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Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

Rockwall, Texas
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Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

In another post someone asked the question, "How can I tell if the currents are strong before heading out to snorkel in deep water such as at Waterlemon?" I think this is an excellent question and I don't feel it was answered thoroughly. I have only snorkeled the cay 3 times: once easy, once overly strenuous coming around the far tip counterclockwise, and once we turned around at the tip because we were playing dodge the large purple moon jellies. I loved what I saw on those snorkels and would love to return, but I don't want to put our lives in danger. Thanks, Kevin, for pointing out that a full or new moon affects the tides (I knew that, but didn't factor it in).

So, I have 3 questions. (1) I arrive on the full moon this year, how many days past the full moon until the tides calm? I'm only there a week. :(

(2) My husband told me when we got into the water from Leinster Beach on one trip to notice the sea fans, etc. On one trip, we didn't even attempt the cay because everything was bending toward the ocean a lot. Is that an accurate way to tell if the currents are strong? I never grew up around the ocean so that didn't occur to me.

(3) How do you determine whether to go around clockwise or counter clockwise?

Thanks for your help, because I'm really looking forward to possibly doing this snorkel again.

Pittsford, New York
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1. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

Hi Backtotheislands. Thanks for starting a new thread. As has been stated many times, there are lots of factors that contribute to currents, and indicate them. To be honest, I don't know the answer to your first question. On your second, the soft coral is an excellent way to judge the strength of the current. Keep looking and use it as often as you can. The third is easy - you always go around counterclockwise. The current on the outside of the Cay runs from East to West, obviously sometimes stronger than others. So the thought is that even if it's running, you swim with it and 'duck' behind the island when you get to the west side. As you mention, that may not always be easy, but it's better than trying to fight the current clockwise.

On another thought, a couple of years ago we discovered if you get to the 'crossing point' for the Cay, but instead of crossing, you continue out to the point (Leinster Point), the snorkeling is tremendous. We did experience a current there one year, but obviously you are in much sallower water, and actually quite close to shore. The coral is nice there, but there are also places you could stand and rest if you had to. Give it a shot and see, but as always be careful. Enjoy

hudson valley
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2. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

It takes the moon 29 1/2 days to complete an orbit around the Earth, so it's a hair over 2 weeks between the higher tides of the new moon and the higher tides of the full moon. It's just a tiny bit more than a week to the midpoints between those higher tides. If you imagine it as a clock face with the new moon at 12 o'clock, it's about 7 3/8 days to 9 o'clock, and 14 3/4 days to 6 o'clock (the full moon), and then another 7 3/8 days to 3 o'clock.

That means the typical one week vacation can be expected to see the full range of the effect caused by the moon's alignment relative to the earth and Sun. In the case of the OP, the effect will be the least towards the end of the stay.

Regardless of the phase of the moon, currents resulting from tides will be strongest somewhere between the extremes of the tide, and weakest at exactly high or low tide. Sometimes there's a long period of slack as the tide changes, and other times (or places) the currents pick up very quickly. I'm not familiar enough with the currents at Waterlemon to know a lot of specifics, but current caused by an incoming tide should carry you south, deeper into the bay. You could end up with a long walk back to your towel, but you won't be half way to Tortola (or STT). Conversely, an outgoing tide could carry you from the southern tip of the cay out past Leinster Point. Unless you're sure that the current will carry you south, crossing near the southern tip of the cay will be the safer choice. Looking at the satellite view in Google Maps will make it very obvious that the channel is a good bit shallower than the bay to the west of the cay. A given amount of water moving through a shallow channel will flow faster than in a deep channel.

Observing the behavior of movable objects in the water is a great way to recognize current, and as a snorkeler, you are one of the movable objects. Sea fans offer a clue, but the current along the sea bed may be stronger or weaker than the current at the surface, and it's the surface current that you've got to be concerned with. Just lay there and don't swim or fin. If you're moving it's because wind or current is pushing you. Face directly opposite the direction you're moving and try moving forward. If you can't do it easily then you'd better not need to move in that direction. If the current isn't a problem, that's great, but since it could change over time or distance you need to be constantly aware of it.

