March 23, 2003 – A gray bank of clouds rolls in over Red Hook as the white catamaran slips up to the National Park dock Sunday morning. The first of this year's two Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John whale watch excursions is about to begin.
For EAST, the annual whale watch outings are both friend- and fund-raisers. Dozens of people show up for the trips — locals, snowbirds and first-time visitors in search of adventure.
"Just the sailing is fun. It feels great today. I really love it," says Bob Barnett, a computer specialist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who heard about Sunday's whale watch while visiting his parents on St. Thomas. Barnett has brought along his binoculars, which he raises from time to time to check the horizon.
St. John naturalist Craig Barshinger, providing running commentary, asks all on board the 50-foot Allura to look for spray from a spout or the sight of a fin, a tail or perhaps a whole whale surfacing. With a wide horizon to scan, it will take all eyes to spot something that might appear small across a great distance.
As the boat heads southeast toward St. John's Reef Bay, passengers line the port (left) and starboard (right) rails, their eyes peeled.
The species of whale most likely to be sighted is the humpback, a 20-ton acrobat of the sea, Barshinger tells them. For whatever reason — scientists don't know why — these whales like to frolic in the waves. Sometimes they flip their flukes (their two-pronged tail); sometimes they jump out of the water. Perhaps, like people, they do it just for fun, he says.
About 20 people are aboard for Sunday's sail. There were sightings earlier in the week by local boaters, including reports of a whale near Magens Bay, and expectations are running high.
St. Thomas resident Michael Moody recalls his years on the watch. "This is the sixth time," he says. "It's cool when you see a whale. It's pretty awesome."
About an hour outside of Red Hook, Allura skirts between two patches of squall and heads for clear sailing with glimmers of sunlight dancing on the crests of choppy waves. To the disappointment of all, by midafternoon there has been no sign of a blow or a breech. But the crew makes sure the day is not a total loss. A side trip to the Thatch Cay blowhole, spewing seawater with a mighty whoosh, leaves those on board in awe.
Carla Joseph, EAST president, thanks everyone who made the trip and reminds them of the group's annual meeting at Magens Bay on April 5. Even though she finds herself facing a captive audience, she says there will be other times to preach conservation. Wherever they stand on the environment, on the day of the whale watch everyone is in favor of the whales.
"We try to focus on having a good day at sea, enjoying life, enjoying the Virgin Islands," Joseph says. The trips are especially encouraging for her, she says, because they serve as reminders of how much of the territory still abounds in natural wonder.
EAST's second 2003 whale watch outing is on March 30, departing from the same place at the same time aboard the same boat. For details, see "Whale watch excursions set for March 23, 30".

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