It most likely will not come as Big News to you that the Cayman Islands are one of the world’s premier dive destinations.?? There are probably banners flashing on your screen right now, courtesy of the Cayman Island Department of Tourism, or one of the major island resorts. You’ve either been there already, wishfully researched your trip, or?? replay your generic Caribbean fantasy reel whenever the name comes up.
Dear me, now I’m asking myself why, given all of the above, I am writing yet another piece on the Caymans !?? I’ve only been there a zillion times or so, and never before felt moved to compose a loving panegyric to those little rocks in the water.?? Why now ?
Well, last week, reviewing my frequent flyer account, I had an epiphany at four in the morning. Why, I realized groggily, I keep going back there. Again and again. Year after year, and, oh dear me, sometimes month after month.?? Five times in 2000 alone !?? I spent about 10% of my precious time that year down there, and I am, thankfully, a fellow who can spend his time pretty much anywhere he wants.
So I went again, this time on a research mission to identify and catalog the reasons for this stealthy romance.??
A few days later it was all quite clear in my mind.?? Grand Cayman has pretty much everything an oceanman?? (or oceanwoman) wants out of life.?? The only downside is that prices on the rock are high, high, high.?? Even so, with a little local knowledge one can fine-tune one’s rate of financial hemorrhage?? to?? acceptable levels.
Read on, as I construct a Caymanian vacation scenario for the more hard-core waterman, one who has the ocean at the top of the priority list. You’ll know this is you if every single day of your vacation schedule is marked ‘dive’?? or?? ‘windsurf’?? or something along those lines. This sort of traveller has very flexible requirements with regard to the level of luxury or lack thereof in his accomodations, the primary concern being that these be situated so as to maximize water time.?? He is economy-minded, since a dollar saved is a dollar that can be applied to important things like a new wetsuit, or another dive trip. Food ??? Fuel !??
For this traveller, my pick is the Seaview Resort and Dive Center, on South Church Street just outside the center of George Town.?? The Seaview, built in 1947, is the oldest resort on Grand Cayman and has a funky Caribbean charm that just cannot be fabricated any more. The hotel has undergone periodic renovations and updates, and is quite livable. The hotel restaurant, The Naked Fish, is actually rather good, and reasonably priced by Cayman standards. I found myself going out of my way to do lunch there.??
The Seaview’s rooms are comfortably priced and perfectly livable. They are life-support chambers wherein one performs one’s grooming,?? hygiene, and other personal overhead followed by a good night’s sleep.?? A true oceanman?? (or oceanwoman) needs nothing more.??
A key economic?? feature of the Seaview is its location: a short walk from the center of George Town.?? This means that the cheapskate traveller can spend a happy week there with no need to rent a car. There must be something that cannot be bought in the center of George Town, but I don’t know what that thing might be. If the Naked Fish is busting your budget, hoof it on into town for Burger King, Champions restaurant or any of the other more proletarian.
And now, to the red meat,?? Seaview’s raison d’etre, and the waterman traveller’s reason for being there: The Ocean.?? The Seaview is on the ocean, and by that I mean that the water’s edge is a few steps away from the rooms.?? Like much of the Cayman shoreline, it is not a white sandy postcard beach, rather,?? it is ironshore, a tortured volcanic rampart which would slice your bare feet to ribbons were it not for the poured concrete walkways and step-downs to the water.?? The Seaview has tamed the ironshore for divers and provides convenient and comfy entry-exit points that are the portals to absolutely superb shore diving.
Enter the water, and you are immediately in the Caribbean waterworld you dreamed about all those months back home.?? Cayman waters are everything they say, and more. A few minutes surface swim has you out in 65 feet/20m over stunning coral formations and a bottom sloping gently out toward the edge of the abyss, the Wall.?? There is easily a week of first-class shore diving right at your doorstep, day and night.
But that’s not all. Not nearly.
Canadians Dan Hodgins and Tara Cunningham recently took over the Seaview Dive Center, an on-premises operation which can deliver on everything from resort courses for first-timers to trimix certification for the very, very deeply inclined. Dan and Tara are top-of-the-line, leading edge water people who can get you where you want to go. Technical diving is certainly one of their strong suits — both have made numerous dives to depths in excess of 500 feet, and are superb instructors. If scuba specialities, mixed gases and deep diving are the stuff of your dreams, these are the folks who can make it happen for you.?? You won’t have to go far to find the deep blue, either — the edge of the Cayman Wall is only a few hundred meters offshore.
The Seaview is also a perfect destination for aspiring and dedicated freedivers. Dan and Tara have both represented Canada in the world freediving championships for the past two years, and Tara is a genuine World Champion.?? Both are very gifted teachers of apnea, and have astonished numerous students by bringing them to depths and breath-hold times beyond their wildest expectations.?? The Seaview oceanfront is perfect for apnea diving, too. There is generally little or no current or chop, and there is a range of easily accessible depths ranging from a few feet to way, way beyond the current or future world records.?? Spearfishers take note : spearfishing is a major, serious crime in the Cayman Islands.?? You can’t do it here, period. In fact, it is a crime to bring a speargun or even spare parts for a speargun into the country. This is no joke — if you are caught breaking these laws you will be treated most harshly.
Dan and Tara have, between them, something like 20 years’?? experience diving Grand Cayman, and are happy to introduce guests to other shore dive spots around the Island and to the lively local freediving scene.?? I suppose it is no secret that I’m pretty enthusiastic about freediving, and I’ve had the good fortune to have met and dived with a number of the Cayman residents who have helped turn the island into one of the global freedive capitals.?? For a visiting freediver, this kind of local knowledge is priceless. The locals set their own mooring lines in the best spots, and set the top of the line with a float 15 –30 feet below the surface to keep it secret.?? It just doesn’t get any better than that.