Buck Island is stunning to take a boat to. My husband and I took our 3 sons (ages 11, 10 and 8), and could not get over the color of the water, and beauty of the island. We would have paid Big Beard's Tour group just for the boat trip to and from the island alone, never mind for the snorkeling. The captain and helper (Chrissy was her name and for some reason his is escaping me!) were professional and made me feel like it was a well-run operation. The boat was spotless.
The first stop at Turtle Beach was where Chrissy gave us our group snorkel lesson, and we got to try the gear out in the calmer, clear (and coral-less) water. We got to hang there for about an hour. Felt like paradise- just a beautiful spot!
The second stop, over around the island at the reef, is where they drop anchor for guests to hop in the ocean to explore the Monument. The waves and current here were pretty strong, though, on the day we went. Chrissy took one small group out for a "tour" of where to go and how to navigate. She told our family to hang tight and that she'd come back for us. However, the Captain told us to get our gear on and climb in the ocean to wait for her- to hold onto the life ring attached to the back of the boat while waiting for her. This was bad advice. The boat was rocking so hard and the waves so rough that the life ring kept smashing into the boat, allowing my husband and 3 sons to get smashed into the stairs and boat as well. My youngest panicked while waiting, because it was so rough, and we had to attempt to help him get back up the rocking stairs to safety. He was pretty rattled- it scared him a lot. Had we just waited on the boat for Chrissy to return, we wouldn't have been already cold and beat up by the waves, so when she finally did come for us, the rest of us(minus my youngest) snorkeled for less time than we would have. The Captain stood by the back of the boat watching the whole thing, but didn't offer to help in any way, really.
The stuff we saw while navigating (Chrissy pulled my other 2 boys on her ring while they kicked- the current was just pretty strong so this was safer at first) was awesome; pretty coral, clear water to the bottom, lots of blue tang and other fish, and a cool, big barracuda!
When we tired out, we had to use the last bit of strength to climb back up those stairs to get back on the boat. My legs smashed into them several times on my way back up, and I ended up with pretty good bruises for the rest of my vacation.
I say this just so that folks know that it can be a bumpy ride! Maybe not great for younger kids, unless they are experienced snorkelers. One grown man who was new to snorkeling did not even attempt that second location, and one couple did try but went back onto the boat after a very short period, because they said it was also a bit rough for them as well.
The ride back to the pier was beautiful and the sun warmed us all up. We tipped Chrissy well, because it still was a wonderful excursion and experience, and we were glad that we were all safe and sound.
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