Cayman Brac

Para capturar la extensión completa de 19 km (12 millas) de largo de la isla Caimán Brac, fue necesario unir cinco imágenes tomadas con drones para crear esta vista panorámica de Stake Bay.

La hermana tímida

LAS ISLAS CAIMÁN CONSTAN DE TRES ISLAS — two of which divers know quite well. Grand Cayman’s reputation is built on fun in the sun, the vast Seven Mile Beach, cruise ships, snorkel excursions to Stingray City, and diving. Little Cayman is much smaller, but travelers revere it for its quiet, laid-back ambiance and the stellar dive opportunities along the iconic Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson’s Bight. 

Cayman Brac, however, is not as well-known among dive aficionados despite the island’s infrastructure and attractions above and below the waterline. The big airstrip at Charles Kirkconnell International Airport accommodates large jets and offers multiple options for daily air service. A great dive resort and several smaller guest properties offer coordinated dive services on this 12-mile-long, 1-mile-wide island. Planes, boats, rooms, restaurants, tanks, compressors, and the clear, blue Caribbean Sea — what more could you want in a tropical dive destination?

During a recent visit, I was reminded of how good it is there. Cayman Brac was part of my first overseas assignment for a dive magazine. The resort I stayed at then is no longer there, but on this trip we boarded the boats at the same government pier and went to many of the same dive sites I had experienced 40 years ago. In the decade after my first trip, I continued to dive Cayman Brac at least once a year as the photo pro for the Nikonos Shootout events. Each summer several hundred divers gathered there for a Nikon-sponsored photo contest and a week on location to celebrate underwater photography. My daughter’s first Caribbean dive destination was Cayman Brac, although she was only three months old and probably doesn’t remember it as well as I do.

There was an element of déjà vu during this recent trip, although it was also quite different in many ways. Arriving at the airport and schlepping my bags was familiar, but the cab driver at the airport was especially excited to see me. I first thought his demeanor was the typical friendliness of the people there, but I soon learned I was the first international visitor in nearly two years. With travel restrictions largely gone and the cash flow ramping up again, he was happy. 

El naufragio del M/V Captain Keith Tibbets está en gran parte colapsado
en medio del barco, pero la proa y la popa están mayormente intactas. 

Peces león y buzos en la popa del naufragio del Tibbets .

While good diving is likely available all around the island, Cayman Brac’s topography dictates where most of the diving happens. The airport is on the island’s flatter western end, and the guest accommodations and dive services are close to the airport. To the east rises a dramatic bluff that’s inhospitable for docks and is a long boat ride from the west. The western tip is closer to Little Cayman than Cayman Brac’s North East Point 12 miles away. Occasional bluff-run boat dives happen in favorable conditions, but the majority of the moored dive sites are along the northwest side of the island in the lee of the prevailing winds. The southwest side also has several quality dive sites, although they are a bit more weather dependent. A one-week dive holiday that combines diving north- and south-side sites, a bluff run, and a half-day, three-tank trip to nearby Little Cayman will provide extraordinary diversity. Perhaps the Brac’s greatest charm is the variety of dives available there. 

Mi viaje más reciente comenzó con un buceo en Grunt Valley para satisfacer mi deseo de fotografiar algunos bancos de peces. Bancos de becerros de las Bermudas se mezclaban con diversas especies de peces roncadores y pargos amarillos junto a cabezas de coral de alto perfil a una profundidad de 7,6 a 10,6 metros (25 a 35 pies). En esta ocasión, había una densidad curiosamente alta de langostas y, si bien el arrecife se veía muy similar a la última vez que había buceado allí en 2012, los pargos y peces roncadores eran notablemente más asustadizos. Es posible que dos años con menos buzos hayan tenido algún efecto, pero sin duda pronto volverán a acostumbrarse a la presencia de buzos y se ocuparán de sus asuntos de la misma manera despreocupada que recuerdo. Este punto es excelente para un buceo de calentamiento.

El segundo buceo (los buceos matutinos normalmente son con dos tanques) fue en el punto con el nombre poco imaginativo: Patch ReefCon 70 puntos de buceo con amarres, supongo que llega un momento en que la inspiración para nombrarlos se acaba. Lo que le falta en su denominación, lo compensa en su ornamentación. La estructura del fondo en las aguas poco profundas estaba repleta de esponjas tubo amarillas y corales duros, a veces con las esponjas que crecían sobre el coral cerebro. 

