The Bow of the RhoneBeautifully encrusted, the Rhone makes for an exciting dive, day or night.
In the morning, we make a dive on Norman’s Spyglass Wall. Pirates once posted lookouts on Spyglass Hill, which overlooks the site, ready to attack unsuspecting prey. Underwater, the reef is a mini wall with numerous holes and pockets stuffed with reef tropicals, and decorated with branching sponges and large sea fans. We spot the largest Caribbean spiny lobster I’ve ever seen. It menaces us for a bit, then shoots off like a torpedo to find a quieter hiding place. We surface to a breakfast of cinnamon raisin French toast with caramelized bananas and syrup, all topped with crispy bacon. And then — you guessed it — we gear up for a dive at Rainbow Canyons. This shallow reef offers as much in the sand flats as it does on the reef. A garden of eels dances for us until we get too close, and they zip back into the sand. We also spot a couple of yellow jawfish.
After the dive, My Ann heads to the Norman Island bay known as the Bight. We climb into the dinghy and motor the short distance to Willy T’s Floating Bar & Restaurant, a popular stop for yachties doing a bar-hopping-by-boat tour. The crowd is tame when we’re there, but this is a place known for rowdy revelries that include topless women, and the bar runs loops of photos to prove it. The original Willy T’s — a classic wooden Baltic Trader — sank on its mooring in 1995. That vessel was replaced by a 100-foot steel-hulled one with plenty of room for dinghies and small boats to tie up. On this afternoon, it’s a nice place to socialize with other sailors, get a basket of conch fritters served with a tangy sauce, have a Carib and enjoy the vista. If you have a Painkiller, don’t say I didn’t warn you — the bartenders here favor generous pours.
Our experience while at anchor in the Bight is typical of the atmosphere you’ll find at many of the anchorages sprinkled throughout the BVI. Never-ending blues all around as well as dinghies bustling to and fro, folks snorkeling in the shallows, sunbathers on the beach, and at least one beach bar to keep things lively. Other anchorages — like Mountain Point on Virgin Gorda, where we spend one night — are sheltered refuges. When we first arrive, we’re greeted by ruddy turnstones and little else, a stark contrast to the Bight. Jeff makes a night dive at the site known as Paul’s Grotto, and he’s immediately tailed by a posse of tarpon. It’s surgy in the shallows but lots to see near the boat. And afterward, it’s another lovely dinner; tonight it’s baked chicken in a ginger-infused wine sauce.
We spend the next couple of days rendezvousing with a handful of BVI dive operations, all first-rate. We choose to have My Ann get us to the docks — we meet PADI Five Star IDC Sail Caribbean Divers at Hodges Creek Marina on Tortola and Dive BVI at Yacht Harbour on Virgin Gorda — but both operations also pick up divers from their sailboats. It makes the ride out to the sites a bit longer, but we love the camaraderie that enlivens the sail-and-dive experience.
One of our favorite sites is Carrot Shoal, off the southwest tip of Peter Island. It’s an open-water site that our divemaster says is shaped “like a railroad train parked on an underwater platform.” The platform rises from a 60- to 70-foot bottom and levels off at 40 feet. It’s cut through in several places, which gives it the appearance of separate railway cars. We fin in and out of these cuts until we reach the end of the formation and find a low archway.
We discover a reward at every turn when we drop down on Angelfish Reef, on the lee side of Norman Island. A rocky maze of canyons and ridges, the site may have been named for its resident angelfish, but we bump into a number of beefy nurse sharks — some are napping, but others are surprisingly active. We also spend some time in a small cave stuffed with silversides and swimming with a curious juvenile hawksbill turtle.
The next day, when we’re given the briefing on Coral Gardens off Great Dog Island, the divemaster says, “We’ll see how the current is — if it’s not too strong, we’ll swim over to the Plane Wreck.” We explore the reef for a bit and find the current is negligible, so the divemaster motions for us to follow. The Plane Wreck is a former interisland commuter plane that never quite made it into the air during what turned out to be its final takeoff. BVI dive operators persuaded the government to let them move the fuselage (no wings or engines) and sink it off Great Dog. As soon as we arrive, three barracuda greet us, though they don’t hang around long. This is a fun wreck to explore, and we’re reluctant to leave it.
Our last day of diving is at Wreck Alley, an open-water collection of wrecks off Cooper Island: the Marie L, a cargo boat intentionally sunk in the early 1990s; Pat, a tugboat sunk a few years later; Beata, sunk in 2001; and Island Seal, sunk in 2009. The wrecks are relatively deep, in about 85 feet of water, so bottom time is limited, but they offer nice photo opportunities for shutterbugs, especially when conditions are good.
It’s often said about live-aboards that the routine is sleep-eat-dive-repeat. While this routine is also true aboard My Ann, there’s a loveliness about it that sets it apart. From the gourmet meals and special drinks to the mellow transits to beautiful anchorages, My Ann offers a luxurious way to experience the British Virgin Islands the way these islands were meant to be enjoyed — from the water. The week has sadly come to an end, but not before making me a lifetime BVI fan. I can’t wait to sample the diving and sailing lifestyle again — and some more meals aboard My Ann.
Special thanks to …
The Moorings (My Ann)
Fort Recovery Beachfront Villa & Suites Hotel
Sail Caribbean Divers
Blue Water Divers