CAYMAN BRAC CLIMBING AND DIVING

Larry Hamilton, March 2006 (update 2011; photos by Leslie Hamilton and Dave Hamilton)

Fifty-five feet down, Dave swam into a cave. I went after him and caught up in dim light at the back of the chamber, where he was peering down a small tunnel into blackness. We carried no dive lights. Eyes wide behind his mask, Dave pantomimed something like "Let's check this out!" With a sinking feeling I signaled back "I'll wait right here!" In a flash of blue fins he was gone, out of sight as he contorted down the dark tunnel. A minute passed. Our adventure level had shot from zero to ninety real fast, which can happen when you travel with Dave. Alone in an undersea cave, my mind raced without finding good plans. What if his passage dead ended, and he can't turn around, or gets lost, or gets stuck. How long should I wait, how to help, how's our air.... I was much relieved when his bubbles returned, and then Dave's head reappeared from the hole. He waved and vanished again. Junior partner to my son, I followed him down in the dark. The passage constricted, just wide enough for a diver to twist through. But then I saw light ahead, deeper blue than the sunny reef where we'd entered. We emerged through a hole in a wall into water suddenly one mile deep. A vertical cliff bulging with roofs, sponge and coral swept above us towards the silvery surface, which looked so far away. My depth gauge read 100 feet. We turned and swam deeper down the wall.

When Leslie and I had arrived on Cayman Brac a few days earlier, we drove to Lord Slime's Bluff View House where the Lord himself welcomed us with carefully-prepared rum drinks. Our trip was off to an excellent start. Later the three of us went out for jerk chicken and Jamaican beer at La Esperanza, dining on the pier by moonlight because their lights had gone dead.

The Lord asked where we wanted to climb and I of course said the Point, so the next morning he took us up there and demonstrated the beta for these bottomless seacliffs. We rapped down and followed him up Blackbeard's Revenge, then Walking the Plank, in mind-expanding conditions -- waves booming in caves below our heels, turtles bobbing on impossibly blue water beyond, frigatebirds sailing like pterodactyls around the cliffs. That afternoon we visited the Orange Cave, a tamer crag with even cooler-named routes such as Ick! Theology! (I'd Rather Study Cod), Goin' to Cayman with a Snorkel in My Jeans, Chum Buckets, and L'Orangerie (get it?).

Our second sunrise found Lord Slime still in turbo host mode. He took us out snorkeling among shark, squid and 'cuda in the current off Windmill House ("best snorkeling on the Brac"), then on to sample the surreal flowstone textures of Dixon's Wall ("best climbing on the Brac"). The highlight of our Dixon's Wall foray was not Leslie's or my modest climbing, nor John's more impressive push on Lizzard the Gizzard (a steep climb, getting harder), but rather John's tale of greeting Berg Dixon, caught napping shirtless in his living room, with a joke about looking for beached whales.

John flew home the next day, while Dave and his girlfriend Sara arrived from LA and moved in downstairs at Bluff View. The four of us snorkeled, dived and climbed while thriving on rum, beer and conch. Back at the Orange Cave, Dave made Orange Fantasea look easy, which it's not. Later he led Throwin' the Hoola Girl on sight without knowing its grade. Shiver Me Timbers was my own favorite lead, done around sunset above calm seas at the Point. Leslie jumped off a dive boat one day and swam a few hundred yards to reach shore and her own private Little Cayman beach, while the divers drank tank air down below. Sara, abroad for the first time, broke through on the cliffs and the reefs.

The Milky Way glowed above the ironshore each night, knotted with unfamiliar southern stars. Our brief stay had been stellar the whole time. Lingering in my head is that deep blue light at the end of the tunnel in the Bloody Bay wall.


John Byrnes has a website with updated (2011) climbers' guide and essential information Cayman Brac. If you get down that way, ask John to tell you the story about this truck.



Larry Hamilton climbing page