Despite the colorful sponges and filter feeders decorating the seafloor, which would generally suggest the presence of currents, none of my dives had any perceptible current. The dive operators are cognizant of tides and local conditions, and they pick sites that aren’t particularly challenging. Unlike the Gulf Stream currents in the Florida Keys or the flow typical off Cozumel, dives here are generally mellow. The conditions are ideal for beginning divers or underwater photographers who prefer to stay in one place to set up a shot — anyone who will benefit from not having to work particularly hard to stay put.

Nuestro grupo era pequeño, por lo que hicimos un tercer buceo en uno de sus puntos con amarres nombrado recientemente, Turtle Alley. While the reef at the mooring pin’s base was much like the others (no surprise given their proximity), the mid-reef in 45 to 55 feet of water was rich with barrel and row pore rope sponges as well as the gorgonians typical of deeper reefs with a bit of current flow. 

Despite the colorful sponges and filter feeders decorating the seafloor, which would generally suggest the presence of currents, none of my dives had any perceptible current. The dive operators are cognizant of tides and local conditions, and they pick sites that aren’t particularly challenging. Unlike the Gulf Stream currents in the Florida Keys or the flow typical off Cozumel, dives here are generally mellow. The conditions are ideal for beginning divers or underwater photographers who prefer to stay in one place to set up a shot — anyone who will benefit from not having to work particularly hard to stay put.

El naufragio del M/V Captain Keith Tibbets is a highlight of any Cayman Brac dive expedition. In the 1999 dive guide I published with Bill Harrigan, the photos show a ship upright in the sand, perched on the edge of Cayman Brac’s north wall. At that time it was referred to as the “Russian Destroyer” or simply the “356.” In Shipwrecks of the Cayman Islands, (Naufragios de las islas Caimán), Lawson Wood detalla la historia de cómo llegó a ser hundido cerca de la isla. El capitán Wayne Hasson de la flota de agresores estaba en tierra con el Cayman Aggressor en 1996 cuando lo divisó en un muelle en una base de la Marina cubana. Tenía 100 metros (330 pies) de largo con 13 metros (43 pies) de eslora y un casco de acero y estaba construido con una superestructura de aluminio para reducir el peso. 

Hasson learned it was to be scrapped for parts and had the epiphany that it would make a terrific artificial reef, so he reached out to the Cayman Ministry of Tourism and Transport, which shared his enthusiasm for creating a new dive attraction for Cayman Brac. After purchase from the Russian embassy, a tow from Cuba to the Brac, and a thorough cleaning, the ship was anchored and sunk on Sept. 17, 1996 — the result of countless volunteer hours but a relatively low $300,000 expenditure. 

Un cuarto de siglo en el fondo ha causado daños graves en el Tibbets. Ya no se encuentra en posición vertical y actualmente yace sobre su banda de babor a lo largo de la ladera de arena. Gran parte de su superestructura ha colapsado. Descendí a aproximadamente 26 metros (85 pies) para iniciar el buceo fotografiando un enorme grupo de esponjas tubo sobre las barandillas de proa. La mayoría de los buzos nadan hacia la proa y avanzan gradualmente por las cubiertas más allá de las barandillas decoradas pintorescamente, hacen una pausa en el emplazamiento de armas delantero, nadan por delante del campo de escombros que hoy se encuentra en medio del barco y finalizan el buceo en la cubierta y los cañones de popa a menor profundidad. 

It’s nice to have ample time on the stern deck, as it is one of the most photographically productive parts of the wreck. The sponge density along the rear railings is quite impressive, and the guns are awesome for a wide-angle setup with models. The money they spent to keep the guns on the wreck was a great deal, for they truly define and distinguish this wreck from so many others. 

On this day I had a nice pass from a hawksbill turtle at the stern and a wonderfully photogenic lionfish nestled in the sponges cloaking the railings. Nonendemic lionfish are ubiquitous and can be part of the reef detail for dive journalists. Once the local dive operators begin to more regularly dive their sites and lionfish culling starts anew, lionfish populations may dwindle; but without significant dive activity here for two years, I expected the reefs to have a lot more lionfish than I saw. I didn’t find one on every dive, and I didn’t see more than one or two on any dive. This is not an empirical fish census, just a casual observation that it was counterintuitive to see so few lionfish on the reefs this time.

