We were picking our next cruise. It seems like all cruise lines go to the same islands. My wife wonít fly so we are limited to where we can go. I would love to fly to San Juan and see the southern Caribbean Islands, but until they complete the bridge from Key West, we will settle for the Miami and Fort Lauderdale terminals.
Holland America Line has a great 10-day cruise to the southern islands but they have one stop in St. Thomas. I showed the itinerary to my wife Anne and her response was ďSt. Thomas AGAIN?.Ē We have been there 3 times already and there canít be much left to see. We know the shops in Charlotte Amalie by heart and Iím sure the Ryndam will have the same shore excursions as the other cruise lines. Anne said she would stay on the ship and I could go scuba diving while in St Thomas. I donít know what excited me more, the scuba diving, which I love, or her willingness to NOT shop in Charlotte Amalie. We booked the cruise.
With months to prepare I went on the Internet and typed St. Thomas in one of the search engines. The morning dive boats would be gone by the time we docked and the afternoon boats wouldnít be back in time for our sailing. I bookmarked everything I found. There were so many sites that I couldnít see them all in one seating.
One evening I found a link to the Coki Beach Dive Club. I sent them email and explained my situation. The very next day I received a response. The owner was Pete Jackson and he said there were no time schedules for beach dives and I could come anytime I wanted. I looked up Coki Beach in some of the dive magazines and also on the Internet. My findings were good, to say the least. There were a few hotels and resorts in the area and one article I found said it was a nice dive. I made up my mind to give it a try when the time came.
We finally arrived in St. Thomas. On the previous trips there, we docked about 2 miles from Charlotte Amalie and had to take a cab to the town. This time we were anchored off shore and needed to take a ten-minute tender ride to the town. This was much nicer - it was faster and there was no taxi fare. As I was going to dive from the beach, Anne decided to join me. She loves lying on the beach and there were supposed to be a few hotels in the area. I approached a cab driver and asked if he could take us to Coki Beach, how long of a ride it was, and how much money. "Sure, get in," he said, "$7 is the cost and the ride is twenty minutes." The ride was interesting. We were driving in areas we have never seen. I pointed a few things out to the driver and asked questions. He was happy to answer my questions and even pointed out some things I hadnít noticed. We were on our own private tour. As we drove down a hill, I could see Coki Beach in front of me. It was a small pretty beach with beautiful white sand. Did you ever notice that the Caribbean sand never burns the bottom of your feet like the beaches in the states?
I found the mobile dive shop and Pete the owner. Once we were sure we were in the right place, Anne went to find a palm tree to lie under. Pete seemed to be well organized. He had a few dive masters working for him and also his wife was involved with the business. I filled out the usual release forms and made my way to the water. The dive masters were getting the young pretty bikini-clad girls ready for their dives while Pete opted to dive with me, just the two of us. Oh the disadvantages of traveling with your wife. I said this to Pete and he laughed. He is just recently married and I believe he met his wife when she was a customer.
In a matter of minutes we were in 45 feet of water. The dive was great. Plenty of fish, colorful reefs and unlimited visibility. We hand fed a few pilot fish and they stayed with us the whole dive. Pete had 80 cubic tanks with 3,000 pounds of pressure. Some dive trips offer smaller tanks or less air. The dive lasted over an hour and cost me $25 plus cab fare. The ship offered a beach dive for $55 and I found they came to the same beach. I like my way better. Itís cheaper, you're on your own and not being rushed, and Anne joined me for no additional cost. There were plenty of cabs to take us back to the ship and the ride back was as interesting as the ride down. We had a different driver with different things to point out.
We were back at the ship in plenty of time for lunch! (God forbid we miss a meal) Unfortunately we were also back in time for plenty of shopping. Iím not going to be concerned about repeating our visits to the islands anymore. The private tours are as good, if not better, than the organized tours. You just have to plan them out and make sure your destinations are safe. Iím even looking forward to another return to St. Thomas. There are many more beaches to explore and cab drivers to talk to. Iím sure Iíll stop and see Pete Jackson of the Coki Beach Dive Club again. If you see him before I do, tell him John says hello.
John Mamrak, is a boating enthusiast who lives with his wife Anne Marie in South River, New Jersey. He enjoys cruising, scuba diving and writing. John can be reached at: email@example.com.
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