One of the Caribbean’s most popular wreck dive sites is home to the wreck of the RMS Rhone that wrecked on October 29, 1867 off the coast of Salt Island in the British Islands. Approximately 123 people lost their lives in the hurricane that abruptly ended the era of the British packet ship owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.
Powered by steam and sail, RMS Rhone ran between England, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, carrying passengers and cargo. The 310-foot long ship also carried the distinction of having the second bronze propeller ever built. From her maiden voyage in the summer of 1865 through to her next five trips, she remain unscathed even when weathering severe storms. Afterward she worked on the West Indies Route. Known for her impressive speed and decorative cabins, passengers quickly became enamored with the RMS Rhone.
Rhone rested alongside the RMS Conway in Great Harbour, Peter Island on October 19, 1867 so she could refuel. Both ships had their anchors dragged as a storm was brewing out at sea. The relative complacency both masters had them thinking hurricane season was over. But as the storm grew in strength, the captains wondered if they might be blown onto the shore of Peter Island. It was decided they’d set sail for the open waters.
Since Rhone was considered the stronger ship, passengers were taken from the Conway onto Rhone. Conway would make her way to Road Harbour. In those days, in order to prevent passengers from being injured during a storm at sea, they were tied to their beds; an unfortunate practice that most likely increased the loss of life.
As fate would have it, the Conway was lost with all hands off the south side of Tortola. The Rhone‘s anchor was caught and subsequently cut loose, the remains of it are visible in Great Harbour. Rhone‘s Captain Wooley tried to escape by sailing between Black Rock Point of Salt Island and Dead Chest Island. Venturing past the Black Rock Point, the hurricane-force winds impaled the ship against Blonde Rock, an underwater reef. Captain Wooley quickly went overboard and legend says his teaspoon is lodged in the wreck’s coral. RMS Rhone exploded after breaking in two, the ferocious sea water mixing with the hot steam from her boilers.
A few artifacts such as wrenches and brass portholes can still be seen where her wreck lies. The surrounding area became a national park in 1967.
Photo credit: Wikipedia public domain image.
© Copyright Vince Capone 2013