So, like most divers, once I got my certification I made a bucket list of scuba dives that I wanted to do before I died. Most of the scuba dives on my list ended up being in the Pacific—including the Great Barrier Reef, Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the Astrolabe and Rainbow Reefs in Fiji and the wreck of the SS Coolidge in Vanuatu. So, in 2008 when presented with the opportunity to move from Washington, DC to Fiji for three years, I jumped at the chance.In the time I have been here, I’ve been able to cross most of these dives off my list. But there is one site that will always stand out as the most special.
Scuba diving the wreck of the SS Coolidge in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, is easily the most amazing time I have spent underwater.While there has been no shortage written about scuba diving the Coolidge, honestly, none of it prepared me for what I actually experienced. At over 200m in length, the sheer size of the ship is enough to amaze even the most experienced scuba diver. But it’s what’s inside that really makes diving the Coolidge special.There are over 20 unique dives on the Coolidge.
To really experience all the wreck has to offer, multiple scuba dives are a necessity. My partner and I scheduled five dives. In retrospect, not even that was enough. But they are five dives that I will never forget. We did our diving with Aquamarine Dive Shop in Espiritu Santo. They were really great and tailored each dive for our ability and what we wanted to see.
Getting ready to dive
On our first day, we were picked up at our hotel at about 8:30. In less than 15 minutes we were on the shore of the Segond Channel receiving our first dive briefing which included the history of the Coolidge as well as what to expect on our first dive.
The first scuba dive just about everyone does on the Coolidge, is a basic check-out dive which takes you along the top of the wreck—which is actually the starboard side of the ship—as the wreck is lying on its side—at between 28m-35m.
From the shore, it’s a short swim out to a mooring line. After a brief rest we began our descent. Slowly, the bow of the ship slowly came into focus. If not for the tight grip on my regulator, it would have been one of those jaw-dropping moments. The ship spread out before us as far as we could see and slowly receded into the depths.
During the dive, you swim over portholes that, after brushing aside a fine coating of sand and sediment, reveal a small glimpse into a foreign world. You also swim by the massive 3” guns that protected the ship during its trans-Pacific voyages. There is also a spot where you can put on a WWII Army helmet and hold a rifle encrusted with corals. It brought back memories of playing war when I was a kid.
I think that it is one of the greatest aspects of diving the Coolidge—the fact that it made me like a kid again—playing in a make believe world that doesn’t quite seem real. That is until my dive computer started beeping and brought me back to reality and reminded me that, sadly, it was time to start our ascent.
At our safety spot, there is a small coral garden with some fish. It isn’t much, but it helps pass the time. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of coral or sea life on the wreck itself, so don’t expect to see much beyond the ship itself. But believe me, it’s enough!
Guest post written by: Jim Nastus
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