“Hey guys,” he yells as we paddle toward them, “I got a date!”
Our guide tells us about hurricanes and boats that have sunk in the bay. He talks about the native people of St. Croix and how the arrival of Columbus’ ships and those of other explorers spread disease and wiped out the native population. He leads us past a bird rookery, where in the twilight, we can see dozens of white egrets nesting in the trees, looking like cotton balls ensnared in the branches.
To get to the bioluminescent part of the bay, we thread our way through a marina, then paddle against a light wind about three-quarters of a mile across the darkening water. When we return, the wind will be at our backs, making the paddling easier.
I’d like to tell you that Ralph and I hit a rhythm, that we paddled surely and smoothly across the bay, but we didn’t. Ralph sat in front, and I tried to follow his lead as our guide instructed, stroking in unison on the same side that he did — right, left, right, left. But I wasn’t surprised when Ralph, who had built his own business and was accustomed to being in charge, unilaterally made all the decisions about rowing and did not share them. His strokes were unpredictable, and our oars kept crashing into each other. So we moved erratically across the water, falling farther behind the others, who acted more like teams.
No matter, it was a glorious night under a nearly full moon, air temperature in the low 80s, water in the high 80s. With no light coming from this part of the island, I saw more stars than I ever see in South Florida.
As it got darker, we saw fireworms that give off a green luminescence during mating, which happens for only two or three days around the full moon. We also saw newborn jellyfish that glow a fluorescent green. One of the guides caught some jellyfish and put them in jars, where they looked liked tiny lighted donuts.
But the main attraction was the dinoflagellates, just specks of light. We dragged our hands in the water and they were outlined in light, like a science fiction movie about radiation gone wrong. The light flashed around our oars each time we lifted them from the water. Best of all, we looked right through our clear kayak bottom and saw streams of light in the water, like pinstripes of tiny bubbles running backwards, our own private miniature light shows. It was spectacular.
The one-cell creatures, the guide told us, were limited to this small sector of the bay. As we rowed away, the lights under our kayaks grew fewer and fewer, until there were just occasional flashes. And then, nothing but darkness.
On the day I left, as I drove to the airport, I thought about what I’d do differently if I made a return trip. I’d visit the rum distillery, stay at the same casual hotel, find Cane Bay, and schedule my trip during tourist season when there were enough visitors for the waterfront restaurants in Frederiksted to stay open. Maybe I’d take the seaplane to St. Thomas for a day; maybe I’d do a different kayak tour. And then, when I looked around and realized I was lost again, I resolved to bring a GPS unit.