Although the Kittiwake tends to get all the glory when it comes to wrecks in Grand Cayman, the Oro Verde is worth a visit as well.

When it comes to wrecks on Grand Cayman, the Kittiwake immediately pops to mind, but the wreck of the Oro Verde is worth a visit as well. The Oro Verde, which means “green gold,” was originally a U.S. Army transport ship. After conversion to an environmental research vessel, the ship was next reborn as a banana boat. It spent 10 years hauling bananas between Ecuador and Miami.

The boat acquired its current name during its banana-hauling days. Rumors flew that the ship’s cargo included substantial quantities of marijuana in addition to bananas. The Oro Verde eventually ran aground in 1976 on the reef surrounding Grand Cayman, allegedly due to mutiny by the crew, who wanted part of the illicit profits.

The ship sat on the reef until 1980, when the local dive community adopted the wreck. It was moved into shallower water and purpose-sunk, now functioning as an artificial reef in 60 feet (18 m) off Seven Mile Beach. Divers can reach the wreck via a long swim from shore, but it’s more relaxing as a shallow second boat dive. It’s also a good spot for a night dive, with the scattered wreckage providing shelter for octopus, lobster and eels.

The Oro Verde today

Various hurricanes and storms have dispersed the wreckage over the years, so there are two moorings and a wide area to explore. Engines, pistons and other ship parts lay about. Given the wreckage dispersal it’s not a penetration dive, so novice divers can easily enjoy the site.

Plentiful overhangs hide crabs, eels and lobster. Parrotfish and schooling chubs, horse-eye jacks, snapper, goatfish, blue tangs and the occasional barracuda all hang around, looking for a meal. Rays and turtles frequently pass by, feeding on the soft coral.  Visibility is usually very good, although a storm or large dive group can churn up the sandy bottom. The shallow depth means the colors are quite vibrant as well. As an added interest, several discarded mountain bikes populate the site, and make for amusing photo opportunities.

Water temperatures in Grand Cayman range from 76 to 82 F (24 to 28 C), peaking around September. A 3mm wetsuit will be plenty for most people, especially on shallow dives like the Oro Verde. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with the most active months being October and November. May and November can be quite rainy, although you can experience some remarkably calm conditions even in the height of hurricane season. The most popular time to visit is February to April.

By Jez Snead

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