If you've never snorkeled before and you're here on St. John, this is the ideal opportunity to learn this easy, relaxing and rewarding activity. The underwater world that lies just offshore of our magnificent beaches awaits you in clear, calm and non-threatening waters.
If you have access to a swimming pool, this will be a good place to start. If not, a calm beach will serve just as well. If there are waves breaking on the beaches of the north shore, try a south shore beach.
Clearing Your Snorkel
Relaxed Fetal Position
When you feel confident that you can breathe through your snorkel
and get rid of any water that gets inside, you will be ready
for the next step, the relaxed fetal position. Begin by standing
in waist-deep water, with your mask and snorkel in place. Put
your head in the water and breathe gently and deeply. Now let
yourself float, curling up into the fetal position and just relax.
Let your arms and legs hang loose and go where they want. Try
to achieve a state of mind where you are so relaxed that you
feel like you could just about fall asleep.
Practice Your Kick
Practice your flutter kick. This is a leisurely up and down kick with most of the thrust coming on the down stroke. The power of this kick should come from the hips and upper legs. Kicking from below the knees is called the bicycle kick and not only is it inefficient, but it looks funny to boot.
Now you should be able to venture out to explore the reef and the underwater world. Go out with an experienced buddy, relax and enjoy.
and Environmental Concerns
I have never known of anyone getting attacked by a barracuda, and this includes spearfishers and SCUBA divers. But, to stay on the safe side, it would probably be better not to wear shiny jewelry while snorkeling. The theory here is that a visually challenged barracuda or one hunting in murky water might mistake that glittering object for a little fish and go after it. I've never known of this actually happening, but it won't hurt to take this precaution.
Although anything is possible, not everything is probable. Shark
and barracuda attacks on Virgin Island snorkelers are so overwhelmingly
improbable that they should not be a cause for concern.
Not only can coral hurt you, but also you can hurt it. Just lightly brushing up against live coral can damage the surface mucus layer, making the animal more susceptible to infection. Worse yet, is when snorkelers inadvertently kick coral with their fins or actually stand on the living coral reef when they get tired or frightened. Coral is extremely slow growing, so the results of such damage can be long lasting. Again, the point is: Don't touch the reef!
The key to dealing with sea urchins is to avoid them. If you are getting into the water at a rocky or coral strewn location, wear your fins into the water. Walk backwards and watch where you step. When snorkeling, watch where you're going especially in shallow water or in tight quarters within the reef.
A more dangerous jellyfish, the sea wasp or box jelly, also can be found in our waters, but far less frequently. They are translucent with a dome-shaped body about three inches long and have four tentacles about six to twelve inches long. Although some people can have a serious allergic reaction, usually the sting, which is not nearly as bad as a regular wasp sting, leaves you with an itchy welt that takes about a week to go away. Treat sea wasp stings by applying vinegar over the effected area.
The Most Dangerous Animal of All
Know Your Limits
Choosing your mask
To check if a mask fits and is watertight, tilt your head up and place it on your face without the strap. It should sit snugly with no spaces. Breathe in through your nose and lower your head. The mask should stick to your face and stay there without you holding on to it. Be sure there is no air leakage.
Now put on the strap and adjust it tight enough that it holds the mask in place, but no tighter than that. (A common mistake among beginning snorkelers is to over tighten the strap; something that causes, rather than prevents, leaks.) Make sure that your hair is not caught in the mask. Attach the snorkel and put it in your mouth. Inhale through your nose and check once more for any air leaks.
Make sure the nosepiece fits comfortably around your nose without touching it. The nosepiece should have finger pockets so you can easily close off the nasal air passage. This is important if you intend to go below the surface or free dive.
In the old days, masks were made out of black rubber. Nowadays, the best masks are made with clear, surgical-grade silicone, which is soft, flexible and hypoallergenic. Watch out for bargain specials; masks made out of clear PVC. This material looks like silicone, but is much harder and not as flexible. PVC masks are often uncomfortable and may leak.
If you have a mustache, the only mask for you will be the high-grade silicone variety. It's also a good idea to apply a small amount of a petroleum jelly product like Vaseline to your mustache.
Masks come in many styles, with single, double and side lens options. The important thing is that the lens or lenses be made of tempered safety glass, which will be scratch-resistant and will not shatter upon impact. Always emphasize safety, a comfortable fit and water tightness, after that whatever style or color suits you best will be fine.
Things look about 25% closer when looking at them underwater. So if you just need reading glasses, you may not need corrective lenses. The magnifying effect of the mask underwater should also be taken into account when judging distances while snorkeling. Everything looks closer than it actually is.
Preparing a new mask
Defogging your mask
Spit on the mask lens or a pply a few drops of the defogging
liquid and rub it around. Rinse your mask with water. (Seawater
will be fine.)
Getting water out of your mask
With snorkels, it is not necessary to get anything fancy, although
more and more fancy options are available. Following are some
tips on purchasing the right snorkel for you.
The diameter of the snorkel tube should be wide enough to permit unrestricted breathing, but narrow enough so that you can easily blow out any water that gets in the tube. To check if the snorkel tube is of the proper diameter, the rule of thumb is to use your thumb - it should fit snugly inside the tube.
