Overall impressions from first visit to St. Croix

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morecowbells

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Since I do not see many posts about diving in St. Croix, I thought I would share my experience.

Diving from the North Shore/Cane Bay:

We rented tanks from Cane Bay Dive Shop for some shore diving. They were very friendly and helpful. Everyone at the dive shop was generous in offering information on the dive sites. The swim out to buoy was loooong! We saw some turtles, barracuda, snapper, chubs, porkeypine fish and the usual (mostly juvenile) Caribbean suspects. Reefs were in healthy condition with vibrant corals. Visibility was average. Every dive off the north shore produced shark sightings. If you looked out to the blue there was almost a reef shark gliding by in the distance. We did a two tank boat dive through Cane Bay Dive Shop. We met up at the Salt River harbor and did one dive at Rust Op Twist and one east of the Salt River. On our last dive at the Salt River we had three sharks and a barracuda hang out with us. Very cool experience. Nick, Joe and Dani were wonderful and attentive. I highly recommend diving with these guys.

We did one dive at Davis Bay. I cannot say enough positive things about Sweet Bottom Divers at the Carambola Resort! Everything about this dive operation is first class. They drove a golf cart to our parked car, loaded up our gear and brought gear to dive shop. After we assembled our gear, they loaded gear onto a golf cart and dropped it off at a platform on the beach where we can gear up and walk a very short distance to dive entry. Weather conditions created some rough seas and strong swells. Swim distance to buoy was significantly shorter than swim out at Cane Bay. Visibility was mucked up due to sand getting stirred up. We were surrounded by impressive coral structures and canyons with fingers of sand in between. We spotted two sharks who observed us at a distance. I am not a fan of surge/movement while diving. Dive was only 45 minutes due to queasiness. Exiting was a bear with seas becoming rougher. The people at Sweet Bottom Divers were super kind and understanding about my need to bail out of doing a second dive. I hear great things about the diving at Davis Bay. I think we hit it at the wrong time.

Diving in Frederikstead:

My husband typically finds macro dives dull and likes the bigger stuff. We did 3 dives under the Frederikstead Pier and one south of pier at a site called ‘The Dolphins’. The pilings are adorned with soft coral formations and marine life. We found three frog fish, numerous sea horses, a pipe fish, goldentail eels, jawfish, and even a bat fish. Turns out my husband has a wonderful ability in finding the little guys and was scouring every surface. This is a very relaxing, leisure dive with shallow depths. We never exceeded 35 feet. Entrance is a breeze. The exit is somewhat challenging which involved negotiating and stepping around several mossy rocks. I would love to see a ladder built onto the pier. We rented tanks through N2theblue. They gave us detailed instructions on diving the pier and where to look for frog fish. We used one of their carts to lug gear from dive shop to the pier. It was not a long distance, but the carts sure made it easy. In between dives, we had lunch at Polly’s. It was somewhat pricey for salads, sandwiches etc., but wonderful, fresh food with lovely staff. We loved eating in the idyllic courtyard.

St. Croix in general:

We rented a condo at Coakley Bay. It was very peaceful, safe and located close to some of the wonderful restaurants on the island. The only downside to the location was that it involved a lot of driving. We figured that no matter where we stayed, there would be a great deal of driving between Cane Bay and Frederikstead, so it worked out for us to be close to spots where we would hang out and dine out in the evenings. Nearby we immensely enjoyed dining at The Pickled Greek, Bluewater Terrace, Maria’s Cantina and Cheeseburgers in Paradise (food was decent, but our highlight here was listening to Llewelyn perform). Our only disappointing meal was at Fort Christian Brew Pub. My husband is a big fan of craft beers. Oddly, they had no drought beer and the food was mediocre.

There is a tremendous amount of discussion on various boards addressing the safety/crime issues of the island. We never felt unsafe or compromised. We did not leave anything of value in the cars and left the car doors unlocked, never encountered a problem. We walked along the touristy areas in Christiansted and Frederikstead without being hassled or feeling remotely threatened. The people we encountered (both locals and mainlander ex-pats) were perhaps the friendliest of all the Caribbean. Everyone was helpful, polite and welcoming. Even with our crazy driving and getting lost, nobody every honked a horn or gave us a one finger salute. The people were kind, gentle and patient. Nobody was trying to sell us a time share, and there was a distinct absence of obnoxious store hawkers. I have been to several Caribbean islands, and found St. Croix to have far less litter along the roads and fewer stray dogs than most other destinations. The beaches we visited were free from rubbish.

