We left Francis Bay and rounded St. John, getting a good look at Norman Island and the BVI chain, already thinking about planning the next adventure. We geared up for diving, intending to stop at Eagle Shoals if the weather was good and there was a mooring ball back in place. We dove this years ago, and it is a coral head with a hollowed out cavern that looks like a cathedral, with light streaming in through the multicolored corals. We hoped to get some better photographs this time. The sea state was perfect, but there was no mooring ball. We moved on to Ram’s Head, a distinctive rock formation with great structure. We had 100 foot plus visibility, and Tim was successful in a lobster hunt. He saw a “German shepherd-sized” lobster in a hole, but we could not tickle him out.
We anchored in Coral Bay on St. John. This is the small community on the less developed side of the island. We could see an eco-tour resort that had occupied one hillside and was completely destroyed. It had been a glamping destination, with floored tents and gourmet catering, drawing wealthy folks who wanted hiking and swimming instead of shopping. It was a good economic development idea cut short by the hurricanes. The rest of town was still under active reconstruction, and there were derelict boats at anchor in the harbor and abandoned boats in the trees lining the bay. One diver was salvaging sheets of roofing material from the harbor, perhaps for a project or for re-sale. Even two years later, the power of the hurricane and the inadequacy of recovery efforts were sobering. They had rebuilt the grocery store, and we were able to fill in the gaps in the larder. We got rid of some garbage and walked down to the best hamburger joint in the islands-Skinny Legs. Our feisty bartender, a young woman, had been recently elected representative to the USVI Congress. We stuck around for trivia night, and were soundly defeated by the locals. A great day.
We tucked around the corner early to Great Lameshur Bay, another national park anchorage, and probably my favorite(so far) in the islands. It is a perfect moorage field with a sunset view and protection from swell, lined by swimmable beaches interrupted by rocky structure swarming with immature reef fish, and deep enough that big critters like turtles, rays, and barracuda venture close. It is the site of the NOAA Sealab research project of the 1970s, which I remember clearly from the coverage in the National Geographic. On this day, there were only three boats moored.
The dive site is a short skiff ride from the mooring field, and has great granite cliffs and valleys, usually a thrill ride because of surge from ocean swell. There was no swell and minimal surge, and the visibility was unlimited. We could see coral fields forever, and each little bit of reef was covered with life. I took advantage of the good conditions, and swam the coast back to the Voyager I. Open ocean swimming is one of the great things about this trip, and something I train for year round. Swimming without a bottom or a wall, concentrating on body position and breathing, smooth and relaxed while covering distance, allows me to appreciate the good coaching I have received over the last few years.
We woke to a sliver of a new moon, and slipped our mooring for St. Croix before dawn. It was flat calm, and, unusually, we could see the outline of St. Croix and Buck Island on the horizon. We had a nice mellow trip under motor, fishing for mahi-mahi as we went. We were joined by a pod of four dolphins mid-passage, and two of them stayed with the boat for twenty minutes, surfing the bow wave. I had never had the opportunity to watch this from so close for so long, and got to see the animals relax and use the power of the boat to push them forward as they expended little effort, and work the wave just like human surfer would, finding the sweet spot, losing it and making a small adjustment to find it again. They rolled to get a look at me as they surfed, and then just flicked a tail and were gone.
The conditions were so good that we made better time than we thought and were on the Butler Bay wreck field before we thought was likely. St. Croix is famous for clear blue water, and the day was perfect to see it. The water appears to be the color of a Bombay gin bottle and just as clear. We tied off to the shallowest of the wrecks, and could see it clearly through forty feet of water. We dove our first wrecks of the trip, swimming all three of the shallow wrecks before anchoring for the night at Rainbow Beach.