A Shipwreck and some Blue Holes…
The clouds swish across the sky as I stare out at the perfect tropical landscape that we are getting to enjoy this week.
We have spent almost 2 weeks on the island of Espiruto Santo. We headed North from Ambrym, after the festival we attended finished. A quick motor sail up between the islands.
As we came into Lugnaville the wind was starting to pick up and unfortunately the way the channel and anchorage lies made it super uncomfortable. We ended up scooting over the passage to Aore Island, and picking up a mooring ball from one of the local dive operators, where we stayed tucked out of the wind and rocking that the boat was doing in the waves on the other side.
Paul and Paul are the 2 Aussie guys that run one of the dive shops in the town. Diving is big business in Santo.
The wreck of the SS President Coolidge is at the entrance to the channel, along with Million Dollar Point. Both are incredible historical sites that we wanted to get a look at.
The Coolidge is an interesting story, as the Americans had turned the ex luxury ocean liner into a troop ship during the Second World War. She was used to carry up to 5000 troops around the Pacific. On one such trip, she feared Japanese submarines and so entered the Harbour in Espurito Santo, not knowing that information had been left private about the whereabouts of mines that had been laid. She was hot by 2 mines on entering the channel and the Captain ended up beaching her to be able to get all of his troops off safely.
There ended up being only 2 casualties, from the 5,340 men that were on board.
Bit of a disaster and a stuff up really…
The ship has laid where she ran aground since 1942, and is known as one of the top wreck dives in the world. We were here, and it was there, so we had to check it out!
The ‘Paul’s’ organized a morning of 2 dives for us and we had a local guide taking us down, who has done 15000 (yes that is the correct number) of dives on and around the area of the Coolidge.
I was a little nervous going out there as it was going to be the deepest dive that I had done, and almost pulled out at the last minute, but I am so glad I did not!
It was incredible.
The sheer size of the boat is mind-blowing. We dived on a small part of it and even in that area there was more to see than the time that we had down there.
Shells, machine guns, plates and cups, cutlery, coke bottles, helmets… they were all still there, the same as the day she had gone down. We explored cargo holds inside the ship that had aircraft fuel tanks, trucks and other military equipment still sitting in them.
There were schools of fish that swam over us, blotting out the light as we circled the outside, then inside, in one of the darkest areas we turned off our torches and watched lightning fish glow in the water around us like tiny pin pricks of light.
There were tunnels and holes to navigate through and it was a somewhat challenging experience at stages, getting yourself and your tank through passages and doorways without knocking into the small spaces and pulling out your reg…which would have been disastrous.
We swam past the old Barber Shop, with its chair still there, looking like all was ready for the next passenger to roll in for his haircut. Bathrooms with washbasins and toilets still in perfect condition, all just turned on their side from the way the ship had been laid, in her final resting place.
There was a friendly, and huge, Moray Eel, that sat waiting and watching as you swam past, giving me the fright of my life when I saw him, as I thought it was a port hole that I had gone to have a look through, then out he popped!
One of the best things were the electric clams, who have a current that runs between the two open sides of their shells, a surprising sight to see!
I had ruined Emelia’s underwater camera, and our other one had been taken back to NZ to be replaced as it was faulty, so unfortunately, we didn’t have any phots of the underwater experience.
On the decompression stops, there were tiny fish to watch, darting about their underwater life, wondering who these giants were, sitting beside them.
The stops were long, so the marine life got used to you sitting there, and were quite inquisitive after a few minutes.
The dives were expensive, but worth it. When will we ever be back here to do this again we wonder?
We met a young couple, on their honeymoon, who had travelled from France to dive the sites in Luganville, and the surrounding areas, so we felt lucky that our trip – although long to get here – was easier than theirs and we had the luxury of time, to stay and really enjoy it all.
After 5 days hiding out from the wind, we crossed back over the channel to anchor in front of the very yacht friendly Beachfront Resort.
Here we enjoyed several days by the pool, endless free internet and caught up with one of our kid boat friends that we had met in NZ, Aquilon. Their 3 children and our 3 were delighted to have each other to play with!
Market shopping and supermarket shopping were done. Diesel and petrol jerry cans were filled. Sheets were laundered at the hotel, saving me having to do them all on the boat with our washing machine and our limited water, then we set off around the corner for a wee spot called Palikula Bay.
Palikula was a stunner! Tucked away out of the wind, a giant horseshoe bay with crystal clear water and surrounded by beautiful beaches.
There was a spot close to the beach at the head of the bay, across a very shallow patch that we headed for and it was spectacular.
The water was warm, clear and inviting and we spent 4 nights here enjoying the bay. Our friends on Aquilon joined us, along with another Australian couple we had met and we enjoyed the company of being together with other adults, while the kids loved the time with friends.
Days were spent swimming between the boats, paddle boarding, exploring beaches, snorkeling, sailing the little Open Bic that Aquilon have on board and celebrating a birthday for one of their children.
Children’s birthdays are a funny old thing on a boat as there is a high probability you may not be around another kid boat – or any other boat you know for that matter – and so they can be a little lonely compared to what would happen at home. We have Emelia’s coming up and so are hoping that we will be with some other boats to help us celebrate for her then.
From Palikula we headed North again, to Peterson Bay. Well known here as being one of the most protected and calm bays on Santo.
They weren’t wrong.
To enter you pass over 2 very, very shallow reef areas, and then into a big wide-open bay with reefs protecting the 2 areas where it is open to the sea.
When I say very, very shallow, I mean we had 1.2 m under the boat when we came through it. A little nerve wracking at the best of times, but knowing that it is sharp hull-eating coral heads makes it all the more…. exciting!
