Shipwreck: The Balboa, Grand Cayman

The Balboa has long eluded me. For no other reason that its precarious position right in Georgetown Harbour prohibits access but for quietest of days – free of cruise ships and container ships. Due to this lack of ready access, many other dive sites around the Georgetown area are preferred by local dive operators for their better reliability and ‘big-hitter’ status, such as the Kittiwake wreck and Northwest Point. The Balboa therefore sits quiet, and, for the most part – undisturbed. The lack of cruise traffic during the pandemic gave us the opportunity to dive it, thanks to the kindness of Tom over at Deep Blue Divers.

Photos courtesy of Jon Barron. Find him at the Instagram link below:

@jonbarron.photography

What is interesting about this wreck is the story of how she sunk. She went down during a major hurricane in the 1930’s that struck the island and devastated Cayman’s historic fragile wooden buildings and basic infrastructure. However, at the time, the Balboa was seeking refuge in the relatively shallow harbour which sits only around 40 feet deep. Supposedly, the waves during the hurricane’s peak were so large that the ship actually hit the seafloor during the troughs between them. It seems no surprise that she went down!

Nowadays, the wreck site is haven for marine life in an area that is otherwise under huge pressure from near-constant marine traffic and the relentless development of Grand Cayman’s western shoreline. I was (pleasantly) blown away by the abundant coral growth and prolific marine life. Having dived many times the relatively still-sterile Kittiwake wreck, it was eye-opening to see a different wreck pushing 90 years underwater. It seemed that every square inch of twisted, rusted metal was covered in healthy coral. Some parts were overgrown to the extent that it was difficult to identify what part of the ship it was. Although other parts were still somewhat recognisable below their blanket of colourful growth. Highlights include the bow structure which sticks almost straight up, and the propeller too. (See the photo below for me and the propeller – photo courtesy of Lois. Instagram link for her page below.)

Some areas of the wreck are somewhat accessible allowing divers to poke their heads inside. Indeed, I took pleasure in squeezing myself into some smaller holes watching for jagged metal as I did so. For the most part however, the wreck is too broken up to consider any form of real penetration dive. If you have your heart set on diving in some overhead environments, head over to the nearby reef structures towards shore which are littered with numerous small caverns and tunnels. Don’t expect the same level of abundant coral growth however, but it makes for a welcome place to get some more variety. At only 40 feet (12 metres) deep, this location allows for lots of time underwater! Plenty of opportunities to explore the wreck AND the nearby reef.

Finding the wreck. As you can see from the map below, she is right in the harbour mouth! Get permission from the Port Authority before diving (stands by VHF channel 16) and make sure you know how to anchor a boat correctly – there is no fixed mooring here.

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