Vanuatu Club Trip Report 1st – 10th September 2023
Million Dollar Point and SS President Coolidge.
The SS Coolidge was an American luxury cruise liner that served as a troop ship during WWII
but was sank accidently by American mines in the lagoon. This nearly 200m-long and 25m-wide
wreck lies just off the shore in an easily accessible location, with the shallowest at 20m and the
deepest at approx. 72m.
Here is a trip report from Cindy and Stuart Oastler, covering the 10 day Nautilus trip!
Friday 1 Sept morning – We arrived early at Brisbane International where it was suspiciously
empty but plenty of seats for us to relax on and wait. When Akiko arrived, she informed us of the
cancelled flights for our outer state club members. Michael and Judith along with their daughter
Samantha (Melbourne) and Neil (Sydney). After many hours of uncertainty Samantha deemed it
a no go and Neil eventually also pulled the pin on the trip. Michael and Judith did make it but
arriving 2 days later.
Friday night – We arrived at Port Vila Airport approx. 10 pm and our taxi driver said he would
take some customers to their hotel and come back for us….So at 11.00 pm we hired another
taxi to take us to our hotel. At 11.30 pm we crawled into bed only to be woken by a rather
bumpy earth tremor, except for Jim who slept through it!
Saturday 2nd – Up early again and at the airport for transfer to Espiritu Santo. Arrived at the
Espiritu Hotel to very welcoming and friendly faces to check in. We also met our dive guide
Jimmy and crew from Pacific Dive.
That afternoon was our first dive or ‘check out dive’ at Million Dollar Point, a shore dive with
millions of dollars’ worth of US Army goods dumped underwater. We arrived first at Pacific Dive
facilities where we were given the guide to what weights we would be using and the set up for
leaving BCD’s and wetsuits etc to dry overnight.
So, into the truck for a quick trip to Million Dollar Point. Jimmy and the crew would constantly
say this to us for the next week: “slow down – take your time – island time”; we then clambered
into 5mm wetsuits that for some of us either hadn’t been worn for a while or in my case was a
quick purchase Thursday afternoon before we left at 5.30 at Pro Dive…yes nice and
bouncy…the temp was 26 degrees, warm and balmy I’d imagine if you’re not from Cairns.
31 mtrs for a 30- minute dive – we saw relics from WWII and other boat wrecks, but the electric
clam was a small bonus.
Sunday 3rd – Dive crew had advised that pick up would be 8.00 am but you guessed ‘Island Time’
was more like 8.30 am, but this really wasn’t a problem as we had plenty of time to digest
Morning Dive 30 mtrs for a 48-minute dive. We descended into and around the bow section.
Afternoon Dive 28 mtrs 51-minute dive. Into the Cargo hold – torches on!
Monday 4th Morning – 34 mtrs 47-minute dive. Cargo hold number 2, saw pots/pans and a
Afternoon 33 mtrs 47 minutes dive. Checked out the medical store. Great fun just following the
guide to wherever in the wreck.
Tuesday 5th – Morning 41 mtrs 48-minutes. Down we go to see ‘The Lady’, the famous porcelain
relief panel of a lady riding a unicorn that once adorned the ship’s first-class smoking room.
Afternoon 31 mtrs 35-minute dive. Saw all the toilets (no privacy the way they positioned!)
Wednesday 6th – 27mtrs 54-minutes. Over the bow looking at anchors and forward
Afternoon 35 mtrs 53-minutes. B Deck
Thursday 7th – morning we took a banana boat over to Cindy’s Reef on Aore Island, it was very
choppy all the way there and back. Access to boat in and out was a tad awkward. Water was
also very cool. Reef was pretty with clams, nudi’s, rays and numerous small fish. It was decided
on the way back however, that we would trade our next boat dive for another tour on the
Coolidge – Thanks Akiko for organising that.
Night Dive 31 mtrs 35 minutes. A ‘dive with the Stars’ to see the flashlight fish that glow in the
dark. It was a very enjoyable dive.
Friday 8th – 47 mtrs 61 minutes. While Judy and Akiko opted to see the engine room only, Stu and
Jim did a full penetration dive with Jimmy our guide, going through the internal wreck structures
and coming out of the Chain Locker at the bow end. Dived into the engine room, saw telegraph
gauges. Ending with a long deco stop in the shallows.
From my point of view this is an achievable wreck dive. I did not once worry about being inside
the wreck. Quite opposite, I would have been happy to keep exploring more. In all honesty it did
get a bit silty in there with 6 people but that’s to be expected. The shore dives did take a toll with
me, my back was not great after a couple of days, so I did sit out a few dives but overall, I was
happy in achieving my 41 mtrs to ‘The Lady’.
Espiritu Santo is all about the wrecks, it’s not really about the marine life but we did see morays,
huge turtles, octopus, lion, and scorpion fish.
The Espiritu Hotel was a great choice by Simon at Diveplanit. We had plenty of food choices, in
the hotel and across the road at a café. Good coffee every morning, beautiful freshly made
croissants and fruit every day.
Pacific Dive crew were helpful, friendly, and calm.
Thank you to Akiko as well for the extra planning and dealing with everyone’s itinerary.
We spent our last day exploring Champagne Beach and the beautiful Blue Holes which are well
worth a visit whether you have a tour guide or self-drive.
I have attached a few photos from all of us.
If anyone wants to know more just come and ask Stu, Jim, Akiko or Judy on club night!