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West Palm Beach, Florida
March 23, 2005
From journal October Wedding in St. Croix
Brooklyn, New York
December 3, 2004
Could one little 176-acre island really be all that? Well, that was what I was about to find out, as my tour boat followed St. Croix’s northeast shoreline towards the islet and anchored a few yards out from the beach. Gazing at the white strip of sand in front of me and the tangle of trees behind it, I had to admit that Buck Island looked remarkably virginal and undiscovered for a wildly popular tourist destination. And as I waded ashore, accompanied by frissons of wonder and excitement, I was forced to acknowledge that this beach was a strong contender for the best I’d encountered on my trip. By the time I jumped into the cool, clear water for a swim, I’d given up all thought of resistance. I was on a day-trip to heaven and I might as well make the most of it.
And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we were ushered back into the boat and taken to Buck Island’s reef, near the start of the underwater snorkeling trail the National Park Service had installed there.
One of our tour guides led us on the trail—and I swear, my mouth would have dropped open in amazement if it hadn’t been fully occupied with breathing Darth Vader–style through my snorkel mouthpiece. I’d spent the past week snorkeling some pretty well-regarded reefs, but this one left them all behind. The "trail" was nothing more than a series of plastic-enclosed signs mounted on the seabed below us, but it led us through a wondrous three-dimensional labyrinth of coral that left me wondering if I was still on planet Earth.
When we were set free to snorkel on our own, I peeled off from the group and lost myself in solitary wonder, snorkeling along the reef as far as I could without losing sight of the boat, then turning back and doing it again. The sea life was unbelievably abundant. I spotted every creature I’d seen so far on my trip and plenty that I hadn’t. Grabbing my underwater camera, I compulsively snapped photo after photo (none of them came out, of course). My muscles grew tired, but I kept going; I wasn’t about to waste a minute of my time here. I didn’t stop until I heard the signal to return to the boat.
So pay attention to what I’m about to say, because it might be the last time you’ll ever hear me say it: Follow the crowd. Don’t miss Buck Island.
From journal Two Days on St. Croix
Kingston, New Hampshire
October 11, 2003
The equipment was OK. First Mate Carl took us on a guided tour of the reef. The fish were spectacular and numerous. Since the reef is so close to the surface there has been significant damage to the coral formations. It looks like a forest that has been blown down. There was still many places with interesting brain coral formations and it looks like some of the stag horn formations are making a come back. After the snorkeling we hiked up to the observation deck on the top of the island - hard work and must be a killer in the summer, take plenty of water. Spectacular views.
On the beach, we met a marine biologist who was checking on a leatherback turtle nest that had just hatched. She was very informative and showed us the half dozen baby turtles that she had dug out of the nest.
During the last 20 minutes, we were swimming around the boat and lounging on the wonderful sandy beach. A HUGE stingray swam right below us and scared everyone to death -- we were not expecting that. No harm done and it was something to talk about for days.
On the ride back to the harbor, we saw turtles and dolphins. All in all, a very fun day.
From journal USVI, St. Croix
by Jose Kevo
January 22, 2003
Buck Island might not be that large, though it seems to all but loom off the northeast tip of the island. When coming in for landing on the sea plane, one sees the island ringed by vibrant turquoise indicating the shallow waters within the reef complex. Unfortunately, this aerial view was as close as we'd get since high winds, making usually calm waters extremely rough, caused cancellation of this excursion, too.
In the U.S. National Parks system, the extensive reefs off Buck Island were deemed the first and only Underwater National Monument in '62 by President Kennedy. An underwater trail guides snorkelers along the bountiful coral gardens teeming with more than 90 species of marine life. The entire protected area includes 700 acres of sea, and 180 acres which make up the island rising 300-feet above sea level.
Our trip organizers had chosen Mile Mark Watersports from the many water excursion companies, so you'd have to assume they're the best. They offer daily half-day or full-day trips (when the weather is decent!) transporting groups from Christiansted Harbor to Buck Island in glass bottom boats. Half-day trips run from 9:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.; 1:30 - 5:00 p.m. and cost $35 for adults, $25 for children 6 - 12, and $15 for five and under. Full-day trips, from 10:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., are $50/$35/$15.
They also have half and full-day sailing trips by boat to the island for $50/$30/$25 or $65/$40/$25, and catamaran $60/$40/$25 or $75/$50/$25. All trips include snorkel gear, instructions, and escort guide. $9 box lunches are available from the Avocado Pitt restaurant. Daily sunset cruises, including complimentary snacks and rum punch, are $30.
Mile Mark is located at 59 King's Wharf along the Christiansted waterfront just behind the old scalehouse, which now houses an information center and gift shop. Reservations can be made by calling their 24-hour telephone service at 800/523-DIVE or at their website.
Other popular snorkel sites can be found just beyond the Point Udall monument, which marks the eastern-most point of U.S. territory, at Isaac, Jack's, and Grapetree Bay. St. Croix's other "don't miss" underwater destination is at Cane Bay; located along the northern shore with extensive seawalls great for snorkeling or scuba. Contact Cane Bay Scuba Shop for more info.
From journal Last of the American Virgins
August 10, 2002
The boat ride to and from the island was fun and relaxing. The crew identified the houses of various people (including Ted Kennedy’s) and explained the buoy system which is a roadmap for navigating between the underwater coral reefs. Water, pop and beer were available for a nominal fee during the hour trip over to the island.
We anchored on the western side of the island and everyone practiced snorkeling. Lessons were provided for those learning how to snorkel. The water was pristine and crystal clear. Soon Sammy the Stingray showed up to swim with us. The crew had informed us of this friendly sea creature so I was a bit prepared when this large black fish swam just under me. After practicing for 45 minutes we reboarded the boat and headed over to the east side of the island.
The boat pulled into a designed area, described as a parking lot for boats, and we jumped into the water to start navigating the underwater trails. We joined up along with one of the two crew members and followed them through the trails. Gordon held onto a float so that people could hold on if they were not comfortable swimming the entire distance. Additionally he would dive down to the bottom to sweep away the sand and sediment from the trail markers so we could read them.
We had an hour and 45 minutes to snorkel in this area. I spent most of my time carefully navigating around the coral reef walls. My wife found a school of bright blue fish and she was following them around as they navigated through the reef. The time went by too quickly.
The crew recommended reapplying sun screen so we put on more SPF 45 during the trip home. By then it was too late. We were all a bit red from the snorkeling even though we had coated ourselves with waterproof coverage on the trip out to the island. The sun is intense!
There are day long trips but we did not even try to schedule one. When asking people for their recommendations, no one suggested the day long trip. They said it only included extra time for lunch and a bit of hiking, not worth the extra money.
This was the highlight of our vacation!
From journal Off-Season in St. Croix
May 10, 2002
We only went for a half-day, but there are many full-day tours -- and it would be well worth it to pack a lunch and spend your day there. But be sure to bring everything you need; it's a national park, and all it has is nature -- no facilities except what's on the boat.
From journal St. Croix: Garden of the Virgin Islands
San Francisco, California
January 24, 2001
From journal Recooperating in St. Croix