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by Walt Stearns
Top Wall Dives
Grand Cayman’s small Sister Islands-Cayman Brac, (12 miles long) and Little Cayman (roughly 11 miles long)-encompass a region of ocean famous for its cascading plummets to well beyond 1,000 feet. That’s right, we’re talking walls-those mind boggling, marvelous marine precipices that divers drop over, seeing nothing below but the dark indigo void. Picking the finest sites among the two Sister Islands is a tough job, but the following deserve consideration. Cayman Brac’s Top North Wall Dives: The Brac’s walls typically begin at the 55 to 60 foot mark, with a few exceptions. Starting as little as 45 feet from the surface, Cemetery Wall and its neighbor, Strawberry Sponge Wall, make near vertical plunges to 800 feet. Decorated profusely with bright sponges and Deep Water Gorgonians, their sheer faces are also home to large Black Coral trees adorned with clusters of Red Vase Sponges. Sharing this same stretch, on the other side of Cemetery Wall, is Garden Eel Wall and Piper’s Wall. Starting a bit deeper than average, at 65 feet, these two dramatic drop-offs add greatly to the flavor of the Brac’s North Wall by infusing abundant collections of rich colored tube and rope sponges and Deep Water Gorgonians.
Cayman Brac’s Top South Wall Dives: While the south side’s walls sometimes lack the same degree of colorful sponge growth found on the north, it is no less intense. Large buttresses of coral line the edge, dropping like giant parapets along the boundaries of a castle. Bisecting many of these massive ramparts are tunnels, winding crevices and narrow chasms. At Anchor Wall, a huge anchor that dates back to the 1600s sits tightly wedged in the middle of a crevice at 90 feet. While splits and chasms make up a large part of South Wall’s highly serrated profiles, Wilderness Wall offers something different with its huge, 40 foot wide coral pinnacle. Decorating this 55 foot precipice are numerous Deep Water Gorgonians draped with tangled locks of red and lavender rope sponges. Often seen hanging above it are large schools of Horse-eye Jacks. Two sites offering a superior balance of dramatic physical features and color are Rock Monster Chimney and Eden Wall. Both have rich communities of large sponges.
Little Cayman’s Top North Wall Dives: Because of their superb wall diving, Little Cayman’s famed Bloody Bay and Jackson Bight seldom need an introduction. The best known sites, Great Wall East and Great Wall West, plunge straight down to oblivion from a mere 20 feet below the surface. Also characteristic of Little Cayman’s wall sites are the beautiful, healthy shallow coral gardens inshore of the wall’s crest. At almost every site, you can start your dive on a vertical wall and work back to safety stop depth without ever leaving the reef or traveling far from the boat. Adding to the remarkable vistas are vibrant coral and sponge communities and vigorous fish life.
In addition to the normal fare of small reef fish, Creolefish and Black Durgons, Jackson Bight and Bloody Bay are regular stomping grounds for large Black and Yellowfin Groupers, friendly Nassau Groupers, Eagle Rays, Horse-eye Jacks, sea turtles and, occasionally, reef sharks.
Surprisingly, some of Little Cayman’s most dazzling sites are also the most overlooked-such as Fisheye Fantasy. The vertical face of this impressive wall features a prominent ridge running down to 175 feet. At three different depth zones (60, 80 and 120 feet) are large openings, giving it the appearance of a giant kitty climbing post. A great photo favorite is Randy’s Gazebo. While not as sheer or shallow as Great Wall East next door, Randy’s features a striking, coral archway in the side of the wall and several of the brightest sprays of Yellow Tube Sponges I have ever seen, as well as vividly hued Red Vase and rope sponges.
Although the top of the crests at Jackson Bight typically begin deeper, 45 or 55 feet from the surface, they are by no means less spectacular. From Jackson Bight Wall down through Coconut Walk Wall, Blacktip Boulevard and Bus Stop, expect to see large meandering cuts, crevices and tunnels. Along their vertical contours are lovely arrangements of brilliant Yellow and Purple Tube Sponges, and Deep Water Gorgonians mixed with small clusters of Strawberry Vase and rope sponges. Few places offer the stellar wall dives, great fish action and clear, warm waters of the Sister Islands. To check out the Cayman Islands visit the Web site at www.cayman.com.