Volume 3 - British Virgin Islands: Tortola and the
Sir Francis Drake Channel Islands

Anyone who has spent much time diving in the B.V.I. tends to use dives on the R.M.S. Rhone as their unit of measurement. Dive leaders might dive the site two or three times a week. A 2-tank dive will typically be a first dive on the bow and wreckage in the deeper area, with the second dive covering the mid-section and stern. The total number of dives soon adds up.

The R.M.S. Rhone lies where she sank, which is not necessarily the most convenient spot for a dive site. Although close to shore and in relatively shallow water, she lies in a channel that has occasional currents. The currents can be strong enough to make it undiveable, though this does not occur often. There are several mooring buoys for dive boats, yachts and dinghys—see the colour coding of buoys at the beginning of this chapter.

Dive Profile

Dive 1: The bow section

There is a short swim from the sand below the boat to the bow. Visibility today is not particularly good and we are quite close before the dark shape of the hull separates itself from the murky water. It is hard to miss, as the bow section alone is more than 150 feet long.

The bow lies on its starboard side, with the foremast stretching outward in the sand. As we trace the line of the mast, we discover the crow’s nest is now like the mast, heavily encrusted with marine life. The life on the mast is a sample of everything that is possible: gorgonians, encrusting sponges, feathery hydroids, bluebell tunicates, along with their loyal population of cleaner shrimps and worms.

The bow section of the hull is also heavily encrusted, but because of its steel construction and the depth providing protection from wave action, it is still largely intact. The exposed deck and interior have formed a latticework of beams that provide a near perfect habitat for sheltering nocturnal fish. We see blackbar soldierfish, squirrelfish, and French and blue-striped grunts in tightly packed schools. Clams and small black coral trees occupy the inside of the hull, a sure sign that this is a protected site.

Swimming through the beams is one attraction of this section of the dive, though there are some worries about the effect of diver’s bubbles on the hull. If you look up as you pass through, you will see pools of air glittering like a mirrored ceiling. As you cruise around the interior, you are likely to come nose to nose with a large barracuda.

Exiting the bow at what was once the mid-section of the ship, we find the boilers and remains of the mid-section. It was the explosion of the boilers as comparatively cold seawater reached them that caused the boat to break in two. One boiler is attached to the mid-section and one lies near the stern.

Although these square lumps offer no interior shelter, they still attract crowds of fish, which school possessively close to the structure. Grunts and mutton snappers predominate and we were fortunate to see a school of juvenile stoplight parrotfish, too.

Watch your air and time, or your computer. The bow is at 75 feet or more, so most stores set a 30 minute limit, regardless of whether or not you are diving with a computer. The swim to the boat takes you back into 40 feet of water, so planning your dive so that you have air for a safety stop is still important.

Dive 2: The Stern section

The dive boat Cat Blue, a large spacious catamaran, moves off the mooring and takes a buoy in the bay for our one-hour surface interval. We take a different buoy for the second dive, one nearer to the stern.

We begin the dive at the second boiler and move towards the stern of the ship. The wreckage here is more difficult to identify and the ship’s beams stand exposed, at one point appearing like a row of columns in a Greek temple. Sergeant majors and yellowtail snappers weave around the beams begging for crumbs, a sure sign that the fish are fed.

A sudden change of colour on a nearby beam alerts us to an octopus trying desperately to match the colour of its surroundings. While hovering quietly above it, we see a second octopus jammed into a hole. The octopus in the open seems docile and we conclude that it is in the post breeding stage when the octopus stops feeding and slowly dies.

The treat of this portion is the swim-through at the propeller. At 19 feet across, it is an enormous structure and will be of great interest to those who enjoy wrecks. An alternative pleasure is the delightful cup corals adorning the walls and ceiling like a huge field of buttercups. Not to be outdone, golden crinoids wave to you from the floor.

This is a shallow dive so we have plenty of time to explore the wreck. From here we swim a short way to Rhone Reef (site 43) before returning to the boat (and our promised Budweiser).

Thanks to Nick and Lofty of Blue Water Divers.
BVI sample dive site map
RMS Rhone
20' - 80'

dive site rating