Jim Nastus Lives in Fiji and wrote a blog on scuba diving the SS Coolidge in Vanatau. You can read his first post about this amazing wreck dive here.
Heading Back To The SS Coolidge For More Scuba Diving
The accessibility of the Coolidge is one of its many charms. After our first scuba dive we were brought back to our hotel where he rinsed our gear and enjoyed a relaxing lunch overlooking the Segond Channel before our next dive.
On our second dive, we were scheduled to explore the forward cargo holds. However, we were surprised when our guide told us that he was going to combine two scuba dives into one since we had been conservative with our air on the first dive and also bring us to see the medical supplies left behind when the ship sank.
Again, we swam out to the mooring line, caught our breath and began our descent. Even though we had just been there hours before, the ship inspired just as much awe the second time as it did the first. A quick swim along the wreck brought us to a salvage hole cut in the side of the ship.
Torches were flipped on, BCDs were emptied and we dropped into an inky blackness that reveals nothing and obscures much.
I was nervous about being in such a foreboding environment. I had assumed that the darkness and the fact that I could not simply look up and see the surface would disorient me. Add onto that the fact the ship is laying on its side, which means the “walls” to the left and right of you are actually the floor and ceiling and I really thought it would be difficult to get my bearings. But, almost immediately, my field of vision narrowed into a beam no wider than that of my torch.
This provided a strange reassurance and I soon completely forgot that I was in such a strange environment. That was until the first time the top of my tank got caught on a beam, swimming through a narrow opening. This jolt, besides causing a brief flash of panic, reawakened my senses and reminded me just what an amazing experience I was having.
Penetrating The Wreck
As we made our way further into the wreck, the light from my torch scanned across a perfectly straight row of bright white objects that seemed out of place in such a disorganized and decaying environment. After a few seconds of staring, I realized what I was looking at. A row of porcelain toilets perfectly intact and seemingly standing guard as we swam past. It was an amazing sight that was both familiar and eerily foreign at the same time.
After a quick stop in what used to be the infirmary, and viewing some old medical supplies including bottles of aspirin (with pills still inside), test tubes and jars of mystery powders, we made our way out through a window in the bridge back into the open water, hung a right and entered the first of the two forward cargo holds.
When we first entered the holds, our torches scanned across a jumbled heap of wheels, tires, and axels. It looked a junkyard. But as we explored further, and got deeper into the hold, order was restored.
The unmistakable vertical grills and round headlights of dozens of jeeps neatly staked ten high greeted us. Brushing aside the sand and sediment, you can still see “Jeep” embossed rusty metal and make out the fading green and white paint jobs.
here are also large GMAC trucks, tracked vehicles and howitzer cannons. It would be an amazing experience just to see these things on land, but to actually be able to sit in the driver’s seat of a WWII Army jeep, while inside a cargo hold of a WWII transport ship at nearly 40m under the surface and after nearly 70 years is nothing short of spectacular. Again I was transported to my childhood pretending to drive my parents car while it was in the garage.
Never Hold Your Breath While Scuba Diving.
While there isn’t much fish life inside the wreck, what is there is pretty amazing. During our dive briefing, our guide told us that once we were in the deepest part of the cargo hold, to grab onto something and to turn our torches off. He wouldn’t tell us why, but being the adventurous sort—perhaps gullible is a better word—we complied. We were enveloped with a darkness that I had not experienced before.
My heart rate went up and I started to breathe a bit heavier then normal. Then, out of the darkness, from every direction they came—the flashlight fish. Small creatures that glow with dim white lights. They weren’t moving fast or darting around. They just seemed to meander through the water.
In short order, we were surrounded by literally, thousands of these tiny points of light. My heart rate dropped and my breathing slowed. It was eerily dark and completely silent. The number one rule of diving—never stop breathing—was completely forgotten as I floated there in absolute awe and wonder. After about a minute, the torches came back on and as slowly and wondrously as they first appeared, they made their way back into the darker depths.
The dive ended with a short swim through some pretty tight quarters and out through the hatch of the anchor chain locker on the bow. While it was nice to be back in the light and the open water, I couldn’t help but be sad, that such an amazing dive had to end. But end it had to, even if just so our next dive could begin.
Guest post written by Jim Nastus
Pics by: ollografik