The Rhone is probably the most well known wreck dive in the Caribbean, and with good reason. The wreck is massive, and the only thing I regret about this dive is not being able to go back and do it two or three more times.
An all iron, 310 foot steamer, the Rhone was one of the most modern ships of her day. She was one of the first steamers to use a propeller instead of paddle-wheels, and had a full complement of masts and sails. Built by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, her job was to transport mail, passengers and cargo between England, the West Indies and South America. Her usual stop in the Virgin Islands was in St. Thomas, but an outbreak of yellow fever there meant that the Rhone was diverted to Great Harbor, Peter Island.
On October 29, 1867 the Rhone was anchored at the mouth of Great Harbor with a paddle steamer, the Conway. By mid-day the weather began to worsen. Both captains decided to make a run for the more sheltered anchorage of Road Harbor, Tortola. The Rhone's anchor snagged on the bottom, and in his haste to escape, Captain Wooley was forced to cut free and abandon 300 feet of massive chain and his huge 3,000 lb. main anchor (which is still a popular dive site in its own right today).
The Rhone headed out of Great Harbor and was making for Road Harbor through the Salt Island Passage when the second half of the hurricane hit. Even at full steam the Rhone was driven up onto the rocks on the western tip of Salt Island. The sharp rocks sheared through the iron hull and water began to flood the hull. When the relatively cool water hit the massive steam boilers, there was an explosion that blew the ship completely in two. Almost all of the crew and passengers were killed. Today the bow section lies in 80 feet of water, while the stern section remains in almost the same place it struck Black Rock Point in 1867. A massive wreckage field lies between the two halves, containing the remains of several boilers, some smaller hull sections and some spectacular arches.
The visibility was not as perfect as our dive on the Chikuzen, but was still excellent. Doug, Sterling, Aimee, Pascal, Delis and I started at the bow and made our way through the wreckage field, ending our dive near the stern section, and the Rhone's massive propeller. We were lucky in that there were no other divers on the wreck the entire time we were there. The wreckage is fantastic, and the hull sections are still in remarkable condition. The sea life is also extraordinary. Check out the pictures I managed to snag of a cute and playful porcupine fish hiding under a hull plate.