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Cayman Islands - sand, sea and surf

Charlotte Boan heads for the water as she enjoys a sporting break in the Cayman Islands

 

Bright towels slung over the shoulder and goggles were in hand – there was a sense of purpose in the pace of people heading to one of the Caribbean’s most iconic beaches. Nearly 900 swimmers of varying ages descended on the fine white sand, which on a Saturday in June, was peppered with small tents in a buzz of festival excitement for the annual sea swim competition.
Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, edged by an ever-growing number of plush hotels, is the type of idyllic setting you’d drool over on a computer screensaver. For this much celebrated annual event, its cobalt blue waters were teeming with helicopters, speedboats, lifeguards and huge inflatable buoys marking out one mile of its 5.5 mile stretch (since the beach was named it has been reduced by erosion).
Open water swimming has raised its profile in recent years, and is set to trial for inclusion during the Olympics in London later this year. These types of events take place outdoors in open oceans, bays, lakes, rivers, canals, and reservoirs. The distance of each swim usually varies from 1km to 80km, but major competitions are usually between 5km and 25km.
Now in its 20th year, the Grand Cayman Flowers Sea Swim (www.flowersseaswim.com) is certainly one of the most glamorous of events of its kind and is known to be the ‘world’s richest’, with up to £70,000 in prizes on offer. Top cash prizes lure serious competitors across the globe, with first place for 2012 awarded to Australian swimmers, in both the male and female categories. Winners finished around the 20-minute mark. In comparison, I managed a less glamorous time of 52 minutes, but this still put me ahead of 200 or so other swimmers. However, there’s no pressure. The event has a distinct and friendly community feel. Of the 840 odd competitors, the majority lived on the island and were just out for a fun day.
A British overseas territory with a strong American influence, the country’s main industries are offshore banking and tourism, creating a fascinating blend of inhabitants. Whether ex-pat or Cayman national, however, there is a noticeable air of pride and togetherness about the community. Caymanians are also an active bunch and widely passionate about the island’s environment.
Located in the western Caribbean Sea, the Cayman Islands, which consist of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, lie south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica. Famed for beautiful beaches, romantic sunsets and stylish hotels, the tropical Cayman Islands, are perfect for a relaxing beach holiday, yet they are equally suited to the more active traveller. Here’s our pick of some of the best of the other watersports activities on the larger island of Grand Cayman:

Scuba diving
The Cayman Islands has some of the best and most diverse range of scuba diving in the Caribbean. Deep walls, shipwrecks, coral gardens and the most famous of all, Stingray City, where divers and snorkellers alike can get up close and personal with large stingrays on a natural sandbar 20 minutes boat ride from shore. Care is taken to restrict the number of visitors at any one time, so as to preserve the environment.
One of the most exciting additions to the classic dive sites of Grand Cayman is the wreck of the Kittiwake sunk in 2010 following eight years of planning by local divers (www.divetech.com). Sitting at a depth of around 20m, the 70m-long vessel has lots of open areas in and around to explore. Dive guides tailor the dive to suit experience level, as it reaches as shallow as five metres. Experienced divers have endless areas inside to explore, including engine rooms and a bathroom, where you can check yourself out in the mirrors. There’s lots of life around the vessel with schools of fish and passing pelagic fish.

Kayaking
By far one of the best ways to get to know the island is to take a guided kayak trip. Two not-to-be missed is a mangrove tour, which takes around two hours. Learn about the fascinating species among the mangroves and why these plants are essential to the balance of the Cayman Island ecosystem (www.caymanseaelements.com).
Led by an enthusiastic young entrepreneur, Tom Watling, a night-time bioluminescence tour near Rum Point is one of the most unique of all the activities on offer. Cruising out in a two-man kayak at a guided leisurely pace, you paddle into a small bay that has one of the highest concentrations of bioluminescence in the world. Bioluminescence is light created by living organisms, which produce incredible displays in the water. Watch your paddles light up like Star War light sabers through the water and watch out for clouds of stardust underwater as fish dart around you (www.caymankayaks.com).

Kitesurfing is literally taking off around the world and Grand Cayman is becoming a favoured place to learn, thanks to its large expanse of shallow water sandbars and good winds. The best and most consistent winds are from November to April (www.kitehousecayman.com).

Paddleboarding is popular with tourists and locals alike. Standing up on flat board, you use a long paddle and lots of balance in those core muscles to propel you along the water. It takes a little while to find your comfortable centre of gravity and is a definitely an activity best suited to calm flat days. Body conscious celebrities love the sport apparently, as it offers an excellent body workout.

For more information about all these activities and many more on the islands, see the Cayman Island Tourist Board website: www.caymanislands.co.uk


CONTACT AND PRICES
Charlotte Boan travelled Grand Cayman with Caribtours www.caribtours.co.uk, staying at the Marriot Hotel.

Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, Grand Cayman
Caribtours (020 7751 0660: www.caribtours.co.uk).

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