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RadHal

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St. Croix, USVI Trip Report – 5/24/16 to 6/4/16

Just returned from a week of diving in St. Croix, USVI (STX), our annual “Divecation” with Craig66 and SteveAL. After much research we settled on STX based on the ease of travel from the US (Boston, MA and Newark, NJ) and the diversity of dive opportunities, both boat and shore diving.

Logistics: One stop flying with JetBlue from either Logan or Newark, stopping through San Juan. No passport required if from USA as STX is part of the US Virgin Isles. We rented a three bedroom condo ten minutes outside Christiansted through VRBO.com. This was the most economical, giving the three of us our own rooms and plenty of space. You definitely need a car, we rented a four door pickup truck making it easy to lug our gear around. The roads are all paved, mostly good and the drive between the two main towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted took about 30 minutes. Got a deal though Travelocity with Budget car rental but Centerline and Olympic are local and often have good rates. Both AT&T and Verizon work fine on island allowing you to use your US plans, though Verizon charged per minute for each call and AT&T did not, based on our plans.

The Diving

Awesome, one of the few islands in the Caribbean where you have the options of deeps walls, beautiful reefs, shallow and deep wrecks, walk off the beach shore dives and one amazing shore dive off the Pier in Frederiksted. We logged four dives a day except for the last dive day where we did three, prior to flying home, for a grand total of 23 dives over six days. There was little time for sightseeing, or even leisurely eating, basically eat, sleep, dive, repeat. We did a two tank boat dive in the mornings with St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures (S.C.U.B.A.) and then dove late afternoons and nights on our own, renting tanks with either N2TheBlue or Sweet Bottom Dive. All the sights were healthy with a large diversity of sea life from Sea Horses to Reef Sharks and everything in between. Lionfish were present but their numbers appeared in control, and were speared on sight by the divemasters. We saw many turtles (Green and Hawksbill), Spotted and Moray Eels, many sightings of Sea Horses on the Frederiksted Pier, and less the common, Flying Gurnards and Batfish also on the pier. Water temps were 80F, always calm on the leeward west side and slightly more chop on the northern sites. Even though the coral were spawning at times, the visibility was excellent, around 80-100 ft.

Morning two tank boat dives with S.C.U.B.A.’s larger vessel, Reliance included a deep first dive and shallow second. Highlights: the North wall and reefs out of Christiansted including North Star in Cane Bay, East Wall of Salt River Canyon, Sugar Beach, Knobs and Knowles, Turquoise Bay, and Long Reef. We also dove the West side out of Frederiksted on S.C.U.B.A.’s smaller boat SCUBA Dos. Highlights on the west included Armageddon (a rubble pile of the remnants of the old pier destroyed by Hurricane Hugo), Shallow Wrecks (a cluster of 3-4 wrecks in short distance from each other), Sprat Reef, Tide Bottle Reef, Mill House and BK. We did two afternoon shores off the beach at the Carambola Resort on the North West side, with Sweet Bottom Dive. Easy navigation, stroll in over a sandy beach, surface swim out for about 200 yards drop down on to the wall and head either west for a great dive of sand chutes and gently sloping wall, then after changing tanks for second dive head in the opposite direction, east for more of a 45deg wall dive.

The Pier in Frederiksted was so amazing we dove it nine times! We explored as many nooks and crannies as we could, during the day, at dusk and at night, from the nearest jump off point close to shore to the far end, a long hoof in full gear. This is truly a gem in the Caribbean, one of the best sites we have ever dived. There is a rich diversity of sea life hidden in and around the rocks and pilings and adjacent sand. We saw many Sea Horses (bucket list – check), Flying Gurnards, Batfish, turtles, crabs, Spiny Lobsters, Porcupine fish, and all the usual reef fish and critters. The pilings are adorned with colorful fans, sponges and coral. There were large schooling fish as well as an amazing bait ball. Off to one end are two collections of pilings from the old pier called the “The Dolphins” also filled with color and vibrant life. Definitely worth diving during the day and at night to experience the diversity that lives underneath this structure. I recommend getting a guided tour first to get orientated and to be shown where the “stables” are where the Sea Horses hang out. There is very little boat traffic and cruise ships rarely dock here (no diving if big ships in port so check out their schedules).

Dive Ops we used:

St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures (S.C.U.B.A.) – are based in Christiansted and also have a smaller shop in Frederiksted and run two boats. The larger one Reliance has a capacity of 26 but limited to 14, we had an average of 8-10 divers, their smaller boat SCUBA Dos out of Frederiksted is certified for 24 but limited to 12, we averaged about 6-8 divers. SCUBA is run by Ed and Molly who run a great operation with a well-stocked dive shop and US coast guard certified boats. All the boat captains (Ryan, ET and Clint) were professional, safe and very entertaining (lots of fun and laughter onboard). All the dives were guided by divemasters who are all instructors, including, John, Simian, Matt, Kipp and Julie. They were attentive, engaging and professional. Safety instructions and dive briefings where never missed. All levels of divers were onboard and they made sure that everyone came back to the boat with sufficient air, at times requiring the groups to split. This is not a cattle boat op, and they were professional and attentive to their client’s needs. There was cold water on board and fresh fruit between dives. The owner Molly was often at the dock to see us off or welcome us back. We had a lot of fun diving with SCUBA and have no hesitation recommending them.

N2TheBlue, are based on the West end of STX, just steps from the famous Frederiksted Pier. We did a great guided tour night dive with Paul to get us orientated and to learn the safest entry and exit points. The shop is managed by Kiersten who was very responsive to my email questions prior to arrival. Though we just used them for tank and weight rentals they do have a boat for smaller groups, limited to a six pack. All the staff were very friendly and helpful. It appears that there is a good cooperation amongst the dive ops on the island all of whom are dedicated to customer service and protecting their common livelihood.

