A slim weather window appeared for us to sail to Cayman Brac last week, so we checked out of Cienfuegos Wednesday morning and after a frustrating two hour delay because the officials dinghy had run out of fuel (they were supposed to come on board to check we had no small Cubans hiding in the bilges, in the end we had to relaunch our dinghy and go and get our papers and passports) we set sail across the huge harbour just in time for the onshore breeze to set in and we had wind on the nose. That made it a much longer and slower overnight passage to Cayman Brac, the eastern most of the Cayman Islands. We had two feathered visitors to keep us company just as the light failed, a swallow took refuge on a rope laying on the coachroof and stayed until sunrise when he joined me in the cockpit whilst he prepared for take-off. A rare ‘up close and personal’ encounter with a beautiful little bird sitting right by my foot as I helmed at 45 degrees (slant not temperature). The other bird was possibly a tern, too dark to make out what he was when he landed on the solar panels right underneath the whizzing wind turbine. He did try and fly into the cockpit a couple of times on my first shift whilst squawking which freaked me out a little, my instinctive arm waving made him retreat, he finally decided he was safer close to the spinning blades of the wind turbine than to me.
As Cayman Brac came into view on the horizon we radioed the officials to announce our arrival, they were wonderfully efficient and directed us to a mooring buoy on the north east coast where all the officials arrived alongside in their boat including the mosquito control unit. We had to shut all hatches and windows and stay on the deck whilst they sprayed the interior, charging USD31 for the privilege. This was certainly the most friendly and efficient check-in we have ever encountered. Immigration and Customs officers were both present and all paperwork done in a jiffy, even giving us advice on where to go and which moorings to use. The whole area is a non-anchoring zone to protect the coral, so there are free visitor mooring buoys pretty much all around the island, most concentrated on dive sites. They are available for public use by divers, fisherman and visitors and we were told we could spend 24 hours on a mooring or longer if no dive operator wanted it.
After all formalities were completed we stopped in at Scotts Anchorage and went ashore to the small village square to draw some cash out for the mosquito control fee as we had no USD on us, there are at least three good sized supermarkets on the island along with liquor stores and a deli despite only having about 2000 residents. For the night we ended up on a large orange hurricane mooring (it has two pins in the sea bed and stronger chain and rope) just outside the reef on the south west corner, there is literally no shelter at all from swell here as it wraps around both sides of the island. The dive boats get in behind the reef through a narrow shallow channel, too shallow for Joy unfortunately so we had to endure the rolly conditions outside. We had thought that Montserrat had been the worst place for swell but this place beats it hands down, we resorted to sleeping in the saloon and even joked about going ashore to sleep on the beach. The mooring however was on a lovely reef dive called Sergeant Major, so an hours dive also gave us some relief from the conditions above. Shame the dive shops here charge USD10 for a tank refill, even air is expensive in the Cayman Islands!
The island is really peaceful and pretty, the residents are extremely friendly and when we walked to the supermarket a gentleman pulled up to offer us a welcome lift. The south west shore appears to have lots of hurricane-damaged hotels and apartments with no sign of rebuild. Kind of sad when you see the amazing outlook they all have and gorgeous sandy beaches protected by the reef. The word Brac is Gaelic for ‘bluff’ – a dramatic limestone cliff – which begins at sea level on the western end and climbs to 140 feet at the eastern end where it drops into the sea. Over one third of the island is covered by parkland and lush vegetation creating habitats and protection for many indigenous plants and wildlife. The parrot reserve running through the centre of the eastern end is home to the Cayman Brac Parrot and has hiking paths through it, leading to the ‘lighthouse’ on the east end, actually it’s more of a light tower but does have spectacular views. Around a 100 pairs of Brown Boobies nest in the cliffs by the lighthouse path, we were lucky enough to get a sneaky peak of a large chick that had just been fed by its parents. These fantastic sea birds are great divers, we usually get accompanied at sea by a booby or two, swooping down to catch the flying fish that jump out as Joy bounds through the water. The name ‘booby’ is apparently from the Spanish ‘Bobo’ or dunce, as once upon a time hungry sailors found them easy to sneak up on and snag either them or their eggs for lunch. We, on the other hand, were yearning for jerk chicken burger and chips so we left the boobies alone and headed for the Star Island restaurant for lunch. For an expensive island it was very good value.
When we returned to Joy after a great day exploring the swell had increased making the mooring even more uncomfortable, so we slipped our line and headed west to Little Cayman hoping to get some protection in a small bay just west of ‘the sound’. Arriving just as darkness fell we were pleased that a diver had added the mooring locations on the Navionics charts and we were able to find it straight away, slightly better conditions than Cayman Brac until of course during the night when things always seem to get a little worse.