Yoh bettah not try it, de man. Lots of sharks in dere waiting on you…
This was the warning proffered to me by my old high school friend and current St. Thomas resident, Roy Pemberton, in response to a suggestion that I might swim over to Hassel Island. From Frenchtown, the cozy and colorful seaside community nestled between Cyril E. King Airport and downtown Charlotte Amalie, the island looks close enough to touch, much less access via swimming.
This, I later learned, was not by coincidence…
As noted here on the Hassel Island website, the land mass was once a peninsula connected to mainland St. Thomas. It was the Danish government, the colonial power running things in the Virgin Islands at the time, that separated the two, the better to improve water circulation through the harbor, mitigating the spread of cholera and malaria.
These uncommon beginnings to its status as an “island” are par to the course of Hassel Island’s entirehistory, though. For a small land mass (135 acres), Hassel has seen more than its fair share of wars, pirates, one rather infamous murder, and various other notable historic events.
History buff that I am, of course, Hassel Island most definitely intrigues me, especially since it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that any effort was ever made to make its historical treasures accessible to the public!
The National Park Service administers Hassel Island these days, so you’ll want to get with them to gain access to the island, as well as info/maps on hiking trails to the various historic points of interest. Active excursions combining kayaking, hiking, and snorkeling in and around Hassel Island can also be arranged via Virgin Islands Ecotours.
Me? I’m keen on doing it all next time I’m in St. Thomas… though I’ll likely still pass on swimming across.