A Wreck of Epic Proportions

Back in WWII, the United States made one of the largest bases in the South Pacific on the Island of Santo in Vanuatu. Something like 50,000 troops were stationed here. The US brought tons of stuff that would be used for warfare, like tanks, guns, ships, jeeps, bunkers, etc... After the war, most of the stuff was just left behind. Some of it was left in the jungle to rot and be taken over by vegetation and some of it was just dumped in the ocean (massive amounts of stuff was dumped in the ocean...massive, masive amounts).

In 1942, a battleship/troop carrier named the S.S. President Coolidge was carrying 5,000 plus troops and all of the associated gear that those troops would need to go to battle. The ship was supposed to deliver all those troops and gear to the base on Santo to be staged for battles ahead. Since Santo was a huge base, the US made major efforts to keep the base safe from Japanese attacks which included underwater mine fields and submarine netting to block off entry to the island. Except there was one channel that was left open with specific directions for allied ships to get in.

As the Coolidge was getting close to Santo, the captain of the ship decided that the directions he was given for entry weren't big enough for the ship to make it through. The Coolidge is huge. It's bigger than an average sized cruise ship that we see leaving Seattle and heading for Alaska. It's enormous. He decided that he would take a route between two islands that had a bunch more maneuvering room. But since all communication back then was over the radio, no one wanted to tell him over the radio why he couldn't go that way or why he had to stay on the course he was given, because anything spelled out over the radio waves would give the Japanese the directions in. So what happened? Well, remember those mine fields I told you about? The ship drove straight into a mine field and they ripped huge holes in the hull.

The ship was going down quick so the captain drove it straight onto the beach of the nearest island. He put a message over the loudspeakers for everyone to abandon ship, take nothing, we'll come back for it all when everyone is safe on shore. It took about an hour for the 5,000 men to get off of the ship. In about an hour and 15 minutes, the ship started sliding down the steep beach and would forever be lost at sea, resting in about 120 feet deep water. Since it went down so quickly, they didn't have time to get any of the gear off of the boat, however, all but 2 men survived. Pretty amazing.

The most interesting thing about this wreck is the fact that it is still totally in tact. Nothing has been removed. The cargo holds of the ship still have all of the tanks, jeeps, trucks, guns, ammo, and personal gear from all those 5,000 men and we are able to swim into those holds to see all of this stuff. The cannons are still on deck in the ready to fire position and still loaded with massive shells. The onboard barber shop still has the seat ready for the next haircut with scissors and clippers on the floor. The holes in the hull from the mines are clearly visible. The 18,000 pound anchor is still sitting there. It's amazing.

We have so far done 2 dives on this wreck. Depending which source you read, it is consistently placed in the top 10 dives sites in the world and more often than not, it ranks as the best dive site period. It's incredible. The water is clear and warm (80 degrees) but it's deep. The majority of the dive is spent at depths ranging from 90 to 120 feet which burns up your air fast. We only get about 20 minutes of air in our tanks to explore the ship, so it's not a lot of time to check out something that is this massive.

Not only do you see all of the stuff that would normally be in a battleship, but you also get to see how the ocean is reclaiming this space. Coral is starting to grow on the ship, giant clams are clinging to the deck, schools of fish dart in and out of the cargo holds, and I even spotted my first shark of the trip. Holy Crap, sharks! And best of all, there is an electric clam inside the grill of an old truck (the clam has a blue electric arc between it's lips to attract dinner. It looks like a mini blue lightening bolt...awesome!)

Today we are setting sail for Rotua Island. It's reported that the best coral in the country is there as well as sea turtles and the elusive dugong. The dugong is sort of like a manatee, an elephant, and a dolphin all combined. They grow to over 10 feet long and can weigh over 1,000 pounds. We are hopeful that we'll see one since they are considered threatened with their numbers severely in decline. After Rotua, we are hoping to see a couple more of the outer islands before we set sail across the Pacific for Kiribati.

Unfortunately I forgot to bring my dive camera out to the big ship, so no pictures from that adventure.  Trust me when I say it was amazing.  Here are some random pictures from the last couple of days.

Coconut Crab

This is the main drag through the village of Port Orly.  It has a rare thing, a couple of cars.  This is the rich part of town.

Brenda found these tasty treats at the local market...bats.  And they are the bargain price of only $2.50.  Yum.

A father and daughter from the local village out fishing.


  1. FABULOUS! So exciting! Glad to hear you're having such a great time. I am enjoying reading all about it. Keep 'em coming! Have fun and stay safe ... Love you. xoxo


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