Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Stern of SS President Coolidge
There are some things in life that stick in your brain forever. The sight of a beautiful 16 year old Susan George in a 1969 movie called Twinky* is a memory that will forever be my fantasy ("Pretty crazy; Dizzy as a Daisy; ..I forget about the pretty young girl on the two wheel bike; All I see is a devil who looks like, .....Twinky"**). Later movies such as Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) and Mandingo (1975) helped set that vision in my mind. Sigh, what I would not have done to meet her!! Other magical memories include breakfast at a hotel in Papeete, Tahiti, with the lagoon and mountains in front of us, a helicopter flight into the Jamieson Valley in the Blue Mountains, barely 10 metres above the tree tops and asking my wife, Kelly, to marry me as the sun set at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. These are a few experiences I will remember as long as I live.
|The Coolidge during trials||Coming back from the stern|
you swim along the the upper parts
of the Coolidge as shown in this photo
From a diving perspective, my dives on the wreck of the San Francisco Maru in Chuuk Lagoon, a dive with hundreds of hammerhead sharks in the Philippines, two dives on the intact US destroyer USS Aaron Ward in the Solomon Islands and virtually all my dives on the Sydney shipwreck SS Tuggerah are very special. However, all of these things pale into insignificance (well, probably not Susan George!) when I remember my four dives to the stern of the wreck of the SS President Coolidge in Espirito Santo in Vanuatu.
With over 2,500 dives completed, these four Coolidge dives would have to rank as the most awesome wreck dives I have done, even better than any I have done in Chuuk.
The Coolidge is the largest easily accessible real shipwreck in the world (being 654 feet 3 inches long and displacing 21,936 tonnes). While there are bigger wrecks in Bikini Atoll, these are only available to be dived in a very limited way and the price is at least five times what it costs to dive the Coolidge. For more details on the ship, see my Main Coolidge Index Page. Sunk on 26 October 1942 while entering Segond Channel, the fully intact wreck reaches from 15 metres right down to 70 metres.
This dive used to be only really done by Aquamarine but in more recent years Alan Power has also been doing it. Back in the early 1990s very few divers who visited the Coolidge did this dive. Now I would guess that perhaps 20% end up diving the Stern.
To dive the stern you normally descend down a mooring towards the stern and swim across the hull past the Engine Room cut. You drop down onto the the prop shafts (the props were salvaged in the 1970s - see Salvage Page). The huge flared shaft endings really bring home to you the enormous size of the wreck. The farings are about 1.5 metres across and prop shafts themselves have a diameter of about 600 millimetres and are at a depth of 55 metres (the starboard one) and 65 metres (the port one).
|Kelly and the rudder and upper shaft (60 m)||Kelly above the lower prop shaft (65 m)|
From here you can look at the single rudder and swim through the hinge, the rudder now hanging down under the influence of its weight. From here you head to the very tip of the stern.
As you come around from the under side of the wreck, you can see the remains of a lifeboat on the sand bottom. Dropping down to have a look you see just the keel sticking out from the sand. The depth is 70 metres. This is exciting! Swimming up five metres or so and there is the 5 inch gun rear gun installed to defend the ship on its voyages across the Pacific during the war. It points straight out over the stern.
|The stern of the Coolidge moments before she sinks beneath the waters|
In front is the docking bridge and then the rear hold (Hold 7), containing more artillery guns, four-wheel drive trucks, jeeps and huge amounts of ammunition. Below the hold on the sand is what looks like a trailer of some sorts. I am not real clear on what it is as it is quite small and not like a normal type of trailer, however from a description of a gun in Hold 2 given by Peter Stone in his book The Lady and the President, it may be a Long Tom gun carriage.
From here you pass by the Tourist Lounge (no way in from the outside as far as I have found on six dives to it) and then another hold (Hold 6 - this was originally not only a hold, but the cover was a swimming pool). The Tourist Lounge would make an excellent penetration dive but the access would need to by via the Tourist Class Lobby near the pool. The depth here is about 50 metres on top of wreck and 60 in middle of wreck. On the way back to the deco stop you pass the swimming pool and can enter into the beauty shop and swim right though to the main lounge area where you can exit out through the bridge.
On this dive the attraction is not only seeing the huge stern of the ship (see photo at left), including the prop shafts, rudder, stern gun and rear hold. Another attraction is the simply awesome experience of seeing the size of the ship as you pass by the whole length of the ship, more than 200 metres!
The dive till you leave the second last cargo hold takes 15 minutes or so (you can do about 20 minutes if you are good on air). However, as you can imagine this is a dive for very experienced divers who are also very good on their air. Normally everyone carries twin tanks but certainly some have done it on singles (I have done it twice on a single tank and twice on twins). People who take single tanks usually need to use the spare tanks or share from a person who is carrying twins for a few minutes while at the deco stop.
|Eddy Labour (top) and Les Caterson (bottom) |
and the upper prop shaft (55 m)
Although you do not need to be really experienced to dive the Coolidge, a dive to the stern is only for the very experienced and competent diver. A fantastic dive well worth the extra effort.
For more details and photos on diving the Stern, click here to go to the Stern Dive.
Return to the Main SS President Coolidge Index Page.
|*||Twinky - a 1969 movie directed by Richard Donner (directed among other movies, Superman - The Movie, Maverick and the four Lethal Weapon movies as well as a fantastic 1959 episode of the Twilight Zone called Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring William Shatner), starred Charles Bronson, Susan George (sigh again), Honor Blackman, Michael Craig, Jack Hawkins, Trevor Howard, Lionel Jeffries and Robert Morley. The movie was also known as Child Bride, Lola, A Statutory Affair and London Affair although at least some of these did not have the theme song, just the music.
|**||The movies' song, Twinky, was written and sung by Jim Dale (star of many Carry On... movies). |