Don’t ask me to tell you which was my favorite dive site in the British Virgin Islands; I couldn’t choose. But Jacques Cousteau reportedly touted The Chimney as his favorite dive site, anywhere. So over the Thanksgiving holiday we dropped down to see why the father of scuba loved diving this place so much.
The site is located in the north BVI, off the west shore of Great Dog island. The Dogs are a group of rocky islands to the west of Virgin Gorda. The moorings are within a protected cove and the site is shallow, only 45 feet at its deepest, making it an excellent site for all levels of dive experience. The north swells were up a bit the day we were there, introducing us to the joys and challenges of surge.
Our guides for The Chimney dive were Jeff Nichols and a lovely Turkish woman, whose name escapes me. They were with Dive BVI, an SSI (and PADI) partner with a top-notch operation.
Before boarding Dive BVI’s boat, there were the prerequisite waivers and proof of certification papers to sign. Necessary, but hard to sit through when all you want to do is go diving!
Here’s The Chimney dive site, from the boat. The sea was pretty calm, but there was some surface current.
Jeff gave us a comprehensive dive and safety briefing, complete with diagrams on a drop-down dry erase board hidden in the ceiling. Impressive 🙂
The Chimney is named for its resemblance to the technical rock climbing slot of the same name. We used the mooring line for a controlled descent 40 feet down to The Fishbowl, an open area with several massive coral heads rising from a sand and rock strewn bottom. The fish here are spectacular, and we saw blue tangs, sergeant majors, yellow tail snapper, parrot fish, angel fish, and so many more.
We headed north, exploring the canyons and ridges that run parallel with the shore. At a depth of 45 feet, we worked our way around the point to a beautiful archway encrusted with cup corals and brightly colored coral polyps. Jeff was leading the way, and suddenly he spun to face us with a stiff hand against his forehead. “Shark!”
Resting on the bottom, right at the arch entrance, was a 5-foot long nurse shark. Cool! After gawking at it for a minute or two, we glided several feet above it and under the arch.
Once through the archway, we were inside a narrow, steep-walled corridor where the colorful corals and sponges blew us away. It was other-worldly. We didn’t need flashlights to see the bright oranges, purples, reds and yellows of the animal life that cling to the canyon walls. Breathtaking!
The walls grew ever closer together as we swam until we arrived at two enormous boulders that form a slot, which is the canyon exit. This is The Chimney. It looked too narrow to swim through, but we all glided through with no problem.
We continued on, exploring the base of the cliff where small boulders cover the sea floor. They look like giant river rocks, their surfaces rubbed smooth from years of rushing surge. Eventually we circled back around and explored the Fishbowl until our air supplies ran low.
I understand now why Cousteau favored this site. The colorful sea life that populates The Chimney is spectacular, even for non-marine biologists!