GRAND CAYMAN ISLAND — Standing on the dock at a popular dive resort, I’m trying to work up the courage to take the plunge, so to speak, into the warm surf below. Only thing is, I’m scared to death of deep water.
A wave of fear washes over me at the thought of diving almost 20m below the waves, where I’m supposed to complete some drills if I have any hope of getting my open water certification.
If you’re wondering why, at 39, I’m doing this, well, it’s because I don’t want to be the odd one out in my family. My husband and daughter, you see, are enthusiastic participants of the sport and my son is starting to take lessons. So, I felt it was time I overcome my deep water fears and join them on a family dive vacation.
I was actually encouraged to take up diving here after watching a bunch of kids, some as young as 10, earn their junior open water certificates at Cobalt Coast Resort, where we stayed. Our 11-year-old daughter Katelyn and 7-year-old son Ethan attended the resort’s Kids Sea Camp and came away bursting with excitement for diving.
Above: Claire and her family take a deep dive into the Cayman Islands while on vacation.
Ethan participated in the SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) program at Kids Sea Camp and learned how to use a buoyancy control device (BCD) and regulator and breathe compressed air while staying above the water — the first stage in dive training.
So, no more excuses. I’m ready to make a deep water splash.
When I jump, I’m surprised by the gentle current and my tense body instantly relaxes. I start to soak up all aquatic wonders framed in my mask. Giant stingrays, turtles, octopi, massive lobsters and schools of fish welcome me to their underwater world with barely a glance.
Katelyn and I had depth restrictions placed on us because of our inexperience — 12m for her and 18m for me. My “advanced diver” husband, however, had a much different experience than us. He actually participated in a thrilling night dive and came back with tales of giant worms being attracted to his flashlight.
Above: Claire's son Ethan gets some pool training before coming face-to-face with tropical fish.
My first introduction to diving actually came in Bermuda a year earlier. My PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) course involved much shallower water, though, and did not prepare me for the deep waters of Grand Cayman.
There are so many Instagram moments for divers below the Cayman Island surf. Our favourite was a visit to the wreck of the USS Kitiwake, a 1945 submarine rescue ship that rests at the bottom of Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. It’s become one of the most photographed dive sites in the world.
Another family favourite was a spot known as Walmart, where we get to see a wide variety of sea life gathered all in one place — a superstore of fish, so to speak.
Grand Cayman is one of the most treasured dive spots in the world because it offers both experienced and novice divers such variety. Veterans of the sport can test their skills in magical places like Trinity Caves, where they swim through coral canyons in search of the elusive eagle ray.
Beginners can get a taste for the sport at Stingray City, where they get to see specially trained guides feed the impressive winged creatures on the sand flats where they hang out.
Above: Exploring old wrecks and the treasure trove of discarded items on the seabed all part of the fune.
It was at Stingray City where we had the most family fun. While Ethan hung out with a dive instructor on the surface, the rest of us dove 4.5m to the bottom and petted the stingrays like they were the family pet.
When we weren’t diving, we ventured out to see what else Grand Cayman has to offer tourists, like:
• Crystal Caves, which is filled with some very impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations and lots of bats! I’m not a fan of the furry creatures but my kids are still talking about that experience months after our visit.
• Camana Bay, a newly created area featuring lots of upscale shops, restaurants and a gorgeous beach. The local ice cream shop and splash pad area, which Ethan quite enjoyed, were the highlights of that visit.
• Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Garden, where we learned a lot about the flora and fauna and rare birds that populate this magical island.
Grand Cayman is a special place in so many ways but for families who like to take a dive, it’s a knockout.
Above: Giant sea turtles, majestic Crustal Caves and odd sea plants are what lures divers to the Cayman Islands.