Location: Gorda Sound, Virgin Gorda, BVI
A hasty wake-up call this morning was partially prompted by the heady aroma of chocolate chip pancakes and an urgency to start scuba diving by eight-thirty sharp. Breakfast was had, en route to Salt Island where, off its southern coast, lies the coral-encrusted remains of a large mail ship called the RMS Rhone. We anchored in a small bay near the wreck site and quickly shuttled the first groups of divers around a rocky point to a field of mooring balls that marked where the sunken vessel lay beneath the waves. Upon entering the water and catching a faint glimpse of shattered bulkheads and scattered beams, you get an unmistakably eerie feeling. The story of the Rhone is one that doesn’t slip from your mind easily. She sank in 1867 while making a break for the Atlantic through a passage between Salt Island and Peter Island. The onset of the hurricane had caused the ship to drag anchor from Great Harbor Peter, a hurricane hole where it had tried to weather the storm. The dragging anchor caught on the reef near yesterday’s Fearless dive, forcing the captain to drop it and try to maneuver out to the safety of the open ocean. In a desperate attempt to keep his passengers safe, he ordered the crew to tie them all to their bunks (this was standard practice at the time. Just before reaching the sea, the Rhone smashed against Blonde Rock. Cold seawater gushed into her hull, and when it reached her engine compartments, she exploded. There were 123 casualties; the gravesite for some of these casualties can be seen from the bay where we dropped anchor. The Rhone’s broken frame now serves as a home for countless species of corals and reef fish and makes for an awe-inspiring dive — our favorite so far this trip. We saw turtles, barracuda, and squid as we explored the trail of wreckage. Some of us swam through the bow while others rubbed the ‘lucky’ porthole and found the underwater memorial plaque. Once we had cleaned up our dive gear and finished passage prep, we sailed up the Drake en route to Gorda Sound. The passage wasn’t too significant in terms of length, but it served as great sail training for the Classics Week to come. We ended the evening with a spaghetti dinner and an SLD lecture. All in all, today was another amazing day out on the water.