Coral cuerno de alce en Angel Reef.
Cayman Brac, hospedado en Cayman Brac Beach Resort, en el lugar de la revista Alert Diver.
Morena verde en Treehouse Reef. 

Siempre insisto en visitar tres puntos de buceo de pared fantásticos en el norte: East Chute, Middle Chute, y West Chute. East Chute solía ser el lugar favorito de todos debido al pequeño remolcador Cayman Mariner sitting in the sand at about 55 feet, which was a nice place to offgas at the end of the dive. The past few passing storms have pretty well pancaked that wreck, so we opted for West Chute, mostly to see something new. I’m glad we did, because it was an outstanding dive. I had been asking for a chance to shoot some pillar coral because of the threat from the stony coral tissue loss disease that is raging through so many Caribbean island reefs, and I wondered how they fared on the Brac. There was no sign of coral disease on these deep coral buttresses in the 70- to 80-foot range, and I saw one fascinating pillar coral that was pristine except for an adjacent barrel sponge beginning to overtake it. Other pillar corals at End of the Island y Angel Reef looked healthy. I’m not a coral scientist, but I think these reefs on the whole are doing quite well.

Aparte del coral en forma de pilar, que hubiera sido un justificativo suficiente para el buceo, encontramos una tranquila tortuga carey comiéndose una esponja barril. Toleró varias fotos y luego nadó relajadamente a lo largo de la parte posterior de la formación de coral. Chocamos los cinco exaltados por una serie de fotos tan productiva y luego regresamos a la embarcación para nuestro siguiente buceo en Treehouse , Stake Bay.

Le refresqué la memoria al personal de buceo sobre una morena verde particularmente agresiva que había nadado fuera de su madriguera para encontrarse conmigo la última vez que había estado allí 10 años atrás. Admitieron que hubo una época en la que las morenas verdes eran un poco juguetonas, que esperaban ser alimentadas con peces león después de la matanza y, por lo tanto, asociaban a los buzos con una comida gratis. Pronto decidieron cambiar sus protocolos de eliminación de cadáveres de pez león, pero el refuerzo intermitente es un comportamiento difícil de extinguir. Aún es probable encontrar a las morenas verdes de Treehouse nadando libremente, pero en la actualidad no son tan descaradamente optimistas como solían serlo. También había un encantador tiburón nodriza debajo de una saliente, pero ese día estaba destinado a ser nuestra jornada de tortugas. Encontramos otra tortuga carey en aguas poco profundas, que aparentemente posaba contra cualquier esponja tubo amarilla o coral de abanico púrpura que encontrara para elaborar un magnífico fondo.

Mi compañera de buceo, Barbara McDowall, es una buceadora veterana de Caimán Brac, así que cuando yo hacía un pedido especial por alguna criatura marina familiar o estructuras de coral de los viejos tiempos, podía sugerirme los arrecifes que eran la mejor reproducción. Me sugirió los arrecifes del sudoeste que estaban a corta distancia del centro turístico de buceo para mi búsqueda de corales cuerno de alce y en forma de pilar. 

Recuerdo los primeros tiempos en los que capturaba imágenes en diapositivas Velvia de enormes bosques de corales cuerno de alce que dominaban el arrecife periférico superficial en el lado sur. Mientras que gran parte de los corales cuerno de alce son solo restos óseos, hay grupos intermitentes de impresionantes corales cuerno de alce. Sergeant Major Reef, en particular, tiene corales cuerno de alce aislados pero intactos mezclados con capas en cascada de corales estrella. Solo después de bucear en tantos lugares donde estos corales han desaparecido, está claro que los lugares donde aún pueden encontrarse son sumamente especiales. 

