Three days, three islands, three opportunities to achieve total
diving serenity. Sounds like a tough assignment, but I was up for the
challenge. The United States Virgin Islands were calling me once againtantalizing
me with promises of coral-infested waters, sponge-covered ledges and
dropoffs, secluded beachs and some of the best wreck diving in the Caribbean.
St. Croix, Plunging Wall Lines
Day One: St. Croix means only one thing to mewall divingand
thats what I intended to do. The north shore of St. Croix is loaded
with ledges and dropoffs, covered in coral and sponges, and teeming
with marine life. Two of the most unique lie in close proximity to the
Salt River Marina and are only a short five-minute boat ride away from
each other. These two sites provided me with two very incredible and
unparalleled dive experiences.
The first was Salt River East, which I dived early morning off St.
Croix. In the light of an orange sunrise, I slipped into the crystal
water, reaching the wall at 40 feet. Giant sea anemones, purple seafans
and outcroppings of huge black coral jutted out from the wall, creating
a canyon-like effect. I swam back and forth along the the walls
edge, dizzying myself in a forest of Purple and Yellow Tube Sponges
habitated by large schools of Blackbar Soldierfish. I felt an undying
urge to explore furtherpast my limitsbut decided against
Sure that my first dive of the day could happily have been my last,
I proceeded just 300 feet west to the second site, Salt River West.
The wall there begins at 20 feet and drops steeply to 90 feet and beyond.
Seawhips, broad shelves of leaf, plate and sheet corals form many canyons.
I cruised above and below each ledge, in search of the resident large
Green Moray Eels. They played hide-and-seek, peeking out from inside
their dens to tease me. Ending the dive, I was satisfied in fulfilling
my search, seeing more than a dozen of the slippery, green creatures
along the way.
Further exploration west of the Salt River dive sites, just before
Cane Bay, brought me to the Sea Mount. This site was a whirlwind of
marine life. Each time I entered the water, I was greeted by a school
of curious Horse-eye Jacks. The school would break formation and swim
directly toward me, circling quickly as if sizing me up, and then disappear.
I navigated a mountain of rock that had a deep undercut ledge on the
lee side. There was a busy school of eight butterflyfish nibbling away
at polyps from deepwater gorgonians. Five Queen Angelfish, the most
stunning of the Caribbean angels, flashed their bright colors, making
yet another affirmation that attempting to describe all visible forms
of marine life at this site would read like a Whos Who of the
Paul Humann fish I.D. books. The Sea Mount had quickly become one of
my favorite sites in St. Croix.
A bit water-logged, I took a trip to the Dutch-influenced and picturesque
town of Fredericksted, where divers can be seen during the evening hours
gearing up for night dives along the Fredericksted Pier. There, divers
can come face to face with Striped Sea Stars, several species of decorator
crabs, file clams and three different types of octopi.
St. Thomas, Hustle, Bustle and Shipwrecks
Day Two: Just as St. Croix meant wall diving, so does St. Thomas
mean wreck divingand some of the finest in the Caribbean. North
of serene St. Croix, St. Thomas harbor is constantly packed full
of sailing vessels and cruise ships. The shops lining the interiors
of the restored Danish warehouses along the harbor stand ready for the
days duty-free shopping. Cafés nestled in narrow brick
alleys offer shade and refreshments to those touring the Danish-inspired
architecture and experiencing the historical downtown of Charlotte Amalie.
In the end, however, its the wreck diving that I came to do, and
I wasted little time jumping on the first available dive boat.
Good thing I caught one because off St. Thomas there are more shipwrecks
than there are dive operators. Of the wrecks, the W. I. T. Shoal is
one I couldnt pass up. A large cargo ship sitting upright in 90
feet of water, she spans nearly 400 feet from bow to stern and towers
60 feet up toward the surface. This dive was awesomea gigantic
hull and huge propellers rested in the sanda decorated submerged
piece of machinery laden with soft sponges, delicate corals and shimmering
Not too far from the W.I.T. Shoal lies another enormous wreckthe
Grain Wreck. Unfortunately, it was one I had to pass on due to time
constraints. The wreck is said to be seldom visited by divers, but rumored
to be used as a training site for Navy SEAL free diving. It rests in
115 feet of water and sightings of larger pelagics are commonplace,
making one thing for sureIll be back.
Moving on through Gregory Channel is one of my all-time favorite wrecks,
the J.B.K. The wreck glistens with a mixed school of Striped Grunts
and Cottonwicks. During this dive, I saw two Hawksbill Turtles ascending
to the surface to take a breath. And later, a passing school of Horse-eye
Jacks seemed to escort me to the surface with a swift fly-by.
Although St. Thomas is known for its wreck diving, there is one dive
site that doesnt involve a wreck that should be mentioned. The
site is called Sail Rock and is off the southwestern shoreline of the
island. It has three pinnacles, each of which is buzzing with marine
life and wildly covered in marine organisms, such as Green Finger Sponges
and flowery, translucent hydroids. Many coral crevices conceal armor-plated
slipper lobsters. Sail Rock is an incredible dive and an easy one for
the novice diver.
St. John, Au Nátural
Day Three: From the plunging walls of St. Thomas to the awesome
wreck diving of St. Croix, I felt like I needed some down-timeand
St. John was the perfect place to get it. After arriving at the southern-most
island of the USVI, I found myself on a bumpy dirt road cresting the
top of Bordeaux Mountain, St. Johns tallest peak. The smell from
the lightly scented bay rum and cinnamon trees wafted in the air. And
in every direction, only trees and ocean surrounded me. The beaches
were secluded and serene, while the waters were tugging at me and, of
course, I couldnt resist.
Straight out from Salt Pond Bay is a circular pile of stone called
Booby Rock, a sanctuary for nesting booby birds and a beacon for divers.
I slid into the warm water and encountered reef sharks and Nurse Sharks
amidst colorful ledges busy with tropical fish. The dive soothed my
mind and my senses.
Another must-see site marked by a rock formation is the Carval Rock
site, off the north shore of St. John. Its a double-humped rock
resembling a wooden, square sailing ship. A story tells of the rock
being fired upon during a rain squall, mistaken for an enemy sailing
vessel. The sailors who thought they would uncover the booty after the
storm had passed, discovered instead a battle-scarred outcropping covered
with bird droppings.
With the story in my mind, I ventured below the waves and found a great
natural treasure. A constant parade of marine life welcomed me, and
at the southeastern base of the rock, on the shallow reef, there were
enormous schools of silversides, herring and anchovies.
Just around the corner from Carval Rock is one of the best dives on
St. JohnLind Point. Designated as a National Bio-Reserve, this
may easily be the fishiest dive in the territoryand one I make
each time I visit St. John.
Although I couldnt explore it, a newly discovered site south
of Stevens Cay called Witchs Hat is abuzz with blue runners, flirtatious
Queen Angelfish and gorgeous Orange Cup Coral. Thats one Ill
also be back for.
A little more than four days after I left for the USVI, I was back on
a plane headed home. This assignment gave me only 72 hours to get in
some serious wall and wreck diving, but take my advicetake more
time. Three incredible islands and three opportunities to achieve complete
diving serenity warrant far more attention.