The British Virgin Islands are best known for perfect sailing conditions, but they also have more than 100 dive sites well worth an underwater visit. While the BVI may not have walls or drift diving, it does have sites full of stunning coral gardens, canyons, tunnels, caverns, grottos, and wrecks teaming with underwater life of every size and kind. It also has dive operators who like to pamper and satisfy their guests, from newly certified to advanced. Conservation is very much in effect, with marked buoys at the more popular sites. 

Most of the 60 islands and cays in the BVI line the 18 mile long Sir Frances Drake Channel. Many sites are in the 15' to 50' range, with others having 60' to 80' depths. Two of the deepest, easily accessible dives are the Rhone at 80' and Ginger Island Alice's Steps at 90'. Most dives are moored and current is almost non-existent, providing a haven for underwater photographers. Needless to say, there are plenty of great sites to bedazzle new divers as well as the advanced or expert. 

BVI diving can be split into three different zones with some overlap centered around the wreck of the Rhone near Salt Island. Because of the immense size of the BVI and the endless array of underwater choices, it is almost impossible to stay at one location or resort and dive all three regions. 

map of the bvi
1. North and Northeast BVI - Those staying on Virgin Gorda, particularly the North Sound area, can dive The Wreck of the Chikuzen 7 miles north in open waters, the Dogs located west of the island, Ginger Island southwest of V.G., Cooper Island, and over to the famous Wreck of the Rhone off Salt Island. The Chikuzen and Rhone, the farthest dives from Virgin Gorda will take about an hour to reach. The two dive operators based in the North Sound area are Kilbrides Underwater Tours and DIVE BVI Leverick Bay which also has branches at Little Dix, and Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor. 

2. South Central BVI - Those staying on Peter Island (Dive BVI), Cooper Island (Underwater Safaris), or in Road Town, Tortola (Underwater Safaris or Baskin in the Sun) can dive the centrally located Rhone and all of the sites near Cooper, Peter, and Norman Island; all operations will go to Ginger Island, conditions permitting, which is about an hour boat ride from Tortola and Peter Island. 

3. West BVI - Those staying on the northwest side of Tortola can dive with Baskin in the Sun, West End in an area from Jost Van Dyke, through the eastern part of St. John USVI to Norman Island. Trips to the Rhone may take an hour and half to reach in small dive boats. 

If you want to "try" to see the whale migration (whales permitting!), go between late December and early April, stay in the North Sound area, and do advanced dives in open waters north of Virgin Gorda at the Chikuzen and Invisibles. The most likely months to see whales is during February and March when they have babies and must travel on or near the surface. Mike at Kilbrides has scheduled trips to the Chikuzen, as does Dive BVI; both will pick up divers from any resort or sailboats in the North Sound area. Kilbrides is often flexible - if all divers agree on a site, Mike will sometimes change his schedule, weather and conditions permitting. We liked to check with both and chose our operator based on where they were going. Whales might also be seen near the Dogs, located between Virgin Gorda and Beef Island, but they seldom enter Drakes Channel where they can be heard, but not often seen. 

If you have a choice of dive operations, try all of them to find the one you like best. The only one not listed above is Blue Water Divers out of Nanny Cay Marina, Tortola which also rendezvous with sailboats. I have heard good reports about them, but have no first hand information. 

Water temperature can vary from 76 degrees in January/February to 84 degrees in August/September. Constant trade winds provide a pleasant year around climate. Rainfall averages less than 50" annually, with most short tropical showers occuring during the hurricane season from mid-July to mid-November. Visibility averages 100', but can drop to 60' in the warm summer months, or reach almost 200' in the winter and spring months. 

The British Virgin Islands are extremely conservation minded and the extensive system of moorings is maintained by the National Parks Trust and Ministry of Natural Resources which are dedicated to the preservation of reef areas and marine life. 

The flyer below was produced by the British Virgin Islands Natural History Society and talented artist Roy Ellis. Pick up a copy on your visit to the BVIs - the reverse side has many excellent guidelines for snorkelers and divers to help protect the underwater world. 

Any of the good travel guides such as Fieldings, Frommer's, Virgin Islands Alive by Harriet Greenberg, and the Diving and Snorkeling Guide to The British Virgin Islands by Linda Sorensen should be available at your local bookstore. 

Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands (which also has very detailed maps, shopping, diving, restaurant, and hotel information - it could be called the COMPLETE guide to the Virgins). Call (800) 330-9542 or (888) 330-9542 for current price and mailing costs or to request a free catalog full of other guides, Caribbean cookbooks, maps, and neat nautical gifts. 

The Guide to Diving and Snorkeling in the British Virgin Islands by Jeff Williams; it has detailed maps and descriptions of individual sites near the islands along the Sir Francis Drake Channel. It is usually available at most BVI dive shops. 

An absolute must is the BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS Welcome Tourist Guide, a bi-monthly publication with current information about everything in the BVI. Send $25 (U.S. addresses) or $37 (non-U.S. addresses) for an annual subscription to BVI WELCOME GUIDE, P.O.Box 133, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Single issues are $5. Order long before you need it - BVI mail is as slow as their hawksbill turtles. 

A detailed BVI dive site chart/map is available at the dive operations. All proceeds go to the BVI National Parks Trust. Nice enough to hang on the wall too - if you don't wear it out planning your dives in the BVI! 

Copyright 1996-2003 LYNN MCKAMEY (ScubaMom)

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