Destination: The Cayman Islands: Oh Yes, We Had the Bananas, If Only We'd Left It at That
Byline: DAMIEN PEARSE
DAMIEN PEARSE, diving certificate in hand, goes exploring some of the most beautiful waters in the world
WHEN the crew of the Cayman island-bound Ora Verde fishing boat discovered that its captain had hidden a stash of contraband among its normal cargo of bananas, there were mutinous objections.
Refused a share in any ill-gotten profits, the sailors took action and promptly bundled their master overboard into the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean.
But the hapless mutineers were to meet an untimely end.
Blinded by rage, they had apparently forgotten that their greedy captain was the only person who knew how to navigate the vessel.
It sank on the west side of Grand Cayman, leaving no survivors, only a thousand ripening green-yellow bananas bobbing on the surface of the warm turquoise waters.
Now 20 years on, it would seem all was not in vain. The shipwreck is one of an incredible 159 dive sites dotted around the coast of this beautiful tropical island.
I arrived on Grand Cayman on a small plane from Miami after flying there from Heathrow.
It is the largest of the Cayman Islands - Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are its smaller sisters - and provides arguably the best diving in the world, certainly in terms of variety.
All three islands have areas of lush green mangrove swamp, patches of rocky dry woodland and coasts lined with glittering white sand beaches, ironshore (jagged lichen blackened masses of coral) and loose coral rock.
I had taken the precaution of gaining the first part of my PADI openwater diving certificate in a swimming pool in London, along with the necessary written examinations.
The course cost me pounds 250 and meant that instead of spending up to three days in a classroom on a sunshine island I was able to get straight into the sea.
It was money well spent. My very first dive saw me swimming alongside giant moray eels, reef sharks and graceful stingrays, moving silently among a kaleidoscope of smaller fish and other marine life.
I swam past reefs cloaked in dazzling sponge life and navigated my way though tangled masses of rope sponges which formed scarlet underwater forests and sinister caverns.
One of Grand Cayman's most spectacular attractions is Stingray City, undoubtedly the world's best shallow dive.
Home to more than 100 stingrays, the water depths range from one to four metres, making it suitable for both divers and snorkellers.
We arranged our trip through Red Sail Sports, one of the island's leading dive and watersports companies.
Visitors to the site can pick up, stroke and feed the fish or follow them as they glide from the sandy water plains across the coral into deeper, cooler waters.
I hitched a ride on the back of one specimen and was taken in a neat circle before being politely dropped off at my point of departure.
The guide then picked the fish out of the water and laughed uncontrollably as it spat a jet of water into my face.
Experienced divers have a huge range of sites to choose from with names such as Razorback Reef, Orange Canyon, Ghost Mountain, Skinny Palm Tree Drop and Hammerhead Hole. …