Sunday, December 4, 2011: St. Croix, USVI
After 100 days of international travel, one would think that it might be time to take a little bit of a rest. Not so! The Next Journey takes us for 14 days onboard the Celebrity Summit on two back-to-back week long itineraries in the Southern Caribbean. And we have company! We’re really fortunate to be sharing this journey with our moms and a family friend. (My dad is at home volunteering for Sacramento Railroad Museum’s major yearly fundraiser, The Polar Express, so he’s pushing for us to take the next family trip to Africa… We like his thinking!)
Following a cross country red eye from San Francisco to San Juan, Puerto Rico, we boarded the Celebrity Summit to begin the first of two seven day itineraries to the Southern Caribbean. First stop is just a hop, skip, and a jump away in the US Virgin Islands on the island of St. Croix.
Arriving in Frediksted, the primary cruise ship port, we made our way up to the taxi stand and boarded a shuttle to take us across the island to the town of Christansted, where we would be starting our day trip to the underwater national monument of Buck Island. $16 per person round trip and a 30 minute ride later, we arrived at Big Beards Adventure Tours shop. After confirming our reservation for a full day snorkel, beach, and BBQ trip, we were headed out to board our ship for the day, Renegade, at the dock located just a minute’s walk from the shop.
Though we were definitively out of hurricane season in the Caribbean, it seems that the weather was sticking in a gray, tropical showers, warm, and humid pattern. This really didn’t bother us as we began our catamaran sail with 19 other people out towards the United States only underwater national monument, Buck Island.
Thanks to JFK himself, the island and its surrounding Elkhorn coral reefs were declared a national monument back in 1961 and 40 years later, in 2001, the site was expanded significantly to protect an even larger area of sea life, coral, and to afford a protective buffer around Buck Island, a 176 acre sliver of golden sand, green trees, and in general terms, tropical paradise.
After about an hour of travel, we arrived and anchored our catamaran off the coast of the island. This was a preliminary stop to allow all of the participants on the day trip to test their snorkel gear, take a walk on the beach, swim, and to admire the crystal clear water. After a quick check of our masks and snorkel, we enjoyed a short walk along the fine sand beach as the waves crashed along the shore.
Once we were back on board, we grabbed some amazing pictures of the island and slowly began to make our way around to the other side of the island and to the reef where we would be snorkeling. The sailboat had a retractable staircase that allowed us to easily enter the water without jumping and potentially damaging the extremely fragile coral in the area.
As we entered the water, our guides joined us in the water and provided us with commentary at various stops about the coral, fish, and other sights under the water. The water was a bit choppy with a significant current because of the weather, so we made the most of the time and came upon some really neat finds, including a sizeable nurse shark.
The other snorkelers in our group had gathered here to see the shark when our guide offered to take our waterproof camera and freedive to get some closer shots. That was an offer we weren’t going to refuse so I handed off our camera and the guide proceeded to freedive for a minute or two grabbing some closeups of the nurse shark. Unfortunately, while this was taking place, I was treading water at the surface, unaware of the speed and grip of that choppy current.
Gray skies, blustery tropical winds, crashing waves at the beach, and whitecaps on the water… I should have known I was drifting, but it wasn’t until the snorkel guide came back to the surface with his camera did I realize that the current had taken me 20-30 feet away. Our guide pointed at me and said calmly, “You’re going to run into the coral.” As soon as the words left his mouth I attempted (in vain) to swim forward just as another wave threw me back.
The cuts and scrapes on my arm weren’t at all life threatening and will eventually be little more than a memory of the day, but two things were certain. First, coral is as sharp as everyone warns you about — it didn’t take but a slight brush to turn the inside of my forearm, wrist, and thumb into something that looked like a bloody road rash injury with a whole lot of searing pain. Second, the act of hitting the coral inevitably damaged some of the delicate structure. That’s what I was most upset about. For as long as we have been traveling the most important thing for us is to take only photographs and to leave things exactly as they are for others to be able to experience the beauty and sights we have been so fortunate to have seen.
It was a painful lesson to learn, but a quick trip back to the boat provided an opportunity to clean the wounds and Natalie was able to head back out into the water with another passenger to see more fish and a squid! About 20 minutes later, everyone was back on the boat, and as the sun pushed its way through, we enjoyed a nice sail to Copley beach where we would enjoy a BBQ of Wahoo fish, burgers, and hot dogs.
As we finished up the excellent lunch, we got a few minutes to walk the beach, take a quick swim, or just relax before we began the trip back to Christiansted. As we were all boarding the sailboat for our trip back, the gray clouds returned and we were all thoroughly soaked on the ride home. Though we got soaked to the bone, we and the other passengers had a great trip and once we arrived back to the dock, we boarded our taxi shuttle back to the cruise ship pier and arrived just as the sun was starting to shine again (this is a weather pattern that will stick around for at least a week).
After a quick walk through the local market set up for the cruise passenger’s benefit, we reboarded the ship and enjoyed a nice dinner before calling a night.
Next up, we’re on the island of St. Kitts with superguide Thenford Grey!