Dive Travel / Popular Dive Destinations / Vanuatu Dive Trip

Sydney to Santo with Abyss – Diving the SS President Coolidge

by Jamie Miller

Just over 6 weeks ago I took a group of 13 divers to Santo, Vanuatu to dive one of the worlds largest shipwrecks, the SS President Coolidge!

What a view to wake up to every morning!

 

We arrived in Santo on the evening of the 31st August and after being greated by Allan Power Dive Tours, we were transferred to our
accommodation at the Beachfront Resort. I was quite surprised at how big the resort was. The resort has a large dining area that overlooks the water, with a pool at the front. Nice! The rooms were huge, with 2 or 3 bunk beds in each. Awesome considering we were all twin sharing. The only decision that had to make was which of the 6 beds to sleep in!

The following day we packed all our dive gear onto the dive bus and made our way to the Coolidge dive site via the Allan Power Dive Shop, where we collected our nitrox stage bottles for the Tec 40 course I was teaching that day.

After a dive briefing from our guides, we set up our gear and headed into the water. The 1st dive was a check out dive so the guides could ensure we were all comfortable in the water and this would set the tone as to what dives might be available to us over the next week of diving. We cruised down past the coral garden (set up purposely for decompression and safety stop requirements), towards the bow and it magically appeared in front of us. We cruised down the side of the wreck and even though this was my 3rd trip diving the President Coolidge, I was still blown away by it’s shear size.

After the check out dive, we hung out on the surface and discussed what we needed to do for the 2nd dive of the Tec 40 course. We had completed the 1st dive back in Sydney prior to the trip. After a short surface inteval, we headed back down and completed the skills for dive 2. I was excited at the prospect of finishing the Tec 40 course in warm clear water, but was surprised at how difficult this actually was due to the nature of the sloping bottom where we were practicing the skills.

Sam doing her tec diving course on the Coolidge, what a perfect training site!

We then exited the water and headed back up to the set up area. After a quick debrief we were on the truck headed back to the resort. We had time for a quick bite to eat before we were back on the bus for the 2nd dive of the day. After the 2nd dive which was a another nice gentle dive down the side of the wreck to check out the crows nest, skylights, 6 inch guns, and the first 2 cargo holds, we once again convened on the surface to discuss the skills for Dive 3 of the Tec 40 course. We then headed back down to complete these skills before exiting the water. Once again, the conditions proved challenging. One of the skills had the students deploying their delayed surface marker buoys and carrying out simulated decompression on them. This was difficult as there was a strong surface wind which kept pulling on their marker buoys and making it difficult to stay in position. They did extremely well!

After the dive we headed back to the resort, ready to relax for the evening. After dinner we headed to bed, eager to get some sleep after our big day. The next day was to be our first decompression dive, Dive 4 of the Tec course. We palnned our dive, did our pre dive checks and headed into the water. For this dive, we once again cruised down the side of the ship checking out the parts of the wreck that fallen out during recent earthquakes, staying above our max depth of 40m until we had accumulated our allocated 10 minutes of decompression, before turning and starting our way back up to the first of our decompression stops. At our first stop we changed to our 50% enriched air nitrox tanks and began the decompression. After 3 depth level changes we had completed the decompression and surfaced to the end the dive. After our debrief we headed back to the resort for a celebratory lunch!!

Brendan flying through the wreck with his side mounts!

That night we had a couple of drinks and cake to celebrate the dives completed on the course, as well as 2 recent birthdays that had just occurred on the trip.

The following day we began our exploration in the wreck. Over the next 4 days we visited the lady (a piece of artwork that the Coolidge is famous for), many rooms within the wreck including the galley, engine room, numerous cargo holds (with aircraft fuel cells, jeeps, tanks and other artillery, the barbers quarters, the medical supply room, the chain locker, among others. The Tec 40 students got to practice their newly learnt decompression procedures on many occassions over the next 4 days.

 

On the final day (no dive day) before we were due to leave, we took a minibus to some of the well known spots on the Santo coastline, where we snorkelled and enjoyed a relaxing lunch on the beach.

 

So after 8 days at the resort it was time to pack our bags and head back to Sydney. A short stop in Port Vila and we were back on the plane to Sydney. For me, it was another fantastic trip back to visit the SS President Coolidge, and it was good to bring some first time overseas travellers to the wreck, and it was great to bring some of the divers on the trip up to their first Tec level. They are now ready to get out there, practice what they have learnt and continue there training further.

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