Thursday, April 22, 2010

St. John (Day 5 - Part 1)

On this day we went back to Salt Pond Bay, where we had our best snorkeling last time we visited St. John. So, since I fully intend to run on endlessly about how fantastic this place is, I'm going to need two entries to get through Day 5.

First things first, getting to Salt Pond Bay is an arduous journey - at least by St. John standards. The funny thing is the bay is on the same side of the island as Andante, so it should be a short jaunt. However, between us and the bay is nothing but national park - and no roads. So we have to drive clear around the island to get to it. Since the island is so small, this takes about 30 minutes. No big deal really.

Parking is a rocky, gravel pull off with a run down stand where, allegedly, someone sells bottled water. We've never seen this place manned, so we bring our own in a cooler. And it is needed, because this part of the island is dry, very hot, and the sun seems much more intense for some reason. SPF 3000 is required, especially for your back! After parking, there's quite a hike to get to the bay. Take a look at this 'path' leading down to the beach. It's jagged rocks and pits and not much fun when you're carrying beach chairs, snorkels, and fins.

But, anyway, about Salt Pond Bay! It's our favorite snorkeling site on the island with no distant second I can think of. This place simply rocks! It appeals to both me and to Jim. Jim likes it because the water isn't rough and there's plenty to see in the broad sandy shallows. I like the reefs and the great visibility even in the deeper waters. We arrived really early - as usual - and had the beach almost entirely to ourselves, aside from a few boats moored in the bay. Here's Jimmy on the beach!

Of course, while our early arrival allowed us to get one of the picnic tables in the shade to stow our gear (very important at this bay), it wasn't perfectly sunny yet as a result of the prior night's rains. Therefore visibility in the water wasn't the greatest during the morning. Even so, we saw some incredible stuff. Naturally, there were big schools of tiny little fish that part before you as you swim through them. But these schools were not big, they were huge. Had to be thousands of fish in the largest one, no exaggeration.

Jim almost immediately spotted a starfish about seven inches in diameter (he later found another one that was burnt orange in color). I found a perfect whelk shell about six inches long, with brown and yellow colors and a surface so smooth it was like porcelain. (Yes, I out it back). Then, while I was darting after fish, I suddenly saw a sea turtle swimming no more than two feet away from me! He was as big as my torso and not at all interested in making my acquaintance. I swam with him a bit, but he was only that slow because he was surfacing to breathe. After two gulps of breath, he was off with a speed that would have kicked dirt in my face were we on land. This was by far the closest I had ever come to a sea turtle!

And this was just an appetizer of what was to come. We got out to sun until the sky cleared, and then went back in to enjoy the sights with the suns rays to make the water crystal clear, even over the sea grass. Off by the reef, there were giant sea urchins, brightly colored trigger fish, parrotfish of all colors, tangs in neon bluish-purple, sergeant majors, red bigeyes, and all sorts of wrasses, fairy basslets, and other tiny fish in scarlet, aquamarine, neon yellow, and all sorts of colors. I spotted a trunkfish, some foureye butterflyfish, and a fireworm (or a giant sea slug) creeping on some coral.

Other highlights included seeing about fifty small silver fish school in a dense ball as needlefish darted around them to pick off stragglers. Needlefish are silvery, very thin, and swim right near the surface so you often don't notice them. They have teeth but, naturally, they steer clear of us lumbering humans. As was the case last time, we saw reef squid. Five of them this time, and Jim was the one who spotted them. If you swim too fast, they are easy to miss but, once you see them, you can get close and take a look at the turquoise, brown, and yellow spots on their back and the big eyes they have. They just hover in the water, always keeping their bodies pointed away from you so they can jet away in a second. I'd love to make them shoot some ink, but it's so much better to watch them.

The best sighting this time was in the deeper water. I was swimming and noticed 'smoke' rising off the sea floor in about ten feet of water. I didn't want to swim into the 'smoke', so I circled and saw - on the bottom - a six foot long stingray stirring up the sand, probably munching on some food. He was huge and had (I think) a four or five foot wingspan. Dark brownish in color, with what looked like yellow spots. I swam parallel to him as he skimmed to seafloor. I could see him keeping an eye on me, but he didn't seem overly concerned. I followed him for a while, before returning to shore.

Awesome snorkeling day!

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