Santo and WW2

Sat 30 Aug 2014 03:05
26th August 2014

Sailed away after sunset from Ambryn for a night sail farther north to the island of Espirito Santo, famous as the American Base for the Pacific war against the Japanese. (Google it for more details - Ed)
The stars were bright and it was a clear night as we looked back at Ambryn we were thrilled to see the two volcanos glowing red as the lava lit up the clouds above the craters. We could see the glow for miles and miles. Very exciting especially as we had climbed up to the larger one. 
I never cease to be thrilled at the night sky from a boat on an empty sea. We had good breeze and didn't need the engine for a while.  Its hard to sleep with it clonking along and our cabin gets so stuffy. 

We planned to arrive at dawn so the sun light would show up the coral reef upon entering Oyster Bay. Best laid plans, we were past high water and after trickling tentatively along this channel we touched the bottom and had to retreat to a grotty anchorage by the capital Luganville.  This is a concrete dilapidated place hot, dusty and smelly where the influence of the American war years is everywhere. Menu boards offer The best hamburger in Santo and chips with everything. 
Check out the notice.

We cast about for a grocery store,  but only found gloomy shacks with dusty tins on the shelves run by busy Chinese who looked bewildered when we asked for fruit and vegetables.  Later on we discovered the market place and was that fun. I made the mistake of wearing just a T shirt over my cozzie and was showing far too much leg. Children giggled and pointed as their mothers tutted and were reluctant to serve me.  Ooooops!  There were lots of panniers and baskets made of woven green palm leaves full of sweet potatoes, papayas, grapefruit and green bananas and on the floor bunches of weird looking root vegetables and huge bunches of peanuts.  No one had any change and we only had notes from the cash machine but in the end we managed to get some provisions.  

Waiting for our hamburgers.

Off the shore there is Million Dollar Point named because when the American troops left after the war they dumped all their equipment and ordinance in the sea because nobody would buy it. 
Tanks litter the bottom now covered in coral and fish

Farther along is the wreck of the USS President Coolidge, a luxury liner used to transport troops and sank after hitting a 'friendly'  mine on arrival from the States. Slight 'cock up' on Titanic proportions. Only two lives were lost. She lies in 30 - 70 metres close to shore and is a world famous diver's paradise.  A big character, Allan Power, almost owns the place and has made it his life's work to preserve it as a dive site.

The beleaguered ship with the troops evacuating. 

We booked a two dive day which had me a bundle of butterflies having not dived since May and never in a serious wreck.   There's a rope from the beach you follow down into the mirky depths to 33 metres…the deepest Andrew and I had ever been. 

Janie down over the deck.

You could make out the bow in the gloom and the 3 inch gun riveted on the foredeck covered in coral. I was clearly nervous which was great as I had one of our two dive masters all to myself, lovely fun Paul. He took me by the hand and showed me jeeps, rifles, crockery jugs and even gas masks. The bathrooms and toilets with pretty tiling. There used to be a massive grouper living on the wreck, called Boris, protected and fed by Allan.  The fish loom out of the door ways and portholes, its terribly like those shots from the Titanic. Being a luxury liner there is a grand dining room and stair case but that's deeper and not for us.  Andrew and I were elated to have managed thus far and went off with everyone for lunch and psyche ourselves up for the second dive where we would be taken inside the cargo holds and corridors…! 
Still smiling.

This second time Andrew and Tim came along with me and Paul, as Harry and Imo are far too adventurous for us. They went down into the deepest darkness with torches to see The Lady, an intact porcelain relief of Elizabeth 1 with a unicorn (see above) Its priceless.  Meanwhile we intrepid trio were led inside by Paul and scared ourselves witless going into the cargo hold to see the jeeps all piled up and huge caterpillar tanks, the Sick Bay with bottles of medicine and corridors where you had to keep your head from banging above or scraping beneath. 
We had torches and both of us had a moment when our masks needed clearing and we almost panicked but managed to keep calm and carry on following the cheery Paul. 
Completely exhausted afterwards but terribly thrilled and proud.