Diving in the British Virgin Islands - Part 2
Home of Sharks and Barracudas
While the Rhone may be the most dived of the B.V.I.'s — and perhaps the entire Caribbean's — myriad wrecks, the remote Chikuzen is its best-kept secret. Two decades ago, the engine of the 246-foot Korean refrigerated ship died, but fishermen continued to take advantage of her cold storage and anchored her off St. Martin. After her days of service were over, she was banished to the open seas and set ablaze, to be sunk in deep water. But she drifted and drifted. As she neared the B.V.I., nervous locals dispatched a tugboat to steer her clear of shore. She finally sank on her port side in 75 feet of water nearly 10 miles north of Virgin Gorda. On a calm day, it's a perfect site for beginning and intermediate divers. The maximum depth is 75 feet, but there's plenty to see without venturing to the very bottom.
Although the Chikuzen is much younger than the Rhone, it is no less fascinating, and a trip to the Chikuzen pays off with rare sightings of really big fish, including sharks, jacks, and shoals of barracuda. If you're the first in the water, you stand a good chance of seeing a handful of reef sharks that call the wreck home and are easily spooked by the noisy dive-boat engine and divers splashing down into the water. Sure to stick around, however, are thick masses of tomtates, snappers, jacks, and spadefish crowding the hull, which is slowly gathering a furry coat of corals and sponges and will someday be as colorful as the Rhone. A school of barracuda forms a silvery curtain on the wreck, draped on top of each other from the surface to the seafloor.
No Artificial Colors or Flavors
If you're looking for a break from diving the artificial reefs, try some of the B.V.I.'s natural ones. The Indians, between Norman and Peter Islands, are so named for four rocky pinnacles that protrude from the water like a feathered headdress. Below the waves, a garden of staghorn and elkhorn corals are tended by throngs of lively tropical fish. Above water and below, The Baths of Virgin Gorda are a unique, otherworldly experience. Thrust up from the earth's molten core in rivers of magma, the giant granite boulders look like a big pile of stony Legos. The jumble of rocks creates sunken antechambers filled with glassy sweepers and lighted eerily by sun beaming through cracks and crevices, painted with rainbow-hued encrusting sponges and orange cup corals.
The shallow continental shelf that rings the islands dictates maximum depths of around 80 feet and has given the islands a reputation for being more of a beginner dive destination. But the short boat rides of 15 to 30 minutes to dive sites and shallow depths that allow marathon bottom times appeal to even the most jaded divers. While it's possible to squeeze in three or four dives a day, this is a place where even die-hard divers aren't afraid to take it easy.
After a week on the British Virgin Islands, you will either long for or question the logic of a society with traffic lights, fast-food chains, and home-shopping networks. But rest assured, there will always be a place where you can escape the hectic pace of the modern world — and now you know exactly where it is.
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