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Charlie


When I first arrived on St. Croix in the late ‘60s, I took a day job running tourists out to Buck Island in a little 32-foot, engineless Long Island sloop named VOL AU VENT. The routine was simple. Before leaving Christiansted at 10am, I’d pack up the “crew”, their lunches and booze and tack up to Buck Island, then flip-flop up the channel inside the reef and pick up a mooring ball over the trail.

Charlie

By 1pm we’d fall off down to the beach, have lunch and be back over the bar at Christiansted by 4pm. Often, the tourists couldn’t swim well, so I towed them with a rectangular float about three feet by four feet with a yellow polypropylene line attached. After I checked them out on the masks and snorkels, they jumped in the water and held onto the float. Wearing fins, a mask and snorkel, I pulled them through the trail, listening to their muffled ooh’s and aaah’s in response to the color and diversity of the lovely reef.

At this time, the most famous denizen of the underwater trail was Charlie. Charlie was a territorial, six-foot-long barracuda with mean eyes, the signature under-slung jaw replete with rows and rows of needle sharp teeth, and an abiding curiosity that was more than annoying. He was impressively large and scary as hell. I’ve been told there’s never been a recorded incident of a barracuda attacking a swimmer, but I’d seen him under the boat a few times and that was close enough for me. I just stayed aboard until he became curious about someone else’s keel.

One morning, I was towing a group of mid-westerners through the trail, paddling on my back to keep track of the group as they alternately swam away from the float to explore and return; hopefully return. There were three people holding onto the raft; in unison they started pointing at me and I could hear their muffled yells. I turned around to find Charlie in all his glory. His nose was touching my mask lens. Being startled—an understatement —I gave out an underwater scream, and Charlie was gone in a flash of silver scales.

I heard descriptions of Charlie’s and my reaction from my tourist-crew once we got to the beach for lunch. One lady said, “I’ve never seen anything move that fast in my life.” She was talking about me, not Charlie.

Unfortunately, several years and hundreds of terrified tourists later, the National Park Rangers felt obliged to do Charlie in. As averse as I am to killing anything, I don’t miss Charlie. By the way, a new critter, Sammy the Stingray, set up house at Turtle Beach and likes to be petted. She enjoys company and is much less intimidating than Charlie was.

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