The Captain did an excellent job, as usual, of keeping
Waterhorse safe and we cruised through the first one, and then through the wobbly old slalom markers of the second tight
gap with ease. It is not a pass for the faint hearted.
We spent almost a week here. The first 3 nights with our buddy boats from Palikula. Then 2 on our own before our good friends on Nahoa arrived, along with 2 more kid boats. One we had met in Fiji, and another new lot of friends. Ages ranging from 5 to 15 and sadly for Noah, all girls!
Peterson Bay holds the entrance to 2 separate Blue Holes. Super deep, super amazing, super blue pools of water that you access either by heading up the river to them, or walking inland. We chose the dinghy option to get to the first one, Matavelu Blue Hole.
You meander up a lush, jungle type river, that you would expect to see in the Amazon, past vines and Banyan trees, dripping from the banks into the water, pathways seemingly hidden from view until corners are turned, navigating through fallen trees and small ecosystems that have started to grow on the accumulated leaf debris on the sides of the river path. Ducking under low lying branches, you make you way into ever increasing clear water, until you suddenly turn a corner and see a most magnificent sight ahead… a different type of blue, a deep and striking blue, shimmering in the sunlight, surrounded by huge trees and flowers, with golden leaves raining down into the pool as your breath is taken away!
They are an incredible sight. The water is clear. It is cooler than the sea and so refreshing as you dive in. So nice to be in fresh water for a change, although the buoyancy that we are all used to is not there and swimming takes a little more effort.
The kids (and us big ‘kids’) spent several hours swimming and having a blast on the 2 rope swings that are there. One is set off the small jetty, several meters off the water, and the other is bit of a climb up the humongous Banyan tree, on the rickety, wobbly stairs that have been nailed haphazardly in, to a small platform in the branches that you swing off like a monkey, spinning you far across the deep blue water before you let go to land with a splash from high in the air.
There were many bombs. Competition started of course, of who could do the most interesting entrance, biggest splash, or as most of the time ended up happening, the best back slap! A back-slap entrance from maybe 5 or so meters is not the most enjoyable experiences!
Everyone had an absolute blast.
On my last swing off the big one, I felt my finger pull as I let go of the rope, thinking I may have knocked it on one of the knots. I swam to the side and realised it was very sore, and from the front knuckle it was on a little bit of an odd angle! I didn’t think too much of it, until later when it started to swell so much I couldn’t move it. Luckily, I had to foresight to remove my wedding ring from the next finger as it ended up swelling like a balloon and was excruciatingly sore!
Denise, who was on the other Catamaran with us, was a Plastic Surgeon’s Nurse back in Australia, who had seen many a hand operation, came over that evening to check it out for me. I could still feel the end and move it ever so slightly, so she figured it had been dislocated on the rope and then popped itself back in. At least it wasn’t broken, so we strapped it up and I have been of little use with that hand since then.
Aquilon and Lukim Yu both left the next day to adventure further north and we all decided it had almost been like a holiday, with the children have friends and also more adults to be with. A break from the usual confines of your own family all the time.
We explored the second Blue Hole, the Riri, with our new friends who had just arrived and Nahoa. We were again blown away by the beauty.
The 4 dinghies took the twisting and turning river up to Riri, passing more fallen trees and marveling at the stillness and reflection on the water as we cruised up.
A most surprising sight was a coconut tree, growing right in the middle of the river, like a small round about.
Again, there were rope swings from platforms and high trees. Again, there were many bombs and backslaps! Beers were taken this time and after everyone had had their fun in the water we sat, enjoying a cold beverage and marveling at the wondrous spot that we had been able to experience.
In the time that we have been on the boat, this has to be one of the best things that we have done and seen. They are truly amazing.
We went back to the Matavelu hole the next day for our second visit with the new crew of people.
It was just as spectacular. We felt spoilt to be able to experience such beauty.
There was one last blue hole to get to in the area and this one was 5 or so KM away. By road. We don’t have a car….
The funny thing about Vanuatu is anyone will give you a ride. So, we set off, just the 5 of us. Togs and towels packed, snacks, but in the rush, we had left the water bottle in the dinghy at the small wharf.
Walking was slow going. The cars were few and far between. We started to wonder if we would get a ride…. until the smallest car we had seen stopped and offered us a lift! The kids, who were well hot and bothered by this stage were delighted and we all piled in the back seat, all 5 of us!
They kindly dropped us at the path to the Nanda Blue hole and we wandered on down. Our friends from Nahoa had left an hour or so earlier, walking. We arrived at the same time, paid our entrance fee to the local man who’s land it was on and headed down for a refreshing swim.
Again, we were blown away by the beauty. By the clarity of the water. By the magic that these blue holes seem to possess.
We swam and bombed to our hearts content, before getting changed out of our damp togs and heading back to the road to try and hitch a ride back.
It was even slower going this time and the excitement and anticipation of the Blue hole and evaporated, so the kids were like sloths…
Eventually a lovely older Australian couple stopped for us, we all jumped in the back of their Ute and sped back to our waiting dinghies in the bay.
Bedtime came early that night. The long and very hot day, plus the excitement of the last week had caught up with everyone. The constant blowing of the ash cloud from Ambar Volcano was also causing a tickle in the throat and a hay fever like situation for some of us. I can only imagine how the people who live here must feel with the air filled with the haze that was blanketing us. We needed to get moving again to get past this annoyance.
Tomorrow we would leave, through that same nerve wracking pass. Tomorrow we would head on to new and fantastic destinations on the island and beyond, but for that night, we all slept like logs.