St. Croix Scuba Diving

By Don
Close your eyes. Picture a Caribbean Island with long white powder sand beaches against a flat azure blue sea. The gentle trade winds softly moving the palms in a rhythmic gentle motion thatís almost hypnotizing. The gulls circling over head while the colorful tropical birds sing clear songs as the flit from bush to bush. A place where you can grab your mask, snorkel & fins and enter the water anywhere and see hundreds of beautiful reef fish. A place where you can take your dive gear and do a boat dive on a reef with a huge selection of hard and soft corals with visibility 100 ft plus and with even more and larger fish than in the shallows. A place where shore diving is as easy as putting on your gear, walking into the water and as soon as you do, submerge and follow beautiful coral gardens to a wall where corals and fish abound. If this is your idea of paradise St. Croix may not be for you. At least it wasnít during our time there.

Before any of you St. Croix lovers "have a bird" (maybe you should, then you could donate it to St. Croix) Iíd like to say we did enjoy our trip there. Now back to my crack about the birds. The story we were told goes like this: "At one time there was a rat problem on the island. So some enterprising people imported mongoose to get rid of the rats. The problem however is that mongoose hunt during the day and the rats come out at night. So they got some cats to get the rats which seems to have worked but the mongoose got the birds eggs." Thatís why thereís a noticeable lack of tropical birds on St. Croix.

"Thatís for the birds" you say, "Who cares," Iím interested in diving and the things that affect it, like where to stay, best places to eat, weather, dive operators to use, dive sites and what you saw there. Not birds!

OK, here goes.

We arrived in St. Croix on Feb. 28, 1997 and went to our hotel, the Colony Cove. Our accommodations were a roomy two bed room suite, on the beach, with living room, dining area, kitchen with the usual as well as a washer and dryer. TV with cable and VCR. A balcony facing east with a large round table, four chairs and two recliners. NICE but a bit pricey for two. Four or more sharing the cost would make it reasonable. We thought we could offset the additional cost for the room by eating in sometimes.

Food costs at the local super market is about the same as you would pay at home. Picking up some cold cuts for sandwiches at the market is better than paying the $6.29 at the local Subway shop for their Italian sub. I would recommend avoiding that place. There are cheaper and better places to eat.

We ate twice at Stixxís in Christiansted. A chicken teriyaki dinner at $9.95. Not a bad price and the food was good although the serving size was small. (1/2 Breast). We also had their Sunday Champagne brunch for $10.00 each and that Iíd avoid like the plague.

We found a small grill in Christiansted called the Round Table. Itís located near Stixxís. Itís open from 6 am to 3pm and is good for breakfast and lunches. Bacon & eggs $3.50, Sandwiches $3-4.00.

We also ate a few diners at a place called the Serendipity. Itís located at Mill Harbor next to Colony Cove. Friday nights they have a Barbecue (and thatís all they have) for $12.50 all you can eat. We also had a steak there on another night for $15.75. Our most expensive dinner this trip. Food was good. While you're there take a look at the Serendipity Girl. ( a mural behind the bar) Ask about the story behind it.

Colony Cove is located on the north shore of St. Croix near Christiansted. Not a walkable distance so we rented a car for the week. We rented from Olympia Car Rentals. We got a new 4 door Suzuki air, full power at $240.00.

Well, now that your all bedded down, have plenty to eat and have a car to get around in Iíll talk about the island and some dive site locations, Iíll also talk about the weather while we were there and the easiest job in the world.

St. Croix is about 22 miles long and 6 miles wide and runs approximately east and west. Most of the developed dive sites are located along the north shore. The better reefs being toward the west. The wrecks are located on the western part of the island near Frederiksted . We didnít dive them while we were there, but we were told by the dive operator we used that they were relatively new (about 10 years) and not very exciting. The pier at Frederiksted is a good dive site, but there is no diving there when the cruse ships are in.

Cane Bay and Salt River is located about a half hour drive east by car from Frederiksted. Both good dive sites. Long reef is located near Christiansted and has a lot of dive sites along it. Some good and some not so good.

On this trip we went for nine days. We usually do not prepay dive packages until we get a chance to look over the dive operations. Saturday morning turned out to be a perfect day for this as it was quite windy (20mph) and we could see the waves crashing on the outer reef. Even our protected bay had white caps. We checked the weather channel for a forecast, because weíve been diving long enough to know rough seas normally mean poor visibility. The forecast for Saturday was partly cloudy, low temp 75, High 84, wind ENE at 20 knots, Seas 4-6ft. The forecast for Sunday was partly cloudy, low temp 75, High 84, wind ENE at 20 knots, Seas 4-6ft. The forecast for Monday was partly cloudy, low temp 75, High 84, wind ENE at 20 knots, Seas 4-6ft. The forecast for Tuesday was partly cloudy, low temp 75, High 85, wind ENE at 20 knots, Seas 4-6ft. The meteorologist must have been getting bored he raised the high by 1degree. The easiest job in the world would be a Meteorologist on St. Croix. He could live in Florida and fax in the same report day after day.

So, off we went to Christiansted to check out the dive shops. We went to VI divers first and asked the normal questions. How is the diving? Great! What dive sites are you diving? Because of the roughness of the water weíre staying close to the harbor. Howís the visibility? Fantastic! Hasnít the rough water effected the visibility? Some. The shallower areas about 30í but below 60í it gets better. When they asked us if we wanted to sign up for diving we told them we would wait to see if the water calmed some. We saw a dive boat returning from the morning dive and we talked to one of the divers about the conditions. He told us about half the divers on the boat the day before got sea sick The visibility was OK and he liked the dive, but he recommended to us to wait if we had time. As my wife at times as trouble with motion sickness we decided to wait.

