The following is excerpted from Ron Kipp’s new book, “From ‘Big Blue’ to the Deep Blue,” to be published next month. Mr. Kipp is well known in the Cayman Islands as the long-time owner of Bob Soto’s Diving, which he ran from 1980 to 2001.
“During their lifetimes, everyone will stumble across a great opportunity. Sadly, most will carry on as if nothing ever happened.”
— Winston Churchill
Back in 1987, I had Pat Kenny as my operations manager and his wife Georgia Dollack was the retail manager. Both of them are hard-working people and they were an asset to the business. Pat was a street-smart former Detroit policeman and, I think it’s fair to say, he had a toughness about him that didn’t always sit well with the staff.
Rather than try to keep him on as the ops manager, I offered Pat the opportunity to captain the Paradise Diver and he did a great job. He was an excellent boat captain and I think he was very happy with the position. As it turns out, that job change led to one of the most monumental discoveries in the Cayman Islands – Stingray City.
That’s right. Pat Kenny, along with first mate Jay Ireland, found the original Stingray City site off the North Sound of Grand Cayman. Pat came to me and said, “Ron, I noticed an area in the shallows with dozens of southern stingrays all over the place. It’s in like 15 feet of water or less. I jumped in the water and snorkeled with them and they were everywhere. I tried feeding them some fish scraps – and they ate it! I think we might be able to run snorkel trips out there.”
Pat took me to have a look and as they say, “the rest is history.” We started taking snorkelers to the site and it was a huge hit, of course. It wasn’t long before we decided to allow scuba diving at the site.
Excited about our newest attraction, I phoned Paul Tzimoulis at Skin Diver and said, “Paul, I can put you on a site with about 15 or 20 southern stingrays. Guaranteed. You can feed them. You can practically hug them. You’ve gotta come see this. There’s nothing like it anyplace else.”
Paul and Geri [his wife and underwater photographer] arrived on Grand Cayman within a matter of days. We took them out to see the stingrays – they’d traveled all over the world and neither of them had ever seen anything like it – and, of course, they got some great shots. As we were getting off the boat, Geri stood on the dock behind my house and exclaimed, “Ron, that place is just amazing. You’ve got a Stingray City!”
Pat Kenny discovered it. Geri Murphy Tzimoulis named it. I marketed the hell out of it. And visitors to Grand Cayman have been enjoying it ever since.
There’s a story that local fishermen “created” Stingray City by repeatedly anchoring in that area to clean their catch, throwing fish scraps into the water. Now, I’m not going to say that didn’t happen, or that the fishermen and snorkel boat operators along the North Sound didn’t know about the stingrays. But all I know is that nobody did anything abut Stingray City until Pat Kenny and Jay Ireland found it and we started running trips there.
At first, it was a delicate situation, because the North Sound was sort of the locals’ “turf.” It was an area that was kind of off-limits to tourists. Some locals were clearly not happy that the area was becoming a tourist attraction. But all these years later, that attitude has shifted. Now that the Stingray City “sandbar” developed, the situation has gotten even better, since the sandbar area is only about four or five feet deep. People can just stand there and have stingrays swimming all around. They have their photo taken with the rays and it’s a great souvenir of their Cayman Islands vacation.