Once again this fall, we were off to Cayman Brac - our 9th trip there, again staying at the Divi Tiara Beach Resort in our "home week" timeshare. As such, this is mostly written from a customer perspective, but naturally, I also have a financial interest in hoping that they don´t go out of business (because of my TS investment)...but you will see complaints where they´re due, just as in the past.
Overall, most of this will be about things other than the diving. If I´m satisfied enough to go back so many times, its obvious that I like it for whatever it is, so I´m not going to be an accountant and list divesites, depths and times (besides, a few of them might have bent a few Caymanian diving rules and we don´t want to get anyone in trouble now, do we? ;-)
Weather is always a big factor to how enjoyable one´s vacation is going to be. The residents tell us that the weather on the Brac has been more rainy all season. Many residents have had severe allergy problems because everything is growing more than usual. We were requested to bring down Actifed and Sudafed (locally expensive & somewhat scarce).
The unseasonable weather was still present upon our arrival. Instead of fairly consistent southerly winds and rain at ~2am each night, for the most part we had no rain whatsoever at any hour and the winds were mostly light and variable in direction...but the humidity was quite high almost all of the time (~80%+). From a diving weather perspective, viz was generally good...easily 80+ft nearly all the time and we had two sets of "calms" in the two week period that facilitated diving the South side of the Brac. Between the two "calms" we had a rough set for a few days; I´ll describe what happened then later on below.
The Divi timeshares have a nice, open design that we always keep fairly open and just let the breeze blow through for natural ventilation. Because of this year´s humidity and the very low winds, we actually closed up the interior bedroom and ran the air conditioning for a night or two. This is noteworthy because its the very, very first time that we were hot enough to actually "have to" do this in the timeshares (standard hotel rooms are a different animal).
For visitor population, the Brac wasn´t desolate like last year. Attendance was 30-40 visitors, enough for 2 diveboats most days...IMO, "just right". On our final night (in the hotel instead of in the timeshares), the Divi Tiara was actually 100% full because of a larger sized dive group overlapped with the Grand Cayman "Police Week"" visitors.
The facilities seemed to be in pretty good shape. As I´ve said in the past, there´s probably things that I don´t see anymore because its been that way for so long: for example, its time to re-strip and re-varnish the front office´s countertop again. Nothing´s really maintenance proof. Steveo, the former Dive Shop manager, is now the Hotel Manager and he is plugging away at things (for timeshare owners, it looks like we may get new furniture next year)...he knows that he has his work cut out for him; he said its just like owning your own home except that it has 70+ bedrooms. I know what he means :-).
SECONDARY INFO: DIVI CORPORATE MANAGEMENT:
The biggest problem that the Divi Tiara has - and Steveo is PAINFULLY aware of it - is that Divi HQ in the USA is close to complete incompetence. Any guest who had any comment to make about the US reservation system only had negative things to say about their experience.
Several of us comparing notes have noticed that just like how Cochran Computers claims that there´s a worldwide conspiracy in the quality of AA batteries, the US Postal Service only shreds receipt vouchers mailed from Divi HQ.
**If Divi has shredded your mail too, please let me know.**
Reportedly, HQ has hired new management and they´re training new reservation staff, but I think I´ve heard that before.
BTW, I have to thank Leo, a fellow timeshare owner for this tip: when calling Divi HQ for reservations on their 800#, use a Speakerphone...it makes the typical half hour wait to get through to talking to a real person much easier.
So if you get screwed up bad and feel you have to yell at someone, just make sure you direct your well-deserved anger in the right direction. The local hotel staff is sympathetic to the travelers who have been having problems with HQ and they will try to make good as best as they can. FWIW, our reservation got messed up this trip too; it was taken care of on-site without any drama.
DIVI WEB PAGE:
Divi is putting together a webpage at
It has not yet been officially announced that I´m aware of, but it already contains some decent background information, particularly for the first-time visitor. Definitely worth a look if you´re considering Divi to do some homework before you call. Or check out Brac Reef´s web page, some of the Cayman web page (such as Don´s) or drop me a line off-line for my "don´t quote me" frank opinions on specific inquiries.
THE BRAC, TOPSIDE (STILL AT DIVI):
The food at Divi has had even more menu improvements from last year. Ron (formerly from Captain´s Table and formerly of Divi) is back hiding in the kitchens and the Bostonian extrovert Cliff (formerly from LCBR and from elsewhere too) was on the grill most mornings.
There´s a bit of emphasis on "healthy" in the side dishes in particular and they´re doing some baking in-house: dessert at lunch has been replaced by home made cookies (very dangerous! :-) and they´re now experimenting with freshly baked bread for dinner &lunch.
