DIVING THROUGH A PANDEMIC : Escaping the coronavirus—at least for a whileMar 09, 2021 06:38PM ● By GLENN OSTLE
“Have you been to St. Croix before?” asked the rental car agent at the airport. When I answered yes, but that it had been more than 10 years, she said, “Well, nothing’s changed.”
I understood what she meant about how time seems to stand still on an island and things stay pretty much the same. But for us, this island offered a brief respite from a world suffering under a pandemic that had brought travel to a near standstill.
Pam and I are avid divers, used to traveling frequently to pursue our passion. For nine months, we’d been virtually cloistered in our home. We needed to find a place to “get wet.”
Many of the locations we considered were either closed, required a plane ride (scary) or had harsh and frequently changing virus restrictions. We settled on St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, because it was relatively close to home, offered Caribbean diving and was still accepting visitors.
Our first hurdle was figuring out how to meet the local requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test result—that had been received within five days of touching down on the island. We decided to take a “practice” test through a local drug store and were amazed when our results (fortunately negative) arrived within 24 hours.
Assuming we could expect the same response time, we calculated and then scheduled our “real” test, hoping that the results wouldn’t arrive too early, and not be within five days of departure, or too late and thus force us to cancel our trip and lose our hotel payment. Time to play “travel roulette.”
Fortunately, the tests arrived promptly. After the (scary) plane ride (which wasn’t really scary after all as everyone wore masks in the airports and on the plane and no one acted like a jerk), we arrived in St. Croix, duly presented our negative tests, and headed west.
One reason we chose St. Croix was because it offered the opportunity to do lots of shallow diving—day or night—under the Frederiksted Pier, often referred to as one of the “Seven Jewels of the Caribbean.” Jutting more than 1,500 feet into the Caribbean Sea on the west end of the island, it is a working cruise ship pier. Most diving is done under the shallow portion closer to shore.
Within walking distance of the pier is Frederiksted’s shopping area, with museums and restaurants. There are a number of full-service dive shops that rent equipment, arrange boat dives and offer underwater tours of the pier.
Diving here isn’t difficult once you understand the entry and exit techniques. The usual entry point is on the right side of the pier, where dive boats tie up to pick up customers. The water is typically about 4 to 5 feet below the dock, so a “giant-stride entry” is best. After that, navigation is easy: Drop down, work your way out under the pier, then turn around and return and exit on the opposite side.
We dove the pier almost every day and photographed a variety of interesting critters—including octopuses, sea horses, bat fish, large schools of fish, macro life and more. One of the pier’s most impressive sights are the cathedral-like supporting columns that are totally covered with a dazzling array of coral and sponges.
It’s a great place for both macro and wide-angle photography. Because the average depth of the divable part of the pier is only about 25 feet, we were able to stretch many of our dives to more than two hours.
On a few days, we arranged some boat diving to photograph nearby wrecks and reefs. Beneath its turquoise waters, the island is almost completely surrounded by a barrier reef—the most well-known section running along the north shore and known simply as “The Wall.”
Our accommodations are worth mentioning: We stayed at two hotels, the first being the impressive Feather Leaf Inn, a historic 250-year-old sugar plantation now being totally renovated by an ambitious California couple. It features open-air rooms with ocean-view balconies. Midway through our stay, we moved to the eclectic Cottages by the Sea, which is only a short drive from Frederiksted Pier. Situated right on the beach, it reminded us of family-owned Florida hotels of the 1960s.
When it finally came time to depart, we were sorry to leave this beautiful place. But at least for a while we had been able to enjoy a brief interlude from the pandemic and temporarily swap our face masks for dive masks.
Ostle is a longtime contributor to TOTI publications. He and his partner, Pam
Hadfield, live in Charlotte, North Carolina, and have been diving and
photographing together around the world for more than 25 years. To see more of
their photos, visit featherandfins.smugmug.com.