Best Quick Guide to Cayman Paradise

Best Quick Guide to Cayman Paradise
We returned to Grand Cayman after an earlier vacation, looking for relaxation and the Caribbean sunsets. Every day is sunny, warm and breezy, comparable to perhaps 30 days all year in Tidewater Virginia. No wonder people flock here from Ohio, Canada, Germany, Poland, you name it. There are no panhandlers, no crime, no police sirens, no flies, no mosquitoes and no hassles. 
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseBonnie and I were there for ten days, which fell toward the end of Spring Break and before Easter Break. College kids were everywhere, and then they’d disappear for days. They are very big drinkers. Numerous families were on vacation as well. 
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseThe island lies in the Caribbean  Sea 150 miles due south of Cuba, so it’s easy to get to. In our case, it was a 2-hour flight from Charlotte. I got the best quick guide to Cayman Paradise by a mariner who’s seen it all in the Caribbean.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseAn industrialist name Ken Dart is developing part of the island into a commercial/residential multiplex. He’s paying for an entire highway and underpass, all of this at a sort of new town by Dart Enterprises called Camana Bay, billed as a “one-of-a-kind master-planned community.”
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseOne intriguing feature: The hurricane shutters are louvered instead of solid. In addition to looking better, the rain and wind can penetrate the windows enough to reduce interior pressure but still hold up. The last big hurricane was Ivan in 2004, which damaged or destroyed 95% of the buildings throughout the island.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseWe saw a family help a severely disabled young man out of a limo at Camana Bay, and it occurred to me that one sees very few handicapped space designated on the streets. The other notable feature is that everyone coming and going to work is so thin. It’s pervasive and remarkable, almost like a job requirement.
George Town is cleaned up and expansive, the natives quite friendly. Fodor’s Guide claims the island as the best in the Caribbean for personal safety, so that makes it appealing to cruise ship companies.

Best Quick Guide to Cayman Paradise

Boats, Ritz, Chicks

Up to six, seven and eight mammoth liners blow in overnight and are gone by dusk the next day. Poof. A passing mega-yacht worth millions looks tiny between two cruse ships.
A walking trail conveys historical points along the way, and the national museum in George Town describes the long history since 1503. That makes Jamestown’s founding date of 1607 look quaint.
Quick Guide to Best Cayman ParadiseGrand Cayman offers 192 things to do under Outdoor Activities in Trip Advisor. Buried within those are 67 boat cruises. Within them lie 10 sailboat cruises that parallel Let’s Go Sail. The boats here are bigger and the cruises an hour longer at four hours, but the prices are exorbitant: $750 and $800 minimum vs. my $150. I found an old catamaran for $450 a half day, but the sails looked ragged. Finally another catamaran turned up for $65 per person, but we took it last time. It motors out to a sandbar where people can jump in the North Sound to pet stingrays. On the way back, the boat is under sail but motoring quietly as well. 
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseMuch of the action is downtown and along Seven Mile Beach where all the hotels lie. As a country club rat growing up, I insinuated myself into the Ritz Carlton, where every guest room has a view of the beach. Later we had drinks and appetizers while sitting on a seaside sofa watching the sun set. Service was exquisite and we got out for a hundred bucks, without having to be a registered guest.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseIt occurred to us that Kingsmill Resort’s new owners could learn from the Ritz model. Instead of discriminating against the Great Unwashed, they could welcome nonmember residents with a markup on meals and services. That would still make membership worthwhile to both sides. What’s ironic is that owning a home in pretentious gated community doesn’t qualify for eating in the resort restaurants. 

Why High Prices

“Of course they’re high,” said a fellow named Joe, a charter captain himself who jumped off a three-masted pirate ship named the Jolly Roger to chat.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman Paradise“This is the Cayman Islands, where money is unlimited. There is no corporate tax or income tax, and no property tax either. No wonder banks and businesses flock here. I run a 65-foot schooner charter out of the BVIs, where the population is 27,000 but the number of businesses is 700,000.”
That sounds absurd, but similar ratios apply in Grand Cayman, with 40 of the world’s 50 largest banks registered. Cayman is in the BWI, or British West Indies. “Of course, these business people don’t work here and may not even know where the islands are.”
Best Quick Guide to Cayman PardiseMany of those banks occupy only a small office or a post office box. Ironically, the retail side of banking is still pretty primitive. I stood in line for 20 minutes waiting for a teller to change out $20 US to CI. Turns out it was also the only bank on the island with an ATM machine.
Joe said, “The only tax is an import tax, basically on tourists. That’s why a basic burger at a restaurant costs $15 CI. I went on Airbnb to get a room here in Grand Cayman and it cost $150 a night, for a single room. There’s not a hotel on the island less than $300 a night.” I postulated $1,000 at the Ritz-Carlton and Mike said, “or higher.”
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseThe import tax is vital because obviously everything except water comes from someplace else. When you look out at the cruise ships anchored offshore, it’s hard to fathom how many goods have to be stored on board for a ten-day cruise. Now multiply that fact exponentially to gather all the goods to sustain an entire economy. 

Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseImportance of Barges

Tucked between the cruise ships lies an unattractive barge with a weird ramp. It looked like a dredge parked there permanently. “No,” explained a beach attendant named Jason. He gave me a short tutorial on how to sustain an island economy.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman Paradise“The barge is for offloading containers to take to the other two Cayman islands. Here at Grand Cayman we have room in port for the big ships to offload, but not so at the little smaller islands. At any given time, one barge is traveling to an island while the other remains to take on cargo. The empty barge goes to the George Town port for loading. When it arrives at the islands by tugboat, the ramp drops down so they can offload the containers. You rarely see them together, except maybe when they pass each other at sea.” A few days later I caught a photo of both barges offshore. 
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseAlbeit unsightly next to the sleek cruise ships, the barges are thus the most valuable boats out there. The situation would be vastly improved by building berthing facilities for the cruise ships, as Charlotte Amalie has done in St. Thomas. That has been controversial for some years, leading the government to spend $500,000 on consultants alone. One critic described the consultancy contracts as akin to giving the consultants “our wristwatch” for them to “tell us the time” for a fee.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseJoe showed me a tourist guide with a crude nautical chart that disclosed the elusive reef surrounding Grand Cayman, which makes it so dangerous for sailboats. We saw precious few sailboats, most of them catamarans and only two or three sloops.
“I have to be careful with this boat,” he said of the pirate ship, “since it draws 9 feet. Catamarans do all right because they draw only a foot or so. There are some openings on the north side of the island where you can get in, but you need GPS and chart-plotter for sure. Don’t try to use paper charts because you won’t remember exactly where you are when you look at them.”

Cruising the Caribbean

Joe spent 21 years in Canada’s Navy and was once on loan to the US Navy at Indian Head, Maryland. “I lived in Woodbridge in Northern Virginia and would kayak across the Potomac to get to work in the morning. People asked me what I did when the river froze over, but it was just a skim of ice. I’m from Canada, so I’d just put on a sweat top.”
Joe now keeps his schooner in St. Martin where he will charter out of the south side after fitting out in a few months. Here he finds the Caymans delightful, like everyone else. “The cruise ship companies love it here because it’s safe and secure. No panhandlers or crime when four or six ships blow in and disgorge 10,000 passengers a day.” I’ve seen it at rush hour, and it’s a ballet of movement among a dozen tenders at a time.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman Paradise“The Turtle Farm is the most popular attraction for visitors, but it’s run by the government and they continue to lose $500,000 a year on it. Can you imagine that? If you or I took a crack at it as businessmen I’m sure we’d be able to turn a profit shortly.” I suggested we might have to lay off a few turtles, and he laughed.
It was good to talk to a fellow mariner who also knew his way around Grand Cayman. He deadpanned, “I’ve been here a week.” 

Lizards and Laissez Faire

Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseAll over the island we found mother hens with her baby chicks in tow. Some were just a few days old. It must be an Easter thing.
Equally populous, one finds lizards of all sizes and colors. They’re very fast and harmless, but they get might big when they evidently morph into small iguanas. A couple walked past us while watching a big one eat leaves. She said, “You know, they have a bounty of $2 on them. Bring one in and collect $2. It’s because they’re overrunning the island. In Florida they die off in the cold but here there’s nothing to kill them.” I shuddered to think of how to catch a big one.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseI pointed out the aluminum cuffs on the palm trees, which are supposed to prevent lizards from reaching the top. The man said, “We were at the George Town Yacht Club where two couples were sitting at an outdoor table having lunch. Suddenly one of these creatures dropped from the top of a palm tree right onto their table. SPLAT! They were astonished.”
We saw only two dogs in ten days, and zero cats in ten days.
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseI went to the hotel hot tub to work on my shoulder and got into a conversation with a guy in his 40s named Brett. “I live next door at the resort there but I like to come over for the hot tub. This is one of the finest beaches in the world and the safest for children. There are no waves over six inches, no riptides, no sharks or jellyfish. We love it here.”

