You’ve decided to go all in after a life of factory work,,,,and purchase a third class bunk the day they go on sale on board one of the famed flying mail carriers,,,,the same ship that Emperor Pedro the II had stepped aboard in 1865,,,,the Royal Mail Ship, Rhone.
In October of 1867, she’s been to Brazil and back, now taking on coal in the British Virgin Islands because the closest coaling station is closed due to another threat of yellow fever. A smaller and slower ship pulls alongside as the “unsinkable” Rhone sits at anchor in Great Harbor,,,British Virgin Islands. (Have you ever heard the term,,,”unsinkable ” applied to a large, new ship before???Hmmmm like Titanic?). Some say that Captain Wooley was a very experienced Captain, but his scotch selection may have run out. The Captain of the other ship, the Conway, may have had a palatable stash for the older Captain on his last Command. Both ships made it unscathed through the first part of the storm, which they now made out to be a probable late season Hurricane. As the eye wall passed through, the passengers from the Conway were crowded into every possible space on the Rhone. The decision was made that the Conway would run for Rhode Harbor just less than 10 miles away,,,and Rhone would as make for open sea. This was a sound strategy as open sea gave sea room and Rhone could likely survive a smaller storm this way,,,,as Rhode Harbor is not well protected and would not be suitable for a larger ship of Rhone’s size. Upon retrieving their anchor,,,the Rhone caught it on a bommie around 33 feet down, and the order was given to cut the anchor chain. (The chain and anchor can still be found at the bottom of Great Harbor to this day).
As Rhone and Conway steamed out of Great Harbor, their fate was sealed. Rhone was truly in the eye of the hurricane as she steamed around the small outlying island called Dead Chest (of Pirate fame) and attempted to get through the smallish passage between Peter, Dead Chest and Salt Island. It was during this lull that all the passengers were tied to their beds or into their hammocks (in third class), as was normal practice to keep you from hurting yourself. Upon getting clear of Dead Chest Island and turning into the true channel between Peter and Salt Island,,,,the full fury of the hurricane unleashed itself,,,,as the eye wall of the hurricane was done passing over, calm was gone. As the winds erupted and exploded through the narrow pass between islands,,,,Captain Wooley was just getting served a cup of English tea by his purser,,,and legend says it’s his teaspoon indented into one of the masts that’s still there to this day. The great ship heeled to the side and a boiler took water into it, causing a horrific explosion. The ship ripped itself in half and lost steerage room, coming in close to Salt Island, where it rests today.
I’ve been to the wreck twice and and am still amazed by the photos and videos every time I see them. On assignment from LiveFree2SailFast.com,,,,we sent our own crack underwater photographer (Explorer Emi) to the BVI’s in January to take the following photo essay for you,,,,have fun with the pics:
Wait for Friday. I’ll show you an overall view of the wreck and orientation.
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