My past suspicions regarding "generosity of choices" at Lunch was confirmed during the 2nd week when the resort approached capacity - it was like ´old times´ with plenty of cold dish selections available to choose from. IMO, its a trade-off: which do you prefer - no waiting lines or more variety to choose from? :-)
The Staff remains consistently nice. Mitzie has returned to the bar (she says she only quit 2x last year :-) and Marueen´s daughter, Vantisha is in the diveshop...there´s definitely a strong family resemblance.
A semi-tongue-in-cheek warning about Brac Womenfolk, though: don´t tick them off if they´re holding silverware! While we were on the island, Ed (owner of Ed´s Place) got cut by his girlfriend with a dinner knife which caused a bit of a ruckus, to say the least (Ed kinda overreacted and ended up in jail). The local grapevine says that there have been one or two other relatively recent and similar incidents that involved a woman stabbing a boyfriend, although a dinner fork seems to be the preferred weapon of choice :-). All of the events seem to have drinking and the boyfriend saying something fairly stupid involved. This really shouldn´t be all too surprising - there are a good number of people around that have drinking problems and its a small community which will cause rumors to run rampant, etc...similarly, since I got back, there was a solo car crash fatality on the south side road that was probably due to alcohol.
In the diveshop, Scott and his wife is the management team. Seemed to me to be new at the game; should be okay so long as Steveo is still around to Mentor, but he does need to be a bit better at handling handicapped divers: I know that Leo bit wooden dock from at least one minor mishandling event that I doubt that Peter Hughes would be pleased to learn about. The only other complaint that I heard involved them pinching pennies a bit too tightly for their own long-term good. Time will tell; I personally suspect that they´re the ´gypsy´ type that will be gone in a few years for one reason or another and not a longer term Brac settler...this seems typical of the type that Divi seems to hire.
In the photoshop, Shannon seems to be in charge, although Max (worked here a few years ago) had just shown up and is waiting for his work permit. Shannon is better than Beth, but she´s still no Aileen, for those who know what I mean. My only complaint if you can call it that is that she forgot that I was staying for 2 weeks instead of 1, so she closed out my account on the first Saturday of my stay. This is a good idea for the typical turn-over of the crowd, but it shows a lack of attention to detail. For me, the minor hassle of needing to take down my credit card was just enough to encourage me to take my film home undeveloped. That saved me a quick $50 in developing, plus mounting is automatically included at home, which is a nice convenience. I´m being encouraged to do this more often now.
I also had the unfortunate problem of flooding my UW strobe. Everyone recommended taking it down the street to Ed Beaty at Reef Divers instead of to Shannon. Hmmm...
The diveboats received a big shot in the arm last year in rebuilds and the job looks mostly done - - looks like old "Putt Putt" (the original Island Fever) is the last one to receive attention and work. No problems or complaints about the boats; everything worked like it was supposed to.
BREAKING THINGS (KNOWN AS DIVEBOATS):
I mentioned that we had a ´rough set´. This was two days where if there had been more of a rain threat, I think we probably would have canceled the dives. The problem was a Southerly wind that blew long &strong enough enough to stack up some healthy 6-8ft seas. On the one of these days, the outgoing diveboats got "POPPED" pretty hard going out through the channel. Our boat was more delicate on the throttles, so we did pretty well - only had one person lose their grip and fall and a few pieces of gear break loose. No real harm done.
The other diveboat was being powered out and the captain forgot to remember that a wave that is 2x higher is actually 4x more powerful. He tried to overpower it and in losing, they got slammed pretty hard. The wave broke over the bridge and snapped its Plexiglas sprayshield clean off the boat. The wave continued over the top and down onto the rear deck area, which picked up the mostly empty gearbags (gear had already been set up) sitting under the rear benches and "flushed" them towards the open transom. One bag escaped; its owner lost a pair of fins and drybox, a $100+ loss for its owner (it was unrecoverable).
It´s really pretty easy to have stuff washed overboard; it doesn´t have to be anywhere near this rough for it to happen. If you want to keep your gear, take the time to stow it yourself. This is a non-obvious disadvantage to the "we do it all for you" gear setup services.
The good news is that I didn´t trash any diveboats myself this year (or was blamed as a bad luck charm). See last year´s "101 Caymanian Nights" story for those details if you don´t remember this story...
We weren´t able to hike the Parrot Reserve trail up on the Bluff (on the road to the Lighthouse) this year because it was overgrown. The Trust knows of this problem and is hiring a worker to keep it cut...should be OK again soon.
