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GHOSTS OF PIRATES PAST HAUNT MAGENS BAY BEACH

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Magens Bay Beach in St. Thomas

CHARLOTTE AMALIE – Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake regularly anchored in Magens Bay with its spectacular white-sand beaches.

The 16th Century privateer also reportedly hung out on the hillsides above Magens Bay in order to spot approaching Spanish galleons filled with gold and silver. Today that spot on the north side of St. Thomas is known as Drake’s Seat, a tourist attraction.

Magens Beach is long and narrow. The sand is pebble-free, eye-poppingly-white, the water a Navajo turquoise beyond belief. The British Virgin Islands fill the horizon.

But Magens Beach, the most-visited beach in the Virgin Islands, is probably the biggest tourist attraction in St. Thomas, a one-time haunt for Blackbeard and Capt. William Kidd.

The water is remarkably calm because of the two peninsulas that form the elongated, horseshoe-shaped bay that faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is a swimming beach with no reefs, the bottom flat and sandy. It is a great beach for families.

On my first visit to Magens Bay in the 1960s, I dragged a heavy, oversized surfboard across the sand and into the gin-clear waters. There were modest waves, I paddled around until I noticed dark shadows down below. Sharks. I reported my find, only to be told that it was late afternoon when they typically came in to feed. Somehow I didn’t find that reassuring.

But the banana daiquiris ashore eased my shark fears. They were invented 60 years ago on the island by the late bartender Sonny Bernier.

Today, the beach offers watersports rentals, a restaurant, bathrooms, showers, and on weekends, crowds of locals who partied to amplified music. It can be crowded and noisy. It gets a half million visitors a year.

Admission for non-residents is $4 and $2 for children 13 or older. There is a $2 parking fee. It is an $8 cab fee from Charlotte Amalie.

In 1946, Arthur S. Fairchild donated 500 yards of beach and 50 adjoining acres of forest and grass to the municipality of St. Thomas and St. John. The forest grove contained rare and unusual trees he had planted. Today, the trees, including mahogany, genip, turpentine, and manpoo trees are part of a small arboretum behind Magens Bay Beach.

A 1.25-mile hiking trail starts in a mixed-dry forest and drops 500 feet into a moist-tropical-forest ecosystem before going through a mangrove swamp to the beach. The 250-year-old trail follows a route by early Danish settlers who established sugar cane plantations in the late 1600s.

You can also camp at Magens Bay Beach, but advance reservations are required (340) 777-6300 or www.magensbayauthority.com

For more information please call (800) 372-8784 or go to www.usvi.net

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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