Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Coki and a smile

My second day of diving was out of Coki Beach.
It was somewhat unplanned and I called the day before to see about a trip.
They are a smaller operation and have a smaller boat. They max out at six divers per trip.
I got the last spot.


This place also was $15 to $25 cheaper than other places.
Once I got to Coki Beach I saw why, but in a good way.

They don't have a dive shop. Not in the traditional way. Not in the we have a building with doors and windows.

It was more in the way of we have a van with doors and windows.

It was super low-key.
Cool. I like low-key. I also like saving a little money.

I would recommend Coki Beach Dive Club to anyone going to St. Thomas to dive.

I was there first and got all my gear picked out and on the boat.

Then I took a little look around Coki.

I think this would be a much more fun place to spend the day than Magen's Bay.
It still had a beautiful beach with that gorgeous warm water.
But there was some funkiness to it.
Nothing was open when I got there, but I could tell it would be a fun place.

There were daiquiri booths. There were chairs for rent.
There was a bar and grill right on the sand.
There were "freelance" waiters to bring you anything you might need, just working for tips.

There were chickens roaming the sand.

And when I got back later, my impression was confirmed. The place was packed and there was a fun and funky vibe.

And that bar and grill? Excellent jerk chicken with beans, rice and plantains. I don't think it was that little bird above though.

But I digress. Back to the diving...

Once they got us all set up with gear we headed to their boat. No dock here. Just walk out into the water and get on the boat.

Hey, no big deal. We are going to get wet anyway on the ride out to the site.
And then again when we jump in the water.

So we headed out.

The first sight was called the Mounds at Grassy Cay.

Date: 7/30/08
Max. depth: 61 feet
Bottom time: 46 minutes

This is the dive where the camera batteries went dead about two-thirds of the way through.
So I have some nice photos of sea fans that were taller than me, coral, etc. But none of the big ol' barracuda who swam by at the end.

Oh well. My own fault for mixing up the batteries.

The second dive, no pictures, was even better.

This was on the Atlantic side at a site called Bull Point off of Thatch Cay.

Date: 7/30/08
Max. depth: 77 feet
Bottom time: 51 minutes

There was a little more surge here and a little more current to work against, especially at shallower depth. But not bad, not a lot of work. I could feel myself having to swim a little more than on the other dives, but nothing too strenuous.

After we dropped down, we swam along a large sea wall for a while.

At one point, coming over a large rocky area I was the first diver behind the dive master.
As we came over the rocks, I started scanning the area below. I like the sandy areas. That is where rays tend to rest. So I was looking for rays.

Instead I saw a shark. This was not a huge shark, but it was my first. So very exciting, indeed.

Its nose was tucked into some rocks and it was just resting at the bottom.

It looked to be about 4-5 feet long. I was so excited. I started trying to get the dive master's attention. I was making the shark hand signal like crazy.
But he did not see me.

Hmm... go after him or stay and see the shark and signal to the other divers behind me that it was there?

Yeah. I stayed to look at the shark.

It was only about 30 seconds before the dive master figured out no one was following him anymore. He came back around to see what was up and I gave him the shark signal.

Ahhh... A proud moment for me. My first shark and I was the one who saw it. So exciting.

The rest of the dive was pretty routine. More beautiful fish, more beautiful sea fans... No sharks, but still amazing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Breaking it down

OK, I am about to wind down the rest of the week into two posts.
This is mostly for my benefit so I can have a day-by-day accounting of what I did.
And a little for you so you don't have to keep looking at pictures of gorgeous beaches and lovely sealife.

This is the break down:

Arrive late. Check in to airport hotel for one night.


Arrange for rental car. If I ever go here again I will skip even trying to rent a car at the airport and just call Discount Car Rental. It was easy, and cost more than $150 less for the week than renting at the airport. Note to self: avoid driving a Caliber in the future, especially anyplace with hills. This car has NO power.

After getting car, head over to resort to unload all the various bags into their luggage storage area until later that day when we could actually check in.

Drive back into Charlotte-Amalie for lunch of Presidente beer, mango-glazed chicken wings and other assorted appetizers at Fat Turtle in Yacht Haven Grande mall.

Head into the main shopping area of town to wander around until time to check in.
Get accosted by various salespeople and guys trying to hawk timeshares.

Go back to resort, check in, unpack and, finally, get my toes into that amazing water.
After some beach time, clean up for dinner. Head to Iggie's and Bolongo Bay Beach Club. Find a market on the way there and stock up on provisions.
Dinner, rum drinks, sleep.


Thanks to VI EcoTours for the disc of photos.

