We had heard about a notorious offshore shipwreck in the waters of the Cayman Islands, where large congregations of fish and sharks shelter. We flew to Grand Cayman to find it but once on site, as quite often is the case, weather patterns did not comply and the possibility of diving 20 kilometres offshore was next to impossible. Back at the hotel bar, it was happy hour and while drowning our sorrows, we met a seasoned diver called Ivan, who had worked in the Cayman dive industry for years. To console us, he started to tell us about some other wrecks that he had come across over the years and perhaps one that would interest us called the Carrie Lee, which he said was worth a look if we have the time. The Carrie Lee, a 185 foot barge, was used to carry supplies between Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman but it capsized and sank off the coast of Grand Cayman. Many attempts to recover the vessel failed and finally it sunk. The Carrie Lee landed on the sandy bottom, in 300 feet of water, very close to the edge of a sheer vertical drop-off. This vertical drop-off heads straight down into the dark abyss, bottoming out at 8000 feet. All this sounded quite dramatic and peaked our curiosity.
Carrie Lee is definitely what now days we call a “technical dive”. And on Cayman, as is the case on most islands these days, diving to depths of 200-300 feet require special technical diving certificate, mixed gases, rebreathers, redundant rigs and thousands of dollars worth of diving services. Doing these type of dives on air is now a thing of the past, with most dive operators refusing to provide tanks for such activities, deemed too dangerous, even with enriched air decompression.
But we have been doing 300 feet dives on air for a few decades now, long before it was considered dangerous. Agreed that diving at these depths requires experience, careful planning, and know-how but we know all about that. And now at our age, not only do we do enriched air decompression but we like to switch over to pure oxygen for some time before surfacing. Ivan is from the same generation of divers as we are and after a few beers, with a knowing wink, he agreed to rent us his boat with all the necessary equipment for us to do this not-so-by-the-books wreck dive.
To be honest, diving on the Carrie Lee was going be a challenge. It’s deep, lying on a slope with depths varying from 180 feet to 300 feet depending on whether you visit the top of the stern or the bottom of the bow. And there is usually current both on the surface and on the descent line.
At the site was a surface buoy and a gentle current vibrated the descent line which disappeared into the blue. We began our descent along the line, which is attached to the rear of the wreck. At 100 feet, the top of the aft cabin appeared and the silhouette of the hull was visible and stood out on the white sand bottom. Beyond the wreck, the water was very dark crystalline. Jacks came up in the blue to greet us and escorted us down towards the wreck.
We swam above the wreck towards the bow. Suspended in the blue 50 feet over the wreck, Cathy searched for the best angles for her photography while Dominique traced the silhouette of the wreck. As we arrived over the drop-off, we experienced the sheer precarious beauty of this wreck. Hanging on an angle over the edge of the abyss, the boat looked like at any moment it could slide and plummet into the deep blue. Gone for ever.
We dropped 50 feet down to the bow of the boat to look at the anchor winches and across the storage hulls back towards the aft cabin. Our depth gages moved into the red and our limited minutes passed very quickly. Despite the narcosis, Cathy played with her aperture, shutter speed and strobe angles to get the perfect shot.
On a second dive, Cathy completed her images of the wreck with a dive at the stern of the boat. The aft cabin is richly decorated with sponges, gorgonians, sea whips and black coral. A turtle, accompanied by an angel fish came to see us and grazed on sponges on the sea floor. The vision was complete and we headed back to the light of the surface.
To be able to dive as a couple and to share such an intense and exceptional experience is a real gift. We love these trips into the deep blue. They intoxicate us! For a few minutes we forget all our personal problems and those of the planet too. It's a kind of rebirth that you never get tired of it. We look back with fond memories of our few spectacular dives on the Carrie Lee and will cherish the experience for years to come.
The Carrie Lee is completely intact and rests at a depth of 180ft-280ft off the south west coast of Grand Cayman.