The Calvin Coolidge

alex rust

27 September 2010 | Luganville, Vanuatu

The next island we visited was that of Espirito Santo where the U.S. had its big military presence during World War II leaving in its wake deserted bunkers, overgrown airfields and the Calvin Coolidge. The Calvin Coolidge was a U.S. war ship the size of the titantic and was sunk by one of our own mines as it entered the harbor in 1942 in only 100-200 feet of water making it the most accessible (for diving) wrecks of its size in the world.

The water was a bit murky the day we went down creating a visibility of only 30 feet (nothing like the 200 foot visibility of Rangiroa) and when we got to around 100 feet of depth she the bohemoth showed herself. We started with the bow and as we worked our way down came across the huge anti-aircraft guns still mounted on the now verticle decks (she lays on her side). We came across the first entrance to the cargo hold which was the size of a garage door and as I turned on my light and started to venture in for a peek one of the local guys diving with me grabbed me and signaled to wait to enter farther up. 50 feet later we came across the next cargo hold entrance which was the size of a small house. We flipped on our lights and ventured into the darkness. As my eyes adjusted I began see that the hold was still full, strapped inside was jeep after jeep and huge crates. Bubbles would have easily fit in several times. We came across crustacean laiden guns and helmets picking them up and aiming the guns at random objects and trying on the helmets to find one that fit us. With several of us now holding these guns and donning our full scuba gear the scene around us now like an invading force from another world.

Even though the ship no longer housed humans, many lifeforms now called the Coolidge home. Giant clam shells covered random areas of the hull and coral was growing from almost every crack. There were fish of all sizes wandering around the vessel and we even came across a school of over 100 swimming in the mosaic tiled swimming pool (still full of water of corse). I found myself at one point typing on a old typwriter when I noticed the tip of a three foot long antenna that lead back into a crevice and one of the biggest lobsters I had ever seen.

I could have easily entertained myself for days but as deep as we were our time was limited. With each atmosphere of pressure you are down you consume that much more air so at the stern of the boat which is down 200 feet (or 6 atmospheres of pressure) for each breath you take you are consuming 6 times the amount of air you would normally breathe at the surface. Also to consider is decompression time which must be done for longer intervals the deeper you go down and the longer you stay. Every diver that goes to the stern has a second full tank of air tied to a line at about 30 feet of depth to switch out on the way back up. Without that extra tank running out of air and coming to the surface without proper decompression would prove fatal.

Just to give an idea of how big the Coolidge is and what an awsome dive experience it is I I have to mention the group of Australian divers I dove the Coolidge with. The have been coming to the Coolidge every year here for several years and each time they come they are here for over a week and during that week they dive on this very wreck twice a day everyday and they all say they still havent seen the whole wreck and are coming back again.

Another miliary site of interest on the island is known as “million dollar point.” Story goes that when the US was pulling out and French were to regain control of the island the US went to sell all its jeeps, tractors and bulldozers to the French but only got an offer of five bucks for this dozer or three bucks for that jeep. The Americans had no way to transport the vehicles off the island and the French knew this, hence the low offers, but just as another example of the US/France love/hate affair the Americans built a ramp into the sea and proceded to drive every last vehicle (all in perfectly good shape and most nearly new) into the ocean. We went and snorkled the most expensive reef every built.

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