A few islands ago, Hubby asked Vagablond to learn to scuba. I agreed to try and I did go to the class, don the gear and get in the water ready to go. Then I got about 6 feet under and kinda freaked out. I told hubby to go ahead and I stayed back to snorkel the reef with my tushy popped up through the water and easy access to the air above me.
Since diving is not something we could do together and we both love to snorkel, it was one of the main activity drawing us to St. John as there are so many great sites that can easily be reached from the beach. We love adventure and finding the off the beaten path sites was one goal we had. We did a bit of research on the internet, studied the map of St. John and read about where there may be some cool things to see. We knew that some spots were not going to be reached by a trail or beach so we would need to rent a dinghy or find a boat to take us. We found a tour that takes just 6 people with a captain that is a local on St. John. After a quick email and phone call we reserved spot for this all day snorkel trip around St. John Island.
We arrived at the dock about 8:30am, met our captain and the other members of our small 6 person party and we headed off to our first stop, Eagles Shoal. It is quite a distance from the island by boat, and frankly I was a bit skeptical and nervous when we arrived. Our captain gave us instructions on which way to swim, and when hubby put on a safety vest I thought – “if he is going in I’m not letting him go alone!”. Well it was totally worth the brief fear and trepidation.
When I swam the 20 yards toward the reef all I could see is black below me. Then the reef appeared and it was so beautiful. Full of tiny bait fish, caverns, caves and coral. It is a place that made me want to learn to scuba dive and explore. It was peaceful with just 4 of us in the water – we had about a 30 minute snorkel here, and as I climbed back in to the boat I told our captain – You will have a hard time topping that! He said – “Just wait! – there is more”.
We started on the next leg of our exploration and rode past Salt Pond, Lamshur, and Little Lamshur beaches, then curved around the end of Rams Head where we spotted hikers up on the top taking in what must be a gorgeous view. We sped past the Cruz Bay area and the bustling ferry docks and U.S. Customs stop. We slowed down and found a nice calm spot at Lovango Cay. It is a small island with a few luxury homes, we learned that there is a homeowners association that runs the marine services, and the island has its own small power grid. What a beautiful place to call home if you can afford it. We snorkeled here for about an hour, it was a very pretty, clear and clean reef.
We headed north and toward Mary Point from here, we passed the custom house that sits on the edge of the water and heard a story about how it was used in the past. We headed over to Waterlemon Cay as one of the passengers remembered snorkeling there 20 years ago. Upon arrival we saw a repeat of our Day 6– Boats hooked to every mooring, people on the beach, in the water and on the Cay. We decided that it was a bit crowded and not really something that any of the 6 of us would want to do so we turned on the power and headed out of there and around the island to the east. Looking for a spot to have lunch and spend about 2 hours snorkeling was the next goal, and so we headed past the many remote bays facing the BVI.
We stopped at Newfound Bay a shallow reef with a narrow entry channel. We were glad that our captain had knowledge of the layout as I found out just how shallow it was a bit later. We moored the boat and listened to an overview of the area. There is grassy area where turtles feed, a coral reef that is hundreds of years old, and new reef that is coming to life in the midst of all of it all. We could not wait to get in the water and head over to see all that this reef held. As I swam away, hubby swam up next to me and touched my leg making me jump about 10 feet thinking it was a sea creature. I pulled my my head out of the water and told him don’t do that! He said he just wanted to tell me about a big fish he had seen. It was about 4 feet long! I just smiled and said “ok honey” – and put my snorkel back in and swam away thinking – “Sure…..you saw a 4 foot fish”. I headed to the reef and let my self get lost in the beauty.
Every foot I swam revealed more and more to see. If I just stayed still and floated I would see the whole reef come to life below me. It was during one of these floats that I noticed the reef coming closer and closer, I was floating into a very shallow place that was sort of like a “bowl” of coral. I am very careful about never touching the reef and I started to get a bit panicked as I as I had lost direction and could not figure out how to move away without touching anything. As I did this my upper thigh hit a piece of coral, scraping my skin and stinging. I took a breath and my snorkel filled with water and then I realized that I needed to calm down. I turned on my back to float, breathe and think. After I calmed down I called out to our boat captain and told him that I needed to know which way to swim. He had been watching me and when he pointed I followed his direction and was out of there. I swam in to the bay to take a few minutes and catch my breath and thought floating above some sea grass to spot turtles might be the best thing for me at that point.
After a few minutes the group was coming in for lunch so I swam toward the boat and saw hubby coming from the other side of the bay. He was moving pretty fast, so I just thought he was hungry. As I get closer his head pops up and says – look behind him. I pop my mask in the water and there was a huge 4 foot long fish following him! I turned and asked our captain what kind of fish is that? He laughed and said- “That’s Tim – the barracuda”. I looked again and decided to climb in to the boat and encourage hubby to do the same. At that same time the couple we met on the boat swam up and were able to get a picture of “Tim” which is at the top of this post. Our captain explained that barracuda are very curious and he has only seen a barracuda hurt someone one time in the six years he has lived on island. That was when a guy put his finger to the fishes lips and tried to have the fish make “raspberries”. The guy lost his finger. We had no trouble with “Tim” and hubby seemed to make a new friend. It was a little nerve wrecking – but cool none the less. We ate lunch, watched for Tim and then had another brief snorkel before moving on to our last stop of the day – Flanagan Island.
We started our day at a remote water destination and ended the day the same way. We pulled into Flanagan and anchored the boat, the captain explained where some of the better underwater sights would be and off we went. This was a special and awesome experience too – the coral was colorful, the fish were plentiful and there were some pieces of coral that almost looked like boulders of coral that had dropped from the sky, round, full and shaped like huge bowling balls. Wishing we could stay and knowing that an entire day could be spent here without seeing everything we climbed back in to the boat after about an hour. What an amazing day! We returned to the dock feeling like we had accomplished our goal of snorkeling at sites we would have never been able to see off the beach or by hiking to the spot.
I truly believe that finding a “local” to show and tell is still the best way to see a new place. The young man that runs this tour does it just one day a week. He is kind, knowledgeable, patient and building great memories for his passengers. Talk to the locals, ask good questions and most importantly make friends.