Our family’s thoughts and prayers are with those who lost so much in the tsunami and its aftermath. Please contribute to the charity of your choice.
The pictures – first things first but please come back to read the report. The forward arrow properly moves you along the larger versions of the pics.; I haven't fixed all of the back arrows yet. The up arrow gets you back to the thumbnail page
After our Belize trip, we were interested in visiting another new location. Rose, Elizabeth, and I were looking for something a bit off the beaten path and very quiet. Our LDS was planning another holiday season trip to Bonaire; that was a possibility. However, a colleague at the university mentioned her favorite Carribean site as having been Cayman Brac. In May, I contacted our travel agent, Al Bay of BayAdventures, to see what a trip to Brac might involve. We booked six days, leaving on the 27th, to the Brac Reef Beach Resort. Flight options were examined; that’s an expensive place to get to from here. We settled on a combination of Delta and Cayman Airways. That combination changed many times over the next few months.
It seemed as if a major weather catastrophe hit the Caribbean weekly in the waning days of the summer. We had obtained trip insurance through CSA and weren’t personally concerned about loss but could only watch the devastation unfold in the lives of so many people. As everyone knows, Brac and Little Cayman were ultimately spared Ivan’s wrath, although in a cruel twist, many Sister Islanders had evacuated to Grand Cayman, the ultimate landfall of the hurricane.
No problems with the flights we finally used. Delta was a bit late out of Atlanta for GC due to a nose wheel strut problem that took about an hour to resolve. We took a Twin Otter out of Grand Cayman to Brac, with a stop on Little Cayman enroute. We arrived at the Cayman Brac airport on time but had some trouble locating the shuttle. By law, apparently, the resorts are not allowed to provide transportation to and from the airport; only two approved operators can do that (sounds like a better deal than the taxi syndicate on Coz enjoys). One operator was off, according to one person at the airport, visiting friends in Antigua, the other had a single small car (the van being in the shop). A local couple took pity and gave us a lift to the resort. Needless to say we were very grateful. Usually this isn’t a problem. Monday was something of a holiday. Flying home was an adventure - Delta was late getting into Orlando for our last leg, we were fortunate in having the next plane at the next gate.
Cayman Airways changed our December 27 flight many times, starting in June. There were more changes after the hurricane. Fortunately, we ended up better off with an earlier arrival on Brac than we'd originally booked.
Luggage stayed with us both ways. Go figure.
The resort package included up to three dives a day and was all-inclusive of meals. And were they great meals! Every meal rivaled the best we’ve had in the Caribbean over the past few years. Vegetarian and seafood entrees were options at most meals. Variety and quality marked the food service.
Fresh water is provided from desalinization. It’s fine to drink – I was a bit dehydrated from the trip and went through many glasses the first night. Bottled water is available but I saw no one using it at tables.
We had a standard double room. Good air-conditioning, ceiling fan, comfortable beds (softer than most Caribbean beds we’ve had experience with), iron and ironing board, and a hair dryer in the bathroom. There was a coin operated clothes wash and dry facility available for guest use. There was a small patio overlooking the pool and the ocean. All rooms more or less have an ocean view. The pool is nice. The beach is a sand beach but the shallows have coral outcroppings, so be careful wading barefoot. The property also has a tennis court. Scooters and bikes could be rented on site. A couple of car rental agencies are on the island; they were fully booked when we got there. Interestingly, we didn't notice any biting bugs. Three large cats patrolled the resort, two were quite friendly.
Reef Divers is the on site operator. They have a well stocked shop with ScubaPro rental equipment available. Our package included an AM two-tanker and PM single-tanker each day (AM only on last day). Nitrox 32 is available and is mixed by the operator. MOD is called at the conservative 1.4 partial pressure level of 110 feet on all dives (actually 110 feet is the DM's limit on air, too). An analysis station is available; there is a set protocol for testing and labeling tanks that is explained in the initial briefing. The boat crew will set your gear up; you can also do all or part of it yourself. BC's and regs are generally washed by the crew although guests can do that themselves, too. The shop can also perform minor repairs on equipment.
The briefing is the best I’ve ever heard – detailed sketch of the dive site, dive profiles, recall signals, emergency procedures to be followed (including what to do if the boat is gone when you surface – an eventuality that may occur if an injury occurs for which the need for speedy treatment outweighs the risk of leaving divers on the surface for a bit. Another boat would be dispatched by radio to pick up these divers. This didn’t happen but it was good to know the boat crews had thought it through). DAN oxygen kits, a backboard, water, and fruit were available on the boats. There were no rinse buckets; a freshwater spray hose was used. I carried a fresh water dampened towel just in case; we returned to the dock between AM dives so I could rinse things off in the big cameras only bucket at the shop.
The boats were large Newton dive boats. Entry was giant stride. The procedure was easy on the diver. Sit down on a stool at the stern, put on fins, crew brings BC/reg/tank and helps you put it on, jump in. Exiting was made somewhat challenging by the waves. We would surface and queue up on a trailing line, remove fins, and climb aboard. As rough as it was, the boat ladders did not come out of the water and stab back down. A couple of us lost fins (recovered) on a very rough exit when the line snapped them off our wrists as the boat surged in the waves and jerked the line. Climb up, sit down, crew removes rig, clear the stern, and have a drink of water and relax.
Deep profiles were specified as 110’ ft/40 min max multi level profiles with computers, 100 ft/20 min square profiles. Shallow dives were specified at 50 plus minutes or whatever the computers allowed. No deco diving – if a diver incurred a deco obligation and failed to clear it, the diver was grounded until the computer cleared. A locked computer meant 48 hr groundings.
