The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season was the topic of conversation on Grand Cayman earlier in October, although not because the islands suffered badly in 2011. Grand Cayman’s last direct hit was in 2004 when Category 5 storm Hurricane Ivan blasted the small island, causing 2.2 billion in damage and leaving residents without water and electricity for weeks. The 2011 season was on everyone’s mind because of one seemingly small storm that never made landfall in the Cayman Islands, but did leave behind something quite relevant: a straight southerly swell. Earlier that year, Grand Cayman welcomed the soon-to-be world-famous dive site, the ex-USS Kittiwake. Resting in 60 feet (18 m) of water, the wreck was sunk in the only place on the leeward side of the island where depth allowed: approximately 200 feet (61 m) north of the wall site Sand Chute.
Fast-forward 10 months and Hurricane Rina passed well south and west of the island, leaving behind a swell on the west side. This moved the massive 2,200-ton vessel an amazing 60 feet toward Sand Chute. Jumping forward in history again to October 2017, Tropical Storm Nate forms and follows exactly in the path of Rina. The swell from Nate hit the monster wreck on its starboard beam, breaking loose the giant anchor chains, moving Kittiwake once again closer to the edge of the wall.
Tropical Storm Nate moves Kittiwake
While the wreck made some contact with the wall, damage only occurred in an area of 150 square feet of reef (14 square meters). The wreck now lays on its port side, completely intact and safe for diving. Swimming through the site is a little disorienting at first, especially for those of us who have put in major bottom time inside the wreck. On the first few dives, I felt myself trying to correct for the 45-degree list. But after four or five dives, my brain got out of the way and it all started to feel natural again.
As an underwater photographer, I’ve shot the Kittiwake every which way possible. With its new positioning, I’ve found new interesting angles and new lighting opportunities. It’s a completely different site from a photographic standpoint.
The Kittiwake, like every other wreck in shallow water, will eventually break apart. This will likely be very slow and will happen incrementally over many years. But in the meantime, we will continue to enjoy this 251-foot beast (77 m) as the phenomenal dive site that it is while looking forward to the many changing faces the Kittiwake has in store for us in the future.
By guest author Jason Washington
Jason Washington is the managing director of iDive Global Ltd. and the co-owner of Ambassador Divers, a PADI Five Star facility located at the Comfort Suites Resort on Seven Mile Beach. Living and working on Grand Cayman as an underwater photographer/scuba instructor for the past 20 years, Jason’s work has been featured in numerous documentaries and feature films. He was a 2017 honoree of International SCUBA Diving Hall of Fame.