Hurricane Diving

December 19, 2011

In October, 1995, I was on a dive trip in the Bay Islands on an Aggressor liveaboard.  The trip was with many of my diving friends from Cincinnati and should have been some easy, comfortable diving.  However, at about the same time we arrived in that area, a tropical wave merged with a broad low pressure area and an upper trough just off the coast of Honduras, forming Roxanne, which would become the tenth hurricane of the year.

Every day, we were hit by the winds so badly that the captain wanted to call off the diving and keep the boat docked.  But our trip leader kept convincing the captain to take the boat out every morning and look for protected dive sites, since we’d come to dive.  Some of our boat rides the first 3-4 days were pretty rough but we didn’t miss many dives on that trip at all.

Even after Roxanne moved off towards Cozumel, some sites still had some pretty low visibility the rest of the week.  Because of that trip, I usually paid more attention to weather patterns in areas that I was planning to dive.  It doesn’t make much sense to schedule a trip somewhere during normal hurricane seasons.

Last summer, I decided to do Pirate’s Week in Grand Cayman so made the reservations and got everything together that I could find to dress up like a Pirate.  Again there were other diving friends that wanted to join me so we all booked ourselves at Cobalt Coast Resort, diving with my old friends at DiveTech.  The one thing I didn’t think about was that November was still the tail end of hurricane season in that part of the Caribbean.

In all the excitement of getting ready for this trip, I neglected to even glance at the weather for Grand Cayman.  A day before we were scheduled to leave, I received an email from the airline that my flight from Atlanta to Grand Cayman had been cancelled due to Hurricane Paloma.  That took me by surprise and I quickly hit the internet to find out more about this storm.

As far as hurricanes go the storm seemed small, being only about ten miles across.  While discussing Paloma with the others I was diving with, we all decided to rebook our flights and go a couple of days after Paloma left the Caymans.  One thing that I did know about hurricanes around the Caymans was that most of the reefs don’t sustain much damage during these storms because of the depths of the water surrounding the islands.

The first few days that we were there had wonderful weather, glass-like seas, and excellent diving.  As I suspected, the reefs were healthy and intact and even the visibility was as good as it gets in the Caymans.  We were all glad that we didn’t postpone our trip and were enjoying all of the Pirate’s week activities that we could schedule in between diving.

The annual Pirate’s Week underwater treasure hunt went off without a hitch.  Large stainless steel washers are numbered with magic markers and each number is matched to donated prizes that are laid out on a table for participants to see ahead of time.  When all was said and done, I was fortunate enough to come up with the best prize of all, which was an actual piece of eight recovered from a shipwreck from the early 1700’s donated by Artifacts in downtown Georgetown!

Most of the diving with DiveTech is done on the North Wall, which is one of my favorite places to dive.  The dive boats pick up divers at the resort’s dock and it’s usually about a half hour boat ride to the wall.  Then it’s classic Cayman diving at its best.

During the second half of our week, more winds kicked up and the seas at Cobalt Coast Resort’s dock were raging with 4-6’ waves.  But another good thing about diving in the Caymans is that if one side of the island is getting hit by storms, there are almost always protected dive sites on another side of the island that divers can visit.  So instead of getting on a dive boat at the resort’s dock, we piled into their vans and either made a 5 minute ride to West Bay or a 15-20 minute ride to docks on the south side of the island.  From either of those docks, dive sites are only a 5-10 minute boat ride.

DiveTech’s divemasters are excellent for beginners as well as experienced divers.  They will lead group dives, but also allow experienced divers to follow their own plan.  Since I was teaching an underwater imaging class, I pretty much did my own solo diving, and also went back and forth between students.

During one dive, I noticed one of the divemasters trying to get a picture of a shy hamlet.  She wasn’t having much luck as the hamlet was in fact acting pretty shy.  After she quit chasing it, I was able to slowly approach it and get some footage of it, albeit not as good as I would have wanted.

On the next day at a different dive site, that same divemaster didn’t have a camera with her, but I found another shy hamlet that pretty much stayed in two different areas without leaving.  Throughout the entire dive, I’d go back to the same two places and inevitably find that hamlet sitting still and posing.  Needless to say, I did get some great footage of this one!

On our last night there, DiveTech invited everyone aboard one of their larger boats for an evening cruise into Georgetown for the finale of Pirate’s Week.  There was plenty of beer and wine for everyone aboard as well as delicious sandwiches and snacks.  The water had calmed down tremendously for us and a full moon was glistening off the surface lending to a very romantic evening for us pirates and our wenches.

We arrived in Georgetown’s harbor in plenty of time to grab a few more beers then settle in to watch a half hour of fireworks which was wonderful.  After the fireworks, the crew passed around huge 2’ long sparklers to everyone on board and drove the boat close to the docks in Georgetown for everyone on land to enjoy them as well.  It was a perfect end to a good week of diving, despite Hurricane Paloma.  Sea Ya!

Critter corner: Most Hamlets are usually somewhat shy, but many can be approached if done slowly and in a non-threatening manner.  Hamlets usually swim about on the reefs remaining close to the substrate and usually feed on benthic invertebrates and smaller fishes.

copyright © Roger Roth, 2002 – 2011

Roger Roth is a roofer by trade and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. But his passion is underwater vidiography and after several decades of learning how to shoot and edit he has evolved into a teacher and a photographic philanthropist. Roger is the founder of the annual international Underwater Images Photo and Video Competition. You may contact Roger at rroth2@cinci.rr.com.

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