Like an iceberg in the tropics, only the tip of St. Croix is visible above the surface. To truly experience what the island has to offer one must look below the water line.
We returned to the island during the holidays and from previous trips were prepared to be flexible as the Christmas Winds are usually ablowin’. These annual “Jesus Breezes” produce high seas that make the water murky and boat rides stomach churning. Patience will pay. Just wait a day or two, there is always perfect water weather within any week’s span.
Buck Island National Park with its celebrated beach and spectacular snorkeling trail through the beautiful Elk Horn Coral Barrier Reef is no doubt St. Croix‘s most famous underwater attraction. There are many boats that offer wonderful day trips where even beginners may join rays, barracuda and a school of hundreds of blue tang as they dance in and out of perhaps the Caribbean’s most impressive reef. On the downside, the trip will be spent with forty other sun burnt, seasick tourists crammed on a sailboat and all elbows and fins in the water. We prefer just our own elbows and fins.
Being the type to travel low to the ground, we were elated to find Captain Paul’s Water Drop Tours. Paul specializes in eco-friendly, personalized tours geared towards his client’s interests and abilities aboard the skiff Muzik. Born and bred on St. Croix, Captain Paul knows his island and its treasures intimately and his little boat can launch on almost any beach making every part of the island accessible. He’ll introduce you to fantastic places you’ll never see in the guidebooks and you’ll probably have them all to yourselves. Bliss.
Considering the weather Mother Nature provided for our day, Captain Paul recommended a two hour snorkeling trip around the reef in Great Pond Bay. We were provided with fantastic snorkeling gear--a real treat--not the standard leaky masks and floppity fins usually pawned off on the tourists.
In the water Paul has a jeweler’s eye for sea life. He quickly led us to an octopus in his garden munching on a clam dinner. Veronica, a decent free diver and photographer, found she couldn’t do both at once. She was stunned as Captain Paul swam to the bottom without the benefit of fins, grabbed onto a rock to hold himself under and snapped a couple of brilliant pictures of the feasting cephalopod.
We spotted a four foot long hawksbill resting on the sandy bottom all by ourselves--what an eye! The turtle tolerated our hovering around him for several minutes as we ooohed and ahhhed though our snorkels and then he darted off into the reef. There are three types of turtles in the waters around St. Croix--the hawksbill is most common--but with a bit of luck the rare green sea turtle and the giant leatherback are sometimes encountered. In the late spring the St. Croix Environmental Association hosts turtle watches where the endangered leatherbacks can be seen laying their eggs on the beach. A once in a lifetime experience.
Being a boat person is not necessary to enjoy the depths. Tamarind Reef is the best Cruzan destination for off-the-beach snorkeling that we’ve found. Just rent gear from the little beach shack and wade in. Easy for the beginner but with plenty of room for the more experienced diver to explore out into the deeper waters. Floats anchored along the way for resting are a really nice touch, especially on the swim back against the current. Colorful sea fans wave gracefully under the waves, spiny lobsters hide in the holes and overhangs while urchins dot the rocks among the giant brain coral.
Octopi, lobsters, turtles, rays and barracudas aside, the real serenity of island time underwater is dreamily swimming among the little colorful tropical fish. It’s like being on the inside of your dentist’s office aquarium.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com