You may have come across the British Virgin Islands in celebrity magazines, as a very popular spot for the rich and famous to show off their tanned, beautiful bodies and to have fun on their pristine mega/super yachts. Fully equipped with toys and gadgets that would satisfy James Bond.
If owning your own yacht was out-dated then how about your own private island next to Sir Richard Branson?
The BVIs has long had a link to jewels, gold and riches but it didn’t always use to be about the glamour. Before the days of the immaculate, luxury yachts gently crossing between islands, the British Virgin Islands were a haven for galleon ships discovering new land, carrying important cargo of meat, spices and gold. This of course meant it was a haven for Pirate’s!
These stunning chain of islands lie at the border of the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warm Caribbean Sea. With crystal blue waters and white sandy tropical beaches and the vast colour of luscious green that cover these volcanic islands it is no wander why it is a popular destination. The waters around these areas are relatively calm and consistent making it a favourable spot for sailors past and present.
The main island is that of Tortola (Turtle Dove). This is the largest of the islands. You would struggle to find one place where you look out to horizon and not see a neighbouring island in the distance. These islands all have something different to offer.
Vacations are all about the water here. More people stay on boats rather than resorts as this makes it easy to island hop. There are a few different options for those who want to explore underneath the waves.
- If you are happy enough to explore with your buddy then dive equipment is available to rent. From tanks and weights to the entire gear will be delivered to your boat. Perfect for diving on your own schedule, just grab a dive map and away you go!
- If you fancy letting someone else take the reins and guiding you then there are many operations that will take you diving. Rendezvous diving is also popular in this area, where the dive boat will raft up to your vessel, pick you up and deliver you back to your boat with all gear included. Excellent if you want an easy, hassle free experience.
There are numerous dive sites in the BVIs ranging from wrecks, pinnacles and walls.
The soft coral in the area is beautiful with many vibrant tropical reef fish. White spotted eagle rays are a favourite to see soaring the water gracefully showing off their effortless form of swimming. Under ledges you can find shy nurse sharks getting some sleep before their nocturnal feed. Follow the peculiar lines of shells leading to a crack where a tentacle or 8 may unfold out of the octopus den.
The wreck of the RMS Rhone is the most popular dive spot in the BVI. Sinking in 1867 during a horrific hurricane it lies broken in two, making it perfect for a 2 tank dive. The deepest part lying at 27m/85ft rising up to a depth of 12m/40ft it is even a popular snorkelling site. Rated 15th best wreck dive in the world by Dive Magazine, it’s not one to be missed.
The bow is the typically the first dive. When the weather and sea conditions are outstanding, you will be able to see the dark, blurry image of the wreck laying on the sea floor. As you slowly descend down you will come across the crow’s nest. Still very much visible even though covered in nearly 150 year’s worth of coral and sponge. One of the highlights of this dive is actually penetrating the bow. Starting off with a fairly dark corridor but then opening up in to a vast space inside the hull of the ship. Looking up, down in the skeleton of the ship and side to side you will not be disappointed with the life you find there. From huge spiny lobsters, eels and not forgetting the odd Great Barracuda that hide in the shadows. After moving through the huge bait balls that engulf you, you leave through the wide opening back into the light where the ship was once joined to the Stern.
The stern is ideal for a second dive, it is also great for snorkelling. It too has a swim through at the propeller shaft which you can’t miss. Expanding 18ft across it was one of the biggest in its time. Swimming through you will find on the curling lots of orange cup sponges, wrasse hanging out and other small critters in the cracks on the rocks. On this dive you will find more of the artefacts that have been left behind, such as a section of black and white tiles making up a floor, or a small head of Captain Wooley’s silver spoon and many of the mechanical parts of the steam ship. One of the most famous relics left untouched is that of the “Lucky Porthole” the only one left still intact with the brass hinges, frame and glass. Rub it 3 times for luck and make a wish. Don’t wish for money, as that doesn’t seem to work!
You may experience some strong current at times, which can change very quickly, but using the wreck as a shield results in an easier dive.
“The Rhone” has become the first and only Marine Park in the BVI. The act of fishing or collecting of lobster is prohibited. This is one of the reasons why the wreck is just as fascinating for the artificial reef it has become, and not just the spectacle of the ship itself.
Lion fish (Pterois volitans) in the British Virgin Islands
You may notice the beautiful but invasive Lion fish (Pterois volitans) in these waters. Unfortunately these fascinating fish should not be in the Caribbean Sea. They have no natural predator here and are therefore top of the food chain, damaging numbers of native species.
Professional dive guides are allowed to kill them using a spear gun. One of the ideas to reduce their numbers is to try and train the bigger reef fish, such as sharks to feed on them as they haven’t yet discovered that they can also be a part of the food chain. So don’t be surprised if your dive guide carries a spear gun along and treats you to a feeding show with some very intrigued sharks.
The numbers of Lion fish are very low and you may dive all week and not see one. If you do ever spot them it is always helpful to let the nearest dive operator know. As every little bit helps.
There is also new legislation for fishing which has come into action April this year 2016.
From now on if you want to come and fish recreationally or fancy catching your dinner for the barbeque then you can only do it from a boat that is registered with the Government Fisheries Department. Many of the crewed yachts available for hire have a fishing permit for that vessel. Unfortunately if you are planning to sail your own boat for the week, hired or owned by you, it will need to have the right documentation.
People are sometimes left disappointed with new laws imposed or how big a marine park is and get frustrated that they are not allowed to catch certain species, but these areas and legislation are helping to safeguard the marine life.
Although the pirates are long gone, the Caribbean treasures of the reef and underwater world remain, so lets help to preserve it.