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Salt Island, BVI

The British Virgin Islands has many ponds sprinkled around the various islands, but none so well known as the government owned pond on Salt Island!

Norwell Durant passed away in November, 2004 ... marking the end of an era in the BVI. Norwell was our last remaining resident of this tiny island who had continued the family tradition of his father and his grandfather before him ... he was a salt collector. This gentle man with a friendly twinkle in his eye was always the consumate host and salesman. He took his job of greeting visitors and showing them his salt collecting process seriously.

Salt Island Aerial Photo
Aerial photo of Salt Island Bay & the Village

The first time I met Norwell was in December, 1993 I asked, "If I may be so bold Mr. Durant ... how old are you?" He looked down at his feet and shook his head, lifted his head back up, stuck out his chin and replied, "I'm old enough to live here on my own!"

Realizing my blunder, I made light of it and told him I had heard he was a bachelor and that I was in the market for a new husband ... but wanted to be sure he wasn't too young for me! He chuckled, shook his head and took me for his tour.

Norwell kept his age to himself ... but he was clearly elderly even then. For the next several years, everytime I stopped by, I'd bring him something special from the local bakery and we became fast friends. We'd sit for hours, often not speaking, "just being" as Norwell would say. He'd often ask for news about Tortola and kept up on his international news by listening to radio broadcasts.

Every time I arrived with my little parcel, he'd come down to the dock to greet me and I'd ask, "So Norwell, have you had a birthday recently?". He would grin, look at his feet, shake his head, wag a finger at me and reply, "I'm still old enough to live on my own ... but what is it you've brought for my birthday?"

Before the days of refrigeration, this tiny village with a population of about 100 souls, provided an important industry in the BVI. Residents and passing ships required salt to cure meat and fish. But as time marched by the need for this particular seasoning as anything more than a table condiment passed into history. The villagers left one by one to seek other employment and only 8 stalwart residents remained.

By 1993, the rest had passed away or moved to Tortola or some other island and Norwell was left on his own. He never admitted to being lonely and in 1996, I asked him if he ever planned to retire and move off Salt Island. He just chuckled and asked who would take his place and collect the salt? "No, I got my dog and I get enough visitors to keep me happy."

The Wreck of the Rhone

On October 29, 1867, the 310' Royal Mail Steamship, "Rhone" had just arrived at Peter Island and was anchored off Dead Man's Bay when a hurricane descended upon her. Their anchor dragged and broke free from its holding. Before the captain and crew could take control of the ship, she foundered off Lee Bay at Salt Island.

Wreck of the Rhone Dive Site
Dive Site - Wreck of the Rhone

The records are not clear, but it would seem that approximately 120 passengers and crew perished while only 24 or 25 survived. Captain Robert F. Wooley went down with his ship.

The villagers on the Island managed to recover only 8 bodies from the water and gave them proper Christian burials.

Today, the wreck of the Rhone is one of the most popular dive sites in the British Virgin Islands and the ship is still in very good condition. Its alive with fish and all kinds of coral and for scuba diving enthusiasts, its definitely worth checking out!

A picture is worth a thousand words!

For info about British Virgin Islands sailing and motor yacht charters,
Contact our BVI bareboat charter specialist!

Phone: (284) 495-4168 Tortola, British Virgin Islands
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Launched: October 15, 2005 - Last Updated: January 27, 2014