the only place we're able to dive our own profiles. As one goes far from shore, the reef is healthier, though there is still evidence of multiple stresses, e.g., bleaching. Since this is the end of the summer and the temp is 87 degrees even at depth, perhaps this is to be expected.

This was my first trip to Grand Cayman. Sunset House is in the midst of a renovation. The new room I shared with another club member was perfect for an establishment by divers, for divers. It was spacious, clean, and well appointed without being fussy. We had 2 king beds, a desk with light, electric outlets, and wifi, plenty of storage space, mini-fridge, good bedside reading light, etc. The shower is large and the bathroom very attractive as well as totally functional (except for the 2nd towel rod, on order). Neutral colors throughout except for attractive chintz drapes to close off the balcony. Food in the restaurant is expensive, but good; the Indian food is very good; and vegetarian comrades had no trouble. Food service at The Bar I found to be lackadaisical, but it did not seem to bother my comrades. The menus are the same at the restaurant and The Bar. Drinks are expensive, but it appears that one must look hard to find anything reasonably priced on Grand Cayman. (However, one can find good reasonably priced food by word of mouth, for example Chicken Chicken in George Town.)

The grounds are well designed and well kept. In anticipation of the high season, there was patching, painting, planting, etc. going on everywhere, all in good taste, no nonsense, just like the rooms. I especially like the attention to detail such as non-slip tiles around the jacuzzi and pool, comfortable outdoor seating, preservation of the classic dead coral inlaid walls and antique anchors - items that are no longer obtainable, justly, but legitimate quarry in the past. Clearly this is a prosperous, well-managed resort.

Except on one point. The dive operation is good, except their excessive rules stand in the way of a totally enjoyable experience. We are harangued repeatedly about 100' and 50 minute limits and no solo diving. I am okay with these last 2 limits, but I wish I could dive my own profile, with a buddy, since I have over 500 dives in all kinds of environments and this week's conditions were exceptionally benign. But one divemaster, Jackson, went too far. She berated me loudly while I was still on the ladder emerging from a fine dive, because I did an extended safety stop and my buddy did not. My buddy got on board after 3 minutes and I hovered by the ladder at 15' for an additional 5 minutes, after watching my buddy get on board safely. Sea conditions were ideal - 100' viz, no current, no waves, bright sunshine; and my buddy knew that I was hovering by the ladder. "Jacks" wrecked my nerves, spoiled my otherwise excellent dive, and embarrassed me in front of my friends on board; and when I explained that it is my habit to take an extended safety stop when I dive 100' or more, it made no difference to Jackson as she emphasized quite loudly.

The problem is that 4 days into the dive week, the divemasters apparently were still not familiar enough with our skill levels and habits to be flexible when appropriate. This is due in part to their juggling dive crews and boats, but mainly to their poor judgement and obsessive enforcement of overly-restrictive rules. The result is that, combined with the degraded reefs, the over-all dive experience with Sunset Divers is about the same as a visit to a good aquarium. Is this what recreational diving has come to?

Generally speaking, Sunset Divers has an efficient set-up, but their operations chief needs to do some on-the-job training. I provided an advance copy of this review to him, and received no response.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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