There are many reasons to charter a yacht in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) such as captivating scenery, unspoiled white sandy beaches, and vibrant reef and marine life. The BVI is a stunning Caribbean destination that’s enthralling in every sense, with gorgeous weather, steady trade winds and innumerable well-equipped marinas this part of the world is a true paradise for sailors. But, if you’re a scuba diver, there are even more reasons to consider the British Virgin Islands for your next diving holiday. When it comes to undersea adventure, it’s the numerous underwater wreck dive sites that exhilarate and tantalizes the practiced and novice diver alike and marks the BVI as the number one destination offering the most awe-inspiring scuba diving experiences in the Caribbean.
We’ve put together a list of the top 10 best wreck scuba dives, for when you make your way to the BVI for the scuba diving trip of a lifetime.
The wreck of the Chikuzen is one of the BVI’s most spectacular dive sites and is remotely located just north of the island of Virgin Gorda (6 miles north of Beef Island). Lying in a secluded sandy position at a depth of 75 feet, Chikuzen is a sealife oasis which regularly attracts an assortment of both pelagic and reef fish and is an excellent wreck dive for almost any level diver. The ship is on its port side with the starboard rail reaching up to about 50 feet. Except for the pilothouse, most of the ship is intact, with three large cargo holds that can be entered through open hatches.
Huge schools of barracuda circle above the starboard rail, as well as eagle rays, nurse and reef sharks, snapper, stingrays, and the infamous 600-pound Goliath Grouper. Jewfish, amberjack, horse-eye jacks and cobia are also regular visitors.
The dramatic story behind how the Chikuzen wreck came to her resting place, makes this remote dive site even more enticing. This 246-foot Korean refrigeration vessel was based in St. Maarten where she had been used to service Japanese fishing fleets. As the ship was becoming increasingly less sea-worthy, the government called on her owners to move the dilapidated ship as she was posing a threat of damage to the dock should a hurricane arrive. She was set on fire and sent adrift in the hopes that she would sink just offshore. Sadly, things didn’t quite go to plan and she drifted dangerously close to the Marina Cay area where local dive operators tried in vain to fend her off with their dive boats. Heavier ocean-going tugs were then called in from Antigua and St. Croix, and after a further unsuccessful attempt to get her further out to sea, efforts were abandoned and the still smoldering Chikuzen finally sunk.
Located just off the south-eastern tip of Cooper Island, this popular dive site consists of four wrecked ships, namely the Marie L, the Pat, the Beata, and the Island Sea. The Marie L was a cargo boat and was sunk in the early 1990s to aid as an artificial reef site. As the reef started to grow around it, The Pat – a slightly smaller tugboat – was sunk close by to support the growth of the reef. A few years later, The Beata was added to the now thriving reef area, and the final deployment came in 2009 with the strategic sinking of The Island Seal.
Divers will enjoy the variety of vibrant colored corals and sponges that have grown over the wrecks. There is plenty of fish species to view as well, such as grunts, parrot fish, snappers, moray eels, groupers and more. Given its location, pelagic fishes are also lingering around most of the time.
Wreck of the Inganess Bay
This stunning dive site is located just a short boat ride from the southern part of Cooper Island and rests flat on its bottom in 95 feet of water, with 45 feet of water over each masthead. The 136-foot island freighter was sunk by BVI Dive Operators Association in 1996 creating a picturesque wreck dive.
Resting on the sand, the Inganess Bay wreck is in great condition and can be explored with ease; divers can investigate the cargo hold, investigate the broken midsection and swim along the long corridors studying the walls which are encrusted with corals and colorful sponges. Sections of windows still hold their original glass panes.
Lizardfish, snappers, grunts, and stingrays surround the deck alongside the multitude of corals and gorgonians that flourish in this site. The visibility surrounding the Inganess Bay is generally great to good, depending on the weather, so at any given time you will have the chance to spot some interesting and colorful marine species. The site provides protection from swells, but even on a calm day, you can hear the eerie creaking of the bow as the surge of the ocean moves it back and forth ever so slightly.
