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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 24, 2024


Oct. 29, 2001 – Back in the old days — before Hurricane Hugo swept through in 1989, that is — St. John residents were able to bypass St. Thomas on trips to St. Croix and San Juan, taking the V.I. Seaplane Shuttle directly from Cruz Bay for those two destinations.
While Seaborne Airlines now connects St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan with its floatplanes, it does not serve St. John. Many people wish St. John service would return.
"It would be wonderful," said St. John resident Kathy McMurtrie, who travels frequently to St. Croix for her job with the Catholic Diocese of the Virgin Islands.
McMurtrie, like other St. John resident flying to St. Croix, must spend about half a day getting there. This doesn't leave that much time for business, so she must stay overnight.
The trip from St. John involves a ferry ride to either Red Hook or Charlotte Amalie, and then either a taxi ride from Red Hook to the Seaborne terminal on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront or to the Cyril E. King Airport, or a hike along the waterfront from the Charlotte Amalie ferry tie-up to the seaplane terminal.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd is a frequent flyer to St. Croix. Often on the go for committee meetings, he has to get up early at his St. John home to make an early plane to St. Croix. "Too damn early," he said.
As for tourists, any improvements in the transportation system would be welcome, said Caneel Bay Resort manager Brian Young.
Seaborne Airlines would like to expand service to St. John, its chief executive officer, Maurice Kurg, said. "We would do this sooner if we had the support of local agencies and the community," he added, noting that, for one thing, the airline needs a place to put a dock.
This leads us to the saga of why St. John doesn't already have seaplane service. After the Seaplane Shuttle went belly up following Hurricane Hugo, several companies vied for the right to lease the Port Authority seaplane terminals on St. Thomas and St. Croix. After a protracted process, with the successful leaseholders unable to get into the air, Seaborne slipped into the territory by running tours out of the privately owned Yacht Haven Marina using its float planes, which stay in the water, rather than lumbering up ramps onto land, as the amphibious aircraft of the Seaplane Shuttle and the old Antilles Airboats did.
Soon, Seaborne began scheduled service, and eventually the Port Authority awarded the company the lease on its seaplane terminals.
Meanwhile, the V.I. National Park, which owned the ramp in the Cruz Bay Creek where the Seaplane Shuttle's Grumman Goose and Mallard seaplanes emerged from the water, decided it didn't want what was essentially a small airport on its property.
Park Supt. John King said nothing has changed. In fact, the park plans to install a floating dock near the ramp to hold boats now tied up at its finger pier, located deep within the Creek. He said the park boundary runs about 50 feet offshore to a point where a couple of the park's moorings sit.
Kurg said Seaborne needs only a small space to put its dock and a ticket booth, with water to a depth of about three feet. But where that will be depends on what the company or the community can come up with.
Liburd dismissed worries about congestion and marine traffic. He said that the areas where the seaplanes land on St. Croix and St. Thomas are just as congested as Cruz Bay Harbor.
And Kurg said that marine traffic in the Creek — or Coral Bay, if the eastern end of the island should prove to be a better bet — would not cause problems. "The planes are extremely maneuverable," he said.
However, one former Seaplane Shuttle employee sees problems. St. Croix resident Matt Rodina said it was always difficult to land the Goose and Mallard seaplanes at St. John. "It's probably beyond the scope of the seaplane on floats," he said.
Liburd, however, vowed to work on finding a place for the Seaborne planes to land, as a means of improving services on St. John.

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