RMS Rhone

British iron ocean going steamship sunk by a hurricane in 1867. It is now a very popular dive site in the British Virgin Islands.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1865

Year Sank

1867

Depth

85 ft (26 m)

Difficulty Level

Novice


RMS Rhone

Wreck Location

The Rhone lies within the Rhone National Park off the western coast of Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands. The area is teeming heavily with colorful marine life as it lies in the warm clear waters of the Carribbean Sea. The wrecksite lies underneath 30 to 85 feet of water. Despite the area being a "protected" national park, objects have been stolen from the Rhone over the course of its history and local fisherman have been allowed to harvest fish from the wreck. Save for a short period in 2011, the National Park is open for recreational diving most times of the year. A tourist diving agency known as Dive BVI does morning dives to the wreck every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday plus night dives on the wreck of the Rhone by special request. Snorkelling excursions in the afternoon over the Rhone on Saturdays. The morning dives also include a quick history lesson about the Rhone by the diving instructors accompanying the tourists. Due to this as well as the poor condition of the wreck, it's safe to assume Rhone is a novice level diving site.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   18° 22' 7.32" N      Longitude:   -64° 32' 8.16" W

Description

RMS Rhone was built and launched in 1865 by the Millwall Iron Works in London, England for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Her sister ship was the RMS Duoro. She was an iron hulled steamship 310 feet long with a top speed of 14 knots. She could carry 313 total passeners in normal circumntances. She was powered by a single compound condensing steam engine driving around by a three bladed bronze propeller. It was the second three bladed bronze propeller ever made for a ship. Her compartmentization was redone during her construction to conform to Admiralty standards. She made her maiden voyage to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from Southampton on October 9, 1865. Emperor Pedro II of Brazil paid the Rhone a visit upon arrival. Pedro II was an avid fan of science and technology. As if a premonition of things to come, Rhone was slightly damaged by an 1866 storm on one of her voyages, which had destroyed some of her lifeboats, furniture and cargo. Despite this, Rhone continued surviving multiple bad storms throughout 1865 and 1866 which helped lead to the incorrect notion that Rhone was an "unsinkable" ship. Sound familiar? In January 1867, Rhone was moved to the Southampton to the Carribbean route.

On October 29, 1869, the San Narcisco Huricane hit the Virgin Islands battering the RMS Rhone and the RMS Conway in Great Harbour. The two ships at anchor were dragged across the harbor due to the ferocity of the storm. Both the Conway and Rhone were in harbor for refuelling over the last ten days. When the eye of the hurricane passed over, things calmed slightly. Not willing to take any chances however, all the passengers aboard the Conway were transferred to the larger Rhone in a move agreed upon by both captains. It was believed by both captains that when the eye of the storm had passed, both the Rhone and Conway would likely be run aground onto nearby Peter Island. The passengers were all tied down aboard the Rhone due to common maritime practice. Conway then attempted to head for shelter at Road Harbour, but was sunk by the full fury of the hurricane off Tortola killing all onboard. Captain Wooley of the Rhone on the other hand immediately dashed his vessel towards open sea, many confident in the vessel's "unsinkable" nature. Passing by Salt Island, the eye of the storm passed and the hurricane's tail end battered the Rhone. She was thrown onto the rocks, jettisoning Captain Wooley from the bridge into the water, drowning him. The Rhone was then ripped in half. Upon contact with the sea, her boilers exploded catastrophically and the ship sank immediately. It's unknown how many people died aboard Rhone, given an unknown number of passengers from the Conway were also aboard. Whatever passenger manifest existed from Conway likely sank with the other ship. Only 23 crewmembers survived the disaster.

File:BRMSA 053A.jpg

(Intact portion of the Rhone's hull including the propeller shaft. Photo is Public Domain by user "Laiduan uk" at Wikimedia Commons.)


File:ARMS 132B.jpg

(Propeller and rudder of the RMS Rhone. Photo is Public Domain by user "Laiduan uk" at Wikimedia Commons.)

Today, the wreck of the Rhone is in pieces and has been ripped apart by years of hurricanes and corrosion. The hull has long sinced collapsed and there are very few if any closed spaces to visit in the wreck. Therefore, it isn't a wreck for Penetration diving as there's nowhere to penetrate. Thick heavy coral concretians and anenomies are growing all over the wreck along with a diverse and colorful assortment of marine life. What remains of the masts, the propeller, rudder and bow are the most recognizable pieces of the old steamship. The stern of the wreck was also blown up in 1950 by the Royal Navy who saw it as a navigational hazzard, meaning the destruction by the Royal Navy is part of the reason why Rhone is in such terrible shape. Nevertheless, Rhone is among the most popular dive sites in the world and is visited constantly. She was declared a "protected" National Park in 1980.

Footnotes

Dive BVI webpage for RMS Rhone




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2 Comments & Ratings

anonymous by Digital Sailor on 8/28/2018

In decimal degrees that's: 18.3687 N, -64.5356 W

anonymous by tom nolan on 11/22/2018

I used to crew on wonderlust trimaran in the 80s .. out of tortola..any one remember the the prop spanner got stolen one night ..

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