By – Nancy Terrell - (reprinted from All At Sea - 2005)


The history of the Caribbean is filled with nautical adventures and shipwrecks.  Nowhere is this more true than in the British Virgin Islands.  Since moving to the Virgins some 20 years ago, I have enjoyed collecting information on the numerous wrecks that dot our shorelines and reefs.  Of all of the islands in the BVI Anegada claims the largest number of sinkings due to the numerous reefs that surround the island.  According to Tage Blytmsnn, a true expert on shipwrecks in our area, Anegada means "the drowned island" (loosely translated from Spanish) with the highest point on the island being only 30 feet above sea level. Given the location of Anegada, close to a major north-south shipping lane, and with extensive reefs extending all around the island and up to about 11 miles seaward towards the southeast, it's no wonder this chain of reefs has claimed so many unsuspecting and ill-fated mariners.


The earliest recorded wreck is a Spanish vessel wrecked on Anegada in 1523 with many more since that sinking.  The very deceitful Horseshoe Reef extends some 17 miles into the Anegada Passage, one of the major trade routes of the Caribbean. Over the centuries, hundreds of wooden ships have gone to the bottom on its brutal coral shoals with only a few murky piles of ballast stones and long-removed cannons to show for their passing. The remains of more modern iron ships, such as the Rocus (also known as the "bone wreck" sunk in 1929) and the Paramatta (a paddle-wheel predecessor to the Rhone that sunk in 1859) present silent testimony to Horseshoe Reef's history of obliteration. Even today, Anegada and its reef are off-limits to most charterers and all but the most experienced sailors.


The wreck of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Ship R.M.S. Rhone, one of the most popular and highly rated shipwrecks in all the Caribbean, is situated on the lee side of Salt Island, and is daily visited by local dive boats, daysail boats and charter yachts as well as by snorkellers and scuba divers alike. In the almost 130 years it has been underwater, the Rhone has been transformed by the sea and is now as much a natural reef as it is a wreck.  A 310-foot long iron-hulled steam-sailer, constructed at the pinnacle of the Industrial Revolution and built in Southampton, England in 1865, the Rhone was of a crossbreed powered by both sail and one of the earliest steam driven propellers. It was sunk by a hurricane on October 29th, 1867.


Not quite as notable or easily reached as the Rhone is the wreck of the Chikuzen, one of the B.V.I.'s best adventure dives. In August 1981, the decrepit Chikuzen, part of a Korean fishing fleet in St. Martin, was set adrift in front of an oncoming hurricane which sent the 246-foot-long hull into BVI waters where it eventually sank halfway between Beef Island and Anegada. Today it lies on its port side at a depth of 75 feet.  The wreck is like an refuge for huge numbers of gray snapper, sea bass, barracuda, stingrays, cobia, amberjack and spade fish surrounding it in all directions. The Chikuzen's solitude and exposure to rough sea conditions actually helps to preserve it.


Another popular wreck is that of the 100-foot-long Fearless - intentionally placed at the bottom of a black coral wall at the mouth of Great Harbour, Peter Island. The Willie T, formerly a popular bar and restaurant anchored in the Norman Island Bight, was also sunk intentionally sunk on the sea floor near the Fearless.  For all of you elbow benders out there, the Willie T was replaced by the Willie T II located in the same spot in The Bight.  The ships listed here are just a small portion of maritime history that is located at the bottom of the sea in the BVI.  I hope that this information has just whetted your appetite for a great all day dive in our beautiful waters.