This was great. The kayaking was good exercise and the snorkeling was relaxing.
Saw lots of juvenile fish. Saw lots of barracudas.

Lunch in Redhook at Fat Boys. Hmm... is there a Fat theme here on the island?

Had a lobster burger. Basically this was like a crab cake, but made with lobster and then put on a bun. So yeah, it was good.

Drove around the island until finding Magen's Bay, described by many sources as one of the world's best beaches.
It was OK. The view from the road above was awesome. The beach itself? Yeah, better than many beaches, but I was underwhelmed.

I especially did not like the entrance fee, per person AND per car. I guess I am used to just going to a beach.

But it was cool. Until I went to change into my bathing suit and realized I did not have it.
Lucky for me and the others on the beach I was wearing nice new underwear. Because I ended up wearing panties and my bra with a tank top over it to swim at one of the world's best beaches.

Get lost driving back, trying to take the shorter route over the mountain instead of the long way around the coast.
Drivers here are rude and impatient.

Back to clean up and nap and relax.
Dinner was a beer and conch fritters at the resort restaurant. I was not that hungry, surprisingly.

Diving with Underwater Safaris. See earlier posts for details.
Sushi lunch at Beni Iguana's in Havensight.

Back to nap.

Hanging out on the beach at Bluebeard's, just generally relaxing.

Later, winner winner chicken dinner in Charlotte-Amalie.
Back, sleep.


Woke up at the ass crack of dawn to go fishing. It was an inshore charter.
Not much was biting. I caught a bar jack and a gar and a few small grouper. All were catch and release. Nothing was caught that was OK for keeping and cooking. Oh well.

Oh yeah, and somehow no one managed to get a picture of me catching anything even though my own camera was being used and it was a simple push-the-big-button deal.

Back to nap. And nap. And nap.
This early morning got me all jacked up. The rest of the dat was just hanging out.

Dinner at Cuzzin's in CA. This was a great local meal. I had Creole style shrimp with local stuffing, rice and peas and plantains.
You guessed it, back to the resort... get ready for bed.


Up early to head to Coki Beach to dive with Coki Beach Dive Club. More on this in a post to come later.

After diving, grabbed lunch at MailMan's bar and grill right there on the sand at Coki. Jerk chicken with rice, beans and plantains. Yum.

Back to the resort to clean up, take a little nap.
Did some hanging out at the pool and pool bar.

Later, dinner of mahi-mahi tacos at Duffy's Love Shack in Redhook.
Oh, and mai tais.

Eat, drink, sleep... just like most nights here.

Went into CA to do some browsing and shop for souvenirs and gifts.
Got a call from Dianne at the next dive company, Aqua Action.
Weather and conditions where they wanted to go were not perfect so they were going to Buck Island instead. Since I had been there already, I canceled the diving for that day. I wanted to see as many new sites as possible.
Dianne was nice enough to refer me to another shop to try to dive Friday.

Since diving in the afternoon was now off, there was the chance to have lunch at a great local place, Gladys' Cafe. It is not open for dinner, so this was about the last chance to eat here.
I had pan-fried grouper Creole style. It came with rice, beans, sweet potato and plantains.
This was an AMAZINGLY good meal. Simple, but so tasty.

After this, a little walk around town then back to the resort. The dark clouds were looming and the rain was on its way.

Back at the resort, watched the rain for a while and do a load of laundry.
Later, went to the pool. It was cloudy, but not raining anymore.

For dinner... back to Iggie's. I had chimichurri marinated skirt steak with steamed veggies and smashed potato.

On the way out, I noticed that the dive shop there was open. This was the one Dianne had referred me to, so I stopped in.
They had just come back from a night dive.
I asked about what they had going in the morning and what they thought about conditions and weather.
They said things looked good. Be there by 8 a.m. to dive.

Cool. I really wanted to get in three days of diving here.

It was going to be the last day and then flying home Saturday. I went back to the resort and double checked on safety for diving and flying. The suggestion was not to fly for 18 hours after diving. Excellent. I would have 25 hours.

OK. That was settled. Now, sleep.

Up early to go diving with St. Thomas Dive Club out of Bolongo Bay.
More on that in a later post.

After diving, back to get cleaned up then over to Redhook for lunch at Molly Molone's (An Irish Yacht Pub, it was called). I had the black and bleu burger. This was a burger, with blue cheese mixed right in, then blackened. Oh yeah, it also had bacon on it. This was a most excellent burger.

Next, a little nap.