Lenny continues to keep himself busy up at the "Captain´s Table". The lunch menu remains a tad on the slightly expensive side; hopefully prices won´t go up. BTW, the Cayman Airways flightcrew eats here on the "early-ish" Wednesday flight and reportedly invites their passengers to join them, so expect crowds this night. I´m also told that their Sunday Brunch is expensive, but absolutely fantabulous...really need to do that soon.
Up at Coral Isle and Aunt Shaw´s Kitchen, prices remain low and service remains slow. Noise from the bar can be quite noisy here, so its probably better for a weekday visit if you want quiet.
Four D´s car rental remains about the least expensive on the island. They´re off-site, but they´ll come pick you up a the airport. We´re a repeat customer here...the cars aren´t shiny &new, but so what...
But the BIG NEWS has to be that the old Buccaneer Hotel on the North side has been sold to an investment group (reportedly, one of the owners is associated with RED SAIL SPORTS) and construction/clearing work is underway. There´s already evidence that whoever´s planning this job is really one smart cookie:
While the actual plans haven´t been made public, rumors were that it was going to be anything from as little as "A marina and a restaurant" to "A full-blown 300 room hotel with complete amenities (ie, diveshop and restaurant).
Its really wait-and-see for awhile. I think it will be interesting to see if they keep the old name of the ´Buc and if they choose to revive the old Honor Bar that I´m told was a feature of the old ´Buc.
BTW, there´s also news that yet another complex is going to be built on the North side, between Divi and Brac Caribbean Village (behind the small pink Tranquil Realty house). This has been in the so-called "planning stage" for a few years, but apparently, financing has reportedly been arranged and it almost sounds like a "Put Up or Shut Up" kind of project. There was no real evidence of any activity at the site, so again, "time will tell".
In any event, don´t expect either project to be finished all that quickly...if they push it and get a bit lucky, they just might be able to be open for 1/1/2000, but not any time appreciably sooner in all likelihood.
Last fall, I said: "Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the first regularly scheduled *CRUISE SHIP* will be coming to the Brac this month..."
Boy, have I got a story :-). The net result is that it was a flop and no cruise ships will be coming back (huzzah!).
Part of the reason why the cruise ship has left was because these trial runs were started during the rougher weather of the winter season, so the cruise ships couldn´t reliably offload passengers...they were successfully only around half the time (the shore access was at the West End Dock by the hotels, which is on the South (Windward) side of the island).
The "story" (vastly simplified version) is...
Background: cruise lines apparently are required (at least in the Caymans?) to offer hire local tender boats before choosing to use their own. The Bracers, seeing a financial opportunity, accepted this offer. But the boat that they used was a bit less than completely reliable...
Upon the very first cruise ship visit, the tender boat lost its engine while carrying the first group of passengers to shore and ended up as the result of several compounded errors, reefed itself. No customers got hurt (they ended up wading to shore, each wearing their lifejacket), but one staffmember cut himself on the coral trying to save the tender boat from going ashore. Kudo´s to him; I just wish I could remember his name - it was a valiant effort.
Anyway, because of the ~50% chance of not being able to make it in to shore and because no one on the Brac was making any real money from the visit, it pretty much petered out...neither side saw it as being particularly beneficial to them, I guess.
There´s a local who owns a jetski. If you see him speeding through the "5mph - NO WAKE" zone near the hotels *AGAIN*, please take the effort to report him.
Also, watch out for small speedboats near the shore diving access points such as at Radar Reef. I saw one just west of there who thought it was entertaining to zip around in shallow (<6fsw) water that is too shallow for a diver to really stay deep enough to be safe from him if you happened to do a shore dive in that direction.
FWIW, I think that both of these were "weekend recreation" (Saturday) events. Also, don´t be too terribly concerned about this report: it just says something about how quiet the Brac has traditionally been that we start talking about watching out for the activities of 2 or 3 specific boaters; this is not a widespread problem.
IN OTHER LOCAL DIVING NEWS...BRAC AQUATICS:
Brac Aquatics (BA) is reportedly getting in a new partner, an American. Wish him luck...he´s going to NEED it.
They were also having serious boat troubles...again. One visitor was heard to nickname ´Reef Diver´ as "Hydrocarbons Diver". It was smoking _really_ nasty and not making any speed at all. They recently had a mechanic from Grand Cayman (who I happen to know :-) in to look at the engines and the fix will not be a minor patch job.
Because of BA´s diveboat problems, there were a couple of days that they sent their divers over to Divi to dive off of "our" boats...this is where things get interesting. It turns out that this dive group had been in last year and a few of the divers got "yelled at" by a BA Staffmember for not following the 110fsw max rule and they let BA know in no uncertain terms that if they weren´t allowed to dive however they want, they were going to smear them on the Internet.
