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More Dive Trips

SS PRESIDENT COOLIDGE WRECK REVISITED by Andrew Falconer

 

I dived the wreck of the SS President Coolidge back in 2003, and was impressed by it then, so when I happened to be in Brisbane (I live in WA) recently, I took the opportunity to extend my trip and catch a weekly direct Air Vanuatu flight to Luganville, on Espirito Santo, Vanuatu, where the Coolidge sank nearly 74 years ago.
The ship ran into an American laid minefield on entry into the port, was beached and almost all the 5,000 marines on board got off, before it turned on its side, slipped off the reef, and sank within 90 minutes. Since then it has lain close to the shore in between 20metres (bow) and 60metres (stern) of water.
The fascinating story of the life and loss of the SS President Coolidge is told in the excellent book “The Lady and the President” by Peter Stone.

 

Descent line to the bow

Starboard forward hull

Forward mast leans over

 

 

Because of its location, the Coolidge can be dived from the shore, wading out and then descending down a line to the bow, where the massive ship lies on its port side. Being the shallowest part, diving the Coolidge starts here and progresses down the hull, both inside and outside in stages.

 

Starboard bow 30mm gun

Forward crows nest

Vehicles inside hold #2

 

Because of its depth and size, only two dives (a morning deeper dive and afternoon shallower dive) are recommended, and to cover the wreck adequately a week is needed. You can only really appreciate the size of the ship after multiple dives into the holds and decks, and by swimming over the top on the way to the stern.



Tracked vehicle in a hold

School of fish inside #2 hold

Diver exiting #1 hold



Since I last dived the Coolidge, age has taken its toll, and the superstructure, including the promenade deck has collapsed to the sea bed, but the hull and all inside it remains intact and should do for many years to come.

The “Lady and the unicorn.”

Row of toilets

Bullets

There are many things to see inside, including the famous “Lady’, now moved from its original position, the remains of many military vehicles in the holds, bullets and shells, helmets, rifles, gas masks, boots, plates, mugs, medical bottles, the list goes on.

 

Barbers chair

Overhead Lamp

Jars of medicines

The stern of the ship, being the deepest part, is usually dived last, and requires decompression stops, as do the other deeper parts such as the engine room and the swimming pool. Although the propellers were salvaged, the shafts and the rudder still make impressive sights. At this depth (60m) you need to be aware of the onset of narcosis, and should not dive it unless confident.



Starboard drive shaft

Top of the massive rudder

Diver above drive shaft stub



The drop down to the first class swimming pool is most impressive as is the pool itself with its tiled sides. It is quite something to swim a vertical lap (like the ship it is on its side) of the pool at 55m. If you do that and still can make out the colours of the tiles you are not “narked.”



Diver above the swimming pool

Tiles in swimming pool

Looking into a hold


On ascending to the last safety / decompression stop at 3m, the boredom is relieved by a coral garden with a clam, some anemones, and plenty of coral fish including a clown fish that likes to nibble your finger. Also there are often some snapper fish cruising on the lookout for a feed.


Snapper near 3m safety stop

Finger nibbling clown fish

Anemone

 

I dived with Alan Power Dive tours, www.allan-power-santo.com just as I did in 2003. Alan has been there 1969, and is a living legend.
I also stayed at the Deco Stop lodge www.decostop.com.vu (as I did in 2003), which has a good location, view, and a pool.
The total cost of the trip was about $2000 ex Brisbane

April 2016