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Snorkeling in St. Thomas with Barracuda

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Swimming with barracuda can be done in the office or in St Thomas.

They bite in both places, but the barracuda in St. Thomas have much bigger teeth.

We joined three other couples on a small sailboat and snorkeling excursion with a captain and crew member out of the port at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, the most popular of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was a perfect day for sailing -- skies were unblemished, the water was hypnotizing and the Caribbean breeze was soothing.

The captain was an American who seemed too sophisticated and even well-bred compared to other excursion guides we have met. After slight prodding, he revealed that he had been in medical school in the states, dropped out to sail in the Caribbean and hadn't gone back.

Our small boat bobbed in the water and tilted to port as we sailed out to a small island where we would go snorkeling and see what we could find. We arrived in no time and jumped into the water. It was our first snorkeling excursion in the Caribbean, and it would be our most memorable.

Maybe it was luck, but on this day the water revealed the most fish and the most colorful fish of any of our now six to eight snorkeling excursions. They surrounded us as if awaiting our arrival. Suddenly they flocked to the captain as if they thought of him as the day's meal. In effect, he was -- he started spreading food around to the fish, and they acted frenzy to get to it.

The captain swam around to each of the eight tourists in the water and gave them some food as well. When my turn came, the fish bumped me and flashed around me so fast that I couldn't easily feed any one of them as someone could feed a duck at a pond. Popping noises filled my ears from the fish breathing nearby.

The food was soon gone, and the fish settled into just hanging around in case any more goodies appeared. We started a leisurely swim around the site.

On the sea bottom about 20 feet down, what first seemed like waving seaweed turned out to be eel dancing to the current.

We were startled when a shape abruptly rose beside us. It was a large sea turtle coming to the surface for air. Several more joined it and acted is if we didn't exist, even though we were less than 10 feet away.

The group had stayed near the captain at his request. We became aware of his hand waving at us under the water.

When he realized he got our attention, he pointed to a shape nearby. It was a small barracuda, quite still in the water, seeming to watch us.

The captain started to swim slowly toward it and we followed. It didn't take long for the barracuda to decide the neighborhood was getting crowded, and it bolted out of our area.

We continued to swim with the captain, pointing out new and unique-looking fish, examining the beautiful coral and sometimes just drifting in the peacefulness of the water.

The captain waved and got our attention again. This time it was another barracuda.

It was a big barracuda. We were later told that barracuda can't grow to 30 feet long, so after calming down and thinking about it more, we decided this one was about four to five feet long.

This barracuda was not facing the captain directly, but was turned away at a slight angle.

For whatever reason, the captain decided to swim closer to this one as well, so we all followed him.

We swam only a few feet before the barracuda turned toward the captain who was now maybe 25 feet away. It started to swim slowly toward him, too.

The captain immediately swooped his bands forward, flipped his legs in front of him and started paddling backward. Well all did the same thing.

The barracuda seemed to think its point was made, turned away from us and slowly swam off.

The moral of the story is, it may be OK to swim near small barracuda, but not near big ones.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Excursions   

December 15, 2008

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