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Anchor of the RHONE


In Great Harbour on Peter Island, there is a restricted anchoring zone directly over the site of the anchor of RMS RHONE. It took the popularization of SCUBA in the 1950s and 1960s to renew interest in the tale of the RHONE. Before that, no one really cared about the anchor as it only had historical value and tank diving was in its infancy.

Bert Kilbride

Bert Kilbride

One name that pops up repeatedly in this book is the late Bert Kilbride, a pioneer in diving instruction, diving safety and the creation of strict guidelines and procedures for amateur divers. In 1958, long before Bert became involved in the international diving world, he and Allan Batham, then owner of Marina Cay, made the first modern dives on RMS RHONE.

By 1970, Bert, a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified diving instructor, had designed Kilbride’s Introductory Scuba Course. His first student using these new guidelines was Mickey Glasser, who, after only 3 hours of class, made her first dive on the RHONE. PADI caught wind of the course and quickly flew training instructor Dennis Graver down to the islands to put the kibosh on what was then an unauthorized curriculum. While Dennis looked on, Bert taught 27 more students using Kilbride’s Introductory Scuba Course curriculum and within months, PADI adopted the same standards and the course was made an integral part of the PADI manual. Kilbride’s course now is simply called the “Resort Course”. It is arguable that no other individuals—with the possible exceptions of Jacques Cousteau and Lloyd Bridges—have done more to bring SCUBA diving in to the mainstream of popular cutlture than Bert Kilbride.

To back that up, in 1987, the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences and The Historical Diving Society–USA awarded Bert the very prestigious NOGI award for Sports and Education and he then served on the board of directors of AUAS for three years.

But back to the anchor of RMS RHONE: As described in the Salt Island section, the RHONE’s captain, in his haste to get the ship out of Great Harbour, left the anchor and more than three shots of chain on the bottom of the bay. At the bottom of the bay. At the time of the wreck, the search for the anchor was a mercantile enterprise as the anchor and 300 feet of chain was worth a pretty penny. As time passed, however, and searching proved futile; the quest slowed to the pace of an archeological and historical endeavor. Of course, it was eventually found where Captain Wolley left it and will be there for generations of future divers to discover.

But something was missing. The secondary anchor carried by all royal mail ships was not to be found, not in Great Harbour nor at the wreck site. The mystery of the missing anchor puzzled marine historians for years.

October 29, 1967, a centennial party was held on Salt Island at the wreck site to commemorate the loss of RMS RHONE, her crew and passengers. Yachts carrying notables from throughout the islands were there. Of course, Bert Kilbride sailed his 55-foot Hand motorsailer, BRIGAND, down for the party. He and his friends relaxed in the cockpit, each sipping a double hooker of iceless Pusser’s rum while they discussed the plight of RMS RHONE and the possible fate of the secondary anchor. Bert guessed that it might have been used during a last-ditch effort to stop the steamer from hitting the rocks. If so, it should be relatively close to the wreck. The angle at which the ship hit the rocks indicated that it had reached a point south of The Black Rock before being blown back and wrecked on the point. That October day in 1967, the sea was dead calm and underwater visibility was 100 feet or more. Bert pondered the question for a moment and not being one to procrastinate, stripped in front of his guests and those on nearby yachts, dove overboard and swam a few yards south of the wreck, stopped, looked down and saw nothing. He continued to swim and stopped every 20 yards or so to take a look at the bottom. He saw nothing of interest. After repeating the procedure every so often for another 200 yards, he was about to give up on his idea when he looked down and this time, by God, he saw it. He was too far away for anyone to hear him but the crowd aboard BRIGAND saw him waving and pointing down. There it was, the secondary anchor, spotted easily and seen from the surface even with out a mask. The mystery was solved 100 years to the day after Captain Wolley deployed the anchor in a vain attempt to save his ship.

Bert’s friend, Fergie Walker, owned POSEIDON, a yacht large enough to sport a powerful electric windlass on the bow. A few days later, Bert enlisted Fergie’s help and after a couple of hours of grunting and groaning, they winched the anchor up on the foredeck. They took it to Bert’s place at Drake’s Anchorage and re-submerged it in front of the bar where it stayed for more than 30 years. In 2002, Bert moved the anchor to a special tank built on Saba Rock where it is on permanent exhibition along with a cannon from the RHONE.

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