Once of the best things about diving the wreck of the SS President Coolidge is that it is a shore dive. The wreck is located only 75 metres or so off the beach. The wreck is lying on its port side, with the bow in about 20 metres and the shallowest part of the wreck (just behind the bow) in about 17 metres. The sand under the bow is about 25 metres and the stern is 70 metres.
Both the major operators here, Aquamarine and Alan Power, do virtually 100% of their dives as shore dives. While they both have boats, there is little to be gained from diving from a boat except for dives to the further parts of the wreck (like the Stern, the Galley and Holds 6 & 7. Even these can be done from shore by swimming out about 100 metres past the bow.
|The Aquamarine gearing up area|
Aquamarine and Alan Power have set up specialised areas where you gear up and enter the water. These are even landscaped, with very nice gardens and flowers. The Aquamarine area has a large concrete square with timber seats for sitting on and resting tanks while gearing up. The area is well shaded by the trees that overhang the majority of the area.
With both operators you get an excellent briefing and there are only a few people to each guide. After diving with Aquamarine you get a refreshing lemon drink and padimus (or pablimus - not sure of the spelling). This is a cross between a grapefruit and an orange and is quite sweet.
Another advantage is that as a shore dive, all your decompression (and you will do decompression on at least 50% of the dives and even as much as 100% of the dives) is done in the shallows. This is unlike shipwrecks in Australia where you end up hanging for ages on a deco line, watching nothing but blue water unless the occasional shark or sunfish swims past you.
At the end of every dive on the Coolidge, you swim up into the shallow area near where you entered the water. This has a slope that runs from about 25 metres straight under the bow up fairly steeply to about four to five metres. This is sand and is where you do your deeper stops. On dives to spots like The Stern or the Swimming Pool, you end up starting your stops at 12 metres. No matter what computer you use or what you computers says, you are obliged to stick to the deco times that your guide sets. These are based on square profiles and give a large margin of safety.
The stops at 12 and 9 metres are not all that interesting, as there is only sand with the occasional blind shrimp and goby to amuse you. Sometimes there may be schools of fish but these tend to stick a little higher. However, once you get to the 6 metre level, things change.
|The lower levels of the Deco Stop||Some of the huge schools of fish throng around Kelly|
Before going any further, I should explain that each dive operation has its own spot for doing decompression. These are right next to each other, with Alan Power to the west and Aquamarine to the east. The dividing line is a wall of coral. Each side has a metal deco bar held down by concrete blocks. These are in case you are a bit light and need to hold on.
At low tide, the water is only about three metres deep at the northern ends of the deco stops but at high tide it is at least four metres.
|A firefish at the Deco Stop|
Dozens can be seen on night dives
|A mantis shrimp under the coral garden|
Where the sand flattens out from the slope, there is a lot of coral. Some of it is dead and some alive. To the east and west of the deco stops there are some large coral heads but most of it does not have much live coral. Both sides used to be similar in what they looked like but in the 2000s, the Aquamarine side has got very “tired”. The Alan Power side is as good a coral reef a you will see anywhere. This is mainly because Alan dives nearly every day and tends to his “garden”. He goes to under the bow of the Coolidge and collects coral, sometimes breaking it off (you can hear his chiselling all over the wreck sometimes). I cannot say that I necessarily support this action, but the benefits to divers become obvious once you see the results.
|A clownfish near the Deco Stop||This clownfish was a bit shallower|
Once you reach a depth that coincides with the gardens, spend your deco time looking closely at the coral. There you will find numerous species of coral, hard and soft, as well as different species of anemones. Look carefully at the anemones, not only do they have clownfish of a number of species, they house shrimp. You will find the most amazing shrimp you will ever see. Totally transparent shrimp, transparent ones with spots of colour and ones that we called "dancing shrimp". These are orangy in colour with white stripes across their bodies and tails. These were amazing, they were in the same spot every dive and they constantly danced, shaking their tails and moving about. See some of the photos below.
|These are what we called dancing shrimp - every day |
they were in the same spot - there are at least 11 here
|A closeup of some of the dancing shrimp|
On every dive I have done here, I have never been bored doing decompression. Many times our guide would say it is time to exit the water but we would indicate that we were staying five or ten minutes more to take more photos.
|A totally transparent shrimp||Another photo of the dancing shrimp|
Make sure that you keep space on your memory card for plenty of photos, you will be amazed what you can see.
|There were a few of these fat pink starfish||A anemone and clownfish|
Some more photos.
|One of many species of nudibranch |
we saw at the deco stop
|This octopus was in a rock on the shallow side of the deco stop|
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