All Aboard the West Bay Express!
During a typical week’s work aboard a dive boat in Grand Cayman it isn’t rare for a customer to remind me that I am lucky to have such a fun job. In the same vein it is also common for them to ask what do I like most about it and that can be a hard one to answer. There are so many things that I love about being a diver in the Cayman Islands that it is hard to single out one specific part but a dive that I really do love and get a kick out of every time I get the chance to do it is the West Bay Express (WBX). What is this dive you may well be wondering, well if you’ve never heard of this Cayman based ride of a lifetime then let me explain…
The Need for Speed
The first thing that sets the WBX apart from other dives is that it is conducted using an underwater scooter. The company I work for (Divetech) has a bunch of Aquaprop underwater scooters or to give them their correct yet pretty boring name, Diver Propulsion Devices (DPVs). These devices are just a world of fun as they pull you through the water much faster than a diver could ever hope to swim. It isn’t the kind of thing to help you find all the tiny critters hiding in the nooks and crannies but gripping on to a DPV gives the rider a whole new underwater experience. For me the fun is the ride itself and being able to cover so much ground on a dive. Even with that in mind, I find using them so much fun that I almost consider a scooter dive to be a different sport entirely to regular diving.
Zipping along the walls on a scooter can be like enjoying a train ride while watching the scenery roll past the window or taking a leisurely drive through the country. Although the world does move past at a much faster rate, if a diver using a DPV does see something cool then they can just drop the power and slow down to check out whatever caught their eye.
Often when people use the Divetech scooters they take them out on the house reef and then end the dive by navigating back to the dive shop. The big attraction with the WBX is that the idea is to take off from the dive center and then just keep going. As there is a boat following the group on the surface that will collect the divers when they surface there is no need to turn around or even look at your compass at all.
The usual plan is to hit the reef which is a couple of minutes ride from the shore entrance point and then head south for as long as you can until you start getting low on air. The dive is supported by a guide who tows a surface marker buoy and a boat up top who follows the buoy to provide the journey home whilst also carrying a spare scooter should it be needed. Caymanian employee Raggy once managed to make it from Lighthouse Point to the Kittiwake on just one regular tank of air which is a pretty impressive journey!
Going the Distance
As if this whole adventure isn’t enough fun, in order to spice it up a little Divetech have made a leader board that records the distance that divers cover and then ranks them against other people's performance.
When the divers have to surface due to getting close to the reserve gas in their tanks the boat captain will make a note of their position in relation to nearby dive sites. Using that information it is then easy enough to use Google Earth to ascertain the distance covered. If your time is in the top 15 then your name makes it up onto the leaderboard of fame in the Divetech shop.
The Reckless Engineer
As a guide working for Divetech, when I am assigned to run a WBX my job is to lead a group of customers out to and along the wall. We usually stick to the mini wall in the interest of conserving air to get as far south as possible. Most recently I had the pleasure of guiding a couple from Florida who had an absolute blast on the ride.
We got in the water and as it was their first time using a DPV we spent a few minutes just getting used to how they handled as well as learning some safety elements. Once the divers were comfortable, off we went at full speed ahead.
By the time we got to the mini wall, the divers looked like naturals. In the interest of conserving my air I resisted the temptation to spend too much time at the deeper part of the mini wall. The ride along the coral structure was so much fun and the feeling of being liberated made me wonder how I could go back to diving without a scooter ever again.
About five minutes into the dive we came across a huge hawksbill turtle munching away on a sponge who clearly didn’t seem to worry about the sound of our vehicles. Having said that, turtles get so engrossed in their food, when they are chowing down on a delicious piece of reef I think a nearby bomb going off wouldn’t make them move.
Continuing onward we got to see the little dived corner of northwest point with its vibrant healthy coral, sponge and schools of fish filling the crystal blue ocean around us. Just as I was getting over the excitement of being able to keep up with a bunch of horse eyed jacks I noticed three amber jacks barging through the school on their way to the main wall.
Soon enough we passed Bonnies Arch then Funky Sponge and it was just short of Rainbow Reef when air consumption dictated an end to the dive. Even during the three minute safety stop it was clear to see the big cheesy grins on everyone’s face.
Once we surfaced, the boat that had been following us in support picked us up and brought us back to Divetech where we dropped our gear and got to recount what was for all of us an awesome dive. It would have been nice to have made it a little closer to the Kittiwake but in honesty this is one of those things which is more about the journey than the end destination.
West Bay Express trips are usually run in the afternoons from Divetech’s West Bay location. If the house reef is blown out as a starting point then the boat will take you to calmer waters to drop into and start the tour from there. Group sizes are limited by the number of scooters so usually cap out at five people. Contact Divetech to reserve your express train to fun next time you take a Cayman dive vacation… Toot Toot, All aboard!!