Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - The Lady and the President
Of the many dive locations I have visited in the South Pacific, the one that was calling out for a book to be written on it was Espiritu Santo and the wreck of the SS President Coolidge. This World War II shipwreck, located in Vanuatu, is the premier shipwreck in the South Pacific Ocean. I often thought about writing a book on the ship and its wrecking (I had accummulated a lot of information as well as photos) but the pressures of having a full-time high pressure job, meant that I did not have the time to dedicate to finding the remaining information for the book to ensure I ended up with a product of which I would be satisfied.
Finally, in 1998, Peter Stone from Melbourne has produced the definitative book on the Coolidge. The book, The Lady and the President - The Life and Loss of the S.S. President Coolidge, is 298 pages packed full of information. Published by Peter's company, Oceans Enterprises, the book is extremely well laid out and printed. In addition to the 298 black and white pages, there are eight pages of colour photographs. These are both historic (of the ship and its fittings) and of parts of the wreck itself. There are also dozens of black and white pages scattered throughout the text.
The book includes chapters on the history of the owners of the ship, the building of the ship, the history of the ship as well as the sinking itself (together with many photos of the Coolidge going down). There are also chapters on Espiritu Santo during the war, the salvage of parts of the ship and the dives (more about this later). There are some excellent drawings of the ship from the original plans as well as detailed reports of the inquiries into the sinking.
The book also include a chapter on the USS Tucker which is wrecked at the other end of Segond Channel from where the Coolidge met her end and a chapter that includes Million Dollar Point.
So, what do I think of the book? Well, it is fantastically researched, although Peter missed some information that I offered to supply to him. It is quite well written and easy to read. On the downside, nearly every page has at least one typographical or gramatical error that should have been picked up by good proof reading (and I do not claim that my Web Site is perfect as it is not proof read except by me and you cannot proof read your own writings). This is a pity as it distracts from the excellent information contained in the book. One other quibble is that in some places the information is out of date order and sometimes illogically placed and even repeated within a few pages of first appearing. Concerted editing and proof reading would have fixed this up.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of errors in the book. For example, the bottom photo on page 209 is captioned as being of the engine control room of the Coolidge. However, the levers in the photo are certainly not the ones on the wreck so I suspect that it is not the Coolidge. On page 24 it is claimed that the ship crossed the Pacfic at an average speed of 30.78 knots. The correct speed is probably 20.78 knots. In addition there are some contradictions in time and facts that appear without comment (eg during the report on the sinking). Again, stronger editing should have caught some/most of these errors. Peter and I have discussed these and he has agreed with me.
Despite these comments, do not get me wrong, the book is a fanastic read, even for people who are not divers or who will never visit Espiritu Santo. It is essential reading for those planning a visit to dive the SS President Coolidge or who have dived her in the past.
It has been so popular that a second printing has been required but the errors mentioned above have not been corrected as Peter advised me that the cost of changing original is very high. I accept this.
To purchase a copy of The Lady and the President, have a look at Oceans Enterprises Web Site. Price was A$42 plus about A$6 postage but this was pre-GST.