A BVI Dive Trip to Remember
In February 2005, twelve of us traveled from different parts of the US to St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. We gathered in front of the Holiday Inn at Charlotte Amalia’s and moved all of our gear onto a 105 foot three-masted sailboat setup for twelve divers. We all raced to be the first ones on the boat to pick the dive tank and dive locker that we would use for the week. Everyone wanted to be on the port side of the boat because that is the side the ladder is on when coming up from a dive. Personally, I wanted a locker on the end of the boat so I can easily get in. I gave up the port side for the convenience of easy access to my gear. We all put our BC’s and regulators on the tanks and requested our Nitrox. We filled out the necessary paperwork and gave the Captain our passports, C cards and port taxes. We stowed our personal belongings in our rooms and came back up to the galley for lunch. The next morning, we cleared customs and started our journey to Peter Island and the Black Forest dive site.
There were five crew members on board; four of them had their Captain’s license so we were not hurting for experience. The crew consisted of the Captain John Beltramo, Dive Master John Skey, Engineer Jimmy Wheeler, Chef Rusty, and Marine Biologist Cris Finatti. We had one diver, Clay Weir, who was looking to finish his Open Water certification. He completed the pool and book work back home from PADI Instructor, Mark Miner, and was ready to work with NAUI Instructor, John Skey to finish his requirements. Clay, Max Pate and Charlie Brooks were taking the Nitrox class from John and three others, myself, Bonnie Cook and Melody Bliss were taking the Fish Identification class from Cris to earn their NAUI Underwater Ecologist Certification.
We did two dives at Black Forest and moved the boat to Spy Glass Wall where we did a later afternoon dive. This is winter in the BVI and it’s almost always windy. We were close to Norman Island which is home to the famous bar on a boat called, "The Willy T’s". We had the choice of doing a night dive where the boat is rocking and rolling or move to the harbor and rock and roll at The Willy T’s. The entire group passed on the night dive and instead, ate a delicious dinner on the boat and went to the bar.
The second day of diving started at Pelican Reef where we did two dives. Clay is now a new Open Water certified diver and the Fish ID class has taken the reef fish booklets and slates down on a dive and identified 17 different fish or creatures. Charlie has developed a sinus infection so we take a trip for some medical care to Road Town. This gave some of us a chance to do some shopping; a chance that Janice Welch will never pass up. While we missed the afternoon dive with this diversion, we made it up on another day. The night dive is at a special spot though. We are now anchored off of Salt Island and all of our gear has been loaded into the dinghy so we can dive the stern portion of the RMS Rhone. For some of us this is the first time we have done a back-roll from a dinghy into the water. It all went well and we had a great night dive on the stern.
Simple Picture Slideshow:
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On the third day of diving one of the advantages of being on a live-a-board becomes apparent. We have breakfast and the crew gets all of our gear loaded into the dinghy so we can dive the RMS Rhone Bow. This means we have started and finished our dive before any of the local dive boats even get to our site. The back-roll has become very easy for us and the Rhone Bow and Midsection is a dive that you can do over and over again. It is a fantastic dive. We did 75’ for 38 minutes and came up with great pictures and video. This wreck called for the wide angel lens to come out of their packing for shots that you just won’t believe. It’s great to dive the wreck but when you look back at the pictures, you can relive the dive over and over. We did a second dive on the Bow before lunch and then went back to see the stern in the light of day. There were several other local dive boats getting ready to dive the stern when we got there in the dinghy. Our Dive Master, John, checked out the dive site and gave us our briefing. He said that there was a current and it looked like it was fairly strong but possibly when we got down on the wreck, it would settle down. Denny and I decided not to take our camera equipment in for this dive. Bonnie and Melody decided to sit this one out. David Middleton jumped in and had some equipment problems and returned to the dinghy. Jan jumped in and quickly came back to the dinghy and decided to sit it out. I back-rolled in and came to the surface and gave our Dive Master the O.K. signal and then immediately left the air out of my BC and headed for the stern. Denny and I had agreed on this approach before we started the dive. I tried to tuck in around the wreck to find refuge from the strong current and by this time Denny was at my side. We checked out two other places on the wreck for shelter from the current and then met up with two other divers from our boat. Clay and Gretchen signaled that they were just going to go back to the boat. All four of us swam against the current to the anchor line. We all held on as we were wiped out like a flag on a pole. We spotted two other divers, Jaki and Bart Hofherr, from our party on the wreck and they also headed for our anchor line. We started our three minute safety stop and were relieved to see all six of us on the anchor line.