Now for the negative…. I was hesitant to post this insight but it needed to be addressed. Warning, this is a graphic detailing of events. In between dives at Cane Bay we grabbed lunch at a beach bar nearby. A group of young locals were exiting their fishing boat with their catch of the day. One of the creatures was a very large, old green moray eel. The eel was squirming around and trying to get out of the guy’s hands. He threw it down in the sand and proceeded to club it multiple times. A crowd started to gather around this debacle, with many squealing, young women who got out their cell phones to record this creature being clubbed to death. My husband and I were mortified. We were getting up to beg that these guys to show some mercy and offer a quick humane death when a group of divers approached them and what proceeded with what appeared to be a heated discussion. There was a lot of back and forth arguing without any physical contact. The eel was then beheaded, filleted and put into a cooler. A lot of the workers at the dive shop were upset by this as well. However, the sad fact is that these fishermen were not engaging in any illegal activity. I had heard from multiple people that that the same group of men did the same with a nurse shark earlier in the day.

I know that I need to step back and realize that I have never gone hungry or had to worry about if or when I will get my next meal. These fishermen probably come from many generations of fishermen; it is their sustenance and culture. However, I wish there were more sustainable and humane ways of satisfying both the fishermen and the scuba enthusiast. Cozumel and Bonaire come to mind when it comes to balancing the two. They have well established and patrolled marine parks (funded by divers) which protect the marine life in the popular diving areas and reef systems. Both destinations are highly sought after and visited by divers from all corners of the earth. I think St. Croix has a lot to offer divers. It is a unique destination that it is rich in both macro dives on the West side, while the North side offers amazing wall dives which showcase the larger critters. Possessing both types of diving venues is seldom the case with many other destinations. From a diving perspective, I feel that if St. Croix wants to galvanize itself as a premier scuba destination, it needs to sustain and protect mature, diverse marine life in order to generate interest of scuba divers, especially since diving, lodging and food are more costly than other Caribbean locations.

My husband and I do not talk about if we will return but when we will return to the island. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. It was an exhilarating experience to dive along a wall and have close and curious encounters by the reef sharks. Hopefully some marine park rules and action will come to fruition. The island is easily accessible (no customs-yeah!), friendly and we ate like king’s. I would rank St. Croix as better diving than Grand Cayman, but not as abundant in marine life as Cozumel or Bonaire/Curacao.

On my very basic camera, I shot some video of our underwater experience. I had the wrond setting for the turtle shot, but he was too cute to delete.

 

t-mac

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Nice review! Regarding the crime/feeling unsafe, I had exactly the same observation. It was funny because we sailed there and I spent a lot of time on a sailing board discussing the trip and I would get completely polarized opinions. It became clear with probing that the negative ones were not based on actual experience, but usually just lectures about how that person would never .... The people who had actually been there, generally had positive things to say. I think this issue is blown way out of proportion and has become somewhat mythical.
 

bmorescuba

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Very nice review and great video!. We had similar experiences (minus Eel abuse) when we went in July. We stayed on the north shore and mostly focused on Cane Bay, but once we did the Pier, we ended up doing it 5 more times! Such a great dive. I love macro, so it's a natural fit. We even found nudibranchs! One of our last shore dives near Cane Bay (2 Palms, I think) we had one reef shark start to follow us, then a buddy, and another. Eventually there were 5 circling, at which point we headed back to shallower water. They didn't stop corralling us until about 20'. Exciting! Here are my pics from the trip - you might enjoy:

St. Croix 2015
 

drrich2

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Very glad to see your review, as I've been curious about St. Croix as a dive destination. Here's a prior thread on discussion of St. Croix as a dive destination for others interested.

A few thoughts your review brought to me:

1.) As I recall, they drive on the 'wrong' side of the road. Did you encounter any heavy traffic?

