Placid waters and consistent wind make the British Virgin Islands a sailing paradise. Centuries of trouble in paradise, however, have made the undersea offerings just as alluring. Dive shops, tourism officials, and conservationists hope to promote the territory’s sunken treasures with BVI Wreck Week 2023 in February. There’s plenty to see and do.
Kim Huish, of the BVI Scuba Association, said the event is meant to introduce exploration of the abundant wrecks to both new and experienced divers. “BVI diving and our wrecks are perfect for rookie divers, photographers, and also those who may be a little rusty,” Huish said. “Our relatively shallow waters are warm and we generally have good visibility, with minimal current and an abundance of variety with fish life, invertebrates, and of course the growing number of art wrecks.”
Most of the new wrecks aren’t from unfortunate mariners but from purposefully sunk vessels. Many were put down around Cooper and Peter islands, where the Willy T, once party central for thirsty boaters, rests at the sandy bottom. The Kodiak Queen may have survived the Pearl Harbor attack but the former U.S. Navy fuel barge is now something far more exotic. Outfitted with an enormous kraken, she’s been underwater art off Virgin Gorda since 2017. It’s the same year aviation and scuba enthusiasts learned the word Sharkplaneo — a gutted airplane outfitted to look like an enormous shark.
There are plenty of less-purposeful shipwrecks to explore, most in relatively shallow water, such as the famed RMS Rhone, a former British mail ship sunk off Salt Island. Its stern is in just 15 feet of water, Huish said.
Then there’s Anegada.
Just 28 feet above sea level at its highest point, with 18 miles of boat-crushing coral arching out inches below the ocean surface, Anegada is responsible for at least 200 documented shipwrecks. Many of these went down centuries ago, torn apart by time and waves. But there are still remnants to explore.
Treasure hunting, however, is strictly prohibited, said Keith Dawson, of the BVI Tourism office.
Dawson said events include plenty of land-based events for non-divers to get involved.
Events start Feb. 12 on Jost Van Dyke with a pirate party at Hendo’s Hide-Out. The week-long celebration includes coastal clean-ups, youth group meet-ups, quizzes, and fundraisers, and will highlight a Tortola Sloop presentation and demonstrations by the BVI Heritage Dancers. Wreck Week culminates with the unveiling of an environmentally friendly giant turtle sculpture designed and created by Beyond the Reef.
“We curated events and dives to tie in with that rich tradition and wanted to be sure that attendees had a chance to join the fun even if they were not on Tortola, and may not even be divers,” Huish said.
BVI Wreck Week was born as a way to promote the territory after the hurricanes of 2017, she said.
“We wanted to find a way to remind the outside world that the BVI was still here and still offering an amazing underwater experience, but with a minimal marketing budget we had to get creative,” Huish said.
More than that, calling attention to threats to coral and other undersea life is vital, she said.
“Without a thriving underwater environment our future is bleak. It is bleak worldwide, but especially so in the BVI, such a small island nation reliant on both tourism and fishing. Having a successful BVI Wreck Week is just one small step to help make the future brighter for all of us,” Huish said.