Many travelers dream of sailing their own boat beneath an azure Caribbean sky, without the company of a crew. Alas, unless you're a very experienced sailor, and unless you can afford it, it might not be feasible to rent one of the very large sailing vessels that are the norm at most boat charter outfits (and often require a substantial cash deposit before a newcomer will be entrusted to take it out onto the deep blue sea). However, there are numerous ways for less experienced sailors to rent small boats.
Small (about 3.3m-long/11-ft.) sailing craft are the specialty at the Cayman Islands Sailing Club, Spinnaker Road, Red Bay, near the hamlet of North Sound (tel. 345/947-7913; www.sailing.ky). On a sunbaked, gravel-covered compound, isolated from the traffic and congestion of West Bay, you'll find a two-story warehouse crafted from wood planks and corrugated metal panels, a clubhouse with its own trophy-filled bar, and an inventory of about 70 small-scale sailboats, usually Picos, Lasers, or (least high-tech of all) simple sailing dinghies, each suitable for one or two persons. Most boats rent for 2-hour periods, time enough to do some quality brisk sailing in Grand Cayman's North Sound. Boat rentals are CI$30 to CI$40 per hour. Rentals are available every day from 9am to 5pm and require at least a rudimentary level of sailing experience. If you don't feel completely proficient, you can sign up for an 8-hour sailing lesson for a fee of around CI$600.
Sea Trek (tel. 345/949-0008; www.seatrekcayman.com) allows you the chance to experience helmet diving, walking and breathing 7.9m (26 ft.) underwater without getting your hair wet. The underwater experience lasts an hour, and is suitable for both swimmers and nonswimmers. This near-zero-gravity experience has been compared to a moonwalk, to borrow an expression from Michael Jackson.
The helmet dive is suitable for those 8 years and up. As you walk along, you get to experience the dramatic underwater life of the Caymans. This water-world adventure costs US$89 per person.
Sea Trek operates from a floating platform just north of George Town at Sotos Reef; its dive location lies over a 9.1m (30-ft.) "sand hole" (a sand patch surrounded by coral). You'll get to see living coral rising to a height of 7.6m (25 ft.) as well as thousands of rainbow-hued tropical fish. Sea Trek operates daily at half past the hour between 7:30am and 4:30pm.
Atlantis Adventures (tel. 800/887-8571 in the U.S., or 345/949-7700 from the Cayman Islands or other parts of the world; www.atlantisadventures.com) is the better established of two outfits on Grand Cayman, both of which promise to take you, safely and panoramically, beneath the surface of the waves. The company provides underwater tours with views of the remarkable geology beneath the sea around Grand Cayman. Each trip departs from a clearly signposted building set directly on the waterfront of George Town, immediately south of the cruise ship piers.
The cheapest submarine experience, limited to relatively shallow waters, is offered within the Seaworld Explorer semisubmarine. Developed in Australia for viewing marine life from the surface of the Great Barrier Reef, this is a steel-hulled watercraft that only appears unusual beneath the waterline (it looks like a regular boat from above). In the ship's lowest level, in cramped proximity with up to 45 other passengers, you'll be seated next to windows that angle downward for panoramic views of the deep. Because the ship never descends beneath the surface of the sea, a ride is best suited for viewing sun-flooded reefs, shipwrecks, and objects lying no more than 7.6m (25 ft.) beneath the surface. Part of the attraction of this trip derives from the scuba divers who dispense scraps of fish to all manner of hungry marine life, including Bermuda chubs, sergeant majors, and angelfish. One-hour boat rides are priced at US$49 per adult, and US$24 per child age 2 to 12.
The second option is aboard the Atlantis submarine, a fully submersible craft holding 48 passengers. A 75-minute tour priced at US$99 per person descends to depths of 30m (98 ft.). Tickets for children ages 4 to 12 cost US$59, and teenagers (ages 13-17) are charged US$69 each. No children under 4 are permitted onboard. There's plenty to see underwater at this depth, as enough sunlight reaches down to allow for the growth of thousands of kinds of plant life, vital for the sustenance of an equally impressive number of species of fish. This is the most popular, and perhaps the most visually rewarding, of the submarine experiences.
The competitor is the 60-passenger Nautilus, Bush Centre, George Town (tel. 345/945-1355; www.nautilus.ky), a semisubmarine with a protected glass hull that cruises only 1.5m (5 ft.) below the sea's surface -- not exactly the full submarine experience. The craft, named after Jules Verne's futuristic vessel, departs from Rackham's Dock behind Rackham's pub in George Town. The trips take visitors to the Cali and Balboa shipwrecks and on to Cheeseburger Reef, where passengers can view divers feeding the fish. Departures are daily at 11am and 3pm, with the afternoon tour allowing passengers 30 minutes of snorkel time. The morning tour takes 1 hour, and costs CI$31 for adults and CI$15 for children 3 to 12; the afternoon tour takes 1 1/2 hours and costs CI$36 for adults and CI$20 for children 3 to 12. Children 2 and under are free.
Avid windsurfers rate the 6.4km (4 miles) of reef-protected shallows off East End the best location for windsurfing. Prevailing winds reach 24 to 40kmph (15-25 mph) from November through March, with 6- to 10-knot southeasterly breezes in summer months.
The best outfitter for windsurfing gear and lessons is Cayman Windsurfing, which operates as a subdivision of Red Sail Sports, at Morritt's Tortuga Club (tel. 345/947-7449), in the East End of the island, an hour's drive from George Town. Open daily from 8:30am to 5pm, it charges US$45 per hour or US$120 for 3 hours for windsurfing gear. If your stamina demands 5 hours, gear rental costs US$180. Windsurfing lesson packages are also offered, beginning at US$65 for 1 hour and rising to US$300 for 10 hours, including training classes. Snorkeling equipment can also be rented here for US$15 for 24 hours. Or you can opt for a snorkeling trip farther afield on a WaveRunner. The 30-minute excursion costs US$75 for two people, or US$95 for one person.
Surfside Aquasports (tel. 345/916-2820; www.caymankayakandsnorkelsafari.com) provides you with the Cayman Islands' finest kayak and snorkeling safaris. In only a few minutes' drive from the center of George Town, you arrive at the kayak staging area lying on the shore of a tranquil lagoon protected from the open sea by a coral reef. The safari takes you through the island's protected mangrove wetlands, where you're introduced to the "locals" -- that is, the indigenous animals including the nonstinging Cassiopeia jellyfish and plant life.
Tours are in the shallow water of a protected bay on the southern coastline, lasting 3 hours. You get an overview of the local ecosystem. At a secluded reef you can enjoy an underwater landscape on a snorkeling tour. The cost is $77 per adult or $39 for children 11 and under. Of course, you call in advance to reserve and make pickup arrangements.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.