Determined to touch a piece of history, I pull the mask and snorkel over my face, take a deep breath, and sink into the Caribbean Sea. My goal lies about 30 feet below the surface, a barnacle- and coral-encrusted rod that was once the rudder post of the RMS Rhone.
Grabbing hold of the post, I pause long enough to take in the rest of the sprawling wreck: a giant bronze propeller, the engine box and gears, the massive propeller shaft, and the largely intact bow stretching out into the watery distance.
The “unsinkable” Royal Mail ship, one of the largest and most luxurious making the transatlantic run in those days, wrecked off the British Virgin Islands in 1867 during a hurricane. More than a hundred passengers and crew members perished that night. But the Rhone lives on as the Caribbean’s best wreck to dive or snorkel.
Resting in shallow water off Salt Island in the British Virgins, the ship is incredibly easy to access. Merely floating on the surface with your mask in the water, you can view most of what remains of the once mighty vessel. The site is also wildlife-rich: Barracuda, moray eels, octopuses, and giant groupers are just a few of the denizens that call the wreck home.
Dive BVI offers scuba and snorkel trips to the legendary wreck; cruisers can join half-day scuba or snorkel trips to the wreck from Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda. Some of the trips include a short stop on Salt Island, where a small cemetery houses the graves of some of those who died in the disaster. Before leaving home, watch “The Deep” — the wreck that Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte dive is actually the Rhone. Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, BVI; 800.848.7078; divebvi.com.