Meanwhile there was plenty going on at the surface. The other local dive boats were running all over trying to pick their divers up. One of their divers ended up in-between the floats on a big catamaran sailboat. The people in the catamaran kept yelling at her to get out from under their boat, like there was anything she could do but go with the current. We all got safely back in our dinghy and watched the show as all of the other divers from the local boats were picked up. We were so lucky to have Dive Master John Skey and his dive briefing. We knew exactly what to do when the current was out of control. He complimented all of us on how well we handled the dive as we headed back around Salt Island to the Juliet. Sometimes the weather just doesn’t cooperate. The Rhone Stern had been a calm beautiful dive the night before and just the next afternoon, we could have been swept away.
Denny (who is my husband of over 32 years) and I have around 350 dives each and we each hold PADI Rescue Diver Certifications. We both dive with Nitrox and take video and still pictures on most dives. We live in Indiana so the only warm water diving we do is when we head south. In the summer we do dive at our local quarries and lakes. We love the ocean and have only been diving for about four years. We’ve found that being in control of the dive and the situations that come up start first with you. Your training and experience gives you the best edge. I think the second factor that contributes most with helping get you out of any trouble that occurs at depth is thinking back to the dive briefing and doing what the Dive Master recommends. Our motto is always to try to solve any problems that happen at depth down under the water. If you keep your composure and think back to your training, experience and dive briefing, you can almost always solve the problem at depth. In this case, we located the anchor line and reached it down at 64 feet. We then followed the line up, did our safety stop and followed the ropes to the dinghy. If we had just come up to 15 feet and did our 3 minute stop, we would have been swept far away and then surfaced quite far from the dinghy, just like the divers from the local dive boats. Now I don’t know whether those divers were experienced or what kind of training they had or for that matter what kind of dive briefing they received, I do know that Dive Master John told us to make sure we either came up the anchor rope our dinghy was tied to or if we couldn’t do that then find any anchor rope and do our safety stop and then surface and hold onto that rope. There is no way the diver that ended up between the catamaran floats did that.
We finished off day three with a 64 foot 40 minute dive on Alice’s Backstep off of Ginger Island and then we called it a day. We could have done a night dive but the wind was still blowing and my body temperature had fallen. I was just ready for a warm shower and a light drink before bed.
Day four found us at Cooper Island and anchored to the Marie L and Pat wreck site. The Juliet was tied up perfectly for this dive. There was also a Tugboat close to the Marie L and Pat that gave us three multiple things to see and photograph. The visibility was easily over 100 feet. We did two dives at this anchoring and got great pictures with the wide angle lens. We all had a great lunch from Chef Rusty and were each doing our own thing like waiting to sail, catch rays in the sun from the upper deck, taking a nap in anyone of the many comfortable places on the boat. I personally was in our cabin downloading some digital pictures from my camera to the laptop when I heard them calling down the hatch that they had spotted humpback whales breaching about 300 yards from the boat. We all grabbed our cameras and jumped into the dinghy to try to see them closer. What an experience. We saw them breach several more times, but never any closer than they had originally been to the Juliet. We didn’t get any pictures, but this was one experience I’ll never forget.
We finished out the diving with an afternoon dive at Alice in Wonderland and a night dive at Alice’s Backstep. By this time the Nitrox folks are certified and the Fish ID folks were doing their last dive with the slates and underwater books. There was still classroom work to do yet before the certifications can be sent in, but the underwater requirements are complete. We were approaching our last day of diving before we can party and head back to St. Thomas. We get two more dives in at Ginger Steps. This is a beautiful reef where I went 79 and then 88 feet deep. The first dive we got great pictures of a southern sting ray buried in the sand with only his eyes and tail peeking out at us. He thought he was hidden and we got very close. On the second dive at Ginger Steps and our last dive for this trip in the BVI, we saw a beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray. His tail was at least 2.5 times as long as his body. He was cruising around 90 feet deep and was the last picture taken on this trip. I couldn’t think of a better picture to end on. Well, maybe the humpback whale!
We headed for Jost Van Dyke Island so we could party at Foxy’s. We had another fabulous dinner and then loaded up in the dinghy for an evening at Foxy’s. We enjoyed the music and drinks and then headed back to the Juliet so the crew could pull anchor and get us back to St. Thomas. Overall on this trip, we had the opportunity to do 18 dives, three land excursions, and two bar trips. Many of the group went onto the sandy beach at Salt Island and also did an afternoon trip to The Baths at Virgin Gorda. I personally sat out two of the dives and didn’t do Salt Island or The Baths.
I’ve been on the Juliet for three trips now: two in the BVI and one in the Bahamas. The Captain, Crew, diving and training opportunities, and above all SAFETY are always the best. All of us came from different areas in the U.S. and for different reasons but we all left with a great week of diving, land adventures, nightlife, experiences and pictures to share for a lifetime. I plan to be in Turks and Caicos next year on the Juliet for another experience of a lifetime.