Salt Island

Salt Island is a small island south of Tortola with a lot of history.

You probably know know Salt Island because the Wreck of the Rhone is there. It featured in the movie “The Deep” with Jacqueline Bisset. The hatch you saw in the movie is entry divers use on the real ship.

At one time, 100 people lived on Salt Island – an island that’s a mile long and a mile wide. The island was owned by the government and residents paid an annual rent of one pound of salt a year. You can still hike to the salt ponds.

Wreck of the Rhone

Wreck of the Rhone, photo by Nadya Peek

The wreck of the Rhone is one of the most famous snorkeling and scuba diving sites in the BVI.

The Wreck of the Rhone is the dive site of the wreck of the royal mail packet steamer, RMS Rhone, an iron sailing ship. The Rhone sank in a hurricane in October 1867 after crashing into Salt Island while attempting to head to sea. Only 24-25 of the 124 people on board survived. Local residents found 8 bodies and buried them in a cemetary on Salt Island with a stone wall to commemorate the rest.

The site is an excellent snorkeling and scuba diving site. Snorkelers can swim right over the wreck which at it’s shallowest is in about 20 feet under water. They will recognize the massive propeller and other parts of the ship. There is also a reef and some spectacular snorkeling nearby. Divers can actually enter the wreck. Be mindful of the current that can be quite strong!

With a sailboat, you can get a mooring during the day. Anchoring is not permitted as the the Rhone is a national marine park. If the moorings ae all taken you can anchor on Salt Island at the Settlement or Lee Bay and dingy over. There is a dingy mooring.

Salt Ponds

Salt Ponds on Anegada. Photo by superqq

While at one time there were a 100 residents, there are no longer any people living on Salt Island.

Two of the more recent residents were famous for passing along the histories and stories of Salt Island.

Clementine Helena Leonard Smith passed away in 1998. She maintained the beaches and salt ponds and received the British Empire Member Medal and the Frederick Pickering Memorial for her social and cultural contributions.

Norwell Durant greeted tourists until 2004. He would tell them about how salt used to be gathered during the spring when the two salt ponds would dry out leaving a layer of salt. After gathering salt, there would be a large party. Salt was an important commodity in the days before refrigerators. (There are also salt ponds on Anegada.)

Both Norwell and Clementine on buried on Salt Island.

These days you can hike around the island, check out the salt ponds, the cemetery and the wall commemorating the sailors who went down with the Rhone.

2 comments for “Salt Island

  1. Keith Williams
    April 1, 2012 at 7:18 am

    I am interested to know if there are any names recorded of the merchant seamen who lost their lives on RMS Rhone and who where susequently interred on Salt Island.
    Thank You
    Keith J. Williams ..Birmingham U.K.

  2. Mo Penn
    October 29, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I understand that the crew were largely from the Southampton area and was told during this year’s annual reunion on the island that Captain Woolley (recognisable by his uniform) was one of the seamen buried in those unmarked graves.
    There is a memorial to all the victims of the wreck in The Old Cemetery, Southampton. Sadly, it was vandalised last year

Comments are closed.