Visiting Salt Island

article about Salt Island, BVI. Photo of Rhone wreck Ribs of Rhone

Salt Island is our favorite island in the British Virgin Islands. While visiting Salt island, be sure to take advantage of the great diving, snorkeling, hiking, and beach combing. Salt’s most famous attribute is that it has the wreck of the RMS Rhone.

The Rhone is listed in the top 10 dive wrecks in the world and is also often slated as the top dive site in the Caribbean. For more information on diving in the BVI visit our dive page!

Salt island has 2 large naturally forming salt ponds. These ponds fill with sea water seepage and dries out in summer, this leaves behind a salt crust all the way around the ponds rim. The people of salt Island would bag this salt up to sell to passing boats.

Salt was the primary source of preservation for meat and fish before refrigeration was common, because of this boats would anchor off the beach and row ashore and stock up on salt. The old sailing ships did not have heavy lead keels like we expect to find on sail boats today, instead they would lay hundreds of ballast rocks in the lowest part of the bilge to add stability. These rocks were generally the round river rocks that were local to wherever they unloaded cargo, usually in Europe.

If the vessel took on cargo, the weight of the cargo would offset some of the required stones. Because of this, if you snorkel the waters just off the jetty on Salt Island, you will see many hundreds of round rocks that are not native to the area.
This is ballast stones. Ballast stones are one of the first items that you are looking for when trying to locate the treasure wrecks. As many boats sat here, the sailors would drink rum at night then toss the bottles overboard.

I have found many bottles while diving Salt Island that date back as early as 1600’s! There is still much old glass on the bottom from broken bottles. On occasion another old one gets pulled up from beneath the sand when when a boat retrieves its anchor. Sea glass shards can always be found on the beach as well as around the salt ponds.

The houses on Salt Island are privately owned although there are no longer any permanent residents any more. The last was Henry who moved in the mid 2000s. You will see some concrete bunkers on shore which were filled with wood then set ablaze. A steel door was then closed, starving the fire of oxygen. The wood would continue to smolder, turning it into charcoal. In some parts of the Caribbean, charcoal is still used as cooking fuel!

A walk from the beach to the back of the island to south bay makes for some interesting beach combing. The beach here is made up of coral rubble, all about the size of footballs. In amongst it can be some great shells, walking on the rubble is hard, go slow and be methodical about where you step. A hike to the top of one of the hills makes for some great vacation pictures.

At the western end of the beach at the settlement you may notice a large ring of rocks have been placed. This circles the area where many of the casualties of the Rhone wreck were buried. There is also a monument in London England to commemorate the dead.

Man head Point

Manhead Point. Salt Island, BVIMan Head Point, Salt Island

Man head point is the large headland that juts out tothe east of the settlement. While off the beach and looking at the point at some angles the headland looks like the Sphinx.

At another angle people say a Silverback Gorilla. A ride over to it in the dingy and cruising around to get different perspectives, some interesting pictures can be taken.

The shoreline between the beach and Man Head point is a great snorkel site. The water is shallow and calm. Southern sting rays, turtles, jacks, goatfish, barracuda and all sorts of colorful aquarium fish will be seen. We often see groups of 15 or 20 Caribbean reef squid here to.

Additional Salt Island Info

Another critter that you are likely to see here are octopi! Octopi are the masters of disguise, so much so that they have the ability to cross a checker board and change there color to match the board. This makes them impossible to see. They keep bad housekeeping habits. At night time they leave there lair and venture out in search of crabs and shells.

When they find a shell they take them home to eat them. Once the snail from within the shell has been consumed, the octopus simply tosses the shell out of their front door. So don’t look for the octopus, look for a small group of shells.

Right next to the pile will be a small hole or gap in the rocks. Take a look, there will be an eye looking back at you! Octopi make great little workers for collecting and cleaning shells for you. We know where dozens of them live and on occasion pay them a visit to see what presents they have for us today! Snorkeling the shallow end of the Rhone is a must.

On the south western side of Salt Island is south bay. This area can be a good anchorage during Christmas winds, anchoring is in between 30 and 50 feet. There is very large coral beds here so do not anchor here unless the sun is up high enough to be able to find the sandy patches.

At the site of The Rhone are many national park mooring balls which are close together and some are placed more for smaller dive boats rather than yachts. If you are on them be aware of your neighbor, they may be close enough to touch you. The area from the west side of Salt Island all the way over to the east side of Dead Chest island make up the Rhone National Park. Anchoring and fishing is prohibited within the park.

If your boat is over 60 feet long or there are no more moorings available, anchor around of the beach at the settlement and dingy around. For snorkeling, this will place you in a better spot to see the wreck. The dingy mooring is the 2 blue balls with a line between them, simply tie to the line and jump in. The wreck is just west of the large black rock that juts out from the shoreline.