Safety was stressed but there was no herding at all. The DM’s would show folks around the reef but with the exception of observed safety violations (notably a young kid heading down past 110’ fast) did not intervene in a dive unless asked. No solo diving but triples were fine. Everyone had to have a timer and depth gauge or computer – these could be rented if necessary. If folks chose to dive shallower and trade deep depths for bottom time, this was fine. No one was in a hurry to get back ashore – we stayed on the same boat all week for all three dives with one exception when we consolidated for an afternoon dive. The point I’m making is that 50+ minute dives were fine if you managed your air appropriately. Elizabeth and I carried the usual personal safety gear- whistle, signal tube, mirror. Quite a few folks had dive alerts - guess the movie has had an impact.
I mentioned the dropped fins – these were picked up by other divers coming up along the reef. No one, including the DM’s, bounced down to pick them up. For my part, loosing a fin is nothing compared to the risk a bounce dive presents.
There was a medical emergency on one dive. A diver, after boarding after a dive, complained of spreading numbness and discomfort. The crew responded professionally. The crew put the diver on oxygen, provided information and encouragement, radioed for an emergency crew to meet the boat, did a roll call, and returned to the dock as fast as possible. The ambulance was waiting for us. The last info I have was that the diver responded positively to hyperbaric treatment on Grand Cayman and was doing well. There were no obvious DCI risk factors at play. The DAN kit was replaced and we went out for our second dive. These folks knew what to do and had obviously thought through and practiced their procedures.
<include dive list> Working on this. Still working on this. Air temps were in the lower to mid 80's, water temps mid to upper 70's. A 3mil felt fine. No gloves are allowed, prohibited by law and this is enforced.
Lots of folks had cameras, most were digital. Several video rigs were around, too. One flooded (ouch!) on the surface after a dive. I felt for the fellow. I used my now venerable (new in November 2002 – ancient by digital standards) Olympus 5050z/PT-015/YS90DX/ULCS kit. Most topside shots were from my daughter's Canon A80. No problems with power – plugs, voltage, and frequency were the same as US usage. I used Powerex 2200’s and MAHA chargers (both cameras use AA's). Everything worked every time; only the nut behind the housing was a bit loose from time to time. Other folks had Nikons in Tetra housings, Canons in the Canon polycarb housing (A fellow with an A80 and no external strobe was getting fine results), and a variety of SeaLife products. The PT015 performed well as always, no leaks or "weeping." I clean, lube, and install the rings into the housing and strobe at the beginning of the week and leave them in all week unless I see a contaminant. I change the replaceable o-rings on the strobe and housing annually and dunk everything in Salt-Away solution when I get home.
Rental film and digital equipment was available at the dive shop.
The videographer at the shop would burn CD’s of customer memory cards making it unnecessary to schlep a laptop or other external storage device. He’s not there every day as he alternates with Little Cayman.
The resort is all inclusive. All meals were served buffet style and the food was excellent. Usually 3 or 4 entree choices, plenty of sides, and great desserts. Almost all dinners included very well prepared seafood. Sushi was also available once. A full bar service was also available. We didn't eat anywhere else on the island. There is a small Foster's grocery nearby, but it's a bit far for walking. The outside bar had hot snack (chips, fish, etc.) service during the day.
Elizabeth dove her Seaquest Diva LX/Airsource BC/secondary using a 3/2mm fullsuit, US Divers MicraAdj/Cousteau regset, ScubaPro graphite twinjets and a Cressi Focus mask modified by Prescription Dive Masks to her prescription.
I used a Zeagle Escape, 3mm fullsuit, Mares V16/Epos/Nikos regset, black Twinjets, and a Oceanmaster Z2 modified by Prescription Dive Masks. I have a MK25/S600 reg, have really preferred the Mares non-adjustable. The Scubapro breathes a bit easier (if you work to keep the adjustment at the widest open non-bubbling setting possible) but, particularly when diving with the camera, I prefer something I can just stick in my mouth and breath. The Epos 2nd stage has something of a funky retro look, too. It may be my imagination but I seem to have somewhat less "cotton mouth" dryness issues with the Mares. It does have metal inserts designed to moisten the air via condensation a bit.
Neither of us had any gear problems.
I strongly recommend Prescription Dive Masks to anyone wanting high quality prescription lenses in her/his mask. I have a bifocal setup corrected for astigmatism; Elizabeth's for myopia only. Both masks are fog free.
I had a problem with the Escape - recall I mentioned that the dive boat crew will set gear up for you. On one dive, one of the clips holding one tube of the back inflate wing onto the vest came loose, apparently it had worked its way around and pulled through the attachment on the wing. Lesson learned - double check these things on Zeagles.
Book a car before your trip, if you can. AB car rental has a direct line to the resort but they were fully booked for the entire week.
Book spa time, if you're so inclined, before your trip if you can, otherwise immediately upon arrival. They were almost fully booked for the week we were there.
Take good walking shoes. There's plenty of room for walking and hiking.
Your favorite flavor of anti-motionsickness meds, if you need them. If the wind reports on the weather forecasts show anything much over 10kts, the fetch allows a rather healthy groundswell to build on both sides of the island.
If the sea is rough, try to plan to be either one of the first on the tag line or stay below until the end. If you queue behind more than one or two people on the surface, be prepared for some pretty rough pounding if the surf's up.
I'd probably put spring straps on my fins to ease removal if I went back during a windy period.
Have a good way of securing your camera to your BC, at least I found that necessary during the surface period prior to reboarding. The fibre optic cord was a real PITA on the surface in the waves, tended to foul the trailing line.
Have fun, lots of it.