It is a couple of days late, as her anniversary is in October, but it is time to tell you the history of the RMS Rhone.
The wreck of the RMS Rhone is one of the most famous wrecks in the Caribbean, if not in the world, and we get to dive her! About 45 minutes away by boat over at Salt Island you find her resting on the ocean floor. Waiting for the many divers who like to explore her.
The bow of the wreck lays in about 80ft on her side and is as good as intact. You can see a real wreck and even swim through her. The stern section lays shallower, we dip back down to about 65ft but the majority lays in 40ft or shallower. This part is great for both novice and experienced divers. We do call her an advanced dive site as she can have rougher surface conditions and is prone to a strong current. But sometimes there is none at all, so you won’t know until you get there.
So let me tell you the history of the RMS Rhone, or at least our version of it.
Royal Mail Steamship Rhone was commissioned out of a city called Southampton, in the South of England in 1865. She carried cargo and passengers between England, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. She was 310 feet (94 m) long, had a 40-foot (12 m) beam. She could sail at a speed of 14knots, which was well advanced in those days.On 29 October 1867 the Rhone was anchored alongside the RMS Conway in Great Harbour, Peter Island. Her normal port of call was St. Thomas, however due to a yellow fever outbreak they had made their way into the BVI.
Back in those days they didn’t have any of the fancy weather gadgets we have today to predict the weather. When all the sudden the barometer dropped, they knew bad weather was coming, but because it was October and hurricane season was thought to be over they didn’t know how bad it would be. Saying this the storm turned out the be a hurricane and one of the worst in the BVI’s history. Saying this, she rode out the first part of the storm pretty well. By then however they did realize it was a hurricane and decided to make a run for open ocean, where a ship the size of the Rhone would fare much better. While they were pulling the anchors, one of them got stuck in a coral head and with only 1 anchor left they had no choice but to head out. As they made their way around Peter Island, trying to avoid the shallow underwater “Blond Rock” that lays there, the second part of the hurricane hit. The wind overpowered the ship and pushed her against “Black Rock”, Salt Island. There was a big hole in the bow and cold water ran into the overworked steam engine: a big explosion took place splitting the ship in two. The bow sank exactly where she lays now and the stern was left on Black Rock for years to come.
When we dive the bow section you will find a pretty intact wreck. We show you the pillars, signaling canon, life boat davits, crow’s nest, swim through the inside of her and finish up by the swim through famous from the movie “The Deep”.
The Rhone had a known number of passengers on her of about 120 and an unknown number that came off the Conway. As the Rhone was deemed the unsinkable ship, they thought they would be safer on her. You would think quit a lot of people survived. Unfortunately it is a sad story. Only 22 crew and 1 passenger survived the wreckage. The Conway rode out the remainder of the storm in Road Town, Tortola, without a scratch on her. Reason there were so little survivors is because rumor goes, they strapped people to their beds and locked them in their cabins so they would not be running around the deck slipping and falling.
Like mentioned, the stern was left on Black Rock for years, until the BVI government decided it was a hazard to navigation, or an eye soar. They commissioned the Canadian demolition squad and as it goes, boys with their toys, they packed the stern full of dynamite and blew her of the rock into the water. Which of course is perfect for us as we can now guide you over the wreckage and show you; another set of pillars, the dance floor, Captain Woolley’s silver teaspoon, the lucky porthole, massive bronze propeller and swim through.
Of course there was no dance floor on the Rhone, but there is a section of black and white tiles down there looking like a 1980’s dance floor.
Local legend says that Captain Woolley, the captain of the Rhone, still didn’t believe a hurricane was hitting when they came past Black Rock. As a good Englishman would, he came on deck with his cup of tea and was washed overboard, never to be seen again. The silver teaspoon is still down there though, the handle completely encrusted with coral, but the spoon bit still just about visible.
When we show you the lucky porthole you must rub it in a clockwise direction 3 times. The first time is for luck, as the 1 passenger who survived escaped through this porthole, number 26. The second time is for love, because he was Italian and they love all that stuff. The third time is so that one day you will return to the Rhone.
So now you know the history of the RMS Rhone you really should come and see her yourself! Who does not want to rub the lucky porthole or swim through the same swim through as Jacqueline Bisset did in the movie ‘The Deep’.