The hotelier’s next step was to find the right piece of land on which to build. Easterbrook took Barendrecht for a dive off West Bay, a district just north of the famous Seven Mile Beach. It just so happens that the north shore of Grand Cayman, where West Bay is located, is rich with dramatic wall dives and breathtaking coral formations, which was enough to convince Barendrecht of the location. He named it Cobalt Coast — and designed it to look like a colonial Caribbean plantation house — after the color of the deep water that beckons guests from the verandas. Though the inshore waters of the Caribbean are famous for their pastel turquoise hues, it is beyond that where the superlative scuba diving is to be found.
Indicative of the island’s diving-centric culture, Cobalt Coast (along with other area dive resorts) features an outpost of Divetech — a local dive shop and training facility — mere steps from the hotel pool. Not only is this convenient for visitors (“There’s no need to schlep your stuff from your hotel to a dive shop or boat location with the dive center on-site,” Horning notes), the experienced Divetech trainers can accommodate all skill levels and make learning stress-free and educational.
“The instructors were able to make everything interesting, fun and, above all, safe,” says Rob Maldonado, a midlevel diver from Brooklyn, N.Y., who visited Grand Cayman in May. “They were incredibly knowledgeable and really took the time to explain the theory behind the practice and walk us through everything step by step.”
In the event that northerly winds make the seas too rough to dive from Cobalt Coast’s shore, divers are transported farther west at no charge to an alternate base at Lighthouse Point, a top-notch shore dive protected from northerly winds.
Though Grand Cayman is ideal for new divers, more-experienced divers shouldn’t shy away from visiting for fear that it doesn’t have enough to offer them. Horning, who has dived in numerous locations around the world, notes the good mix of shallow and deep dive sites, as well as the ability to dive without a guide from either the beach or a boat, a practice that isn’t common in most marine reserves or other major diving areas.
Area scuba shops like Divetech also offer advanced options, like underwater-propulsion-vehicle (UPV) rentals and “blue light” fluorescent night dives, which use special lights to expose bioluminescence in the corals. Divetech also offers rebreather diving, a technical innovation that may well be the future of recreational scuba. Rebreathers recirculate the air divers breathe, extending dive times considerably and eliminating exhaust bubbles, which alert sea life to your presence. Beyond the recreational level, Divetech also teaches technical diving which, with proper training, allows one to dive well beyond the recreational limit of 130 feet deep.
Of course, you don’t have to go so far to have an unforgettable experience. With so much to explore just a few fin kicks from shore, even underwater neophytes can get in on the fun. But whether you’re considering a daringly deep excursion or just looking to dip your toe in the shallow end of scuba, Grand Cayman is the perfect place to dive in.
THOMAS JACKMAN is a freelance writer and ski instructor living in Taos, N.M. When he’s not skiing or scuba diving, the regular contributor to Scubaboard.com is planning his next adventure.