Brett was on a conference call using head phones. “I’m just listening. Our company is in Australia. My friends and I invented the carbon car wheel. The new Mustang and Mustang GT have them, and a car company in Great Britain signed on. The wheel is lighter and stronger than steel, providing a 4% to 6% improvement in fuel efficiency. For racing cars, it can pick up one second per lap. That’s a lot.”
Best Quick Guide to Cayman ParadiseBrett reiterated how expensive it is to live in the Caymans. “But it keeps out some of the Spring Break people and those looking for cheap vacations like Cancun or Costa Rica. The politicians resist the idea of ex-pats like me living here. I’m from Canada, and with my work can live anywhere. One guy called us driftwood. Can you imagine? For all the work we do to support the island economy, and he called us driftwood.”

Let’s Go Sail in Paradise

Check rates and pick a day for a sailboat charter. See reviews on Trip Advisor. 

Best Quick Guide to Cayman Paradise

Sailing with warships

Sailing with warships

Three couples went sailing near Williamsburg on the York River and wound up sailing with warships, metaphorically and literally.

dscn9631Steady winds on a bright sunny day rocked the boat from side to side, which formed a context to show how the man-of-war battleships coped in the Battle of the Capes. You can’t shoot your cannons very well if the gunwale is pitched downward into the sea. Similarly, waves of two feet can broach the aft quarter enough to throw off the projection of cannons shooting from anywhere on board.

As if on cue, a Navy warship came cruising in from Norfolk on the way to the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. The USS Mahan is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that comes and goes frequently. I radioed the ship to indicate we were standing off to the south in the moorings of the river.

Sailing with warshipsThe radio man on the bridge thanked me and altered course to go more directly into the middle of the river instead of the channel off to the south. This impressed my crew greatly. Jeff Anderson pointed to the gun on the bow. “That takes a 5-inch shell.”

No wake zone

What happened next was fascinating. After undergoing swells and pitching that altered our shooting capacity, everyone was surprised to find that the Mahan created no wake as it steamed past us. New technology somehow mitigates the wake, which is important for maintaining stealth at sea.

Sailing with warshipsPam Blankenship was intrigued by the Mahan for another reason. “That number is DDG-72. My son’s aircraft carrier is CVN-72, the USS Abraham Lincoln. We went on a Tiger Cruise where you can take your immediate family out for two weeks, but no girlfriends or boyfriends. We boarded in Hawaii and cruised to the next port of San Diego. Some people got off, but we stayed for the next leg to Everett, Washington. That’s the home port. It was the best trip of my life.

“The accommodations weren’t fancy of course. I berthed in racks with the female crew. There were 1,000 guests on a ship with capacity of 5,500. My son was in charge of issuing ice cream, so he did a lot of bartering and as a result never had to do his own laundry. He went on to become embedded for a year with an Army unit in Iraq.

Circus act

Sailing with warshipsJeff Anderson and Pam’s date Jim Bateman are in a band that plays all over West Virginia and beyond. Joining us were Jim Scannell and Caroline Lemay, and she’s in a band as well. “I play oboe and flute in Cirque du Soleil,” she said. Jim said, “We just finished up in Hampton and this is our day off.” They were taking the Lessons Cruise to get in shape for three consecutive courses they’re taking in St. Vincent  Island with the American Sailing Association.

Jim added, “I’m a carpenter with the stage crew, knocking down and reassembling the sets. We split 50-50 between artists and crew. There are 18 Cirque du Soleil, of which Las Vegas, Orlando and New York are permanent. The rest are traveling shows.”

Sailing with warshipsThey met on tour in Japan and have played all over Europe, Australia, Taiwan and the U.S. So you’ve traveled all over the world? I asked Caroline. “A bit of it,” she replied. She is from Ottawa and he’s from Kent, England. Jim said, “My grandparents have a 28-foot sailboat in Southampton. The currents are wicked. I hope to acquire that someday and see more of the world.”

Let’s Go Sail

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Sailing with warships




Sailing, boating and shipbuilding news

Nine people from all over America cruised along the York River near Williamsburg with various sailing, boating and shipbuilding news.

