On August 30th, 2020, I was finally able to fulfill a goal I had for many years – diving the ‘bastion of good diving’ that is Bloody Bay Marine Park, Little Cayman.
After the trip, I did a write up for a local newspaper – The Cayman Compass, which they published and I am now sharing with you here. (With the addition of some new photos – courtesy of Steve Broadbelt and Ocean Frontiers)
On 30 Aug., a group of 24 intrepid divers seeking adventure headed to Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman with Ocean Frontiers dive shop – a trip made possible by their recent addition of three brand-new dive boats. Fast, capable and spacious, not to mention equipped with a bathroom, these 46-foot Newtons provided divers with the ability to undertake such a crossing in a smooth and comfortable way.
Steve Broadbelt, co-owner of Ocean Frontiers, had a very clear idea of which dive sites should be visited to give a ‘best of’ Bloody Bay Wall. His in-depth knowledge of the area gave guests a real insight into the type of dives the northwest coast of Little Cayman provides. Three Fathoms Wall, Randy’s Gazebo, and Nancy’s Cup of Tea were the chosen ones this time around.
Here is an account of the trip written by boat captain James Snelgrove, himself a first-timer to Bloody Bay Wall.
With a turn of the ignition keys, the throaty grunt of 800 horsepower of diesel engine broke the pre-dawn silence. The gusty wind of the previous few days had abated, and the ocean was inky and calm as the boats pulled onto the dock.
Silhouetted against the yellow light of the gear sheds, the crew move about efficiently preparing the vast amount of equipment needed for the day. First aid and oxygen kits, dive gear, towels, coolers, water, paperwork, and more. All of it gets loaded onto a trolley to be brought down to the waiting boats. A low tank fill so far away from the dive shop would not be good, so each tank is checked individually before our customers arrive, not to mention the four spare tanks and the two oxygen cylinders.
As the eastern sky begins to brighten, the wafting smells of coffee and continental breakfasts join the activity as we make our final preparations to leave. Our bleary-eyed, yet excited customers all arrive on time, so we have plenty of time to set up the gear and check the nitrox tanks. Timing was to be a crucial and critical factor throughout the day to ensure maximum time in the water.
Precisely on schedule at 6:29am, the ropes were cast off, and we poetically sailed into the sunrise to begin our crossing. The weather was in our favour, and the two boats glided effortlessly across the surface of the water; we relished the wind in our hair while sipping hot coffees and eating croissants. The three-hour crossing passed by quickly as we got excited about the dives ahead and mingled with others onboard. Expertly produced and laminated maps were handed out, the dive profiles got planned and buddy teams assigned for those alone.
Before we knew it, a faint smudge on the horizon had steadily grown to become Little Cayman. The stark beauty of Bloody Bay Wall became apparent as I let off the power and we arrived at the first dive site. I couldn’t hide my awe as we secured the boat to the mooring line, my jaw dropped seeing the vibrant turquoise colour of the shallow reef right under the boat contrasting in spectacular fashion with the deepest blue of the drop-off right in front of us; the boundary separating the two worlds running in a razor-straight line parallel with the shoreline. Despite sitting right on the edge of the wall, the boat’s depth sounder read only 18 feet deep, the site very much living up to its name of ‘Three Fathoms Wall’.
If I had expected for a second that the dive would not live up to the incredible view from the surface, I would have been very much mistaken. The divers were all greeted by abundant fields of healthy corals of all species. Countless sponges of exceedingly varied shapes and immense sizes poked above the gently waving soft corals, all complemented by the plethora of fish life going about their business. Notably apparent were the many grouper enjoying their morning cleaning ritual along the edge of the wall, sitting with their mouths open and gills flared, allowing the cleaner fish to go to work.
I felt the need to double-check the depth information on my dive computer several times as we dropped down into the void. The top of the wall sitting in such shallow water created the impression of great depth even at a mere 40 feet as we felt the presence of the wall looming high above us. The sporadic features scattered throughout the area such as swim-throughs, arches, ledges, and overhangs all conspicuous against the strikingly precipitous wall. The dive concluded with no doubt one of the most picturesque safety stops ever, sitting right over the edge looking down and watching the myriad marine life dart in and around the reef.
The addition of sail shades on the boat provided us with welcome relief from the sun, while simultaneously lowering the temperature on deck by several degrees. We spent our surface intervals eating, telling stories, and sharing all the critter sightings from the dive – not least of all the reef sharks that did many close passes on every dive!
For the third dive, we took advantage of a stiff current to drift along a deeper section of wall towards the eastern edge of the marine park which, for many of our divers, was a real highlight. With barely a kick of a fin, we passed by shallow reefs replete with vast amounts of corals and sponges, deep sand chutes, long sections of abyssal wall, towering pinnacles, dark and ominous tunnels, plentiful fish life and, of course, the curious reef sharks.
After the dive, the atmosphere onboard was buzzing as we watched Little Cayman gradually shrink into the distance and return once again to being a faint smudge on the horizon before finally disappearing. We powered westwards towards home, the ocean oily smooth and reflecting perfect mirror-images of the boats above, a photo opportunity like no other! Eventually, with yet more snacks eaten, the chit-chat onboard gently faded away as our guests dozed quietly to the sound of the engines, and the splash of the waves.
To beautifully complement our sunrise departure, the sun instead sat low in the western sky when the waters of Grand Cayman began to caress the boats’ hulls as we pulled onto the dock at Ocean Frontiers. Our departing guests left us with suggestions that this ‘one-off’ trip should not be a one-time thing after all…
Writer’s note – was it worth it?
“Having worked with Ocean Frontiers for the best part of seven years and doing an estimated 2,000 dives on the East End alone, I have always been aware of Bloody Bay Wall and I had big expectations. For me personally the dives were incredible, and the trip was absolutely worth it; I would certainly embrace the chance to do it again. The large, powerful boats were indispensable, and the whole team coming together to make the trip work was a wonderful thing to see.
“It would seem however, from what I can glean from others who know Little Cayman intimately, as well as my own (albeit limited) experience and research, that outside of the Bloody Bay marine park, the island’s diving cannot exceed the East End of Grand Cayman in terms of sheer variety. I am very happy I got to see it, and I look forward to seeing it again, but I still relish the fantastic diving on my doorstep, and I am not about to jump ship anytime soon! Maybe I am wrong? You decide!”