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The RMS Rhone of the British Virgin Islands is one of the most talked-about places in travel guides for the area. The reason? It’s a century-old shipwreck with a fascinating history that also just happens to be an excellent site for diving and snorkelling.
The warm azure waters surrounding the BVIs are home to a wide range of marine wildlife. Colorful fish naturally flock to shipwrecks to feed on algae and swim about, and the Rhone is no different. It makes for an incredible experience for divers to explore and ‘discover’- it’s arguably the very best dive wreck in the entire Caribbean.
A Brief History
The RMS Rhone sank off the coast of the mostly-uninhabited Salt Island (once famous for its salt ponds) in 1897. The events leading up to the ultimate sinking of the ship are as dramatic and exciting as any Hollywood adventure film.
According to historians the Rhone was a British Royal Mail ship used to carry both cargo and passengers to and from the Caribbean, Central and South America. A large ship of 310 ft. long, she was known and appreciated for her relative speed of the times. The Rhone had weathered several large storms in the past and it was thought that she was fairly unsinkable.
In 1897 the Rhone arrived in Great Harbour on Peter Island to refuel. A storm was brewing and the ship took on passengers from the ship the Conway, as both captains believed it would be a safer vessel for weathering the storm. The Rhone was to head for the shelter of open seas, and passengers were in fact tied to their berths to prevent them from falling.
The ships anchor was caught fast on a coral formation and had to be cut free. As the Rhone made its way past Salt Island’s Black Rock Point it was hit by the second wave of the hurricane, later classified as a category 3 storm and given the name San Narciso Hurricane. The ship was thrown directly onto Black Rock Point. It sank quickly, resulting in the demise of 123 passengers and crew members including the captain. Of the 146 people on board, only 23 crew members survived.
The RMS Rhone Today
Despite its unfortunate origins, the Rhone today is a popular destination for tourists. The area surrounding it was declared a Marine National Park; the only one of its kind in the British Virgin Islands. The park lies between Salt Island’s Lee Bay and Dead Man Chest Island.
Although it’s not possible to drop anchor directly in the area around the Rhone, the park has designated mooring buoys for charterers to use. Several commercial dive operators offer their services for those wishing to dive the wreck.
Most people agree that diving the entire wreck takes two separate days- the bow section lies in deeper waters of 75-85 feet while the stern section is found in at depths of about 40-60 feet. Much to divers’ delight, it is possible to swim through the bow. The wreck is also mostly exposed, without enclosed spaces (making it less risky to dive).
For non-divers the Rhone can also be seen by snorkelling above it. As you can see by the reviews on TripAdvisor, even seasoned divers agree that you can still really enjoy the wreck by just snorkelling.
You can easily sail to the Rhone Marine Park from Tortola, Peter Island and other surrounding islands. Contact one of our agents and we’ll help you find the best deal on a bareboat charter for the BVIs and give you our best advice on visiting the Rhone.