Grand Cayman trip report- Long

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MHK

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Grand Cayman Trip Report- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and all the details..

Warning, it is long so grab a cup of coffee and hopefully you'll enjoy it..

We arrive at Los Angeles airport [LAX] at 6:30 am for a scheduled 9:00am departure. We re flying 1st class with the requisite special line reserved for premier travelers. I've been on 18 flights in the last 30 days with American Airlines, which is to say that I'm very familiar with check-in procedure, added security and American Airlines in general As a side note I have over 1,500,000 in American Airlines frequent flyer miles, that parenthetical is added to note that I've done my fair share of flying with that airline, I've had my fair share of dealings with American Airlines and I'm VERY familiar with American s attempt at shifting the burden of responsibility from airline to passenger.

I hand the gate agent my American Airlines issued e-mail ticket notification, hand her my passport and attempt to check in. I'm then told that I need to produce the credit card that purchased the tickets, irrespective of the fact that in the last 18 flights last month that has NEVER once been asked for nor anywhere does it say that you need to have the credit card with you at the time of check-in. Tickets were purchased with company credit card, I'm holding personal credit cards in my wallet. She now tells me that if I want on that flight I need to buy 2 new tickets on this credit card, and she'll see if I can get a refund for the tickets already purchased. After a brief discussion with the supervisor , I'm told that I will get a refund, but no matter what I now need to purchase 2 tickets [ Nancy and I] at $1,058 a piece. So I now had to put over $2,000 on my personal Visa that only has a $5,000 limit. The hotel is also on that card and that s another grand so I certainly wasn't counting on an extra $2,000 for a ticket(s) that was paid for weeks and weeks ago..

I check our bags and then escort my bags through the secondary line for security review whereupon they open your bags, tab them with a swab to check for bombs and then check the contents. I watch as our bags go through security and onto the conveyor belt. We are two hours early so I think we re home free. During the 2 hour wait I call American to ask why they charged me an additional $2,000 and they told me that the gate agent made a mistake and if I wanted it corrected I would need to miss the flight that I was boarding because the paperwork would take them a few hours.. The next flight was several hours later so I declined and pray that I'll see the refund

They switch aircrafts on us at the last minute so we all wait an additional hour while they transfer the bags from one aircraft to the next, I also saw my first class upgrade get downgraded to business because of the switch in plane.. We still arrive nearly two hours before our connection in Miami at gate B8. Our connecting flight is at B10 so I assume that even American Airlines can get two gates away in two hours.

After enduring the root canal of clearing customs and immigration in Grand Cayman we see none of our 4 bags that contain several thousand dollars of dive gear. We wait in another line to report the missing bags when American Airlines begins their games of shifting the burden from the airline to the passenger.. I'm first advised by the agent that our bags aren t here because we weren't at the gate 2 hours prior to departure so there isn t anything American can do about it. I show the agent my time dated baggage receipt that clearly indicates 3 hours prior to take off. She then pulls the next excuse out of her bag of tricks and blames security . I inform her that because of past problems with American that I waited at security and watched my bags clear security and watched them get placed on the conveyor belt nearly 2 hours prior to scheduled departure, and then reminded her that the plane was over an hour delayed so that was nearly 3 hours to make the flight.. Now comes the corporate polished apologies. American is great at apologizing, but terrible at baggage handling. She then tells me "Don't worry mon, they'll be on the next flight" . I tell her that I have a 7:30am pickup the next morning for a scheduled dive that was pre-paid. I have $300 worth of gases pre-blended and spots on the boat pre-paid. She tells me "Sorry mon, but we can only give you $50" . I now have no clothes, no gear, no toiletries and she wants to give me $50 to rent stroke gear. Going no where with this agent I check in to the hotel and call the 1-800 American number. Only Cayman doesn't recognize 800 number s so after enduring a 5 minute commercial while on hold telling me how great American is, I finally get a real person. She tries the old you weren't there 2 hours early speech, she tries the old it s security fault speech all of which I tell her is BS and to get me a supervisor. Surprisingly enough she then tries to blame the lost baggage on the weather problems. I ask her since it was 80 and sunny when I left L.A., it was 90 and sunny when we arrived in Miami and 80 and sunny in Cayman when we landed, exactly what weather was she actually blaming this on?? I'm paying $3.99 a minute for this BS, plus a hotel surcharge, I have no gear and I'm hearing BS from an agent that is trained to lie and apologize.. BTW, her answer was that a weather system was developing over New Orleans and it's possible that it will reach hurricane proportions tomorrow .. What the hell a possible hurricane in Louisiana tomorrow has to do with my lost luggage yesterday is beyond imagination, but this is the BS American tries to sell to people who don't know any better.. After an $90 phone call all I know is that they have no clue where our bags are and I ain't diving Monday and it cost me about $300 because I guaranteed the spot and the gas..