2.) Some new divers may be surprised to learn sharks aren't a bug, they're a feature, and many divers have to deliberately seek destinations they're apt to see them. For example, in 8 trips to Bonaire, I never saw one! In the Caribbean region, the main 'sharky' locations I hear of are the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos; though we saw several on a live-aboard trip to Belize, a few in Key Largo (Florida), and of course Jupiter, FL (can't really call North Carolina the Caribbean region, but sand tiger shark diving on the wrecks was sweet). For St. Croix to 'bring the sharks' is a nice selling point for the destination.

3.) Shore diving destinations get a lot of requests on the forum; what do you do after Bonaire? Sad to hear the swim out (out of Cane Bay?) was quite long, but I'd heard it was long. Wonder how much longer than I'm used to in Bonaire?

4.) Did any of the dive shops have 100 cf tanks for rent, or just 80 cf?

Richard.
 
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KathyV

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Thanks for the great report and video. I still think that Fredricksted Pier is one of the best dive sites we ever did and it is such an easy shore dive.

We never felt unsafe on St. Croix but we were warned about violence against tourists and we played it safe.

I remember a lot of driving between Fredricksted and Christiansted and out to Cane Bay and the Divi Casino, but I don't remember a lot of traffic and the roads and signs were good - even though we were driving on the "wrong" side of the road. My husband still has a St. Croix tee-shirt that proclaims the virtues of "diving in the left lane!"

Did you do the Cruzan Rum tour - that was a lot of fun!

Do you know if any of the St. Croix dive ops offer valet diving? We are getting older and find it helpful to have assistance with lugging the heavy gear.

Sadly I have seen cruelty to animals in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean - and around the world - and it makes me sick. Even when you are hungry and killling to feed your family, why do some people feel it necessary to torture the poor animal before killing it? I am sorry that you had to witness that.

We toured Cairo and other fantastic Egyptian locations after spending a week on a fabulous liveaboard on the Red Sea. We decided to take a cart horse tour out to the pyramids and it was a nightmare. The horse was old and sick and moved slowly with labored breathing. The driver kept beating the horse. We said "don't beat the horse we are not in a hurry; we will get out and walk for awhile!" But he kept beating the horse. I wasn't looking at the amazing Pyramids or the vast Sahara because I was worried about the horse, and he wouldn't stop beating it.

Finally I had enough and said "Listen Buddy! You hit that horse one more time and you're not getting any tip from us!" And miraculously he immediately quit hitting the horse! But I am sure that he started beating it again as soon as we left. I still think about that poor horse although I am sure that it is dead by now. My memories of the wonders of Egypt are tainted by thoughts of that poor, tormented animal.

Cruelty to animals is not unique to St. Croix but I wish that it was a more rare occurrence everywhere in the world!
 

bmorescuba

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Very glad to see your review, as I've been curious about St. Croix as a dive destination. Here's a prior thread on discussion of St. Croix as a dive destination for others interested.

A few thoughts your review brought to me:

1.) As I recall, they dive on the 'wrong' side of the road. Did you encounter any heavy traffic?
No traffic for me in July, except for the 4th night fireworks carnival (which was awesome, free rum). As above, since we stayed right near Cane Bay, we did a lot of driving back and forth to Frederiksted, but it wasn't bad.

2.) Some new divers may be surprised to learn sharks aren't a bug, they're a feature, and many divers have to deliberately seek destinations they're apt to see them. For example, in 8 trips to Bonaire, I never saw one! In the Caribbean region, the main 'sharky' locations I hear of are the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos; though we saw several on a live-aboard trip to Belize, a few in Key Largo (Florida), and of course Jupiter, FL (can't really call North Carolina the Caribbean region, but sand tiger shark diving on the wrecks was sweet). For St. Croix to 'bring the sharks' is a nice selling point for the destination.
The sharks were awesome! So much cooler to encounter them naturally, rather than at feeding locations.

3.) Shore diving destinations get a lot of requests on the forum; what do you do after Bonaire? Sad to hear the swim out (out of Cane Bay?) was quite long, but I'd heard it was long. Wonder how much longer than I'm used to in Bonaire?
For Cane Bay, if you swim out to something interesting before your drop, it's about the same as if you swam out all the way to the Hilma Hooker on Bonaire (not the marker, the actual wreck). We did 4 or 5 different shore dives on North Shore near Cane Bay, and the Pier.

