Need a Beach Break? Let’s visit Oppenheimer Beach!
I know many people on the East Coast are dealing with the aftermath of strong storms the last day or two, so I thought I would offer a view of a much calmer and warmer place just waiting for your return!
One of my favorite beaches to visit when I stayed at Maho Bay Camp and also while I have lived here is Oppenheimer Beach. The sand here has eroded to almost nothing but the beach itself is still beautiful and lined with coconut palm trees. The water is the most incredible turquoise blue, especially in the summer when the angle of the sun shifts and the beach is not put into the shade as quickly as it is in the winter months.
My favorite memory of this beach was back in July of 2000 when Inner Visions, a local reggae band, was playing next to the house on Oppenheimer Beach, and food and drinks were for sale as a fundraising for a local organization. After a 10 minute downpour of liquid sunshine, as we call a sunny rain shower, we headed down to the water with our drinks and listened to reggae while dancing in the bay! It was my quintessential Caribbean beach day!
Often referred to as Gibney beach, Oppenheimer Beach is the same stretch of sand. Gibney is about 3/4th of the beach that is closer to Hawksnest Beach, while Oppeheimer is the the small beach on the opposite side with a small building and now a tire swing! Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the Atomic Bomb” used to own this small piece of land, which was later inherited by his daughter. When his daughter died she donated it to “The Children of St. John”.
In light of the fact that the Government Shutdown has closed all public access to the beaches, bays and hiking trails of the National Park here on St. John, as well as stopped any personal or charter boats from mooring in the bays, I am inclined to want the new owners of the Maho land to make any donation to the VI Government or to St. John in some way. Locally we enforce public access to all beaches up to the high tide or tree line. When you consider the beaches and bays incorporated into the VI National Park, it is almost all of the beautiful North Shore beaches that visitors come her for and locals go to on their days off. The idea of arresting someone for going for a swim in the ocean is absurd and requires more manpower than is ever put forth when the government is not shutdown.
Some specifics of my above paragraph could probably be nitpicked for the more technically accurate information, but I am more interested in two ideas to consider:
Maybe there is an alternative way to donate land for public use on St. John than the VI National Park, since any mandate that our tax dollars go to keeping these areas open to the public seems to be in question. Really, who closes the Ocean?!
Living on the island already means you are working with limited resources – of income, food, entertainment, etc. Many are happy with that, of course, but when you close access to 65 or 75% of the entire island, it hurts everyone in one way or another – vacationers who saved all year to come visit our beaches, those who charter boats for snorkeling and sailing to the bays, locals needing to cool off in an afternoon swim in the hottest month of the year or looking for some exercise by going on a hike…
I love going to Trunk Bay when I need the powdery-soft white sand between my toes and the unbelievable blues in the water that I love at Jost van Dyke, BVI. But who can make it over to Jost every month? When I go to Trunk I can walk on the beach, float in the water and enjoy looking at the string of palm trees along the shore. And quite frankly, Trunk Bay is less crowded than Jost most of the time. I happen to be one of those people who can tune out the crowds on all but the busiest days, or I arrive after the big tour groups have left. Plus Trunk Bay has showers!
Whether you have actually gone out to the beach at Trunk Bay or not, it is quite possible that everyone who has been here has a photo or postcard of this view of Trunk Bay. Besides the overlook at Maho and Francis Bay, it is one of the most beautiful (and easy to photograph) views on St. John. Trunk Bay is one of my favorite beaches, and I may be the only local resident who will say that! Most people who live here will direct people away from Trunk Bay for a number of reasons:
It’s too full of tourists, especially from the Cruise ships in St. Thomas
and it is therefore, too crowded.
The snorkeling is not that great.
There are other less crowded beaches with better snorkeling
All of these reasons are true. But it is all relative. If you don’t have snorkeling at home, almost any snorkeling while on St. John is fantastic when you are only here for a week. Admittedly it is more crowded than any other beach, but it is bigger and you can get away from the crowds. And it is still less crowded than any beach on the US east coast!
With some of the clearest turquoise blue water and soft white sand beaches, the bays and beaches around St. John are irresistible! The mountains surrounding the bays, often with cays in the distance, calm the bays and draw people into the cool and tranquil water. Along the beach the laughing gulls chat back and forth, laughing at their own private jokes. Turn around and you have a view of sea-grape trees and coconut palms. The temperature and clarity of the water around St. John seduces those who enter to stay as long as possible and take in the 360 degree view. I read in Islands Magazine that “neuroscience studies show that when we watch the color blue and calm seascapes, we produce the same stress-relieving alpha brain waves as seen in meditating monks”. I am not sure if I reach that state when I stare at the water here but I do notice that my mind stays in the present moment. Even more so when I am in the water itself. It is almost hard to envision your work life stress when on a float in the turquoise blue water of Maho Bay. It is a evanescent reprieve from our racing, always worrying minds.
In early January of this year, on a rainy and overcast morning, I went out in Big Maho Bay for standup paddle-boarding. The water was winter-cool (if you live here you would understand how we become wimps when the water temperature dips below warm) and the rain did not feel any warmer. The sun was trying to clear out the clouds but no blue sky was appearing, yet the water still had it’s incredible blue color. It looked like I was paddling on top of blue-green jello, clear but not transparent. Although I don’t have a paddle board of my own, if I did I think my favorite time to be out on the water at Big Maho would be in an early morning rain.
360 degree view of Maho Bay, St. John. (This (above) was the first video I shot in the water last fall, I used my iPhone in a case in which it was loose. Not thrilled with it, and not comfortable using my Lifeproof case since it had some flaws. So I soon decided to move onto an underwater camera and that turned out to be a great decision!)
In memory of the much loved eco-resort Maho Bay Camp on St. John, US Virgin Islands.