Monday at 2:00, after spending about a $100 on cheesy Cayman Islands bathing suits and T-shirts I get a call that our bags are in Miami and they'll be here in 2 hours. OK, great I can dive on Tuesday. Nancy says that since she didn't get to dive she is going to get her hair braided, another $100 later she's almost not pissed ;-).. However when the bags show up one is missing. Missing now is my BP and Nancy s BP & wings and 2 deco regs. Again I go through the torture of what is now the joke I call American Airlines. Another $80 in 1-800 numbers they tell me that they think the missing bag is in Miami and offers me another $50 to rent stroke gear. After explaining that I had no plans to do a 300' dive in gear I had never used, even if I could get it, they issued yet another corporate apology.. I tell them that I have no more use for any shallow, meaningless corporate apologies all I'm interested in the missing gear so I don't miss another day of diving.. BTW, if your thinking why didn't I carry the regs on the plane it's because we used the two handbag limit for the $2,900 camera, the $2,000 housing and the $800 lens that I planned on using for the deep dives..

Tuesday morning, short one BP and Nancy, I head out to finally get into the water. My plan this trip is to do a few days with Divetech and a few days with fellow GUE instructor Fraser Purdon at Ocean Frontiers. I arrive at Divetech and our plan is for 20 minutes at 260' to explore Dan s Doughnut. Fortunately one of my former students is now working at DiveTech and has an extra BP for me to borrow, so game on, finally!!! A fairly cool swim through that starts at about 180' and exits at just over 250' . Water temp is 86 degrees, the vis was a mere 100' , no swells and no currents.. The amazing thing about Cayman is that even at depths in excess of 300' the wall is still covered. Upon exit of the swim through we are greeted by 3 Barracuda that looks as though they just can't wait to take a bite out of us ;-).. It's a pretty awesome experience to exit a swim through at ~250' to be greeted by fish about 4' long with their fangs hanging out.. I'm often asked why bother going so deep along a wall? Part of it has to do with the fact that since I started coming to Cayman [ 1989] I have seen such a deterioration of the reefs, mostly do to poorly skilled diver s crashing onto the reef, or poor finning techniques that have destroyed the reefs. Tech diving is relatively new to Cayman, and relatively rare so the deeper sites are less destroyed. Also, with about 60 minutes of deco it is much nicer to do along a Cayman reef filled with live coral and marine life, rather then dark, cold water holding onto an anchor line. So in reality you get to do a dive while doing your deco. After the dive we spent a few minutes going over the dive plan the next day. Day 2 the plan is to do a 300' dive on the North wall at Cobalt Coast. Our plan is for a 10/70 mix for 20 minutes..

This is my first time to this dive site. Most of the diving with DiveTech is done via surface entry. The morning is full of sun, 90 degree air temperature and a fair amount of wind chop with a slight current. The surface swim is nearly a 1,000 yards and if I were to recommend anything done differently it would be to add a Zodiac for this swim. Swimming out that far, against a current with 5 tanks and a video camera is not my idea of a vacation dive for fun and before a 300' dive I feel is unnecessary but more importantly my feeling is that if there is a problem the idea that assistance could be rendered that far away is inconsistent with logic. That being said, after a 30 minute surface swim we start our descent. Again vis is well over a 100' and as we hit the tunnel at 220' which is a neat swim through for about 60' which allows for an exit at ~280' I'm surprised to see so many Queen Angel fish that deep. Ambient light is abundant and I have no need [other then a signaling device] for my HID light. I'm shooting video for the entire dive so I'm approaching this dive from the perspective of trying to capture the scene for later viewing. I'm awestruck by the impressive amount of coral formations at that depth, but I'm somewhat disappointed with the lack of marine life. As we ascend the marine life increases and you see a noticeable deterioration of the coral. Seeing crashed coral beds and broken coral is sadly way to commonplace.. We do see 2 turtles that decided to play with us which made for some awesome video.. The first turtle arrived at 180' just as we did our gas switch. I think the thing that I admire most about these impressive underwater mountains is when you swim off the wall about 40 or 50 feet or so, and then you just take in the view. It's spectacular!! Our first stop was for 5 minutes and the turtle allowed us to film him the whole time. BTW, if you ever need a reason to learn to backward kick, photography is an easy answer. I've got some great shots while I'm backing up and the turtle is nipping at my lens.. Upon later viewing of the video you can see without lights but the shots from 250 -300 'could have probably used some lights, but above 250' other then for getting under overhangs or swimthroughs no light is necessary.. Again the good thing about Cayman is your aren t bored during deco because in essence your ascent is just an extension of the dive. Overall run time for this dive was 109 minutes. Water temp was 83 degrees at 300' , and even using only a 3 mil I was sweating most of the dive.. Day three my plan is to switch shops and dive with fellow GUE instructor Fraser Purdon from Ocean Frontiers. Dive one is planned for 200' along a different part of the wall. Great thing about Cayman is you never run out of deep walls ;-). In the afternoon I plan on taking Nancy, finally, on a few shallow recreational dives..

