By Maia Muttoo
Despite intermittent rain spells in the preceding weeks, when I arrived at Camana Bay for a North Sound excursion with Red Sail Sports on a Saturday in mid-November, the conditions couldn’t have been more perfect: a bright sun in a cloudless sky over a placid ocean.
Red Sail Sports has been operating on Grand Cayman since 1987. It offers a range of water-based activities for visitors and locals that include scuba diving and snorkelling tours, equipment rentals and private boat charters. In 2019, it opened Red’s Emporium in Camana Bay, a retail store of beach-chic casual wear, accessories and gifts.
It was at Red’s Emporium that I checked in for my North Sound Eco-Safari Tour, the newest offering in Red Sail’s catalogue of ocean adventures. The excursion, which runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons from Camana Bay, visits three of Grand Cayman’s most popular North Sound stops: the Stingray City Sandbar, Coral Gardens and Starfish Point.
Our designated power catamaran was impressive. With two decks, ample pod-seating and virtually 360-degree views of the water, I knew I’d be settling in for a paradisiacal experience. Even as other couples, teenagers, families and solo-vacationers boarded, it never felt cramped.
Once we were all settled, Captain Dave introduced himself and his crew, then walked us through the day’s itinerary and the safety procedures. With that, we were ready to set sail.
We navigated out of Camana Bay through a channel lined by mangroves. First mate Allie took the opportunity to provide a quick lesson about the three local species of mangrove and their environmental significance for the islands.
Once we were out of the channel’s no-wake zone, we picked up a bit of speed.
We sailed into the blue-green expanse of the North Sound to the nostalgic reggae of Beres Hammond and Gregory Isaacs over the boat’s stereo. I watched the island grow smaller as the wind whipped my hair and suddenly felt like everything was right with life. The other passengers mirrored my dreamy stare out at the water or struck up conversation with the crew. When the sea slowly transitioned from a deep Prussian blue to a clear turquoise and cyan, I knew we’d approached our first stop. Stingray City was, as usual, dotted with tour boats and private vessels. As we slowly pulled up and anchored, we began to spot some of the 100-odd resident rays of the sandbar swimming among the visitors who were already wading waist-deep in the water.
Once Captain Dave gave us a brief about the dos and don’ts of interacting with stingrays, we were equipped with snorkels (no fins, to avoid harm to the rays) and allowed to enter the water. Lars, the on-board photographer, splashed into the water alongside passengers to snap memories that would be available for purchase on the ride back to Camana Bay.
Having grown up in Cayman, I’ve been to Stingray City more times than I can count, but I’ve never snorkelled it. This was a whole new experience for me and one I recommend to anyone joining this tour. Take advantage of the provided mask and snorkel and immerse yourself with the rays. Accustomed to humans after many years of interaction, the stingrays here are friendly and happy to allow you a close view. When you’re snorkelling, you can really appreciate their grace of movement. Snorkelling is also ideal for those who may be anxious about being surrounded by stingrays for the first time because it’s easier to see them coming and you’re less likely to be surprised by a silky fin gilding across your leg.
After leaving Stingray City, we made the very short hop over to Coral Gardens, one of the healthiest sections of reef in the North Sound and home to over 200 species of fish and 30 species of coral. The reef sits in 15 feet of water with excellent visibility. There’s a lot to see here. Some of the species I spotted include rainbow parrotfish, blue tangs, angelfish and grunts.
The next stop was Starfish Point, a pristine beach located at the tip of North Side. Captain Dave gave us only one essential instruction for this stop: Do not remove the starfish — for which Starfish Point is named — from the water, as doing so could irreparably injure them.
Now that we’d completed our deep-water stops, the crew had opened their on-board bar; I sipped a Caybrew White Tip beer as the other passengers entered the thigh-height water and marvelled at the starry creatures.
The three-and-a-half-hour excursion was luxurious, educational, relaxed and fun. On the way back to port, the crew laughed with guests and there was the general feeling of a day very well spent. I know I felt that way.
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “An idyllic day with Red Sail Sports.”