|SS President Coolidge when launched|
With Vanuatu (then New Hebrides) used as a major allied base during the war providing bomber support for the Guadalcanal theatre in the Solomons (the largest base in the Pacific except for Pearl Harbor), the ports of Espiritu Santo and Port Vila saw enormous buildups of ships and troops. It seems that the Coolidge was entering the port at Santo, which was heavily mined to defend against Japanese submarines. She was given the secret coordinates of the safe course to navigate, but was not advised that the course was set through a mine field. The captain, thinking the course was a bit close to a reef, and unaware of the danger of a deviation from the recommendation, made a change, and hit a mine. The captain, knowing he was about to lose his ship, tried to run her up on a beach, but she hit a coral reef near the shore instead, sank, and gradually slid down to her current resting place.
The "Coolidge" is a big ship (653 feet in length, compared to the 883 foot Titanic). She is also very accessible, as she sank close to shore, and as such is a very popular recreational dive destination. (Most guidebooks and articles rate her as one of the top 10 wreck dives in the world). There's a lot to see, both from the early days as a luxury ship, and her later days as a naval vessel.
The diving is quite deep. She lies on her side on the sloping bottom, with depths ranging from 35m to 60m. Dives at this depth have short bottom times, with some decompression likely required. The payback is lots to see. We found old military hardware, guns, and ammunition, medical supplies in the sick bay, a barbers chair anchored to the "wall", actually the floor, but the ship is on her side, which can be a bit disorientating, and other bits and pieces. We only did two dives on the ship (a minimum of 6 are recommended to see it all, including the swimming pools, china closets, Japanese baths, engines, etc., but we felt we got a great intro to this amazing wreck. Here are a few images from the Coolidge dives...
|Descent to ship bow|
|Trying on a gas mask found in a locker on deck|
|Supplies in sick bay|
Another unique dive in Santo harbor is what is known as "Million Dollar Point". When WWII ended, the Americans were preparing to abandon the base as they pulled the troops out. New Hebrides was governed as a sort of joint colony of the British and French governments at the time. The story goes that the Americans offered the huge quantity of military hardware to both the Brits and French for pennies on the dollar. Hardware included trucks, tanks, jeeps, bull dozers, cranes, spare parts, etc.all in tremendous quantities. Both governments declined the offer. They knew that the Americans would not ship the hardware back to the States, and felt that if they waited until the yanks pulled out, they could get the goods for free. The Americans didn't like these terms, and instead decided to drive all of the equipment into the sea. A huge waste, and testament to pig headed leadership even among allies around the world.
But there it all lies, perhaps the worlds largest underwater military wrecking yard. Makes for fascinating if not overly scenic diving, as you can make your away around and into the old equipment. There's even an old naval boat wreck to check out while down there.
|Cindi tries to start an old truck, while a little scuba gremlin jumps on her back!!!|
Just to add to the variety, there are also plane wrecks to explore around Vanuatu. Here are the remains of an old Dauntless dive bomber which went down, broke into three major sections and sank next to Aore Island, right near our current mooring position. We went over with the crew of Legacy in our dinghies one morning.....made for a fun dive in about 75 feet of water..
Finally here are just some random shots from other dives we've been doing in Vanuatu. This country just continues to amaze us with the variety of species and often great water clarity!!!
|Arc eye hawkfish|
|Great camouflage of black striped goatfish|
|Granular sea star|
|Lionfish, highly venemous|
|Snowflake moray eel|