We arrive at Ocean Frontier after a 7:00am pickup and meet up with Fraser Purdon. Fraser is a GUE instructor and manager of the shop. He has arranged for us to do a section of the east end that has never been dove beyond recreational limits. I'm psyched. The reef on this end of the island is sooo much more plentiful then the west end and the north wall. Likely that is because of the travel time and distance to get to the shop. My estimate is about a 20 mile drive from 7 mile beach that takes just under an hour to get there. However, the drive is well worth the trip!!! As we start our descent after the pre-dive checks I immediately notice the more plentiful reefs, the wealth of marine life and as I'm shooting video I notice a very large turtle that has a great desire to be playful. We play with him for a few minutes as we head down. At depth [max 180' ] I notice the abundance of barrel sponges, the large groupers and queen angels are in full view. As we scamper around the reef I notice a large moray eel that must like the video because he decides to swim out and take a look around which is all captured on video. Fraser is leading the dive but as I check off the wall into the abyss I notice a 7 or 8' Cayman reef shark. I immediately signal Fraser and the hunt is on. We re in a pretty noticeable current so kicking against the current the shark appears to taunt us. We are working pretty hard to catch up to him and he takes one swipe of the tail and away he goes. This goes on for some time as the shark continues to let us know who the boss is. He is only willing to let us get so close [about 30' ] and no closer. He doesn't care how fast we kick, how much air we use or how deep we go. He is the boss and he is setting the boundaries. Once we figure out the game he is playing we agree and wind up with some fascinating footage from a wall that no one has yet to explore, with a reef shark that is in the mood to play so long as it by his rules. Sadly we hit 25 minutes BT and start our slow ascent along the wall complete with our deco stops. The wall only comes up to 90' so the remaining deco is done floating through the clear blue waters.. I hope to see more sharks or turtles but our only company on this ascent is several tarpon that decide to hang around us. There is no name for this site so Fraser decided to call it the Pinnacles given the topography. After a 4 hour SIT Nancy finally gets to dive. Her bags having finally arrived, via Hawaii, she can't wait to dive. The afternoon charter is a two tank dive the first site was Lighthouse reef. Like many Cayman sites this reef has several fingers that provide for some neat swim throughs and makes navigation quit easy. Nancy hasn t been in the water in two months and has only around 25 dives so the plan is to go relatively shallow. We re diving 32% Nitrox and we plan a 80' for 60 minutes. Nancy is so excited to be in the water , on video and seeing a side of the island that she has never seen yet so she takes the lead and zooms around the reef. I mean zoom ;-). I m trying to stay in front of her so I can get shots of her interacting with the marine life, but her excitement is taking charge and she wants to cover some ground, right up until she swims to the end of the reef to the top of the wall. The wall provides for an impressive drop looking straight down into the abyss. I m told its 6,000' . At that point Nancy makes the fastest U turn I've ever seen anyone make and takes comfort over the coral laden reefs. She later tells me that she feels more comfortable when she can see the bottom.. Given the amount of ground we cover air consumption is elevated so at 45 minutes Nancy starts approaching Rock Bottom so we begin the ascent. After a quick de-brief [ where I suggest that she take the time to explore the reef, not just swim over it ;-) and slow down] we do dive 2. Dive 2 is planned as 60' for 40 minutes. This dive we cover half the ground and see twice as much. I get the chance to get a rather large moray eels to come out and play with us, but Nancy wants no part of the eel ;-).. Overall we see groupers, eels, spotted eagle ray and most of the other fish that Cayman in known for.. Nancy is still in search of the elusive octopus so I suggest a night dive to increase the chances ;-). We consider the plan but with the sun and my nitrogen load we decide that dinner, a bottle of wine and a Cuban cigar is the plan for the night. Friday s plan is morning dive to 200' with Fraser and the a two tank with Nancy and two of my former students from Gilboa[ Dan & Becki from this list] quarry in the afternoon..

