America’s Own Goals – SS President Coolidge celebrates 75 years

Simon exploring the uss tucker at uss tucker diving espiritu santo banner

Own Goal #1: SS President Coolidge

The SS President Coolidge was a luxury liner, and was only pressed into service as a troop carrier in 1942. On 6 October 1942, she left homeport of San Francisco with 5,342 troops on board, a defence unit intended to protect the airfield at Espiritu Santo that was providing bomber support for forces at Guadalcanal in the Solomons. She arrived … sort of.

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

Here’s the precis from Wikipedia that describes the ‘Loss’.

Espiritu Santo was heavily protected by mines, but information about safe entry into the harbor had been accidentally omitted from the Coolidge’s sailing orders, and on her approach to Santo on 26 October, Coolidge tried to enter the harbor through the largest and most obvious channel. A mine struck the ship in the engine room, and moments later a second mine hit her near her stern.”

Let’s get real folks. Mines do not, of their own volition, strike ships. Ships run into mines laid by their fellow countrymen.

Still, it’s a great story as over “the subsequent 90 minutes, 5,340 men from the ship got safely ashore. There was no panic as they disembarked; many even walked ashore. However, the captain’s attempts to beach the ship were thwarted by a coral reef.

So now it’s a shore dive, and there are many wrecks which are – usually because the skipper tried to run the ship aground in order to potentially save it from sinking. A few ships were saved this way but most, like the Coolidge didn’t quite make it. The Coolidge hit the reef, listed badly, eventually capsized and slide down the slope a little.

Come 26 October 2017 – she’ll have been there 75 years to the day. But it’s not a wreck I’d plan to do one dive on. Plan to do a few if you want to see more than just the first 5% of her.

Own Goal #2: USS Tucker

The USS Tucker was a destroyer – over 100m long and 10m wide and displacing 1,500 tons. She now rests a couple of kilometres away from the SS President Coolidge.

Big and dispersed wreck diving USS Tucker near the SS president coolidge at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

Here’s how Wikipedia describes her ‘Fate’.

On 4 August 1942, Tucker was leading the cargo ship SS Nira Luckenbach, who she’d escorted from Fiji, into the harbor at Espirtu Santo. As the destroyer headed into the western entrance, she struck a mine. The mine exploded, nearly tearing her hull in two at the No. 1 stack, killing all three crew members on watch in the forward fireroom. The rest of the ship’s company survived. USS Tucker slowly settled in the water. Nira Luckenbach and other vessels quickly rescued the destroyermen from their sinking ship. The stern of the Tucker sank the following morning and a diving party scuttled and sank the bow. Tucker had steamed into the Segundo Channel unaware that the minelayers Gamble, Breese, and Tracy had laid a field of mines at its western entrance. An investigation revealed that Tucker had been given no information regarding the existence of the minefield.”

I guess this was in the days before WhatsApp.

Her wreckage is scattered across the sea floor at around 24m. The bow and stern are still recognisable, but for much of the wreckage you need to use your imagination. Still a great dive though – and you can get to see most of it in the one dive.

Own Goals #3 to #1,003: Million Dollar Point

Santo’s Million Dollar Point – also called Million Dollar Beach – is a dump. Seriously. It gets its name from the price tag that the Americans put on the complete machinery of war of their task force – vehicles, trucks and other paraphernalia – which they tried and failed to sell firstly to the French, then the English and finally the locals – in turn – before bulldozing the whole lot into the ocean because they got no takers!

Rubber tyres have fared better than steel diving Million Dollar Point or Million Dollar Beach right next to SS President Coolidge at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

Now a shore dive of tracked and wheeled vehicles, and various other machines (and boats – some of which sunk trying to salvage wreckage) in about 15-25m of water just off the beach near Luganville. Within spitting distance of the Coolidge. Makes a great second dive after a lunch stop and a spot of beach-combing on the beach itself.

Almost a complete mess kit diving Million Dollar Point or Million Dollar Beach right next to SS President Coolidge at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit

If you’re not a wreck diver per se – don’t worry, Espiritu Santo has plenty of nice reefs to dive too – just don’t poke anything that looks like it doesn’t belong there.

And there’s more to Santo than just diving. There’s a few great resorts; you can take a trip up north to Champagne Beach; there’s a cavern to explore; take a boat trip up the river; and a number of blue holes to cool off in.

Making a splash in the Blue Hole on the Road trip at Espiritu Santo diving Vanuatu by Diveplanit