Sailing, boating and shipbuilding newsTom Jackson of West Valley, Utah, brought his wife and her sister along. “Our biggest body of water is of course the Great Salt Lake. It’s been dry, so the lake is way down. There’s a small marina with around 30 boats, and they’ve tried to extend the docks to reach the water. But it’s pretty high and dry.”

No such problem faces the York as it’s tidal. Our recent problem, minor for sure, was the rising waters when Tropical Storm Hermine passed through.

On the Mississippi

Sailing, boating and shipbuilding newsEd and Beth Setchfield of St. Louis joined a family of four for the afternoon sail. She looked over the river as we departed Sarah Creek. “Oh my gosh. The Mississippi is not nearly as wide as this. We had no idea your bodies of water were so big.” I asked if it’s possible to sail the Mississippi. “No,” Ed said. “Too much debris gets into the water when the river rises from storms and washes over the banks, sweeping stuff away. The river is also too narrow. It has terrific currents and extensive commercial traffic. Plus it’s just plain muddy.”

We sailed past an oil freighter named Stena Premium docked at the Yorktown Oil Terminal, where it was either taking on or unloading millions of gallons of oil. I looked it up, and the ship was built in 2011. It apparently came to America from its last port of call, Estonia.

Sailing the BVIs

Sailing, boating and shipbuilding newsColleen Burke of Seattle brought her mother, grandmother and an intriguing fellow from South Africa to sail away the afternoon. Her mother Vickie said, “This brings back memories of our recent trip to the British Virgin Islands. We sailed a 50-foot charter boat from island to island. We moored off the islands and took the dinghy in for dinner. That’s a great way to bar-hop.”

Vickie silently enjoyed the quiet rush of water against the hull of the boat. “This is such a wonderful way to relieve stress. On the BVI trip the most stressful decision we had to make for seven days was whether to have salmon or swordfish for dinner.” Everyone laughed. Off in the distance we saw a rare Osprey catch a fish and fly away. Nearly all the other Ospreys have flown away to South America for the winter.

Sailing, boating and shipbuilding newsColleen handed the wheel off to Eddie Smythe, who coyly said, “I don’t sail boats, I build them.” He spent considerable time building catamarans and has come to love them more than sloops. “I was born and raised in Africa, lived in three countries there for 47 years. Now I’m an American citizen.” I asked if Americans know anything about Africa. “They don’t know much. They hear my accent and ask if I’m from Britain or Holland or Australia. Africa is a complex continent. Americans need to stop bailing out the struggling countries and let them figure it out on their own.”

Lake of the Ozarks

Sailing, boating and shipbuilding newsSoon Eddie got more wind. By now everyone was used to the heeling, so Eddie tried to get the rail in the water at 25 degrees inclination. I explained how little children will go below in the cabin to look out the portal for the aquarium effect of seeing underwater as the boat rushes through. Then they throw up.

We were one of a half dozen boats out there on a beautiful summer afternoon as the sun began to set. Jean Nikolaisen sat in the catbird seat, taking in the scenery. “My husband and I have a condo on the Lake of the Ozarks. It’s much busier than this is out here on the river. We live in a cove, and they approved a big boat center near us. Some of them get to 60 mph, which is really dangerous. We petitioned for a No Wake zone but got nowhere. Finally they put it in because the authorities decided it was too fast at night.”

Sailing, boating and shipbuilding newsEd Setchfield said, “I don’t boat at night. Last time I did that I totaled the boat.” It seemed best to leave that alone, dredging up bad memories on such a beautiful afternoon.

Let’s Go Sail

Check rates and pick a day for a sailboat charter. See on Trip Advisor from sailors like you. 

Sailing, boating and shipbuilding news

Sailing from Australia

My first Australian went sailing on the York River with his wife’s family. Sean Ironmonger said that one of the stereotypes is that Americans asked if he knew the late Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. “They can’t believe I never met him, so sometimes I just say, ‘Aye, we drink at the pub now and then.’”

Is there much competition between Australia and New Zealand? “In cricket and soccer, yes there is. Otherwise we get along, like the United States does with Canada. But if you detect a British accent and want to ask which country they’re from, always ask if they’re from New Zealand. If they are, they’re very proud. If they’re from Australia, they’ll simply correct you because we don’t care one way or the other about New Zealand. They’re more touchy than we are.”

On the all-important issue of sailing, Sean said, “We won the America’s Cup in 1983.” He was gracious enough to avoid mentioning it was the first time the U.S. had lost since the race started in 1851. We’re still touchy about that.