Butler Bay on the west end of St. Croix is home to world-class wreck diving. The most accessible site known as the shallow wrecks consists of three separate and distinct wrecks along with a section of a decommissioned underwater habitat. The wrecks include a 75-foot-long tug, a 144-foot trawler, and a 300-foot oil barge which all rest in 55 to 70 feet of water. Located 300 yards from shore, the best way to dive the wrecks is by boat. However, it is possible for strong swimmers on a perfect day to explore the wrecks from shore. A longshore current typically running from north to south often occurs at this site. As a result, care needs to be taken when diving the wrecks from the rocky beach at Butler Bay.
A mooring ball is tied to the stern section of the shallowest wreck, the steel-hulled tug Northwind, making it the perfect place to start a dive. Visibility is consistently 70 feet plus, and the Northwind can typically be seen from the surface or even topside from a boat.
From the tug Northwind, the Aegir underwater habitat, the 300-foot long Virgin Islander, and the North Sea trawler Suffolk Maid, it’s a dive that never disappoints.
Upon entering the water, it's an easy descent down to the wreck of the Northwind which was sunk as an artificial reef in 1986. She was a working tug who once played a crucial role in the TV movie "Dreams Of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story," and was named after the boat Mel Fisher used as a platform to salvage treasure from the wreck of the Atocha. The mooring line attached to the stern can be used as a reference if needed on the way down. Keep an eye out for barracuda in the midwater column. The wreck of the Northwind sits fully upright in a sandy bottom with her bow orientated to the east. Upon arriving at the stern, the best place to begin exploring the wreck is from the stern deck heading along the starboard side towards the pilot house. The wreck is encrusted in hard and soft corals, sea fans, and sponges. Damselfish, grunts, and hamlets, as well as angelfish and the occasional porcupinefish, can all be found swimming around the wreck. The pilot house is not safe to penetrate. However, many of the hatches and portholes are open and make it easy to peer inside and through the wreck. After spending some time investigating the pilot house, swim forward to the bow and look back at the ghostly silhouette rising out of the sand. From this viewpoint, it's easy to imagine the tug as a working ship. Turning back down the port side of the tug provides another opportunity to investigate the pilot house and the rusted stairs that lead up to it from the bow section. Continuing on back to the stern section, descend down to the sea floor and check out the prop and rudder sitting exposed slightly above the sandy bottom. From here take a west-southwest heading and begin a short 70-yard swim across the bottom to the Aegir underwater habitat which sits just out of visual range.
The wrecks include a 75-foot-long tug, a 144-foot trawler, and a 300-foot oil barge which all rest in 55 to 70 feet of water
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The Aegir habitat is composed of two cylinders attached to a sphere in the center, is roughly 30 feet long, and represents only a small portion of the original habitat. Transported from Hawaii to St. Croix in the 1980s. The habitat was meant to replace the Hydrolab, a NOAA Underwater Research Centre habitat located in Salt River, but after funding for the project was lost it was dismantled and part of it was sunk as an artificial reef at Butler Bay. On the swim across the sand to habitat from the Northwind look for fields of garden eels poking their heads through the sand, while watching for southern stingray bottom feeding. The far end of the habitat sits near a small patch reef which can be enjoyed after either swimming through the center of the habitat or alongside it. The habitat is fully open on both ends with a large hole cut out of the sphere in the center for a vertical ascent, but it is an overhead environment and should only be entered with the proper training and experience. 50-yards to the northwest from the Aegir habitat is the Virgin Islander, a 300-foot barge that cannot be missed. Looming in the distance, it is a giant rectangular shape that rises out of the sea floor and is easily the largest of all the wrecks in Butler Bay. Sunk in 1991, the Virgin Islander faces an east/west direction, and can best be explored by rising up the side to the deck which has several openings cut into it. It’s not possible to penetrate the wreck, but it is possible to get a glimpse of the interior through the cuts. The deck is partially encrusted with corals and sponges and is home to several species of reef fish. Sometimes the lone permit can also be spotted in the blue water above the wreck. It's a large vessel and too much to ultimately see on a dive that includes stops at all the other wrecks. As a result, it’s best to continue along the width of the barge to the north, and descend back down to the sand on the far side. Keep an eye out for sea turtles that often cruise past the wrecks, and make a turn to the north-northeast toward the Suffolk Maid. The Suffolk Maid is a 144-foot long North Sea trawler located 50-yards from the Virgin Islander. Laying upright on a sloping bottom the stern section faces east-southeast and sits in roughly 60 feet of water with the bow pointing away and descending down to almost 80 feet. The superstructure is missing leaving only the flat deck surface to be explored. Rivets on the deck are exposed giving the top of the wreck a lot of interest. Several large rectangular openings in the deck allow for easy viewing into parts of the interior. A couple openings are large enough for a diver to enter and provide direct vertical egress, but the interior of the ship is covered in silt and caution needs to be taken not to disturb it. The bow section of the wreck has a lot of growth on it, but it is still possible to view the name of the trawler along the sides. However, on a dive profile that first includes time at the other wrecks, it's unlikely enough bottom time will remain to explore the entire length of the Suffolk Maid fully. To wrap up a dive of the shallow wrecks, head back to the east-southeast toward the Northwind. The swim is roughly 125 yards across a sloping sandy bottom. Once the tug comes into view, locate the mooring buoy tied to the stern and make an ascent. When diving the shallow wrecks from shore, another option is to head east from the Northwind into 20 feet of water. From here continue east across the seagrass taking care to look for flying gurnard, ascend, and surface swim to the rocky beach the remainder of the way. The shallow wrecks at Butler Bay have so much to offer. From the tug Northwind, the Aegir underwater habitat, the 300-foot long Virgin Islander, and the North Sea trawler Suffolk Maid, it’s a dive that never disappoints.
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1/16/2021 3:00 PM
Dive Site ForecastDiving conditions are expected to be pretty good. The forecasted water temperature is 80℉ with slight wave action out of the northeast and winds at 17 MPH from the east northeast.