Sweet Bottom Dive is run by Tim and his family and offer very attentive and wonderful service. They operate from the beautiful Carambola Resort on the north western part of the island. Shore diving is their main business, which is easily done off the beach in front of their shop. Lizzie who served us with a huge smile and happy disposition transported our gear from the car to the shop in their golf cart. The diving from this location is on the western part of the famous north wall and is easily navigable and could be dived many times to fully explore the site. As yet they do not have their own boat but do take their customers out on one of the other ops vessel, nice to see the cooperative dive community at work.

Another dive op that has many great reviews is Cane Bay Dive Shop, though we never used them.

STX is relatively undeveloped, compared to other islands, in my view a plus, no high rise hotel chains or large box stores. There is definitely poverty aplenty and we were constantly warned to lock our car. All homes have window bars and the shops shutter and bolt their front windows at night. We felt safe and did not encounter any aggression or crime. The locals were friendly and welcoming. Most restaurants kitchens closed at 10 PM so be prepared as on more than one occasion we were searching for a place to eat after a night dive. Two must eats were Turtle Deli in Frederiksted for awesome fresh sandwiches, great for lunch and the Lost Dog pub also in Frederiksted best place for pizza post night dive.

This was a great week of diving, 23 in total and well worth the visit. If you are looking for friendly professional dive ops and an amazing diversity of dive sites with healthy marine life in warm 80F clear waters look no further than St. Croix in the USVI (and no I was not paid by the STX department of tourism to write this!!!).

Hal (RadHal)

:cheers: :scubadiver: :cheers:
 

KathyV

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...The Pier in Frederiksted was so amazing we dove it nine times! We explored as many nooks and crannies as we could, during the day, at dusk and at night, from the nearest jump off point close to shore to the far end, a long hoof in full gear. This is truly a gem in the Caribbean, one of the best sites we have ever dived. There is a rich diversity of sea life hidden in and around the rocks and pilings and adjacent sand. We saw many Sea Horses (bucket list – check), Flying Gurnards, Batfish, turtles, crabs, Spiny Lobsters, Porcupine fish, and all the usual reef fish and critters. The pilings are adorned with colorful fans, sponges and coral. There were large schooling fish as well as an amazing bait ball. Off to one end are two collections of pilings from the old pier called the “The Dolphins” also filled with color and vibrant life. Definitely worth diving during the day and at night to experience the diversity that lives underneath this structure. I recommend getting a guided tour first to get orientated and to be shown where the “stables” are where the Sea Horses hang out. There is very little boat traffic and cruise ships rarely dock here (no diving if big ships in port so check out their schedules)...

Thank you for the excellent, detailed trip report and I agree that the Frederiksted Pier is one of most memorable dives you can enjoy.
 

Freewillow

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Dove cane Bay and Salt river many times. Two great places. Good choices :)
 

Craig66

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A really great write up and sounds like an amazing trip - Oh right I was on it and it was. :yeahbaby:

RadHal pretty much summed it up. As a place that I had not given much thought to as a dive destination I was amazed at the quality of the reefs, the diversity and the overall health of the reefs with some sites having upwards of 10 resident sharks - something that did not happen a couple of years ago. The island is also dive friendly and very set up for diving.

Craig66
 

deeper thoughts

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thnx for sharing
 

jonhall

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Thanks for the great report. My favorite place to dive! One thing though - there is a Kmart (maybe 2) on the island, but I think that's it for box stores. I only put this because it has usually been the cheapest place to buy Cruzan rum!!
 

KathyV

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Thanks for the great report. My favorite place to dive! One thing though - there is a Kmart (maybe 2) on the island, but I think that's it for box stores. I only put this because it has usually been the cheapest place to buy Cruzan rum!!

We took the Cruzan Rum Factory tour and it was a lot of fun!
 
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RadHal

RadHal

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We took the Cruzan Rum Factory tour and it was a lot of fun!
We were planning to tour the Cruzan distillery but ran out of time as we had to scramble on the last day to re-book flights when JetBlue cancelled a few hours prior to departure. Oh well, will have to come back.
 

KathyV

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St. Croix, USVI Trip Report – 5/24/16 to 6/4/16...STX is relatively undeveloped, compared to other islands, in my view a plus, no high rise hotel chains or large box stores. There is definitely poverty aplenty and we were constantly warned to lock our car. All homes have window bars and the shops shutter and bolt their front windows at night. We felt safe and did not encounter any aggression or crime. The locals were friendly and welcoming...

I found your comments above very interesting. Did the condo you rented have bars on the windows and secure locks? We were in STX several years ago and we never felt threatened or in danger, and we found the people friendly and welcoming. But we were seriously warned about violence and crime against tourists and told to take precautions and not stray very far.

We had to accept that the threat was real (even though we saw no evidence of it) because at that time the cruise ships had stopped coming to St. Croix due to the serious crime problem - and that really hurt the island's economy, a lot of businesses were shut down.

I know that some of the cruise ships have started to return and it is good to hear that things may be getting better. It's such a lovely island with beautiful diving and the Fredericksted Pier is outstanding!
 
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RadHal

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Yes condos had an electric gate to enter the complex and there was a security guard though we rarely saw them. The condo itself had a security gate at the front door and then two locks on the door. All windows and the porch had bars. Like I said we never felt a threat but it was sad to see this much prevention needed.
 
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