Travel and Adventure

Diving the Wreck of the RMS Rhone

My brother had come to visit for a week and as you do, you find activities to keep your guests busy whilst visiting the island. Neither of us had ever been scuba diving before and we thought it would be a nice idea to try it out for the first time together. A little bonding session, as I very rarely get to see him as he lives in the States.

We had some great friends who worked for a dive company in the BVI and thought it would be a good idea to go with someone who I trusted for my first dive, plus the ‘friend’ discount was a bonus!

My brother Paul, Gavin and myself all set off early in the morning to drive to Fat Hogs Bay, a small marina where the dive company were based out of on the other side of the island. We signed all our paperwork, got our scuba gear ready and headed out over to Cooper Island Beach Resort. As we pulled out from the base and rounded the corner out of the harbour wall and into the Buoy channel, the dive boat broke down. We were then drifting onto the rocks and the crew had to perform an emergency anchor whilst they called for back up and we waited for another boat to come help us out. Once they eventually got the boat started again, we crossed over the Sir Francis Drake Channel and up to the Cooper Island dock where we moored up.

As Gavin is already a qualified scuba diver and an excellent self taught free diver, he waited on the beach while Paul and I ran through the basic theory of scuba diving in the coffee shop. We had only booked a short resort course, so after we had gained some basic knowledge of diving, we suited up into our scuba gear.

 

We performed a shore entry in preparation to run through our skills test which included techniques such as the pre-dive safety check, controlled descents, mask clearing, hand signals, regulator recovery, controlled ascents, free flow regulator breathing and the low pressure inflator. I never realised how heavy the tanks were out of the water – they weighed a ton! However, as soon as you reach the water the tanks become a lot lighter and easier to handle.

 

I am a pretty confident swimmer and I’m absolutely fine when my head is above water, but I’m extremely nervous when it comes to breathing underwater and especially being 30.ft. down. When doing the skills test I got a little freaked out when I needed to clear my mask, as you need to fill the mask with water and then drain it out, all whilst being under the water. This was not something I felt comfortable with, so I was hoping I wouldn’t need to do it when we went for our dive.

When we had completed the skills test, we loaded up into the dive boat and headed over to the coast of Salt Island where the Wreck of the RMS Rhone is located.

The Wreck of the Rhone is one of the best dive sites in the BVI. During a hurricane on October 29th 1867, the 310.ft Royal Mail Steamship Rhone foundered on Black Rock Point. The ship broke in two, and cold seawater made contact with her hot boilers which had been running at full steam, causing them to explode. The bow section is now approx. 80.ft below water, and the stern is 30 ft. down. There were approximately 145 crew and passengers on board the vessel and of those only 25 survived the wreck.

Once we arrived at the site, I started to feel extremely nervous and completely out of my comfort zone. I didn’t particularly feel confident in what I was doing, but my friend assured me she would be by my side every step of the way. Gavin and Paul were both very excited to dive and couldn’t wait to be in the water. I, on the other hand, was shaking slightly and secretly wanted to stay on the boat.

We got our BCD’s and the tanks prepared and onto our backs, sat by the side of the boat and launched ourselves in backwards. We swam towards the mooring line and I used this as a guide and something to help me maneuver down to the wreck controlling the descent rate more accurately. I had great difficulty equalizing and the pain in my ears was unbearable. I kept going back up again slowly, tried blowing my nose and then headed back down. I found this part of the dive the most difficult and to be honest this is what has put me off diving since.

Once we arrived at the wreck 30.ft. below sea level, I remember looking up thinking ‘Oh my word, if I was to loose my mouth piece now I am going to be a goner’. I tried to stay calm and enjoy the experience, but to be honest I was a total wreck. My friend literally held onto me the whole way around like a dog being walked on a leash. I was so thankful for her doing this as it made me feel much safer and gave me the opportunity to enjoy the dive a little at least.

The view beneath the water was absolutely phenomenal. The wreck was eerie but beautiful. We saw an array of sea life – tarpon, barracuda, a lot of smaller fish, lobster and spotted the most amazing turtle. It was incredible to see these extraordinary creatures glide by in their natural habitat. He looked so peaceful and serene.

As well as the fantastic sea life we experienced, we also got to see the lucky ‘port hole’. This brass port hole is considered ‘lucky’ due to it surviving the storm and the glass still remains intact. Many divers rub the port hole for good luck. I eventually got to the port hole after rolling around for about 10 minutes above it. My weights weren’t heavy enough and I couldn’t seem to swim down and keep myself steady. Once I finally got a hand on the port hole, I made a wish that I would survive the dive and make it back to the surface of the sea safely!

Whilst diving, I didn’t notice that I kept floating up as my friend Danielle was holding onto me and dragging me behind her. A short while into the dive I didn’t realise she had let go of me and off I went drifting back up to towards the surface, when Gavin came and grabbed my leg and started to pull me back down and hold onto me. Panic came over me and I thought he was trying to pull me further down, so I started kicking him off me and trying to get my legs free. He knew I was worried and tried to calm me down and explain I was floating to the top. I was a very trusting girlfriend at the time, thinking my other half was trying to kill me!

After 30 minutes below the water, we began our ascent. Again it was a slightly painful one, but I managed to pull myself up the mooring line avoiding the fire coral, and finally reached the surface. I was so relieved to be back on that boat. Even though I was terrified I felt a great sense of achievement. Everybody discussed their dive experience and had a fantastic time (obviously minus my inability to equalize, my nervousness below the water and the fact I thought I was going to drown down there).

I will definitely give scuba another try one day, as life below the ocean surface is incredible and I would love to enjoy it one day without being a drama queen. For now, I will stick to snorkelling on the surface until I become more comfortable in the water.

Gavin later returned to the Wreck of the Rhone to freedive the bow. The bow section is now approx. 80.ft below water, however it is relatively intact and makes for an excellent swim through for divers.

Gavin is an awesome freediver. Check out his footage below…

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