If you had told Seven-Years-Ago-Me that she would willingly explore a sunken ship for the sake of fun, she would have laughed in your face. Or perhaps emitted a string of four-letter expletives. But this is a family-friendly space, so let’s stick with “laugh in your face.”
Since that first time strapping on a tank and BCD in the Maldives, diving has become one of my favorite pastimes. Factor in a killer shipwreck and, well, you’ve got a recipe for my favorite way to spend an afternoon in the islands.
On my first full day in Grand Cayman, I got up early—6:45am, that is, which for me is about an hour and a half before I want to be awake—to grab breakfast at my resort, Sunshine Suites, and walk across the street to the Westin, where the Red Sail Sports dive shop is located. I don’t own any dive gear, so I needed to rent a whole kit before our 8am dive boat was pulling out for its first destination: the Kittiwake.
One of the best things about diving in the Caymans is that, not only is there a dive site for every day of the year, but none of the dive sites take long to reach. After the hour and quite a lot of vomiting it took to get out to Key West’s Vandenberg, I was more than pleased to find that the Kittiwake took a quick 10 minutes on calm waters. No Dramamine necessary for this prone-to-motion-sickness traveler!
Since it was such a short ride, we all started to gear up as our divemasters briefed us on the Kittiwake, a U.S. Navy vessel that had been intentionally sunk in 2011 and is now a national park and one of the most popular dives in the Caymans. As I put my suit, a shorty, on, I had an uh-oh moment when I realized it wouldn’t zip up—the zipper was broken. I asked the captain if they had any other wetsuits on board, and he told me no. But not to worry, he said, the water temps are so warm, I wouldn’t even need a suit. After that incident with the triggerfish in Borneo, I was skeptical of diving without anything to separate me from what lies beneath, but trusted him nonetheless. Besides, since I don’t travel with neoprene and wasn’t about to stay behind on the boat, what other option did I have?
Once we reached the site, I buddied up with the Walter White doppelganger sitting next to me, who happened to be a dive shop owner from Nashville. (Later, I ran into not one but two people from my small hometown in rural Tennessee. What are the odds? Seems Cayman is a popular vacation spot for Southerners.)
Since the ship rests at just 60 feet, we had a full hour of bottom time ahead of us, plenty of time to explore at leisure. As the divemaster promised, the water was warm—a perfect 86 degrees—and I didn’t get the slightest bit chilly.
We had an excellent time exploring the various chambers within the ship. There are a few places that are great for photos, including an old bathroom with its mirrors still intact and the bridge, where you can steer the wheel. Unfortunately, there were so many divers down when we were—two dozen, at least—that I didn’t get a chance to take any photos in either as the sediment was thick and the clarity not great. So I stuck to primarily photographing the ship’s exterior.
At the tail end of the dive, our three-minute safety stop wound up turning into the real excitement of the day. Bear in mind, I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit, and I bumped my leg into something hard. It immediately began throbbing, but I looked down and couldn’t figure out what I had hit, nor did I see anything on my thigh, so I continued to float until it was time to surface.
Once I climbed back on the dive boat, I took off all my gear, and the red started to creep up my leg. While I didn’t see any fire coral around, I feared that might be what it was. I confirmed this with my divemaster, who quickly brought over some vinegar for me to put on the large welts to take out the sting, which it did—temporarily. It turned out there must have been some broken branches floating about, as well, as I also had the brandings on my arm.
A few hours later, and the full outline of Japan was etched into my upper thigh four inches wide and three inches high. It was pretty impressive actually, especially for this map enthusiast. (I wanted to show y’all a pic of the masterpiece, but SVV banned all flesh imagery from this blog after his own jellyfish sting.)
In the days that followed, my burns alternated between hurting like the dickens and itching like the worst case of poison ivy you ever did see. Two weeks later, I finally went to the doctor, who immediately injected a painful amount of steroid in my ass—side note: why do doctors insist on shooting drugs into your “hip?” wouldn’t my arm have worked just as well?—and put me on two daily medications. Five weeks later, the outline is still there, but the pain has completely subsided. Hard to believe such a docile-seeming creature like coral could wreak such havoc.
Still, I wouldn’t have traded that dive for a thing, fire coral or not.
(But seriously, kids. Wear your wetsuits. Even if the water is 86 degrees, wear your wetsuits.)