De conformidad con la temática retro de la semana, nuestro último buceo fue en Angel ReefEn esta oportunidad, mi compañero de buceo fue Jason Belport, que había comenzado su larga y distinguida carrera en empresas de buceo como divemaster en Caimán Brac y mantuvo una íntima familiaridad con estos arrecifes. Cuando le dije que aún estaba en busca de corales en forma de pilar, me orientó de modo infalible hacia un espécimen especialmente impresionante. Una vez que liquidé esa oportunidad para tomar fotografías, nos embarcamos en un buceo alrededor de los corales a aproximadamente 12 a 15 metros (40 a 50 pies). Quedé encantado de ver un mero estriado nadar directamente hacia mí, frenar en seco y mirarme fijamente y expectante. 

I hadn’t seen any groupers all week, which Barbara predicted would be the case because we were just off the full moon in February. The Cayman Brac grouper population had moved to Little Cayman for the annual grouper spawn known as “grouper moon.” By the end of my trip, however, several groupers had made it back to Brac reefs and were now making puppy goo-goo eyes at me — a behavior generally associated with food more than friendship.

Por supuesto, respondí tomándoles una fotografía, pero si estaban esperando que los alimentara, quedarían decepcionados. Tenía recuerdos de los días de alimentación de peces en las islas Caimán, en especial el mero guasa conocido como “Sweetlips” (Dulces labios), que pasaba el tiempo en el naufragio Oro Verde y había aparecido en la portada de la revista Skin Diver magazine back in the day. Sweetlips dined on a diet of frozen squid and Cheez Whiz for a few years until she wasn’t there anymore. Local divers speculated she might have eaten one too many Ziploc baggies from careless tourists, and her demise might have been one of the motivators for the Cayman Islands Department of Environment’s edict against fish feeding.

Un mero de Nassau y
buzo en Angel Reef 

These groupers were a legacy of classical conditioning, but not from fish feeding, for that was never a thing on Cayman Brac. In the early days of lionfish culling, however, the groupers, like the green morays over in Stake Bay, came to associate divers with a free meal. It seems the larger groupers are unlikely to take a live lionfish, but they would opportunistically scoop up one that had been speared and discarded on the seafloor. That doesn’t happen anymore, and presumably the groupers will extinguish that behavior one day. 

For now, it was the highlight of my dive to have such friendly Nassau groupers hover within inches of my dome port, whatever their motivation might have been. I told myself that somehow they knew I don’t eat fish and wanted to reward me with proximity. AD

Cómo bucear en este lugar

Cómo llegar: varias líneas aéreas ofrecen vuelos al Aeropuerto Internacional Owen Roberts (Owen Roberts International Airport) en Gran Caimán para tomar vuelos de conexión a Caimán Brac. Hay un vuelo de 40 minutos que va de isla en isla disponible para Caimán Brac y Pequeña Caimán. El vuelo sin escala de 90 minutos de Cayman Airways a Caimán Brac parte de Miami los sábados. Viajar a Gran Caimán es incluso más fácil estos días con una aeropuerto renovado y vuelos sin escala desde Atlanta (Delta); Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami o Filadelfia (American); Newark, Washington, D.C., Houston o Chicago (United); Fort Lauderdale o Baltimore (Southwest); Nueva York, Boston o Fort Lauderdale (Jet Blue); o Toronto (Air Canada o West Jet).

Condiciones: The water temperature is usually 80°F to 85°F year-round, so a 3 mm wetsuit is perfect. Air temperatures are 74°F to 91°F. Visibility on Cayman Brac varies from good to outstanding — 60 feet to more than 100 feet unless there is a strong, consistent wind. When the north wind picks up, the waves can batter the beach and ironshore and stir the sediment on the shallow hardpan seafloor. The good news is that this leaves the southern dive sites with good visibility. The opposite is true with a southern or southeastern wind. It takes a heavy tropical disturbance to lose dive days on the Brac, but it can happen. The elevation is higher than Little Cayman, so Cayman Brac has weathered most hurricanes reasonably well. Still, events such as Hurricane Paloma can do massive damage.

Dive operators prefer that recreational divers keep to 100 feet and shallower. Currents aren’t often an issue, and most diving is in reasonably calm conditions. The dive operations are professional and safe, and most operate large and seaworthy boats. A hyperbaric chamber is in George Town, Grand Cayman.

Explore más

See more of Cayman Brac in Stephen Frink’s bonus online gallery.

© STEPHEN FRINK

© STEPHEN FRINK

© Stephen Frink

© Alert Diver — Q2 2022

Español de México