The island of Espiritu Santo is world famous for the wreck of the SS President Coolidge. All divers interested in wrecks have heard of this ship and dream of one day diving there.
It is a former cruise liner over 198m in length, converted into a troop transporter during WWII. He began his career on the oceans in 1931, to end it in 1942.
It is currently one of the largest wrecks accessible for scuba diving, and also, is also easily reached from the shore. President Coolidge is a magical place to explore, his cargo is still on board, all the machinery is intact! On the deck are scattered weapons, gas masks, helmets, and personal effects. You will not risk being bored!
History of Ss President Coolidge
President Coolidge was a luxury steam powered cruise liner built in 1931 in the United States. It was at the time equipped with the finest fittings and could accommodated 990 passengers in three classes (First, Second and Third class), plus 324 crew members. It included two swimming pools, a gym, a playroom for children, shops, a hairdresser, and a deck dedicated to sports (golf, tennis, handball). He was making the San Francisco – Asia route via Honolulu.
In early 1941, the US government requisitioned it to evacuate 1,000 Americans based in Hong Kong, and upon the declaration of war between Japan and the United States, it transformed it into a personnel carrier. They removed the decorations to save as much space as possible and to ensure that it could carry up to 5,000 soldiers.
On January 12, 1942, it made its first trip to the South Pacific, to Wellington and Melbourne. Its fourth and last voyage began on October 6, 1942, bound for Noumea in New Caledonia. After a 4-day stopover, it set sailing for the neighboring New Hebrides.
Approaching Santo, and before entering the protected port of Luganville, a series of poor communications drove the Coolidge directly to the American mines. After the shock, Captain Nelson led the boat to the beach and the reef then ordered the evacuation of the vessel. Out of 5,342 passengers on board, only 2 men lost their lives. October 26, 1942, was the end of the adventure as a boat for President Coolidge, and the start of a new life as a wreck to the delight of the divers.
Diving on President Coolidge
The President Coolidge wreck is easily accessible, directly from the beachfront, in calm, protected waters. These favorable conditions make it an affordable dive site for the greatest number. It rests on its left flank, over an area of 20m at the bow and 70m at the stern. Given the size of the wreck, you can dive in it over 10 times without seeing the entire boat. It is also a superb site for night diving, the atmosphere of torches and light shows in the wreck makes it even more mysterious.
President Coolidge’s dive sites
The Lady is arguably the most famous image of the wreck. This is a superb ceramic figure hanging in the dining room of the First Class. It was originally in the smoking lounge in First Class, but following a fall in 2000, they moved it after restoration.
La Poupe is a nice entry point, soft corals have invaded the point. You will be accompanied by scorpionfish, triggerfish, nudibranchs, and Nessie, a resident moray eel.
The promenade deck will allow you to observe many artillery pieces and ammunition. Blocks 1 and 2 in the front are the most important, they have still loaded trucks and other equipment.
Deeper down, the engine room is a favorite with divers, and if that tempts you, you can swim a few lengths in the pool. You can also dive into the Doctor’s Office infirmary, the captain’s bathroom, and the galley, still full of dishes.
Most of the dives being within 30m, for safety, you will end the dive within 4m on Coral Garden. The reef is quite rich, and you can come across lionfish, leaf fish, groupers, sweet lips, angelfish, butterflyfish, but also seahorses, ghost fish, gobies, shrimps, etc.