Text and Photography by Curt Bowen
Move over Robin Leach!

It could be you staying on a private 880-acre island surrounded by cobalt-blue Caribbean waters, secluded barefoot-soft beaches, towering rocky cliffs, and lush tropical vegetation. Imagine sipping your favorite cocktail as afternoon breezes gently cool your skin, and breath-taking sunsets play out in glorious Technicolor all around you. From your comfortable surroundings at the main resort, nestled on top of the 600-foot high hillside, you relax with the sounds of pink flamingoes, watch the drifting patterns of colorful butterflies, and luxuriate in the wind-blown scent of an endless variety of tropical flowers.

If there is heaven on earth, British Virgin Islands’ Guana Island must be it. Nothing short of amazing, this entire island is enjoyed by a maximum of 32 guests, with a professional staff who eagerly attend your every need.

The British Virgin Islands are a group of over sixty islands and rocky shoals that are connected by hundreds of square miles of fish-filled pristine reefs, ancient underwater volcanic canyons, and an endless sea of rippled sandy flats.

With a variety of depths ranging from three feet to the plummeting deep blue waters of the unexplored
continental shelf walls, the British Virgin Islands are an underwater heaven for all divers of any skill level. With thousands of protective coves and shallow reefs for swimming and snorkeling, it is also a perfect vacation spot for the whole family.

Diving BVI’s better underwater locations is accomplished easily by booking a slot with one of the area’s two main dive operators: Blue Water Divers and UBS Dive Center Both dive charter services regularly visit many of the well-known reef and wreck locations, including the world-renowned wreckage of the RMS Rhone.

Built in 1865, the 310-foot RMS Rhone was a Royal Mail Steam Packet Ship, which boasted 253 first-class, 30 second-class, and 30 third-class cabins. Commanded by a 25-year veteran, Captain Robert Woolley. On October 29th, 1867, the RMS Rhone and RMS Conway were anchored inside Great Harbor, Peter Island, BVI. With the weather starting to deteriorate from an approaching storm, the captain of the Rhone decided to head for the better-protected shelter of Road Harbor. Due to the Rhone’s much larger size, the passengers of the Conway were transferred onto the Rhone in hopes of reaching safety.

As the storm reached gale force winds, the large ship began losing ground. Captain Woolley ordered the ship’s 3000-pound anchor to be deployed in an attempt to prevent the vessel from grounding ashore. But, as luck would have it, the shackle became stuck in the hawse pipe and separated, dropping the anchor and 300 feet of chain onto the bay floor.

With the ship now at the mercy of the storm, Captain Woolley made one last attempt to escape from the rocks and reach the comparative safety of the open sea. The quickest route to open water was through the narrow pass by Black Rock Point. Hugging Black Rock in an attempt to block as much wind as possible, the Rhone threaded its way through the pass. But Lady Luck still would not show
her face. Davy Jones had his grip tight on the ship’s hull, greedy for the souls aboard.

Just as the RMS Rhone had cleared through the pass, and it appeared that she would make it to open waters, the eye of the hurricane passed and the winds quickly switched directions. Just minutes before, Black Rock Point had provided a saving windbreak, but now it was the sword that would split the ship wide open.

Category four hurricane winds grabbed the Rhone’s hull, smashing it like a child’s toy onto the black rocks. As the panicked passengers and crew attempted in vain to save themselves, the sound of splintering metal and wood gave way to rushing seawater. Like a slithering serpent, the intruding cool water quickly found the ship’s hot boilers. The expanding steam explosion pounded the final nail into the ship’s coffin as it ripped her hull in half and quickly sent both ends to the sea floor, carrying crew, passengers, and cargo to their doom. Those few who survived the tremendous explosion were tossed into the raging seas where they waged a personal battle against wave and rock. Only twenty-two of the crew and one passenger out of 146 people would survive. Captain Woolley would uphold the mariner’s highest honor: he went down with his ship.

Over one hundred and forty years have passed since that fateful night, and the RMS Rhone has endured many more storms and a great deal of human intervention. Early hardhat divers salvaged much of her cargo. The US Navy underwater demolition teams blew up her stern section in the 1950’s.
Finally, after 100 years, the government of the BVI designated the RMS Rhone as a national state park in 1967. Today, even though the wreckage is scattered along the sea floor, the RMS Rhone is a must-dive location for all who visit the BVI.

If your travel plans do not include your own private island, the main island of Tortola has many accommodations ranging from the penny-pincher’s delight to the admiral’s club traveler. Nestled into the lush greens of Tortola’s north shore, Sugar Mill Resort is an elegant and historical landmark that provides
accommodations fit for a prince, at an excellent mid-ranged price Boasting its own sea-side dock, restaurant, lounge, and large swimming pool, Sugar Mill Hotel is privately secluded but still within fifteen minutes of the main island dive shop and sailing marina.

If you feel like taking a day or afternoon off from exploring BVI’s underwater wonderland, there is a myriad of fun activities for the devoted couple or entire Brady Bunch-sized family.

The British Virgin Islands are known as one of the world’s largest sailing capitals. At any given time, you can view hundreds of tall white sails decorating the horizon. Horizon Yacht Charters offers any sized sailing vessel from a small two-man dinghy to a super sailing yacht equipped with more fancy amenities than the average millionaire’s home. For those who wish to charter a
sailing vessel, but still want to put in their daily time underwater, UBS Dive Center and Dive BVI offers the unique rendezvous dive service of meeting up with your private yacht and whisking you away to visit a couple of the best dive locations, then returning you to your vessel just in time for the evening wine and cheese.

The BVI still holds many unexplored dive locations. UBS Dive Center and Advanced Diver Magazine are currently working out logistics for the first closed circuit rebreather deep wall expedition, tentatively planned for the spring of 2008. Watch ADM On-Line for dates, costs, and dive logistics.

Located a mere two to three hours air flight from most of the eastern United States, the British Virgin Islands is a must-dive location for any serious or not-so-serious diver and their significant other or entire family.
Guana Island:
Sugar Mill Hotel:
Blue Water Divers:
UBS Dive Center:
Horizon Yacht Charters: