Shipwrecks about more than just dive sites

Lawson Wood’s new book, Shipwrecks of the Cayman Islands, debuted last week with media interviews and book signings. Following are excerpts

Shipwrecks of the Cayman Islands
By Lawson Wood Aquapress

When one speaks of the Cayman Islands, the image that is conjured up is of palm-fringed, beautiful white sandy beaches upon lush, green, tropical islands. The Cayman Islands are so much more; they are synonymous with high finance, friendly people, crystal clear water, magnificent coral reefs, abundant marine life, seafaring, exploration and of shipwrecks and turtles. is no accident that so many ships ended up on her reefs as from the very earliest days of Caribbean exploration, for it was the super abundant numbers of turtles that brought them there.

Lawson Wood’s new book, Shipwrecks of the Cayman Islands, debuted last week with media interviews and book signings. Following are excerpts

Shipwrecks of the Cayman Islands
By Lawson Wood
Aquapress
When one speaks of the Cayman Islands, the image that is conjured up is of palm-fringed, beautiful white sandy beaches upon lush, green, tropical islands. The Cayman Islands are so much more; they are synonymous with high finance, friendly people, crystal clear water, magnificent coral reefs, abundant marine life, seafaring, exploration and of shipwrecks and turtles. It is no accident that so many ships ended up on her reefs as from the very earliest days of Caribbean exploration, for it was the super abundant numbers of turtles that brought them there.

Essential turtles

The turtles were an essential part of the live and cured (salted) food stores which all of the merchant ships required to help stave off the excesses of scurvy. Ships visited the islands to stock their ships with turtle, fish and fresh water and equally as important, the island of ‘Caiman Grande’ was one of the most important islands for navigation, as the East End reefs marked the passage northwest to Cuba and thence into the Gulf Stream to the route back across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.

Travelling with his last two remaining caravels La Capitana and Santiago de Palos, Christopher Columbus’s fleet was blown off course whilst trying to reach the safety of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) to repair his badly leaking craft. Passing by Little Cayman and Cayman Brac in May of 1503, they first thought them no more than navigational hazards and made their way on to Jamaica. It is this legacy that we now explore.

The legacy of the Cayman Islands is the sea itself, her people and her rich and abundant waters. Now, after 500 years since the discovery of the islands, the Cayman Turtlers and their boats are known the world over. It was the Caymanian built schooners that first explored the surrounding reefs and were responsible for some of the first treasure salvage in these waters.

Many shipwrecks

The Cayman Islands have always been known for its coral reefs, undoubtedly some of the best in the world, and of course the legendary Stingray City. However, these islands also boast some remarkable shipwrecks that are both diving and snorkelling attractions.

These anchors are the remains of the Tofa, found on Little Cayman Island.

Everyone wants to see a shipwreck! The mystique and their history serve to teach us to understand that most shipwrecks are monuments to the sailors that served on them in their more glorious days of sailing the high seas. Most can be viewed snorkelling from above, or dived beneath – so many options to choose from! But what we have to remember is that these once grand vessels are now a part of the coral reef system, attracting fish, coral, algae and sponges, seemingly all for our personal pleasure.

Shipwrecks offer a safe attraction for divers to visit – navigation is easy, disorientation is reduced and visiting the ships in the daytime offers a totally different experience than at night – you have to try them both! What better home could you visit than one abundant with nooks and crannies for critters to hang out in, while offering divers a very safe and easy option for a great night dive.

Shipwrecks such as the Balboa, outside George Town harbour are superb night dives.

During the investigation of the ‘Shipwrecks of the Cayman Islands’, we now know of over 140 wrecks that span five centuries of maritime heritage.

Some intentional

Some of our shipwrecks have been intentionally placed as artificial wrecks, whilst others have ended up on the shallow coral reefs due to accidental sinking. Diving the shipwrecks in Cayman waters can be done from shore, such as the Cali, David Nicholson, Kissimmee and the Prince Frederick; from submarines to visit the Kirk Pride, and through dive operators on boat trips to see the Balboa, Capt Keith Tibbetts, Cayman Mariner, Doc Poulson, Glamis, Oro Verde, Pallas, Ridgefield and many more. For technical divers, the deep Carrie Lee wreck is visited weekly and when weather permits, the 12 Mile bank Fuel Barge is a rare treat!

Night diving, deep diving, day trips, photography, marine biology and more can be done on these wrecks. Ships, whether sunk intentionally or by accident, offer a unique attraction that everyone wants to see. The shipwrecks also offer a chance for the natural reefs in close proximity to have some relief through colonization on the wrecks. Artificial reefs do not replace the existing natural habitats, but rather augment the existing reefs and soon become encrusted with all manner of marine life. Now, for the first time, we are able to explore the ‘Shipwrecks of the Cayman Islands’ and gain new knowledge and understanding of this rich resource.

About the author

Lawson Wood is a resident of the Cayman Islands and lives on Cayman Brac with his wife Lesley. Formerly from Eyemouth in Berwickshire, Scotland, he is the author of the very successful Cayman Islands Diving Guide; Diving the Caribbean and the Reef Fishes and Invertebrates Guide to the Caribbean. Mr. Lawson is the author of a further 30 related historical and diving-guide books from all of the world’s oceans, for publishers such as Struik International, New Holland Publishers, Readers Digest, Lonely Planet, Tempus Publications and Underwater World Publications. His photographs are featured in a number of slide libraries including digitally through CORBIS.com.

Mr. Lawson is a founding member of the Marine Conservation Society and founder of the St.Abbs and Eyemouth Marine Nature Reserve in Scotland. He made photographic history by becoming a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and Fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photographers solely for underwater photography. Mr. Lawson is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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