We went to the shop of Dive Experience and talked with them. They told us about an afternoon fish feed they do, which sounded interesting. I do underwater video of our trips so I thought it could make for some interesting shots. We told them we would do one before we left. But for today we would take a ride around the island.

We drove west. By the way on St. Croix they drive on the LEFT side of the road and it takes a short while to get used to. We drove to a beach near Salt River. The breakers coming in made it look like the north shore of Oahu. We checked out Cane Bay Divers farther down the road. They didnít have any boats going out but they were doing shore dives. We asked about shore dives and they told us it was a swim of 150 yards to the reef at most of shore dive locations and the visibility was about 10-20 feet shallow and went to 40-50 feet in deep water. The 150 yards swim was against a 20 mph wind and waves, we assumed conditions would improve later in the week so we decided to wait as we had the time.

All of the dive operators we talked to were very helpful and told us of shore dive sites and places to snorkel. We also decided that if we wanted to dive the island we would have to use more than one operator because of the water, the operators at Christiansted werenít taking their boats past Salt River. But for this afternoon we decided to go back to our hotel and snorkel off the beach there.

That swim was not productive and all we saw was a small green moray hunting in a grass bed, a Peacock flounder and a few small reef fish. visibility was about 15 feet.

Sunday was a carbon copy of Saturday so we decided to again pass on diving. We started to get nervous because we talked to some local people who told us the winds at St. Croix usually start around Christmas, so they call them the Christmas winds, but they normally end in 4 to 6 weeks. But this year they never stopped and its been the worst winter in the last 10 years. So whatís new Sandy and Donís on vacation.

On Monday it was again a carbon copy of the day before. We decided not to wait any longer so we did a two tank morning dive with Dive Experience. Our first stop was at Eagle Ray West. The reef in this area was OK but not great. There seemed to be a lot of silt on the coral and much of it was dead. It had a lot of sponges but not much fish life. We did however see a Spotted Eagle Ray swim by. The visibility at 70 feet was about 40 feet. We moved a short distance for another dive on long reef. This area was also showing signs of decline. It only had a few fish but we did video a nurse shark under a ledge.

On Tuesday conditions were again about the same. My wife felt queasy on the boat the day before so we decided to do a shore dive at the Frederiksted pier. Unfortunately a ship was in so we couldnít make the dive. Instead we went to Cane Bay and did one. The swim out was a little tiring with the wind and the waves but the coral was better here. We went out too straight and didnít hit the reef until 100 ft deep. We should have been farther west so we moved in that direction. The reef was much healthier here than near Christiansted but visibility was still only 40 feet in deeper water and in the shallows near sand it was only 10 ft.

On Wednesday we did a half day snorkeling trip to Buck Island. We went out with some people from a cruse ship that was in port. The first stop was to the beach at Buck Island for snorkel lessons for those that needed them and practice for those that didnít. Most of the people hadnít done much snorkeling and for some it was their first time. While snorkeling off the beach I videoed a small Barracuda, a woman was swimming by so I told her a Barracuda was under her thinking she might like to see it. I was mistaken. Itís the first time I watched someone trying to walk on water.

The snorkeling trail is a part of the National Park Service and your first trip through must be following a guide from your tour boat. To the credit of the NPS, there are mooring buoys for the boats but the trail is very short, the markers are obscured with what looked like algae and most couldnít be read.

The coral apparently has been stomped on by the many exuberant but inexperienced snorkelers because most of it is dead (our estimate about 70 to 80% dead). There were a few fish but not the large amount you would expect to see in a protected area where no fishing is allowed.

On Thursday we dove Salt River West Wall this was a better reef with more fish life and was a good dive. The second dive was at Long Reef where we saw another nurse shark.

On Friday we dove Salt River East Wall. This was also a good dive. There was quite a bit of black coral at this location. I think the west wall was a little better however. The second dive was at Sugar Beach on Long Reef this was average dive.

On Friday afternoon we did the fish feed dive. This dive was fun and I recommend it. As soon as we got in the water we saw one of the biggest Barracuda Iíve ever seen. It was joined by Horse - Eye Jacks, Yellow Tail Snappers, and a couple smaller Barracudas. They followed us down as we made our way to a barge that was sunk upside down the place of the feed. As soon as we got to the barge a large Green Moray came out and was showing more interest in Matt the dive master than the food. This apparently was not making Matt very happy he was having trouble pushing the moray off. Finally things settled down and I got some good shots. But I missed the one when a Moray swam up to my wife looked her in the eye swam around her leg and went back to the barge.

Overview:

St Croix has some nice reefs and some not so nice reefs. We talked to a local Marine Biologist about the reef conditions and lower number of fish. He told us much of it is due to the development of the area around Christiansted. He also said the reefs got better as you moved west. The weather and the visibility were not as good as we have experienced at other locations. But that could be just the time we were there. Weíve read that St. Croix is a great dive location if you know were to go. We however feel a great dive location is one that wherever you go the reefs are good. St. Croix isnít hard to get around and all the dive operators are very helpful so finding the best sites is not a problem. Shore diving is OK but requires a longer swim to get to the reef. Dives are deeper here to get to the better sections. Fish life is here but not in the quantities weíve seen at other locations although we did see some species we havenít seen at other places. Keep in mind This is our opinion based on locations weíve been to for comparison. Anyone who has not done extensive travel will find St. Croix diving very good.

UNDERWATER ST. CROIX

Don's Underwater Photo Album

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