If you do find yourself in a current don't waste time and energy trying to swim against it, unless its a fairly slow current and you only want to go a short distance. Most currents are fairly narrow, so swimming perpendicular to it will usually get you to slower water in a short distance. Even a 1 mile swim in slow water can be shorter than the swim required to cover a short distance if you're swimming at 1 mph in a current that's flowing at .9 mph.

There are also currents that are caused by things besides the tides. I wrote a bit about that on the Grand Cayman forum a while back:

tripadvisor.com/…57100239

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Tortola
Tortola
British Virgin Islands
Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman
Cayman Islands
New London, New...
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3. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

All good advice above. One thing that wasn't mentioned is the Sir Francis Drake Channel which cuts between ST john and Tortotal. The current in the channel can rage like a river around some of the North shore points. You may be calm one second and swept into the channel the next. These are not rip-tides like those found at a beach. If caught in beach rip, swimmers are advised to swim parallel form the shore until out of the current. Beach rips will eventually dissipate. If you find your self caught in the channel current, first calculate the pull direction then swim at a 90 -125 degree angle out of the current toward the closest shore--even if that shore isn't where you started from. This is why you wear fins. Turn 3/4 on your side keeping your fins submerged and your shoulders and the back of your head in the water. Triangulate your position and kick (rotating your hips). Keep your snorkel in your mouth (to prevent swallowing splash-up). Stay calm and focused on that shore line. If you are with buddy hold hands and do the same. Don't squeeze hands and try not tighten muscles as that make you less buoyant and uses more 02 and calories. Calm rhythmic breaths. If you are a darn-good snorlker or swimmer stay face in the water and triangulate your position every 3-5 breaths using a head up water-polo stroke.

Hopefully a passing boater will notice you as, STJ has no open water rescue protocol.

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St. John
St. John
U.S. Virgin Islands
Pia
St John, VI
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for St. John
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4. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

A good starting point is to stand at the parking lot at Annaberg and look over the little stone wall into the bay - if there are medium to large "waves" I would say don't bother making the walk as the Cay will 99% be rough - the beach area will be relatively calm but the Cay usually is not when there is wave action here. This area (when you look over this wall) is usually flat or has just a few little rippling waves. I wish I could post a photo to this sight as I have a photo of a good day and a don't bother day.

Obviously even though I have said this PLEASE still be careful and know your limitations - this is only a starting guide not an absolute - and there still can be a current even though this bay is calm but if it is not I can guarantee the Cay would not be a good snorkel especially for beginners.

Pia

Pia

Arlington, Virginia
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for St. John, Cruz Bay
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5. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

As birdhouz mentioned, there is a good deal of current between St. John/Tortola/Thatch on the calmest low-wind, low swell and tideless days. Tides are not that big a deal in the VIs, running less than a foot regardless of moon phase. Current is a bigger deal. You've got that Atlantic current and the Caribbean current mixing through there. It's one thing fighting against that in a boat, but you're not going to be able to swim against it. If you're not a competent swimmer, stay on the inside of the Cay.

So, we have swum the channel side of the cay and there is the kind of cool soft corals and larger fish you see in that environment. But, Leinster has awesome sea creatures in the sandy and grassy areas. You get great soft corals if you swim around the inside of the cay to the west (clockwise) and skip the channel side.

Cheers, RickG

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St. John
St. John
U.S. Virgin Islands
Tortola
Tortola
British Virgin Islands
6. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

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Removed on: 03 July 2014, 21:35
7. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

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hudson valley
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8. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

Alternatively, we could pretend that we're adults who are responsible for our own actions.

New London, New...
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9. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

Wow, I read post #6 and can't understand why it was deleted.....

Steve, please tell me one other popular USA beach destination which does not provide life guards? Or, at the very least have a coridnated open water rescue protocal? What about the women who drowned off Weterlemon two years ago while St John rescue and a NPS ranger watched from shore? Who goes out to retrive swimmers in distress?

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St. John
St. John
U.S. Virgin Islands
St Thomas, VI
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10. Re: Snorkeling Safety, especially at Waterlemon

The beaches with lifeguards charge an entry fee to pay the lifeguard and to clean and maintain the beach. If there's no fee and no lifeguard, it's swim at your own risk, imo. Even if conditions are posted, I'm sure many will take the risk because this beach was part of their vacation plan.

If you're not an experienced ocean swimmer, please choose your beaches and excursions very carefully.