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  • Day179

    Scuba on the RMS Rhone

    March 17, 2016 in British Virgin Islands ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    We eventually left Christmas Cove for Cooper and Salt Island of the Channel Islands, to dive on the famed RMS Rhone. We descended at the stern to 35 feet and descended our way forward to the bow (the bowsprit lay at 90 feet). Within minutes of our descent we encountered a giant green moray eel….. swimming! He swam right between us! I didn’t realize they ever left their little caves… This beast was at least 10 feet long and slithered through the water gracefully, finally diving into a compartment in the back of what was once part of an engine. I thought it exquisite but cute; while its head & body was hidden about 3 feet of its tail was still exposed as it had outgrown its old hiding spots. Mike later said he had the urge to pull on the tail; needless to say I’m glad he suppressed his 10 year old self. We swam back and forth over and under the old engine room and decaying hull. The RMS Rhone broke in two and now rests on its side so you can see old portholes from above and swim into what once was the deck. We saw some enormous lobsters and beautiful angel fish. The amount of coral and fish life was amazingly bountiful and beautiful.dive site.
    But not so much that it took my mind off the fact that I was now 90 feet underwater and every inch of me was compressed by more than a few atmospheres. It’s a little alarming how long it takes your air bubbles to reach the surface at 90 feet. Feeling a little cold and recognizing I was approaching low air, we both slowly ascended on a mooring line – zero complications. No fire coral to report of.

    Background on the RMS Rhone:

    RhoneThe RMS Rhone was a 310 ft mail steamer. Powered by sail (2 masts) and steam engine. On October 29 of 1867, Robert F. Wooley captained the ship and was preparing her for the return voyage to England. The end of October generally marks the end of hurricane season, so when a Northerly wind began to blow and barometer began to fall, he dismissed it as a northerly front. At the time it was a beautiful day but the captain directed the ship to Road Town, Tortolla to weather the “storm”. At 11 AM, the barometer fell to 27.9 and the sky darkened quickly. Immense winds blew from the NNW destroying the main sails & rigging. A lull passed over so the captain made a the quick order to anchor. But the shackle of the cable caught in the hawsepipe…. (And translation for all the non-maritime folk… ‘messed up their ability to anchor – real bad’.). They were forced to drop the 3,000 lb. anchor and all 300 ft of anchor chain (trans: ‘seriously not good’). Captain Wooley took the appropriate option of weathering the storm out at sea. It was with full engines running, the RMS Rhone turned out to cross the Sir Francis Drake Channel and pass the Channel Islands. By that time the RMS Rhone had almost navigated its way through the Channel Islands, the SSW winds had started up in full strength and forced the RMS Rhone into the rocks, just off of Salt Island. The boat heeled over and broke in two, sinking instantly. There were crew and passengers onboard; of the survivors, I believe, 18 or so crew & 2 passengers survived the sinking.
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