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Date: 19 Oct 2012 16:47:00
Title: Rain and wrecks

Lat 15:22.81S
Lon 167:11.67E

Since we arrived in Santo it has hardly stopped raining. We are now into our 4th day of downpours, which are making it hard for us to get out and explore. We anchored near the beachfront resort in Luganville, which is a bit of a stretch of the word "resort" but our opinions are again probably affected by the rain! I fear we are being given a glimpse of what it will be like in England...We have managed to do a bit of shopping in Luganville, although it is much smaller than Port Villa and there is barely anything resembling a supermarket. Some of the cafe's have free wifi though so we've bought plenty of milkshakes and muffins! We had been meaning to do some cleaning on the boat and fix a few things up, but the weather is not great for our motivation!

Luganville's attractions are mainly underwater - Million Dollar Point is where the US army dumped a load of their unwanted jeeps, diggers, and tanks after the end of WWII. Apparently they couldn't agree a selling price with the people of Vanuatu, so they just dumped the lot in the water! We got out the bikes and cycled to the point. It was good to use our legs again, and for once we had enough sunshine to burn our noses. We snorkelled the area, but because of the previous wind and rain, the visibility was terrible, although you could make out some things if you dove down.

Archie in a sunken jeep


Standing on the jaws of a rusty old crane


Across from where we were anchored was another island with a resort called Aore. Mike and Sammy had recommended the steak there so we dinghied across the channel for a hot shower and a very good dinner. The people there were really friendly and it was nice to be back in civilisation again. The steak was as delicious as promised.

On Thursday we did what we came to do here - dive the wreck of the SS President Coolidge, one of the largest and best preserved wrecks in the world. We were picked up from the resort and then jumped in a boat to cruise over to the wreck site, which is just at the entrance to the harbour channel. The dive boat was made from a rather daft design where by the person driving at the back can't actually see over the front of the cabin roof at the front, so our dive guide, Aidan, had to keep swerving to check that we weren't about to crash into anything!

The Coolidge was a 200m long, luxury cruise liner during the 1930's, but during the war it was converted to a US navy crew ship. On entering the harbour at Luganville in October 1942, it hit a US laid mine. It's not known whether the incident was a result of bad sailing orders or bad sailing. The captain, realising that he was going to loose the ship, drove it straight into the reef and ordered everyone to abandon ship. Everyone got safely ashore except for one person who was noted as missing on the lists, and the captain bravely went back onboard the sinking ship to find this one crew member. Whilst searching for the missing crew member the captain lost his life as the ship slid back down the reef and sunk, just 86 minutes after she had hit the mine. It was later revealed that the missing crew member had died on impact with the mine in the engine room, and had been dead long before the captain went back on board to search for him. It is nearly 70 years to the day since the ship sunk, and there are numerous plans in town to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the sinking and the heroics of the captain.

The ship - she lies on her port side


We were using our own diving gear, but as we were about to get into the water, my regulator spat the dummy and started free-flowing air. So we drove over to Million Dollar Point where there was another dive boat who leant us another regulator. Then we had a further 20 minute delay while we waited for another guy who had rocked up late from the airport and who wanted to dive with us. Anyway, shortly after that we actually got down to the wreck. We haven't dived a wreck before so it's hard to know what to expect when someone says that it is in 'great condition'. To us it still had reef and coral growing all over it, and it was quite hard to tell what bits were which. We explored the bow and picked up some conveniently placed helmets and guns for the obligatory cheesy photo before we approached our entry point into the hull. Unfortunately at this point my ears decided to play up, and I couldn't equalise. After a few minutes, I told the others to go on and I would go back to the surface and back to the boat. I was really dissapointed as I had been really excited about doing the wreck. Half an hour later the others surfaced and we had some gross egg salad sandwiches on the beach, and then went down for a second dive. Again, I got as far as the bow and was then unable to equalise to go any further. It seemed like it was just not meant to be. Archie enjoyed the second dive, and says he will write a blog about it. My ears have historically been a bit dodgy in the past, but I haven't had any problems with them on the whole trip so it was really annoying not to be able to explore the wreck from the inside.

Wearing a helmet and gun retrieved from the wreck - they were really heavy and I had to be supported not to lose my balance!


On Friday, after another night of heavy rain, we sailed up to where we are now, Oyster Island, just about 18 miles north of Luganville. It's a really nice spot, between tiny islands and reefs, making it very sheltered. Unfortunately we draw too much depth to be able to get into the really sheltered anchorage, but it is still pretty flat water. There is a really nice resort with one of the best seafood restaurants in Vanuatu here. Tomorrow we are borrowing some kayaks from the resort and kayaking up the river to a 'blue hole' which is meant to be a very beautiful swimming spot in a pool of very clear blue water. The forecast looks a little brighter so hopefully we might get a break from the rain.

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