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Andrew Whitehead and The Lady in its original position.
The Lady

SS President Coolidge

For over 55 years the SS President Coolidge has rested in the clear, calm waters of the lush tropical island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. Sunk by a friendly mine, the WWII troop ship (formally a luxury liner) lies on its side less than 100 metres away from the shore and offers a paradise for divers keen to access a virtually intact wreck of such proportions - the ship is over 196 metres long and 25 metres wide. Teeming with history and colourful marine life, the Coolidge is visited by thousands of divers each year who marvel at the belongings left by 5,000 troops and the splendour of the ostentatious fixtures and fittings of a trans-Pacific liner.

As the Coolidge lies at depths from 20 – 70 metres, all dives are supervised by experienced dive guides and followed by comprehensive decompression stops. Safety is of the utmost importance with conservative stops calculated for the end of each dive with drop tanks positioned at 9 and 6 metres. Shore dives are the best access method to the Coolidge, though for the deeper dives ‘The Lady’ – a nine-metre state of the art dive boat – is available.

The adventure really begins on swimming down to the bow to be greeted by the magnificent SS President Coolidge – the warm water temperature (24 –28 C) and visibility add to the experience. Heading along the side of the ship, ammunition shells, various artefacts and salvage cuts provide a glimpse of what divers can expect on entering the ship. From the bow, divers can duck into the cargo holds where tracked vehicles and artillery guns lie, or take a swim along the promenade deck where well heeled Americans of the early 30s strolled to a cooling sea breeze, and troops of the 40s left their helmets, rifles, bayonets and gas masks in the scramble to evacuate the ship, which sank in an incredible 90 minutes.

On heading back to the surface, the coral garden’s beauty and abundance of marine life provides divers with a great end to the wreck dive. Here also, divers meet Boris, a 200 kg Queensland grouper who takes breakfast with the team as he swims gracefully through divers.

With over 30 years experience maintaining and guiding on the Coolidge, Allan Power’s knowledge of the wreck is undoubtedly unrivalled. After the morning dive, divers are invited to his house which is a mini-museum. During the debriefs, divers share tea/coffee and cakes while flicking through the collection of books, photographs and artefacts collected from the Coolidge and Santo. Visit Alan Power's website

The Coolidge is the world’s largest accessible wreck and, like all other world treasures, it needs maintenance. Since 1969, Allan Power, an underwater photographer who visited Santo on a salvage trip, has remained to become the ‘caretaker’ of the ship. Together with his dive team, he has accepted the unofficial maintenance of the ship. This includes the recent retrieval, repair, cleaning and re-hanging of the Lady. Local dive operators ‘rescued’ the beautiful ceramic figure, based on a French tapestry, and finally repositioned her upright at a depth of 38 metres. ‘Operation skylight’ engages the maintenance team in cleaning the skylights in the first class lobby and continental lounge, providing additional light for divers to feast their eyes on the ornate Italian mosaic fountain and the Chinese style brass mushroom lamps. The first class swimming pool proves a demanding task as the combination of its depth (55 metres) and location, requires accurate dive planning.


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