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@Work: Homer's Scuba and Snorkel Tours

May 6, 2005 – The first thing you have to understand about Homer Calloway is that his office is in Hull Bay. Literally. About a quarter-mile off shore and 15 feet straight down is where Homer puts his nose to the grindstone. While some businessmen prefer a corner office with a big desk, Homer prefers a coral reef. Homer's Reef, to be precise.
"During 8 hours of work yesterday I spent more time in the water than out of it," he says with a generous grin that states more clearly than words that he still can't believe his own luck.
The Detroit native started Homer's Scuba and Snorkel Tours about 2 and-a-half years ago when he grew weary of teaching throngs of tourists the art of the dive. In those days, working for one of the island's larger scuba operations, he would sometimes take 18 people at a time out on a dive.
"I've taken over 20,000 people on their first scuba dive," he says, "and I love working with beginners, but I just didn't want to do that cattle-boat thing anymore." Nowadays, Homer never takes more than six people out on boat dives, and never provides basic certification to more than four people at a time.
"I really think there's a market for smaller tours," he says, adding that it allows him to provide a lot more individual attention and an overall better experience for everyone, himself included.
And when you're rolling with Homer, you can go far beyond the standard on-the-boat, off-the-boat dive tour – and, of course, you'll never find yourself sitting on a boat, awaiting your turn to take the plunge, thinking quietly to yourself, "This boat is way too crowded."
Fancy loading your gear onto the back of a sea kayak and paddling out to a reef that's so tourist-free you can hear a pin drop 30 feet down? Go to Homer's.
Or what about a zippy little skiff-ride out from Hull Bay to the largely un-molested western shoals, rocks, islands and reefs of St. Thomas? Go to Homer's.
And if it's a nocturnal adventure you're game for then you probably couldn't find a better guide anywhere in the world. Homer is, without a doubt, the king of the St. Thomas night snorkel.
The idea first came to him 10 years ago. He was spending long days teaching newbies how to breathe underwater, and invariably some eager beaver would ask about a night dive. "Well," he explains, "beginners can't dive at night, right? They have to be certified first. But there are no rules about snorkeling at night, so I started the tour."
And from that day forward Homer has taken groups – never more than eight people mind you – out into the water at night. Tuesdays through Saturdays, as the sun melts into the horizon and the rest of the world is steering well clear of the water, you will find him down at Hull Bay, or out at Secret Harbour, surrounded by a smallish band of hearty souls brandishing waterproof flashlights, flippering their way out to sea.
"I much prefer snorkeling at night over diving," he says. "You can move around better, and you can talk, which is key. If one person sees something, then the rest of us will generally get to see it as well."
And even after 24 years spent in Virgin Islands waters, with who knows how many dives under his belt, Homer's eyes still light up when he speaks of the world beneath the waves. "Last night we were out in Hull and a turtle swam right up to the group and just kind of hung out. We saw puffer fish and probably half a dozen lobster," he says, adding that groups will often see octopus as well.
"I think Hull Bay is the best kept secret on the island, look," he says, pointing northward along the sand toward Tropaco Point, "it's the middle of the day and there's nobody here." Homer also swears that the dive spots accessible from Hull Bay are among the best in the Caribbean. Inner Brass, Dutch Cap, Cricket Rock, Lizard Rock, Savannah Island, he rattles off the names of the places he takes his guests, pointing out that the concentration of dive boats on the East End simply never go west.
And if it's fishing you're looking for, Homer can do that, too. He's partnered with St. Thomas native and commercial fisherman, Jerry Berry, to provide angling excursions. These are absolutely limited to six people, and, according to Homer, Jerry prefers groups of four. "They catch tuna, kingfish, wahoo, dolphin, sometimes shark by accident," Homer says, adding that because Berry is a native of St. Thomas and has fished his whole life, he knows exactly where the fish will be biting.
The business is growing at a sensible pace and Homer's girlfriend, master-diver Alex Tepoel, helps out on the weekends now, taking people on dives and leading kayak tours. The two also run a little bar out of the beach shack on weekends – but no cocktails before dives! After, however, is another matter altogether.
Homer's Scuba and Snorkel Tours is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The shop is located past the bar and restaurant, almost on the beach in Hull Bay. Night snorkelers generally meet a half-hour before dark, at this time of year that's 6:30. And Homer can arrange to pick up carless vacationers in a jitney.
In addition to providing certification classes, leading dives, renting kayaks, taking people on night-time snorkel adventures, and fishing, Homer also rents all the water gear you need, including masks, snorkels, fins, regulators, tanks, BC's, and wetsuits. Surfboards are also available. Call 340-774-7606 to make reservations, or visit Homer on the web at www.nightsnorkel.com.

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