We’ve hit the water running since Brian and Julia arrived on Monday afternoon. Both the US and the British Virgin Islands offer numerous beautiful anchorages to choose from, often with healthy coral and lots of marine life to boot, and we seem to be trying to check out each one of them! Brian and Julia identify themselves as “land-lubbers” but have been keen so far to spend a good portion of their days in the water. It’s only today (Thursday) that we have come up for air.

We started out by motoring from the large and very busy (there were 3 cruise ships there at one point) harbor of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas to nearby Buck Island. It’s a popular spot for charter boats to bring snorkelers and scuba students, and there were two other full charter boats when we arrived. Julia was keen to scuba dive after a 10 year hiatus (Brian’s never done it and is still holding out on Dallas…), and as we were getting her geared up, we heard a student diver calling to the next boat to be rescued. Apparently he was out of air at the surface and couldn’t swim, with no dive buddy or dive-master nearby. The only dive-master who was not in plain clothes left the students he was working with on the surface to assist, leading me to suspect that the ratio of students to dive-masters is dangerously high on some of these boats. Julia, on the other hand, had her own personal instructor. Dallas helped her recall the basics and stayed alongside her during her first dive, a 190’ freighter in about 40’ of water that was intentionally sunk to serve as a reef in 1979 but has since been broken up by hurricanes. Surrounding the wreck was an impressive array of small fish, including some that neither Dallas or I had ever seen. There were also a couple of large (maybe 3’ by 1.5’) silver fish that I followed around with my camera, only to have them circle and come right at me. I thought for a fleeting moment that they might attack (you never know!), but they just buzzed by me and went on their merry way. Dallas later identified them in our fish guide as the uncommon “African Pompano”, which has a tendency to react to divers by making a brief, close pass.

julia Julia didn’t realize she was going on a scuba vacation but doesn’t mind

school “One of these things is not like the other…”

Brian was able to see most of what we saw as well as a sea turtle from his vantage point at the surface, and he really enjoyed it. Thus it was he who suggested that we get in one last snorkel before sunset at our next anchorage at St. James Island. There we saw two more green turtles, several types of parrotfish, and lots of varieties of coral (though mostly neutral colored). We had a nice dinner under the stars, and Dallas and Brian (AKA Kope), who have known each other since their first day of training at Raytheon 11 years ago, stayed up late drinking Scotch and catching up.

DSC_0245 Not a bad place to catch up

Yesterday we were back in the water by 10 a.m. at a shallow dive full of colorful corals, purple fans, and wavy plumes. The site (“Witch’s Hut”)lived up to its billing in terms of being rich with tropical fish species as well, and we spotted a large (1.5’) purple, spiny lobster sticking its long antennae out from under its rock. Julia had a chance to get really comfortable with her gear and with diving and is anxious to do more after giving her watery ears a break for a day or two.

DSC_0250 Witch’s Hut was lovely above and below the surface

parrotfish This yellow tailed parrotfish didn’t have to look hard for some coral to munch

We made a short stop in Cruz Bay on St. John to clear out from the US Virgin Islands but decided to make one last stop in US territory at Trunk Bay on St. John. We were drawn there by the description of the underwater snorkeling trail, which we would grade a C, but the bay itself was gorgeous – definitely an A. We then entered British waters, which surprisingly look just the same! After clearing in at Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, it was on to a fairly isolated spot called Sandy Spit, a tiny little white sand island that emerged out of the clear, shallow water. We anchored close enough to it that we could hear the waves crash onto the island throughout the evening. As Kope told Dallas, “Dude, you couldn’t have parked in a better spot.” We enjoyed some of Dallas’ killer lasagna for dinner, and he and Kope entertained us with stories of their not-so-Glorious Days.

DSC_0274Spitting distance from Sandy Spit

Today we are anchored at Cane Garden Bay on the north end of Tortola. This morning we wisely decided to take a taxi (rather than hike) up the mountain to the hiking trail at the top. The trail was part of the Sage Mountain National Park, and it was too overgrown to allow for many ocean views, but I think it was worth the effort. After the hike, we had a delicious Pain Killer drink (orange and pineapple juice, creme de coconut, and rum) at the restaurant at the base of the trail, and the British man who runs the place yarned to us about his days on the British research base in Antarctica – not somewhere that I hope to spend a lot of time, but interesting nonetheless.

After being on the go for several days, we decided to stay put for the night. We are resting up this afternoon in preparation for seeing what the BVI’s have to offer in the way of nightlife…