SS President Coolidge Wreck 75 Years on

Our guide with an m at ss president coolidge diving espiritu santo banner

2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of the sinking of the SS President Coolidge – that most famous of wrecks. For those thinking they should eventually get around to it – this might be the best year to do it. I still have my commemorative 70th Anniversary T-Shirt from my trip a few years back. Here’s how our orientation dive went then – and I seriously doubt it has changed much since.

Yan shows us the shell cartridges diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

We did the dive as a shore dive, kitting up in a pleasant Vanuatu garden at the shoreline immediately adjacent the dive site. On the very narrow beach we get a final (reminder) briefing on what we’re going to attempt to see. Because of the depth – no one hangs around on the Coolidge (well – not on the way down!) – you plan your dive and you dive your plan – otherwise you’re simply not going to see too much on the way.

Yan writes down everything we see on the slate diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

We walk out to the dive site to about the depth of our chest, then basics on and down we go along a guide rope to the safety stop Coral Garden at 5m. From there the rope disappears into the deep beyond and today we can’t quite see the bow from that point as there has been some recent rain. Even so the horizontal viz is a good 15m. As we follow the rope into the channel descending gently the bow slowly emerges.

The first thing that strikes you about it is that it’s big. It’s very big.  We dropped down across the vertical deck passed winches and the 3 inch gun with shell cases still intact beside it.

Shell cases diving SS President Coolidge wreck night dive at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

Our first stop is the first hold and as the ship is laid completely on its side with the once horizontal deck now almost exactly vertical we enter the vertical rectangular slot about the size of a barn door.  Inside the hold to the left we can see the remains of the washroom with visible taps and sinks in a vertical column.

The sinks diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

Below is a jumble of jeeps, an Abraham tank and a 1.55 gun.

A jeep in the hold diving SS President Coolidge wreck night dive at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

…and in the sediment below us are the tracks on an up turned tank.

The tracks of an upturned tank diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

Our guide keeps us moving deeper inside –even though inside in this sense means about the size of a barn – so there’s no claustrophobia. We turn towards the stern and find ourselves in the second hold where you might be lucky enough to see the electric clam and on the other side the barber’s chair. Of course, everything is turned through 90° and so you’re constantly twisting your neck to get your head around what you’re seeing.

At this point we come out of the second hold and we are almost at the start of A Deck – just one sixth the length of the ship. Time on the first orientation dive to turn around.

The start of A Deck diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

We ascend along the deck to the starboard bow section of the hull which is almost a flat surface. Some of the paraphernalia that has been collected around the wreck has been deposited here including an M-16 machine gun.

Some of the paraphernalia that has been collected diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

From there we follow a line of portholes back up to the bow.  This section has attracted a large amount of coral and not just soft coral.

The portholes diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

It’s amazing to think that in just 70 years, how much reef ecosystem has started to colonise the wreckage. The shallow bow area has everything from corals to reef fish and their predators, (even a crown of thorns!) which you’d expect to see on a reef.

Over 70 years the wreck has been coralised diving SS President Coolidge wreck at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

Finally we ascend, a short deco stop and then the mandatory three at five in the Coral Garden.  This is a very cleverly designed low circular wall of coral adorned with sea anemones around a coral sand bottom. You can sit in the clean sandy bottom and watch all the clownfish around you.

Allan Power’s Coral Gardens with Allan Power Dive Centre at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

The 3 min safety stop is actually over all too soon as I have not yet managed to photograph each and every one of those clownfish. Minutes later we’re stripping down the gear surrounded once again by the lush Vanuatu foliage. Only now, we belong to that smug club of divers who have dived the Coolidge – and got the T-Shirt to prove it. 🙂

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