State-of-the-art snorkels are usually elliptical instead of a straight up and down. This is a better hydrodynamic design and lets the snorkel move through the water more easily, cutting down on snorkel drag, which can pull on your mask and cause leakage.
Another consideration is how the snorkel attaches to the mask. You'll want the snorkel to sit at a good angle to the water so that it doesn't pull on the mask in such a way that causes the mask to leak or doesn't sit so low that water can get inside the snorkel easily. Because you won't be able to see how the snorkel rides in the water, you should have someone else observe you and help you make the final adjustments. It is not a good idea to support your snorkel between the mask strap and your head. Not only will this get uncomfortable after a while, but it also may cause the mask to leak.
If you intend to keep your mask in a box, then it will be necessary to detach the snorkel when storing the mask. In this case, an easy to connect and disconnect clip system will keep this procedure from becoming a frustrating experience. If you just leave your mask with the snorkel attached, in a dive bag for instance, then the ease of attachment and detachment is less critical.
Using Your Snorkel
Many snorkels now come with a purge valve. This is a one way flap of silicone, usually positioned at the bottom of the tube that lets most of the water drain from the bottom instead of having to be pushed out at the top. With the purge valve, a small puff of air usually suffices to drain the snorkel tube.
Water may also enter the snorkel accidentally, for example, from waves or from splashing water. Another snorkel option, the splashguard, helps to keep water out of your snorkel while you're moving about on the surface.
When you take your first breath through a snorkel, fresh air from the atmosphere goes through the snorkel and into your lungs. When you exhale, your breath goes through the snorkel and into the air. On subsequent breaths, you must first breathe the oxygen-depleted air that remained in your snorkel from your previous exhalation. To compensate for this, you should take long deep breaths.
If you are seeking a high tech solution to the problem of stale air, the Fresh-Air snorkel made by the Air Tech Company has developed a system that allows you to breathe fresh air only. This snorkel is designed with separate inhalation and exhalation chambers with one way valves to direct the airflow.
For some reason many beginner snorkelers feel that they do not need fins. This is a big mistake. Using fins we can move through the water further, faster and with much less effort than by depending on bare feet or by using our arms. Moreover, fins make it possible to dive and swim underwater leisurely and efficiently, opening up a beautiful underwater world invisible from the surface of the water.
Most importantly, snorkeling with fins is safer than snorkeling without them. They protect your feet when you first get in the water. They can get you out of trouble if you get caught in a current that is too strong to negotiate without fins and they can get you back to the beach or to your boat more quickly if an emergency arises.
Choosing Your Fins
Bad experiences derived from using fins that don't fit well may be behind many of beginning snorkelers' decisions not to wear fins at all. To avoid these problems, don't depend on borrowed, rented or bargain-basement packaged snorkeling sets. Purchase your own personal fins and try them on in the store before you buy. Look for flexible lightweight fins made with a soft rubber that feels good on your feet.
There are two basic types of fins. The full foot variety is worn over bare feet and covers the entire bottom of the foot. The adjustable variety has an open heel. They are held on by adjustable heel straps and are worn over dive booties.
Snorkelers generally prefer the lighter, more flexible full foot fins, while most SCUBA divers prefer the adjustable variety, which tend to be stiffer and heavier, but offers more thrust and more protection. For snorkeling, either one will work as long as it feels good.
The length, shape and style of the fins should be compatible with your size and strength. For example, longer fins provide more propulsion, but require more strength and more effort. It is best to buy your fins at a reputable dive shop where they can help you pick out the right fins for your needs.
Using Your Fins
From a boat, put your fins on just before going into the water, or get into the water first and have someone hand you your fins one by one. Take your fins off before you get back in the boat. Don't walk about the vessel with them on. It is dangerous and annoying to others.
Once in the water, use your fins for propulsion. Let your arms rest comfortably at your sides. The kick you will be using most will be a leisurely, up and down kick called the flutter kick. Keep your knees slightly bent. Don't tense up your ankles. This will cause cramps. Don't kick from below the knees, it is not efficient and looks funny. Most of the thrust of your kick will come on the down stroke with the power coming from your hips and upper legs.
To increase your speed, use faster rather than longer kicks and for sudden bursts of speed try the dolphin kick.
To vary muscle use and to avoid fatigue, alternate your flutter kick with the somewhat slower frog kick.
One other word of advice for beginners; the correct terminology is fins and not "flippers."
Snorkeling the waters of St. John, Virgin Islands is for me and I expect for most others, one of the most rewarding and fun things to do on St. John. The water is warm and tranquil. It's normally easy to get in and out of the water. You move effortlessly, unencumbered by gravity, and experience the wonderful and colorful world of the coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove lagoons that surround St. John in the magnificent Virgin Islands.
Having knowledge about this undersea environment and being able to identify and have an understanding of what you see in this strange new world will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the sport, as well as alerting you any possible safety or environmental concerns.
For this reason, that in addition to your mask fins and snorkel you bring with you a knowledge of what you will be looking at when you enter the beautiful underwater world of the Virgin Islands.