The conditions when we arrived at Little Cayman worsened overnight, we were unable to launch the dinghy off the davits because of the roll and pitching so stayed on the same dive mooring for two nights. Jez had spoken with a dive boat over the VHF behind us during the day to ask about depths going into the sound which is a protected shallow area behind the reef. They thought it would be doubtful with our draft but couldn’t give exact depths so we stayed put and endured the conditions. On the second day, fed up with being tossed around, we decided to sail around the island thinking we would be better off at sea. The windward side of the island was being battered by short steep waves and gusty 25+ knot winds so we had a bumpy time tacking up and around the north east end and back into the lee of the island. As we approached the sound once more, Jez radioed another dive boat for depth information and a friendly English guy called Ed said he thought it was indeed possible if we nudge just inside the channel and turn sharp starboard passing a local sail boat on a mooring. We started to get ready for an approach to the channel when a call came over the VHF from Keith, the Dept of Environment Officer and the sail boat owner. He told us that he was sitting in 7ft at low water and he did not think we would find 8-9 feet (we draw about 8ft) anywhere so we retreated. He recommended we return to the dive mooring we were on, or the mooring at the wreck of the Soto Trader just outside the reef, so for a change of scenery we went to the Soto Trader and just as we had secured ourselves Keith sped out in his launch to add another chain to the mooring where it attaches to the wreck so that we could all sleep well that night! Ha Ha, if only!
The following day conditions eased very slightly allowing us to at least dive the wreck beneath us and get ashore to explore. We also checked out the depths inside the channel from the dinghy using a leadline, Keith had been right, the depth drops from 9ft in the channel to 7ft at low tide just inside so that confirmed it was definitely a no-go for us. Luckily no other dive boat wanted the mooring so we were able to stay on it for a couple of nights knowing that it was a pretty strong mooring.
Gearing up in the dinghy for our dive off the boat on the wreck (it is easier to get in and out of the water with gear via the dinghy as Joy is so high-sided, getting in no problem but climbing out with all the weights, tanks and fins is not so) a pair of boobies swooped down and one almost landed on my head! It was such a funny sight as they then both tried to do the same thing, they came down hovering over our heads just a foot away. In 1975 the ill-fated Soto Trader, a 120ft steel freighter, was carrying beer, gasoline, diesel and a jeep from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac when she stopped at Little Cayman to off-load diesel. Whilst her crew pumped fuel into drums some leaked onto the decks which apparently ignited from a cigarette. It went up in flames killing two crew members and after burning overnight she finally sank. It made an interesting dive and the reef lying in front of it was teaming with life, including turtles and southern sting-rays as well as all the usual tropical fish. It amazes me at how peaceful and settled it is under the water, when on the surface it is anything but!
Little Cayman is a wonderfully peaceful island with about 6 small dive resorts inside the sound with sandy beaches and a wonderful outlook. Hiring a car was a lot more expensive than on Cayman Brac at USD55, but the only way to explore as there are no buses or taxis on the island. There is one supermarket and a small liquor store here, but if you have a liking for rice crispies for breakfast, a box will set you back just over £10, an expensive ‘habit’ to have. Local eggs were £7 a dozen, cock a doodle-doo. A happy hour beer at ‘The Hungry Iguana’ was USD5, a sharp increase from the 80 cents we had got used to in Cuba. But if you believe in getting what you pay for, you will not be disappointed in Little Cayman as it really is worth the effort and extra cost. It is heaven.
Our first stop was at the National Trust Booby Reserve, a huge land-locked salt water lagoon fringed with mangroves which is protected as it has the largest colony of Red-Footed Boobies in the northern hemisphere, around 20,000, as well as 350 Magnificent Frigate Birds and hundreds of swallows. With over 2,500 active nests at the last count, experts believe that the colony on this small island represents at least a third of the entire Caribbean and Atlantic population. The reserve has a wonderful building which provides information and a viewing platform with telescopes so that you can watch the chicks on their nests on the other side of the lagoon. Large iguanas and small curly-tailed lizards rustle about in the leaves, grey king birds flitter from one wire to another looking for insects and swallows dive bomb you like little feather rockets hurtling through the air. This is a nature-lovers paradise.
The lovely English lady in the National Trust shop told us there were also birds nesting in the tree opposite the church, so we walked along the sand strewn road to take a look, I so wanted to see a Red-Footed Booby up close and my wish came true
We moved moorings again when we returned to Joy as the wind had turned more to the east increasing the chop and swell to the south coast (if that’s at all possible) so we headed to the last mooring on the south west corner called Lighthouse Deep and settled down for the night. Another sleepless night on the sofa for me, brought a choppy morning and also another shift further south in the wind. Jez was on the phone to his father and I was making coffee when a large set came through and Joy horsed a couple of times, then we heard a loud bang and started drifting sidewards – we had broken the mooring. It was a quick dash to get the mooring lines out of the water and engine on, I did manage to retrieve the mooring ball with our fishing net so at least we could return it! It was now time to try the north coast and as we approached the moorings in Jacksons Bay the sea levelled out and things calmed down at last. We then had three wonderful days here diving, there are plenty of buoys to use and the diving is spectacular.
Jacksons Reef is awesome, amazing coral and fish life including huge groupers and very inquisitive turtles. I will post some Go-Pro pictures on my next blog. The water is so crystal clear as you can see below, at night with a beautiful shining moon the boat appears to be suspended over the reef and sand which is clearly visible, as if no water is in between us. This is a very special place.