Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Coron - Philippines
My arrival in Coron is quite an experience. The jeepney (a gaudy jeep-like vehicle that carries a hundred or so) takes 45 minutes or so to travel from the airport (the grandly named Yalu King Ranch) to the only real town on the island. The road is dirt all the way although it is not too rough. At least the only road through the town is cement. I am on Busuanga Island in the Calamian Group in the Philippines and have some here to experience the little known World War II Japanese wrecks.
Coron is a bustling, crowded township of 25,000 people, all of whom seem to be travelling down the one road on tricycles and jeepneys at the one time. We head straight to the dive shop which is located right on the water. When I say on the water, I really mean this as the shop is built on piers (see photo) and is about 100 metres or so from the shore. The dive shop is Discovery Divers which was established by Gunter Bernert in the late 1980s and is the only operating shop in the area.
At 5.50am on 24 September 1944, 180 Grumman F6F Hellcat and Grumman SB2C Helldiver planes lifted off carriers of Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey’s Task Force 38 and headed for the waters of Coron Bay. At 9am the planes reached Coron and located at least 18 large Japanese vessels and started their attack. After a frenzied 45 minute attack the planes left, leaving behind sunken ships.
Today 14 of these wrecks have been located and most can be dived from Coron. After a quick discussion with Gunter’s head instructor, Eric, we climb aboard the smaller of Discovery Divers’ two bancas (large, traditional looking vessels with diesel truck engine) and head off to dive two of the wrecks. It is a long way from Coron to the wrecks’ location and it takes us 75 minutes to reach the first wreck. Along the way we eat our lunch (it is a late start) and have a very relaxing trip.
This first wreck when I dived it was more popularly known as the Tangat Wreck as it lies a few metres off the south-western side of Tangat Island. It was locally also known as Morazan Maru or Moruzan Maru and it was thought to have been the Ekkai Maru, formerly the Morazan Maru, SS Morazan and SS Manco. However, it is now known to be the Olympia Maru. She lies in 30 metres of water. See that article for more about the ship and the wreck. All in all, an excellent shallow dive of a real, Japanese war wreck.
After the dive we motor the four kilometres to our next dive site and encounter Gunter on his larger boat. It is decided that we will swap boats as the larger boat will be more comfortable for us (13 of us) and it also has a compressor that we need to refill some tanks for our second dive. We a soon anchored on the next wreck, what was then called the Olympia Maru. This ship was later known as Taiei Maru and is now known to be the Ekkai Maru.
Located on the north-eastern side of Lusong Island, the Ekkai Maru is a smaller vessel than the previous wreck. For more details, see my Ekkai Maru Page.
These two wrecks have been very good dives. While not of the same calibre as the SS President Coolidge or those in Chuuk Lagoon (being salvaged and mostly without the original freight inside), these wrecks would be ideal for those wreck divers who have already been to Chuuk, Santo and the Solomons.
After the dive we again relax on our trip back to Coron. Gunter has placed an esky on the banca and we have a beer or two and relax as the sun drifts towards the horizon. What a great day’s diving and a fantastic location, skimming over the millpond water, a beer in hand, interesting people to chat to and a good book to read. Life can be pretty good!
We arrive back at Discovery Divers and arrange for a jeepney to take us to our accommodation. We are booked into Kokosnuss Resort which is a few minutes drive up the hill on the outskirts of Coron. This is a new operation and at US$10 a night excellent value, even though it is very basic. The cold showers are not a problem in this climate and everything is clean and tidy. The "resort" has its own restaurant and we soon discover that the food is very good, especially considering a main meal only costs about $4.50 to $7 and beers are just over a dollar.
We have a great dinner, a few more beers and spend the time telling jokes and stories with an American we meet. This is a place I could spend a long time.
There is other, even cheaper, accommodation in Coron down over the water. This costs about US$5 a night and is also quite good. If you were planning a longer dive trip at Coron, then these are probably the places to stay as it is only a few minutes walk to the dive shop.
Discovery Divers have an excellent package, US$69 a day for accommodation at one of the lodges in Coron, all meals and two divers. From my brief experience, this is a very well run operation, one of the best I have ever used.
As I have discussed in a previous article on diving Busuanga Island, getting to and from here can be a problem. Unfortunately for us, we have flown with what is perhaps the world's most disorganised airline, Pacific Airways, and we have been forced to come on three separate planes. The 13 of us are on two planes and our luggage is split between these two planes and another plane. This is very strange as at their Manila terminal there were three or four much larger Twin Otters sitting idle which are capable of carrying all of us and our gear in one go.
Worth a visit.
NOTE: Originally written in 1997