Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands

While sailing in the Sir Francis Drake channel, Salt Island is a great anchorage to explore!

Salt Island

The island, which is one mile long and one mile wide, has not been known to have more than 100 inhabitants at a time. That was a very long time ago. Today, it is a lonely island as the last man living there, passed away about 10 years ago. He traded salt for liquor to survive there. Salt from this tiny island can be purchased on the main island of Tortola and others.

The salt gets to the pond through seawater that is fed via underground seeps that trickle through the shore sediments, and then into the pond. As the water evaporates, clumps of salt are taken and can be purified or left dirty for other use. The inhabitants sold salt to sailors and vessels passing by to preserve their produce, fish, and meat products.

But even before then, every year a pound of salt was given to the Queen as a form of “rent” on behalf of the island’s inhabitants. This rent was suspended when Queen Victoria recognized the kindness of Salt Island residents who helped those who survived the sinking of The Rhone, a UK Royal Mail ship that hit a reef and went down near the island in 1867.

Explore the island

If you want to hike a deserted island it is good to stretch your legs. Wear proper footwear and use bug spray. You can make it to the light station on a peak that ends at the end of the trail to the right of the beach. Here you will have its spectacular views. There are two large salt ponds and you can also view your charter yacht at anchor near the only beach.

To the west, you will see the bay where the wreck of the Rhone lay. Some of the wreckage can be recognized in the shallow waters. Deeper is most of the main wreckage. If you are going to do some SCUBA dive qualification, the anchorage offers safe shallow diving. Near the coast, one can snorkel for a long distance along the rocky cliff.

On the south side of the island, there is another large bay for anchorage, however, this is never comfortable at anchor from the easterly and south-easterly winds.

The wreck of the Rhone

The Wreck of RMS Rhone just off Salt Island is a very popular wreck dive. The Rhone sank on 29 October 1867 in a hurricane, killing 123 people.

The Rhone, 310 feet long with a 40-foot beam was a steam ship rigged with two masts. She could do 14 knots and covered a new route from Southampton to Rio de Janeiro from 1863.

Only the second ship ever at the time, The Rhone had a bronze propeller and was also very innovative having a surface condenser in order to re-use water in her boilers and steam engine. The Rhone had the capacity to carry 253 first-class, 30 second-class, and 30 third-class passengers. The Rhone was transferred to the Caribbean route in January 1867, which was a more lucrative and prestigious option.

The area around the Rhone was declared a national park in 1980. She has lots of marine life and is quite safe due to the wreck being very open. There are large open spaces inside the wreck to swim through.  The wreck is covered with coral and fish and even has a local barracuda named Fang as a regular visitor.  There are eels, octopus, lobster, and even sea turtles to see on occasion. The movie “The Deep” shot in 1977 featured the wreck of the Rhone.

Many wrenches were still visible over the years but were stolen over time by collectors. There is still a “lucky porthole”, a brass porthole with the glass intact, which is kept shiny by divers rubbing it for good luck. The Rhone can be a 2 tank dive for the adventurous doing the bow section first and after a surface interval, exploring the rest of the wreck in shallower water. The deepest section is around 80 ft and the propeller can be free-dived at 28 ft. This is a dive well worth getting ticked off your bucket list.


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