Gail and I returned to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a third time. We had been there in 2010 and 2011. We stayed on the island at Maho Bay Camps a full week, from Thursday, January 12, through Thursday, January 19. We hiked, helped with trail maintenance and, of course, snorkeled with the tropical fish. I came home with over 380 photographs and videos in my water camera and over 140 in my land camera. Some of my favorites are here.

Our starting was a little ragged because our US Airways flight out of Baltimore was delayed by an hour, causing us to miss our connection to St. Thomas in Philadelphia. The airline re-routed us on a flight to San Juan and then on an American Express flight to St. Thomas. This caused us to come in a lot later than expected. The benefit was a terrific view of the night sky during our ferry ride from St. Thomas to St. John, even as far south as Canopus, with a meteor thrown in for good measure. The downside was that our suitcase with our snorkel gear and the food for our breakfasts and lunches did not catch up with us until Saturday morning.

The camp assigned us a cabin about as far from the center as possible. We had a beautiful view of Maho Bay from our deck. We also were able to watch birds and iguanas from the deck. A great place to relax after breakfast and in the late afternoon!

Al in front of our tent-cabin, A07 The view from our deck
Al, wearing a Kepler
            T-shirt and shorts, stands in front of the door to the
            canvas and screen cabin. Trees surround the scene. Through the limbs of
              trees the blue water of the bay is seen with five
              large boats moored there.

Iguana in a pipe organ cactus downslope
recharging after a long night
Iguana sampling the appitizers
The iguana is stretched out
            on the sloping branch of the pipe organ cactus, legs dangling
            on either side of the branch. Tree leaves are in the foreground
            and the blue surface of the bay in the background. The iguana is hanging onto
            small branches while reaching to the right to eat a leave.
            Tree leaves are in the foreground
            and the blue surface of the bay in the background.

Security in our unit was provided by Big Waldo
The tan gecko with a white
           throat is perched on a peg that is jutting out of the
           board underneath the white canvas ceiling.

The island of St. John is formed from volcanic rock and is very hilly. Three of its summits are over 1,000 feet above the sea and two more are between 900 and 1,000 feet high. All around the island are bays, most with beautiful sand beaches and with fringing reefs, which are shown in pink on this map. The Virgin Islands National Park covers most of the island. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Colored map of St. John in the Virgin Islands.

On our first full day, lacking our gear, we hiked east along the trails to Brown Bay and back.

On Saturday, we hiked east again, but only as far as Waterlemon Bay, where we put our snorkels and fins to good use. The water was much clearer than last year. The most exciting sight we had during this day, and during the whole week, was of some reef squid who put on a show for us.
Two Reef Squid The same two squid in formation
The squid are swimming over a 
            mostly sandy bottom. The tentacles of the nearer one are
            pointed to the right and its large eye can be seen near
            where the tentacles meet the body. The two squid are swimming side
            by side with their tentacles pointing to the left. Their 
            large eyes and patterns on their backs are visible. The is
            coral on the sea floor around them, but directly below
            them is a small patch of sand.

Juvenile French Angelfish Southern Stingray feeding on something under the sand
A Bar Jack and Yellowtail Snapper are waiting for scraps.
This round black fish with
            vertical yellow stripes is swimming over sand near some coral. The southern sting ray is lying on
            a mostly sandy bottom, its tail pointing in the upper right
            direction. A bar jack is swmming above the ray and a yellowtail
            snapper is swimming above the ray's tail.

Gail swims down to check out a flounder The Peacock Flounder
Wearing a blue shirt and with a 
            snorkel on the right side of her head, she swims down toward
            a mostly sandy bottom. She is seen from the back. The color and pattern of the
            flounder matches the sand and rock sea floor. Blue rosettes
            cover its body. Its tail points toward the upper left and
            its mouth and eyes can be see at the lower right.

On Sunday we took an island taxi - a F-350 pickup with benches in the bed and a canopy over them - to Saltpond Bay in the extreme southeast of the island. We swam along the eastern shore of the bay where much of the bottom was silted over. Then we swam out to rocks in the middle of the bay where the coral was much cleaner. We saw more interesting creatures out there. I saw a couple of small jelly fish there, but they were nearly transparent and I could not get any photographs of them.
School of Blue Tangs Turtle
Maybe a Hawksbill Turtle, but hard to say
With the sun light coming from
           behind them, a school of about 30 blue tangs appears dark against
           the mostly rocky sea bottom. Swimming toward the left and away
           from us, the turtle has its front flippers raised in the
           green-appearing water. Its head and flippers appear yellow
           and covered with dark spots.

Smooth Trunkfish seen from above
This fish is above some
           grass on a mostly sandy bottom. It is black, but covered with
           many white spots. From above, the snout is pointed and the 
           mid section is very wide.

On Monday we swam from the beach at Maho Bay camp to the reef along the north shore of Francis Bay. Again we got to see fish and other creatures that we'd never seen before, even though we had visited this reef during each of the past two years.
A school of darting small fish collectively called silversides
Click on the photo to see of short video of silversides
Anenome, red sponge and shiny balls that might be squid eggs
The photo shows bright spots in front of a dark sandy bottom.
           The video shows hundreds of fish swirling through the water. A coral boulder
            rises from a sandy bottom. On the left the tan-and-white-banded 
            arms of an
            anenome stick out from the coral. Starting in the middle and
            stretching down to the lower right, there isa lumpy light-red sponge
            with holes on nearly every lump. Nestled above the sponge are
            two shiny, dark-blue balls.

This Scrawled Cowfish was nearly all white
when I first approached it
The Scrawled Cowfish changed color within seconds!
Would that we all could do that!
The fish is facing to the right 
          near a
          rock on a sandy bottom. There are two blck urchins at the bottom
          of the photograph. The fish has large eyes and a long tail. It is
          white or silvery in color with blue markings. The same fish
          is in the same location, except the urchins are out of
          the picture. The color of the fish is now dark green and
          tan, but with the same blue markings.

A Squirrelfish hiding under coral during the day A school of Bar Jacks swam past several times

An Ocean Surgeon A Scrawled Filefish

On Tuesday, we volunteered to help out with the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park. Our leader, Jeff, took us back to the Saltpond Bay area, where we worked on clearing brush away from the Ram Head and Drunk Bay Trails. This photo shows Jeff at work on the Drunk Bay Trail.

On Tuesday night, we experimented with snorkeling at night. We rented underwater flashlights from the watersports shop at the camp. The night started out well with the appearance of greenish-white phosphorescent spots on the waves breaking on the sand. However, once we got in the water, we found that there was a lot material in the water that reflected the light back towards us. There were a lot of small fish darting through the murk, but the murk and these fish were nearly all we could see. It was difficult to know where we were with regard to the shore and the reef. I got lost several times and wound up swimming in the wrong direction. When the battery in Gail's flashlight went dead prematurely, we found our way back to the beach and gave up. This photo gives an example of what we could see.

On our last full day on St. John, we took an island taxi to the head of the Reef Bay trail, which we hiked down to see petroglyphs created 500 to 1,000 years ago by the Taino indians. We also saw the ruins of two sugar factories dating from the time when sugar canes were the main product of this Danish colony.
One of the Taino petroglyphs
It looks like an alien from a 1950s SF movie.
More petroglyphs with their reflection in a pool
They are much easier to see when the rock is wet.

Sugar factory ruins seen along the Reef Bay Trail

We did not see or do everything we wanted. We did not see any sharks. We did not take the ferry to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. These are things to look forward to next year. We might even try night snorkeling again if we have an experienced guide.

Responsible: Albert Holm
Updated: 21 Jan 2019