When most people think about chartering a boat in the British Virgin Islands, they envision crystal-clear waters, white-sand beaches, and the glorious sailing that awaits them. They don’t often think about the rich history, the islands offer, visitors and residents. In other words, there’s British Virgin Islands Heritage Tourism.
Dr. Michael (otherwise known as “Mitch”) Kent is a maritime archeologist and historian. He offers personalized guided tours to anyone that is interested, including guests aboard charter boats. Having lived in the BVIs for 25 years, the archeologist knows the islands and their history inside and out. “What I do is my passion,” he said. “I’m very lucky to have a vocation,” he continued.
I spoke to Kent via Whatsapp as he was wrapping up a fishing expedition on Tortola. He said he fell in love with the islands for obvious reasons (beautiful beaches, warm climate, etc.) but he quickly became fascinated by the history and just how important these islands were during the heyday of the sugar trade. “It’s all pretty interesting,” he said.
Dr. Kent recently published a book on the RMS Rhône, the pride of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company fleet back in 1867. Tragically, it crashed upon the shore of Salt Island, where it remains to this day. He highly recommends visiting the wreck to dive or snorkel around. “RMS Rhône lies in variable depths between 15 and 80 feet,” he wrote in a follow-up email. “She is the most accessible and intact shipwreck of her type anywhere in the world,” he continued.
There are also the remnants of an old village on Salt Island, which he recommends visiting as it is an easy hike.
Most charters begin and end in Road Harbour in Tortola. From here, Dr. Kent says to sail to Norman Island where there is a “remarkable Great House”. There are also easy hikes and caves to visit. It is then a generally easy sail to Salt Island to visit the wreck.
“They’re all different,” said Kent. With enough notice, Kent said he is more than happy to either meet guests at a particular spot to convey his knowledge of the place or he can also accompany the guests to a couple of sites over a series of days granted he is given a place to lay his head at night.
Peter Island is also a great island to explore. “A fortification, Methodist cemetery, and local shipyard are just some of the history still visible today,” said Kent.
Kent said that the British Virgin Islands have been slow to develop heritage tourism as off-shore banking has been the primary economic focus for many years. “We’re only starting to develop this,” said Kent. He feels modern-day travelers want to know and understand the places that they visit. “People are done lying on beaches,” he said.
Kent can be reached by email at email@example.com and is happy to create a tailored historical journey for you. And why not? After all, “I see things that others don’t see,” he said.
Read more about yachting heritage stories.