Sea Trekking in St. Thomas, USVI
staff writer


Recently I had the pleasure of cruising on the Grand Princess, one of the magnificent ships in the Princess Fleet. The cruise was a 7-day jaunt to the Eastern Caribbean with stops at St. Thomas and St. Martin.

Now usually, when you think of cruising, you think more about relaxing than adventuring. But it's possible to do both (without sacrificing too many Pina Coladas).
After two days at sea; eating, drinking, gambling and sunning myself, I was ready to do something adventurous. Our third day out, the ship was docking at St. Thomas. I decided to check out my options for adventure.

I found out from brochures left in our stateroom, there was an activity called "sea-trekking." The picture on the brochure showed a group of smiling people with big white space-age looking helmets, who appeared to be pretty deep underwater. I studied the photo: no air tanks. Hmmm...so how do they breathe? It looked interesting. I had tried snorkeling and although I still haven't tried Scuba diving; this looked like something inbetween.

I went to the tour desk to learn more and spoke with Michele Bosco, the Senior Assistant Purser on the ship. He told me sea-trekking was an adventure I wouldn't want to miss. "You can definitely breathe with no problem down there, right?" I asked, somewhat skeptical.
"Absolutely," Bosco said laughing. "It's wonderful!" Of course he spoke with an Italian accent which made it sound that much more inviting and exotic. I signed up.






Day of the Trek

We arrived at St. Thomas. At 9:00 a.m., all of us who were going on the trek met outside the ship and were ushered to a vehicle that would transport us to our destination. There were 11 of us in all. Five couples and me. We were headed to Coral World Marine Park. Coral World sits on the ocean's edge at Coki Point, which is the east end of St. Thomas. Besides sea-trekking, Coral World Park offers an undersea observatory, a predator tank with live sharks, a touch pool where you can touch the marine life, a stingray pool, a mangrove lagoon, a turtle pool, a tropical nature trail and of course, a great gift shop and snack bar.

Although there was a lot to see at Coral World, our schedule was tight. We had just enough time to do our trek and then our van would be ready to take us back. As soon as we arrived we were led to a spaceship looking dome at the end of a pier which was approximately 100 feet from shore. This was also the undersea observatory and the place where we would get our orientation before we started our trek. Our guide, Edward Doss, a young man recently relocated from Colorado and a certified Scuba diver, sat us down and explained what we were about to undertake. He told us we would be approximately 15 feet underwater. We would be wearing helmets that had attached air hoses. The pressure from the air would keep the water out of the helmets as we descended into the ocean. However, the trick was, you couldn't tilt your head down or the water would come rushing in. So after you were submerged, you had to keep your torso straight at all times. If you had bad posture, you didn't after this excursion! The helmet weighed 70 lbs and at first, it looked like no way was this going to be comfortable. But it was.

Edward went on to tell us that we would be given booties and gloves. The booties were to make the walking comfortable and gloves were also for comfort when grasping the chain rail or holding sea creatures. All we needed to provide was our bathing suits. We were to lower ourselves off a ladder from the pier down onto the ocean floor. There would be a professional diver near us at all times. Once we had stepped from the ladder onto the ocean floor, we would grab onto a chain hand rail that would lead us around a course and keep us all together. Edward stressed that we hang on to the hand rail since the currents were a bit swift and he didn't want anyone floating away. We were divided into two groups. My group, which was me, a Canadian couple and a Texan couple, Tami and Chris, whom I had become friendly with, was the second group to go. The guide takes no more than seven people at once to assure safety and control.

While the first group trekked, Tami, Chris and I explored Coral World. We had about a half an hour, which wasn't long, but we managed to see some neat things; the turtle pool, the touch pool and the underwater observatory, where we were able to see some of the first group trekking around. Soon, it was our turn. Back on the pier the first group was drying off. All we kept hearing was, "Fantastic!" "Unbelievable!" and "You'll love it!".

Chris was the first to go. As Jeff Skinner, one of the attendants, put the helmet on his head, Chris gave us a big smile and descended. Soon, all that was left of him was the air hose. Tami, was next. She looked excited as Jeff placed the helmet on her head.Down she went. I was next. As the helmet was placed on my head, I marveled at it's weight. I was a little nervous. Could I really breathe under there? I'm more than a tad claustrophobic—to me the Grand Canyon is just the right amount of room. But if Chris and Tami could do it, hey! so could I. Besides, they were from Texas and I was from Florida, the water and sunshine state. How could I wuss out? I'd never hear the end of it. "Give me a minute," I told Jeff. He took my helmet back off. He was EXTREMELY gentle and patient. "Take your time," he said. "Once you're under there, you won't want to come up! Trust me." Thirty seconds later, I took a deep breath and said, "Okay, helmet me!" The big space age helmet went back on my head. I slowly lowered myself down the ladder—my feet, my legs, my torso...and finally my big old head. And before I knew it, I was submerged and I could BREATHE really easily. It was true! The air pressure kept the water out. Maintaining the Abe Lincoln Memorial pose posture, I held my torso perfectly straight. I was so glad I came.

It was another world down there. The coral reef, the fish, the marine life and that wonderful feeling of weightlessness. (After chowing endlessly on the ship, it was lovely to feel so svelte and light! We all sort of jumped around testing our new weight.) Edward pointed out several different sea creatures to us, some of which we held in our gloved hands. It was fascinating; like leaving the planet. If you wanted to see something near your feet, you had to kneel down, but still keep your head and torso straight. I did this this a few times and quickly felt like a pro. The reefs display colorful red, yellow and orange sponges, accented by violet sea fans. This is also the home of yellow tails, sergeant majors, blue tang and trumpet fish. The fish are curious about the trekkers and they come right up close. It's not unusual to have them tickle your legs.

We continued our trek along the coral beds. Some of us brought underwater cameras (if you don't have one, you can purchase a disposable one at the gift shop). The marine life was colorful and inspiring. The underwater world is so peaceful and beautiful and full of surprises. As we walked around, part of our path led us by the underwater observatory where we waved at the less adventurous.

The whole thing lasted about 30 minutes, but it seemed like five. And Jeff was right...I didn't feel like coming back up! Afterwards, back on the dock, we all felt exhilarated. It was almost like going to one of those rejuvenation spas. There's a definite healing and spiritually uplifting quality about the ocean and its magnificent creatures. We thanked Edward and Jeff and headed back towards the van, refreshed.

Sea-trekking is an activity I would highly recommend to anyone seeking an adventure that is both unusual and invigorating. It gives you a perspective that you wouldn't normally have and it opens up your eyes to the hidden wonders of the undersea world. The divers and attendants at Coral World were nothing short of excellent and provide a safe and professional environment for you to enjoy. They genuinely love their jobs and seem to get joy from the joy they bring others by taking them on such a wonderful excursion. Don't miss this!

Contact Information:
Phone (340) 775-1555, Toll Free (888) 695-2073, Fax (340) 775-9068.
The mailing address is Coral World, 6450 Coki Point, St. Thomas, USVI 00802

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