Green Turtles in Grand Cayman

The sail from Negril on the west coast of Jamaica to Cayman Brac was one of my best ever. There was a flat sea and enough wind to go six knots – Sonic Boom gliding beautifully, smoothly through the water. After clearing in I moved to one of the free mooring balls and was amazed at how clear the water was. I could see the bottom and lots of colorful fish swimming amongst the coral.

I sailed from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman five miles away from where I would sail the ninety miles to Grand Cayman. Even smaller than Cayman Brac, only a hundred people lived on Little Cayman, and the water was even clearer if that was possible. I picked up a ball in Bloody Bay above a reef shelf, which was at about forty feet, but just behind me there was a vertical wall that dropped to the depths, thousands of feet below. It was absolutely stunning. It was a popular dive to go along the wall, but even just snorkeling was incredible. 

The sail to Grand Cayman was slow; the wind died completely at night so I dropped my sails and went to bed. The wind didn’t pick up until the next day. I’d had to clear out on leaving Cayman Brac and so had to clear in again at George Town. Then I sailed into North Sound and through another channel into Governor’s Creek where I could anchor for free or tie up to one of the docks at the Cayman Islands Yacht Club. The yacht club was basically a small marina with slips, a fuel dock, a small supermarket, and a restaurant. Further south, Barcadere Marina, with full marina facilities was another option.

Diving in the Grand Cayman is some of the best in the world, with clear, warm water, an abundance of marine life and amazing coral reefs. While I love to see sharks, explore shipwrecks, and swim through coral tunnels, my favorite things to see when diving, are turtles. I was definitely in the right place. Turtles often pop their head out of the water in anchorages all over the Caribbean. Globally the Caribbean is home to the largest population of green turtles, but here in the Caymans the green turtle is a national symbol. There is a turtle on the national coat of arms and the national flag. There are turtles on the banknotes. A cartoon sea turtle, ‘Sir Turtle’, is the mascot of the national airline Cayman Airways and is displayed on the tail of its aircraft.

When the Cayman Islands were discovered by Columbus in 1503, he named them ‘Las Tortugas’ because of the many sea turtles in the waters around the islands. Many of the earliest visitors came to the Cayman Islands to capture the turtles as a source of fresh meat during long voyages. Today green turtles are an endangered species, mainly due to threats from humans – hunting, pollution, fishing nets, destruction of habitat.

I went on many dives during my stay in the Cayman Islands, and was especially lucky to get a chance to dive with Cayman Turtle Divers just before I left. Alan, J.T. and Ollie, were three of the nicest dive operators. I met up with them at West Bay public beach and went for a two-tank afternoon boat dive with J.T. and Corey. 

First we went to Big Tunnels; a deep dive (I went to 107 feet), with a spectacular swim through – just like a big tunnel. After a tea break, we motored the boat around the coast to Rainbow Reef. As the name would suggest, it was incredibly colorful, just like swimming in an aquarium. I saw turtles, an eel, porcupine fish. Corey and J.T. were great guides, the boat was immaculate, the ocean was flat calm; it really was a perfect afternoon’s diving.

On the reef I watched turtles eat sponges and jellyfish, but mainly they feed on sea grass. Mowing sea grass beds makes the sea grass stronger and provides a habitat for fish and other creatures. Turtles can stay under water for hours, and in fact they sleep under water.

I learnt a lot about green turtles while I was in Grand Cayman. Actually they have a lot in common with us cruisers. Yellow tang fish feed on algae on the turtle’s body, cleaning it. Just like scraping the bottom of your boat, it reduces drag and makes the turtle faster. They migrate long distances; up to 1600 miles to return to the beach they were born on. A turtle you see in Dominican Republic might have come from St. Martin. They use an internal magnetic compass to navigate. But mostly they like to stay in one area, often returning to the same bed every night.