Virgin Islands National Park: Hawksnest Bay

Elkhorn Coral and Great Barracuda

On Sunday, March 20, [2022],after we’d spent the morning and early afternoon on a visit to Annaberg, which was a repeat for Sean and me, we spent the late afternoon swimming at Hawksnest Bay, which we had not done on our first visit to Virgin Islands National Park in 2013. It was well worth it. And we could see why it is popular with St. John locals.

Southern Sting Ray with Horse-Eye Jack and Bar Jack

Driving North Shore Road from Annaberg toward Cruz Bay, immediately after finishing our visit, it was hard not to notice that St. John is littered with ruins and remnants from the time before the National Park was established in 1956.

Maho Bay was way too busy to stop and get food beachside, so we continued into Cruz Bay and had lunch at Cruz Bay Landing. We all got salads or at least some greens, since we hadn’t been eating the healthiest.

Plus we had dinner reservations that evening at Rhumb Line in Coral Bay. And we didn’t want to destroy our appetites.

White-Winged Dove

Hawksnest Bay

After town, we headed over to Hawksnest Bay, the closest easily accessible National Park beach to Cruz Bay. It was busy, but we lucked out and found a parking spot. We arrived at about 2:30, and we figured we had not quite two hours to swim and hang out before we’d have to head back to Concordia and get ready for dinner.

The guys started going into the water near where we’d put down our towels. But they were warned away by an older couple sitting in beach chairs. There were lots of sea urchins right where they were going to get into the water. And they’d seen someone get stung. They recommended going in at the sandy area a couple dozen yards down the beach. We thanked them and did just that.

Ocean Surgeonfish, Sea Fan, and Blue Tang

At first, there wasn’t much to see with my snorkel. Some clusters of things sticking out of the sand here and there.

Ocean Surgeonfish

Ocean Surgeonfish and Sea Fan

Blue Tang and Ocean Surgeonfish

Brain Coral

Great Barracuda

But a little further out, things got more interesting. I spotted a Barracuda. And I managed to snap a photo before it swam off.

Red/Black Sea Urchins and Brown Octopus Sponge

Princess Parrotfish

Princess Parrotfish, Blue Tang, and Mustard Hill Coral

Elkhorn Coral

Then farther on there were whole groupings of sculptural Elkhorn Coral. I had read that the reefs at Hawksnest were worse for the wear from the hurricanes and bleaching events. It was still magnificent. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like when the reef was healthy.

Elkhorn Coral

Yellowtail Parrotfish, Red/Black Sea Urchins, Fused Staghorn Coral, Knobby Star Coral, and Mustard Hill Coral

Striped Parrotfish and Blue Tang

Southern Sting Ray with Horse-Eye Jack and Bar Jack

Then I spotted my first Sting Ray of the trip. It was moving swiftly along the sandy portion of the bay, accompanied by some Jacks.

Southern Sting Ray with Horse-Eye Jack and Bar Jack

Southern Sting Ray with Horse-Eye Jack

Image: Sean M. Santos

After the Sting Ray, I went back to the beach to see what the guys were up to. They were just chilling out. So I decided to spread out my towel and actually lie down on the beach for almost the first time on the trip.

I pulled out some Derek Walcott poetry to read there on the sand. It felt appropriate to read the work of the Nobel Laureate of the Caribbean.

Great Tobago, British Virgin Islands

Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands

Peace Harbor Windmill

At about 4:05, I gave the guys a 20-minute warning before we had to head out.

Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands

Hawksnest Point

Easter Rock

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

But even though I had been watching the time, I was the one who had to be pulled away from Hawksnest. While I was waiting for them, I got chatting with the couple who had warned us about the urchins. Their names were Pat and Helene, and they were originally from New Hampshire and Brooklyn. They have a place in Coral Bay, and split their time between St. John and the New York City area. They had just returned from up north.

They asked what we’d done so far, and they were surprised we’d gone to Brown Bay, but were happy we’d had such a great experience the previous day. Helene remarked that it had been years and years since she’d been to Brown Bay. When I told them we planned to do Waterlemon the next day, they gave us some tips. As we gabbed away, we all remarked how upsetting the outside news was. Pat remarked that it must be annoying to be named Brandon and “have all those idiots using your name for ‘Let’s Go, Brandon.'”

I mentioned that we’d spent part of the morning at Annaberg. Helene agreed that it was a good place to visit on a Sunday, and that on Easter Sunday there is a particular sense of solemnity there.

Pat told me about the St. John Slave Revolt of 1733-1734. Enslaved people on St. John had revolted and driven the Danes from the island. From November 1733 until May 1734, enslaved people had controlled St. John. While they held it, they set up social and governmental functions, including schools, on the island. The Danes asked the French for help suppressing the rebellion. The French sent ships from Martinique, which helped the planters and slaveowners retake St. John. Even so, it had been the first successful, for a time, slave rebellion and a harbinger of the Haitian Revolution.

They also shared what a mess Concordia had been after it was abandoned after the hurricanes: “Debris just littering the hillside.”

Clearly, I enjoyed chatting with my new friends Pat and Helene. As the guys pulled me away from my conversation, Pat said, “If you see us around Coral Bay, throw a rock and we’ll go get a drink.”

Then we hurried back to Concordia. Josh needed time to gussy up and preen before we went to dinner.

That evening, we ate at Rhumb Line in Coral Bay. We had ended up at Rhumb Line because Josh had been talking on the apps to a server there who lived on a boat moored in Coral Bay Harbor. We specifically requested to be sat in his section.

When we arrived, the host who was a white woman wearing dreads—yikes!—asked us to put on masks until we sat at our table. We ran back to the car and grabbed masks and put them on. She then proceeded to walk us about eight feet to the very first table inside the restaurant’s patio. Then we sat down and took off our masks. All of this took place outside. It was…something.

The food was very good, and this Sunday Supper constituted the nice dinner out of our trip.

The server Josh had been talking to was nice. But he lived on a sailboat moored in the middle of Coral Bay Harbor. We joked that if Josh went home with him he’d have to do a “swim of shame” in the morning.

On the way back, we of course stopped at Calabash Market to see our “friend,” his muscle car, and what we’d dubbed “the deadliest bus stop” on St. John.

The rest of that evening was more low key, and we were all asleep by 11pm.

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