After that enjoy a mango rum thing over at Iggie's. Iggie's was the bar and grill at Bolongo Bay, a resort not too far away from Bluebeard's. It was more fun than the bar at Bluebeard's.

Back to the resort to just hang out for a while. The weather was a little gloomy. I checked online. The forecast for the next 10 days called for rain. Good thing the vacation was almost over and good timing for the trip.

The last dinner that night was at a place near Bolongo called Mim's Seaside Bistro.
I had an amazing dinner of coconut curry lobster tail. It was big chunks of the lobster meat cooked with tomato, onions and mushrooms in a lovely coconut curry sauce then poured back into the lobster shell to serve.

It was soooo good. The coconut was just the right sweetness to balance the curry. And the lobster was in big enough pieces that you didn't have to fish around wondering if there was really any meat in there.

After dinner, back to the resort to pack up and go to sleep.

St. Thomas to San Juan, San Juan to Dallas, Dallas to L.A.

I got home about 11:30 that night.
That is it. Vacation over.

Sunday and Monday were spent easing back into real life so I could go back to work Tuesday.

And there you have it. My travel diary. Usually I actually write all this in a little book. Now the blog is my little book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bed, beach and blueberry bagels

So the place I stayed while in St. Thomas was a place called Bluebeard's Beach Club.
It is a timeshare type place.
It was by no means fancy.
But it was clean, it was spacious, it had a kitchen. Which was nice, as it meant not having to go out for breakfast. One trip to the market and I was set for bagels.
The resort also was slightly past its prime, especially compared with some of the big shiny new resorts around the island.
But you know, it was kind of nice. Somehow it felt more authentic than being at yet another Marriott or Westin.
This place had some character.
And some characters.
There was the surly lady at check in and then again at check out.
There was the '80s throwback bartender at the pool bar and his collection of people who sat there from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the swim-up side. I never actually saw them swim.
There were various maintenance people with happy smiles.
There were crazy looking land crab things that jumped into holes as soon as you even looked their way.
And there were iguanas, lots and lots of iguanas.
Here are some shots of the resort and its scaly mascots. The crabs were interesting, but impossible to photograph since they would not come out of the holes if someone was standing there.
All in all, it was not a bad place to have as a base for the week.

The resort and its private beach at Frenchman's Bay.

The Marriott, one cove over.

Bluebeard's beach.

More beach.

View from the balcony at night.

View from the balcony during the day. I know, obvious.

This is what the Humane Society has set up to feed all the cats
that wander around the resort. Most are pretty skittish.

There were hammocks all around the resort.

The kitchen area. It was tiny, but tidy. And it had everything I needed.

The living room from up in my loft sleeping area.

My sleeping area.
And from here on down... lizards...
Lots and lots of lizards.
One day, of course when I did not have my camera, I counted
11 large iguanas on the lawn near the restaurant.

Monday, August 4, 2008

One week ago today

OK, I am home. Time to get caught up here with all the pictures and stories.

I will try to keep it somewhat organized, but no promises.
Since I already posted some photos from the first day of diving, I will post the rest here.
Then I will add separate posts for other, various aspects of the trip and other dives.
So, here we go...
These photos are various shots of coral, sponges and plant life from the dives near Buck Island, St. Thomas. The fish from the earlier post are all from these dives.

The first dive was on Rye Reef. max depth was 58 feet, bottomtime was 38 minutes.

This is Bluebeard's Beach Club, the condos/hotel/resort
sort of place that was home base for the week.
This is the view from the boat as we headed to Buck Island.

These two shots above are a couple views of Buck Island.

A little eel was trying to hide among the coral,
but I was able to get a shot of the creepy little thing.
From here down are various coral/sponges, etc.

Next up, pictures of the shipwreck near Buck Island, the Senora Cartanza or Senior Cartanser. Different dive shops use different versions of the name, English or Spanish.

The ship has an interesting history. If you care to find out more, just click on the link above.

This dive was a max depth of 45 feet and bottomtime of 40 minutes.

The shallow depth makes it a good beginner dive. Most times shipwrecks are in deeper water.
This is actually one of the dives I did on Discover Scuba while on my cruise all those years ago.
But this time we got to get a little closer, swim into parts of it and there was an easy swim-through. During Discover, we just swam around the part of it that was in the shallowest water.

The ship is broken into three segments. This is the
middle segment that includes the engine room.

In the first segment there is a small swim-through in the top of the ship.
That is dive guide Steve waiting at the top to make sure we all got through.
From here down are various parts of the ship.

So, there you go.
That was how I spent the better part of Monday, July 28.

More pictures and more posts to come later.

Right now, I have some laundry to do.