Again the 7:00am pickup arrives and we are ready for another great day. The wind is up, the sun is hiding and the ocean is in a pissed off mood today. However, Fraser and I discuss the plan and he asks me if I want to do a little exploration for some sites that he hasn t been to yet but has been wanting to do some reconnaissance. I m up for it since the east side, in my view, is much better then the west end so I m definitely interested and jump at the chance. We modify the plan and do a drift dive since the current is running pretty good. We cover 3 of the dive sites that Fraser normally brings people to plus about a ½ or mile or so of virgin wall. We cover Pat's wall, Jacks McKinney s drop and the Maze.. The gamble is well worth it and pays off great dividends. We do 165' for 35 minutes our gas management provides for 500psi Rock Bottom and the all the remaining gas is useable since the boat will pick us up. We quickly see several reef sharks, a few turtles and 3 spotted eagle rays, that in addition to finding several cave-like swim throughs. They aren't caves in the usual sense of the word, but calling them cavern zones wouldn t provide for adequate description since there are no visible light zones, but I'm talking less the 100' of penetration. The coral reefs as so abundant, the marine life plentiful and larger then previous dives. As I noted the seas where much rougher today then any other day of the trip. I estimate 4 -7' swells at 3- 5 second intervals. Our run time is slightly over 80 minutes and the recreational divers on the boat aren't too thrilled at waiting topside in such conditions. They are all happy after they do their second dive and Fraser and I wait topside. Upon their descent they see a small school of spotted eagle rays and I make mention afterwards that had we not run late they would have never seen this school, so all is well again ;-).. After a lunch with Dan & Becki we all head out for the two afternoon dives. This time Nancy and I plan an 90' for 40 minutes at Iron Shore Gardens while Nancy is the star of the video shoot. The current is a little stronger then she is accustomed to diving in, but she quickly realizes go with the flow ;-).. We head into the current as our gas management protocol is for 500psi Rock Bottom and we plan on using the rule of halves for the dive. The kick into the current takes Nancy a bit of work but exploring the reef and begrudgingly admitting that she hopes she sees a shark makes the work worthwhile. I tell her she is very spoiled because she has 25 dives, most of which is in Hawaii, two trips to Grand Cayman and a few Catalina dives. Some of the best diving in the world wrapped up in 25 dives. At turn pressure she quickly recognizes the benefits of swimming into the current to start because she loves the swim back ;-).. She still hasn't seen the octopus she wants or the shark but nonetheless she is excited about dive two.. Dive two is planned for 60' for 40 minutes as we do a site called Kangaroo Gorge. This dive is slightly less eventful and less colorful. We re in a bit of a surge and the only real notable attraction is in between one of the coral fingers where we find a large group of tarpon. I'd estimate about 20 and they lazily allow us to swim through their area and they barely move which also made for some nice videos with tarpon in the foreground and Nancy as the backdrop.. Tomorrow s plan is for a two tank recreational trip in the am followed by a two tank afternoon trip..

Ocean Frontiers sits on the windward side of the island so choppy seas are commonplace, but the dive sites are 10 or 15 minutes away so there is no real problem with rough seas. 1st dive is at Jack McKinney's cove a finger like raven of coral ridges out to the end of the wall. Again the wall is a steep picturesque covered mountain. As we descend down the wall I look through the viewfinder and I see what appears to be an extinct species thought to be endemic to Southern California waters. I last saw this vision diving the Yukon in San Diego in July of 1999. It was so starting similar that I needed to swim closer and closer and upon verification it was in fact the rare Troyesarus Bagwellasarus.. Better known to human kind as Troy Bagwell. This sighting is tantamount to finding Bobby Fisher.. For those unfamiliar with this species Troy was my former dive buddy and he and I did over 1,500 dives together.. Troy was consumed with diving and was as reliable a dive partner as I've known. But much like Bobby Fisher ruling the chess world and then inexplicably disappearing without comment or explanation Troy's departure was equally mystifying. Will this return be the equivalent of Bobby s one-off match with old time rival Boris Spasky or has Troy returned to the game for good??? Only time will tell, but nonetheless Nancy and Troy star in the video, the vis is upwards of 200' , the current is on vacation and just as we drop over the wall to set up a shot, I see a huge turtle so I signal Nancy & Troy and for the next 10 minutes we have a camera hungry turtle that is starving for attention. We continue along the wall as this is Troy s first dive in 3 and ½ years our plan is to stay shallow, do a nice shake out dive and enjoy the reef, coral and abundant marine life. Dive two the same two are the video star and we dive a site on the east end called The Big House. The Big House is a series of ridges and ravens that allow for gracious swim through, awesome video and coral reefs that have yet been destroyed by poorly skilled divers. Again a few turtles are playful, a few large groupers, queen angles, barracudas and so forth Troy has been given a taste of the kool aid again and my hope is that is return to the sport is imminent.. He takes the afternoon off and Nancy and I finish the trip off with a two tank afternoon dive.. Anchor Point and Little bluff are chosen by our Captain Dan. Further east we are nearly at Rum Point, but it's more on the lee side of the island so a touch of protection from the wind provides for an easy two dives, more swim throughs, more turtles, more eels but Nancy didn't get to see any sharks..

