Salt Island, British Virgin Islands, is one of our favorite islands to explore, anchor, snorkel, sightsee, or play in the water.
Be sure to take advantage of the great diving, snorkeling, hiking, and beachcombing. Salt Island’s claim to fame is that it has the wreck of the RMS Rhone.
The RMS Rhone is listed in the top ten dive wrecks in the world and is also often slated as the premier dive site in the Caribbean.
Salt Island has Two large, naturally forming salt ponds. These ponds fill with seawater and dry out in summer.
Drying out the salt leaves behind a salt crust around the rim of the pond.
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 standard; because of this, boats would anchor off the beach and row ashore and stock up on salt.
Tell me about the Sailing Ships that visited the British Virgin Islands
The old sailing ships did not have heavy lead keels like we expect to find on sailboats, 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 load would offset some of the required stones. Because of this, if you snorkel the waters just off the jetty on Salt Island, British Virgin Islands, you will see many hundreds of round rocks that are not native to the area.
These are ballast stones. Ballast stones are one of the first items that you are looking for when trying to locate any treasure wrecks. As many boats sat there, the sailors would drink rum at night then toss the bottles overboard.
Bottles dating back to the 1600s can still be found around Salt Island.
There is still much old glass on the bottom of the seafloor. On occasion, another old one complete bottle gets pulled up from beneath the sand when a boat retrieves its anchor.
Sea glass shards can always be found on the beach as well as around the salt ponds.
Salt Island Residents
The houses on Salt Island are privately owned, although there are no longer any permanent residents. The island’s buildings were heavily damaged, and many destroyed in the hurricanes of 2017.
The last resident Henry who left the island in around 2004, is now passed on and buried on Salt Island.
You will see some concrete bunkers onshore. Residents would fill with wood then set them ablaze.
A steel door was closed, starving the fire of oxygen.
The wood would continue to smoke, turning it into charcoal.
Charcoal is still cooking fuel in the Caribbean. In earlier years, the island residents would sell their charcoal to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.
Walk from the beach to the back of the island and find South Bay. Coral rubble makes up the beach here, all about the size of footballs.
In amongst it can be some beautiful 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 is where many of the casualties of the RMS Rhone wreck lay. Follow my link here, which opens in a new tab for my history and pictures on the RMS Rhone.
Man head Point
Man head point is the large headland that juts out to the east of the settlement. While off the beach and looking at the point at some angles, the cape looks like the Sphinx.
At another angle, people say a Silverback Gorilla. Take a ride over to it in the dingy and cruising around to get different perspectives; camera buffs love it!
The shoreline between the beach and Man Head point is a great snorkel site. The water is shallow and calm. Southern stingrays, turtles, jacks, goatfish, barracuda, and all sorts of colorful aquarium fish will be waiting for you. Large groups of Caribbean reef squid often hang out just off the reef watching you.
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 checkerboard and change their color to match the board. Octopi keep lousy housekeeping habits. At night time they leave their lair and venture out in search of crabs and shells.
When they find a shell, they take them home to eat; then, the octopus tosses the shell out of their front door.
Don’t look for the octopus; look for a small group of shells while you are snorkeling.
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.
On the southwestern side of Salt Island is South bay. This area can be a pleasant anchorage during the Christmas winds with anchoring between 30 and 50 feet, with substantial coral beds here, do not anchor here unless the sun is up high enough to be able to find the sandy patches.
At the site of the RMS Rhone are many national park mooring balls close together, some are placed 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 over to the east side of Dead Chest island makes up the Rhone National Park. Do not anchor or fish within the National Park.
If your boat is over 60 feet long or there are no more moorings available, anchor around off 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 two blue balls with a line between them, tie to the line, and jump in. The RMS Rhone is just west of the large black rock that juts out from the shoreline.
Looking for more history on this beautiful Island? All at Sea has an article written in 2006 that will shed some more light on the history of Salt Island.
How can I book a Yacht Vacation to go to Salt Island?
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