Well, BA hid that DM and the group was happy - initially. Then, the same divers last year who went to 200fsw last year did it again this year and got yelled at again.
For the next few days, the BA boat weren´t running (coincidence?) and this was the group that joined us. The dive briefing was quite interesting that day. It went something like:
"...and remember that here in the Caymans, the maximum depth is 110fsw - NOT 200fsw - and that´s 33m, NOT 60m, NOR 100m...please watch your profiles, etc..."
A bit snotty? Perhaps. But the very next day when the briefing wasn´t so "special", the same divers chose to go down to ~150fsw. One of the Divi DM´s went down to retrieve them, but unfortunately, the Novices that he was leading did not see or understand his "stay here!" signal and they followed him down to 150fsw too!
No one got hurt, fortunately, but those BA customers are banned from Divi diveboats. Naturally, they´re pissed and threatened to do an Internet Smear Job, but this is the side of the story you´ll likely not hear...that it was really their own fault.
Finally, while I know that this may elicit some comments about "deep diving" and the rights of DM´s to dictate profiles, this is a fact of life in the Caymans and all divers should be well aware of it before buying their ticket to go there. If you really want to go dive deep, its easy enough to do it without having to break the rules as they´re currently written (ie, there are loopholes).
OLD NEWS UPDATES:
On last year´s deep air fatality...
A bit more came out - - it turns out that they were trying to beat the one diver´s 385fsw on air personal record, not "just 300fsw" as was previously reported.
Also, a memorial tombstone for the deceased was installed by the family this past July on the Tiara Tunnels dive site. Its at 110fsw in a cleft on the wall, fairly close to the dive site mooring if you want to look for it.
A previously reported rumor:
> One person who´s working at one of the resorts is > seriously contemplating a penetration dive into the > closed off lower decks of the 300+ft long Russian > Destroyer (if it is "somehow" made accessible, which > is really only a matter of time until some local cuts > an opening somewhere). I didn´t have a problem with > this until I found that they have but ONE small *GAP* > reel to use as their line and they feel is somehow > adequate.
This year´s follow-up:
The "somehow made accessible" has happened. A bar grate in the 3rd deck level, well sheltered inside the hull had two of its half dozen welded steel bars somehow physically removed. It would be tight, but its large enough for human access if the diver took his tank off to make it through.
FWIW, the dive briefing I heard credited/blamed the existence of such unintended access hole(s?) as due to recent "Storm Damage".
THE DIVING (FINALLY):
All in all, the Brac lived up to its reputation and was better than it has been for our past few Fall visits, due a combination of good diving weather, good dive buddies and some nice critter sightings. I personally continue to find appreciation in the rugged topology of the Caymanian reef structure...ie, if it doesn´t have significant vertical relief, I get bored. Fish life remained pretty good, although I am probably getting spoiled. Didn´t really see any pelegics, since the snoozing ~8´ nurse shark doesn´t count. I didn´t dive every day and only did ~2 dives per day when I was diving, so I only got around 20 hours of bottom time this trip and a similar number of rolls of film.
Compared to past years, the water remains a bit on the warm side...84-85F, which is where its been for the last few years (previously, it had been 81-83F).
Dives were nicely split North/South this trip and it was quite nice to dive on the topologically and biologically distinct South Side. The southside shallows´ Elkhorns continue to recover nicely (from Gilbert in 䚨), although things were still rough enough to make a lot of these sites a bit greener than most divers would care for. Critter life had more eels and turtles than I´ve seen for quite awhile, and both were quite impartial to the presence of divers - - I have two surprisingly long photo sequences with turtles (each one was 15-20 photos!); there´s easily a few keepers in there I can put on my web page. The (photographic) lighting was again close to fantastic...very few clouds the entire time.
It had been the plan to do a lot of shore diving this trip, but the friends from California who we were planning on meeting up with had to cancel due to health problems, so I only got one real chance to go out shore diving with a mutual friend who works on the island to a "tourists don´t go here" site called ´Duppy´s Reef´. It was a great, relaxing dive (no camera) and I was quite impressed by how different...call it "CLEAN" the reef was, despite being pretty close to other sites that I have frequented. Definitely a "Top 10" type of dive. There´s other such gems hidden on Cayman Brac and I intend to twist arms a bit stronger on my next visit to be shown where they are...the "Mini-Wall" above the Dock up in Spot Bay is a definite priority.
Of course, We´re ready to go back. We already miss the friends that we´ve made on the island, both those that live &work there and those that don´t, but merely visit as we do. Much of the appeal for us has been that its a real down-to-earth kind of atmosphere that escapes the impersonal daily grind that we have in our Urban/Suburbia life up North.
Or maybe its because snow/sleet is forecast for tonight!
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