Overall, I should add that Ocean Frontier is a well organized, professionally run outfit. The diver does little work as the staff attends to setting up your gear if you desire, they wash your gear at the end of the day and it s waiting for you the next morning fully rinsed and set up. The dive briefings are detailed and accurate complete with drawings and recommendations that provide for the diver getting the most from their time underwater. Our gas mixes were spot on and the staff couldn t do enough to help, your every need is attended to and I give Ocean Frontier my highest recommendation.. In fact, I was so impressed with Fraser and Ocean Frontier that he I discussed setting up a DIR-F class.. With their facilities and proximity to accommodations it will make for the perfect extended holiday trip.. Details will be forthcoming shortly but if you ve been wanting to combine a vacation and a DIR-F class you may want to reserve Labor Day week ;-)..

And since all good stories need a happy ending, I'll add that after extended discussions [ and threats ;-)] with American Airlines they recognized that the baggage loss, and the initial response was so poor, troublesome and inadequate that they wound up paying for 4 nights of my hotel and provided for travel vouchers for subsequent trips.. I would have preferred not to have had the problems, but in all fairness to American, after I pushed, they did in fact step up to the plate and try to right the wrong..

Hope you enjoyed it!!!

Later
 

Big-t-2538

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Glad to hear you finally got to hit the water and enjoy your dives....after everything that initally happened, it was probably a blast to have the boat and charter operations to run smoothly....

Sounds like you thuroughlly enjoyed your trip....despite stepping in mud right out of the gate....now when and where are you posting the pics and videos...I want to be jealous damnit!!

Oh yea...one last thing...when are you treating all of your former students on that recreational Cayman trip :wink:
 

diveski01

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Dan and I are too busy gearing up for a major battle with US Air to write a full blown Grand Cayman trip report just yet. Similar crap as what MHK went through with similar outcomes. We lucked into BP/wings and fins thanks to Fraser and Dan at OF. They saved us 2 days of diving that would have been lost no thanks to UnStable Air.

We REALLY enjoyed diving with Ocean Frontiers. Besides an excellent and caring staff, they have a great package deal with the Royal Reef Resort next to Morritt's Tortuga Club, East End. Our 1BR suite was HUGE and VERY NICE!! OF has a great pool with 4 discrete depths and very nice shallow dive site about 3 mins by boat for newbie divers.

Dinner w/ Fraser, MHK, Nancy, Troy and Mindy at The Wharf was an excellent end to a great vacation! I think I needed all those glasses of wine to get ready for another day of traveling hell to get home.

Will post more when we have time and $$$ recouped!

PS: Here comes the bus........MHK didn't you leave a little something out regarding your 70ft deco bottles from your Friday morning dive???
 

MHK

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Big-t-2538 once bubbled...
now when and where are you posting the pics and videos...I want to be jealous damnit!!

Oh yea...one last thing...when are you treating all of your former students on that recreational Cayman trip :wink:


2 points..

1) I have a website under construction, but I'm miles and miles away from having any expertise in that area so it's a slow painful process.. If anyone wants to host this stuff and can walk a computer neophyte how to get it to them I'm happy to provide it... But short of that I'm at the mercy of the webmaster..

2) You have it all backwards, it's my former students that are supposed to treat me to a Cayman trip ;-)

Seriously, I'm working with Fraser to set up a DIR-F class in Cayman to be followed up by a week of DIR-F alumni's.. The details are very far from complete as we are still in the conceptual phase of the DIR week.. The DIR-F class is closer to reality and I hope to have more details very soon..

So save your money and remember to treat your instructor or we'll be forced to publish the video's from the class ;-)

Later
 

Tim Ingersoll

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You weren't kidding about LONG. It's amazing how you never really get used to getting effed by the airlines. Your report makes me think about getting more training. Thanks for posting!
 
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