Wreck of RMS Rhone
Without a doubt the most popular dive site in the BVI that you definitely don’t want to miss out on. As well as being a dive spectacular, RMS Rhone is rich in history and home to a significant number of unique and treasured artifacts from the 1800s.
Before she sunk during a hurricane in 1867, The Royal Mail Steamship Rhone was commissioned for the Royal Mail Packet Company to carry mail and passengers from England to the Caribbean. She measured 310 feet in length and had a unique dual design of both sail and steam power with one of the first steam-driven cast propellers. As the sad tale goes, Captain Woolley, the Captain during the fateful time in late October, had decided to anchor in Peter Island’s Great Harbor due to an outbreak of yellow fever in St. Thomas. Not realizing the velocity of the storm that was brewing, Captain Woolley set sail to make a break for open water away from the rocks and land and headed out between Peter and Salt Islands. Most people on board couldn’t swim so crew members were ordered to tie in all the passengers thereby sealing their fate. RMS Rhone was slowly pushed toward the rocks and eventually Black Rock Point on Salt Island. The resulting impact created a huge explosion splitting the Rhone in two and she promptly sank.
Today, her two halves are well preserved on a sandy bottom and her steel wreckage has become home to a myriad species of fish and encrusting corals. The bow section, which lies in about 80 feet of water, reveals the coral-encrusted cargo hold and other interior chambers. Outside is the ship’s foremast, complete with crow’s nest and bowsprit lying in the sand. The stern section contains the ship’s once power engine, her prop shaft, and enormous propeller. Practically every solid surface of the wreck is covered with a kaleidoscope of corals and sponges, and at night the cup corals and sponges turn the main compartment into a kaleidoscope of vibrant orange and yellow. Scattered across the surrounding sandy bottom are boilers, deck supports and other pieces, many holding fascinating relics of the ship such as tools or silverware.
The Kodiak Queen (AKA The Kraken)
The Kodiak Queen was famously one of the five surviving ships of the WW2 Pearl Harbour attacks. After spending her twilight years used as a fishing vessel in Alaska, she was eventually brought south to the Caribbean. After a battering from a 2010 hurricane, she was brought to rest in a shipyard on Tortola in the BVI. Intended for scrapping, The Kodiak Queen was discovered by a group of environmentalists and artists who decided she would be a perfect subject for their intended “fantasy art eco-dive” project.
With Richard Branson’s involvement spearheading the project development, a collaborative team of artists, engineers, scientists, and donors rallied together to salvage the Kodiak Queen from the scrapheap and began transforming her into a thriving artificial reef and fantasy adventure dive site.
A massive art sculpture of the mythical sea creature, “The Kraken” was designed and created to double as a coral out-planting platform to kick-start a thriving reef ecosystem and bring mystique, thrill, and fantasy to divers who visited the site. The artist’s vision was for The Kraken to look like it was engulfing The Kodiak Queen. After many manhours, this was finally achieved and the Kodiak Queen, being devoured by ‘The Kraken’ was towed out to the designated site and sunk. Excited dive visitors to the site are charged US$5 as a donation toward conservation and swim education for the local children.
Sadly, this iconic dive site was damaged in the 2017 Hurricane Irma and the ‘Kraken’ artwork is no longer fully intact. Despite this unfortunate occurrence, it is still a popular dive site and attracts plenty of interest, and more importantly, was the catalyst in a significant number of artificial dive sites and underwater artwork to follow.
Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park
This captivating underwater art display off the west coast of Granada is one of the most popular snorkel and dive sites in the BVI. The site was opened for public viewing in May of 2006 and is the first underwater sculpture park in the world. The water here is crystal clear with year-round good visibility making it the perfect site for this fascinating group of underwater sculptures that are based on the original works of British sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor. The fascinating installations reflect Grenada’s colorful history and folklore, making it an ideal destination for lovers of culture, art, and nature. Made from concrete and rebar, the sculptures naturally create an artificial reef providing a haven for a multitude of fish, coral, and sea sponge species and showcase the exceptional results of the grown of nature from manmade art.