Richard.
 
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morecowbells

morecowbells

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Thanks for all the comments and insights!

t-mac: I often wonder how many of the people who rant about the crime in St. Croix have gotten lost in Coxen Hole Roatan. That was unnerving!

bmorescuba: I love your photos. What kind of set up are you using. Fab macro shots. My husband managed to find a quarter sized purple frogfish and a batfish at the pier. I found two orange frogfish and two octopus. No nudibranch sightings though. When planning our vacation I was looking into learning how to hunt lionfish. After trying to mount my camera on a short pole, the sharks made some close passes. I definitely changed my mind on hunting lionfish. I agree with you about the awesome beauty of a spontaneous shark encounter versus a shark feed.

Drrich: You have provided a lot of valuable information on St. Croix. I followed a lot of your advise. The driving was on the left side of the road, but the steering wheel was still on the left. There was some traffic at a couple of four way stops but no more than one light cycle. Everybody was very patient. There was a definite lack of straight roads and road signs.They would curve, turn and change every couple of blocks. After having an 'Amazing Race' moment with me navigating and my husband driving, it worked better to switch roles(after a major meltdown with plenty of drama). Only once did he yell "stay the left!" Every dive on the north wall provided a shark encounter. I heard from other divers that on rare occasions a hammerhead and bull have been spotted. We saw reef sharks and a possible lemon shark in the distance. The swimouts were much longer than what I am accustomed to in Bonaire or Curacao. I like to fin out on my back facing the beach. When I would turn and look for the buoy it felt like an eternity. Halfway my husband and I learned to just descend. It was much easier. I don't know about the availability of 100 cf tanks. There are plenty of boat dives in the Cane Bay area, but it gets pricey. Around $115 per person for two tanks. The swim out from Davis Bay was much shorter, just catch it on a good day:wink:

Kathyv: I did see a couple at N2The Blue in Frederikstead who were doing a guided dive. The DM loaded up the gear in a cart and wheeled it out for them. The boar crew at Cane Bay also handled all the gear. We did not do the Rum tour. Not a huge rum drinker, unless in a Mojito:wink: About the animals, I have to remind myself that most of the world does not view animals or 'baby' them as much as we do. I get that, but I wish they would consider the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and treat them kindly and with dignity. I would be livid about the incident you had in Egypt. I hope you post the tour company information on public forums so that the public can put the squeeze on these people.
 

noj3333

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4.) Did any of the dive shops have 100 cf tanks for rent, or just 80 cf?

Richard.

I just did a dive with S.C.U.B.A. (St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures) and they did have 100 cu/ft tanks. They told me there was a $10 upcharge for each dive, although when I paid they told me 'not to worry' about it, and I was given the 80cf 'normal rate'.
 
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bmorescuba

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Thanks for all the comments and insights!

bmorescuba: I love your photos. What kind of set up are you using. Fab macro shots. My husband managed to find a quarter sized purple frogfish and a batfish at the pier. I found two orange frogfish and two octopus. No nudibranch sightings though. When planning our vacation I was looking into learning how to hunt lionfish. After trying to mount my camera on a short pole, the sharks made some close passes. I definitely changed my mind on hunting lionfish. I agree with you about the awesome beauty of a spontaneous shark encounter versus a shark feed.

I use Olympus Micro 4/3. Nice for travel, and close to quality of bigger camera systems. EM-10 body, 60mm macro lens, 1 YS-d1 strobe. I think the Fredricksted Pier's reputation as a world-class night dive is very well deserved. We were able to find 2 frogfishes - the very small red one right by the beginning of the pier, and a much larger yellow one at the base of a piling. Octopus on every dive, seahorses, rays, squid, cowries, sidegill slugs - all on one super easy dive site. One person in my group (who wasn't puttering around with macro photography) actually swam out the length of the pier and back, which is .6 miles. I never made it past 3 or 4 pilings, even with 2-hr dive times. Pretty amazing.
 

They call me Tater

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Thanks for the review, the video and the photos. Just wetting my appetite for my return in a couple weeks!!
Boat dives, shore dives, deep dives and the pier.....can't wait.
 
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