What started out as a fairly small project has now grown to over a hundred individual sculptures, comprising both solo and impressive group installations. The sculpture park covers over 800 square meters of the seabed with the striking Molinere coral reef as its backdrop. The sculptures, some weighing up to 15 tons, are bolted to the bottom of the ocean. One of the most impressive sculptures is Vicissitudes, which is a group of life-sized figures of local children linking hands to form a circle. Located just 5 meters below the surface makes this sculpture a popular site for divers and snorkelers alike. Other interesting sculptures include a diverse collection of life-sized faces molded side by side into a large rock; a man poised over a typewriter while sitting in front of a desk covered with newspaper clippings; a lifesize man on a bicycle; and a classic still life composition of a vase and fruit bowl on a table. All the sculptures will gradually be colonized by coral, sponges, and other marine life, adding texture, life, and meaning to these spectacular environmental art pieces that procure a symbiotic relationship with the ocean and the creatures that have made them their home.
Buccaneer Wreck – Grenada
This 42-foot former sloop lies elegantly on her starboard side in 72 feet of water, just a short swim from the beautiful Molinere Reef. Her retained superstructure allows divers to swim through end explore the extensive variety of hard and soft corals in a kaleidoscope of colors, including black coral trees. Whizzing in and out and around the wreck are sea plumes, sea rods, red-banded parrotfish, damselfish, and the ever reclusive jaw fish. This wreck is also a popular site for Barracuda and is naturally photogenic.
Bianca C – Grenada
The impressive wreck of the Bianca C brings shipwreck diving and exhilaration levels to new heights. Known as the Titanic of the Caribbean, advanced wreck divers will be amazed by the site of the Bianca C. Once a 600-foot luxury liner, it was while she was docked in St George’s harbor that she caught fire and was towed out to sea where she sank off the south coast in 1961. She has settled upright in 160-foot of water. Divers can explore the fully intact bow section which looms into view, and swim down to her midsection where the huge on-deck swimming pool can be explored. There’s an elegant staircase to the upper promenade, and divers can swim into the cargo hold and around the enormous funnel that has toppled and is resting close by. After nearly 60 years under the Caribbean waters, the Bianca C is now encrusted with a stunning display of hard and soft corals, and is home to barracuda, spotted eagle rays and schools of jacks. The Bianca C dive is one of the BVI’s most awe-inspiring experiences, but due to depth and the possibility of strong currents, it is only suitable for experienced divers.
Coral Gardens Plane Wreck
When it comes to wreck diving in the Caribbean and BVI, this is a much quieter site than the RMS Rhone dive site, and not as impressive, however, it’s importance lies in what it ecologically provides to the underwater life that surrounds it. It was purposefully sunk as part of the BVI’s artificial reef program, close to the gorgeous Coral Gardens reef just off Great Dog Island. Schools of goatfish, sennet, grunts and snapper all frequent the site and sand divers and southern rays bask in the sands below. Beautiful coral formations have now taken hold of the fuselage and form a rainbow of swaying textures. With a maximum depth of just 50 feet in calm waters, this is not a difficult dive and is worth a visit if you’re looking for fabulous wreck diving opportunities in the BVI.
The “old” Willy T’s Floating Restaurant
Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands hard in September of 2017. The damage was catastrophic and the beloved Willy T’s Floating Restaurant was one of her casualties. Once the storm had subsided, the ‘Friends of the Reef’ environmental group decided to sink Willy T’s in Key Bay just off Peter Island. Willy T’s (original) is now an exciting new pirate-themed dive site that is attracting marine life and divers alike. A brand new Willy T’s floating bar and restaurant is back in its original location, just off The Bight near Norman Island where visitors to the BVI can enjoy a delicious cocktail while taking in the ocean from above.