17 November 2008 | Vanuatu
Wow, it was a busy day. We got up at about 7AM to prepare for our dive on the President Coolidge (the star attraction here). Hideko decided to sit out so Margaret and I met up with the Alan Powers shop folks at the Beachfront resort. The Beachfront is nice but there is no dock there so we beached the dink and walked our gear across the lawn to the dive way. There is probably a better place to meet up with the shop but we were new so we took their suggestion (a convoluted conversation went on that I was not a party to involving laundry and other Beachfront Resort services).
Surprisingly the dive shop is a drive and dive outfit. Both of the big ticket dives here, the Coolidge and Million dollar point are shore dives. So not only do the shops with property on the coast at these sites not need boats but they actually spend time developing their shore site. We arrived at the entry area after a short stop at Alan's house (which doubles as a dive shop) to gear up. The entry area is like a park. The Powers crew has planted a beautiful array of plants along the road and the prep area is totally shaded with beautiful trees and has nice benches all around. The truck just backs in with the gear and you set up at your leisure.
The entry area is even more amazing. The sandy ramp that descends ever so gradually into the water actually has break waters on both side. It is the easiest entry I have ever seen. There are hand holds along the way in case you have a preferred depth for putting your fins on. At the end of the ramp in overhead water there is a wall with lines going off to different parts of the Coolidge. They all descend (or ascend when you are coming back up them) very gradually. No one rushes here, it is all pretty much serious divers only, and they only do one tank in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The Coolidge is monstrous. It is so big I had no real concept of what I was looking at when down on it. The vis was not as good as I had expected, maxing out at perhaps 50 feet. Never the less there are loads of fish (the naughty boys feed them regularly) and many are rather large. We saw some big trevally, grouper and snapper that any fisherman would be overjoyed to haul in. The wreck is austere and massive. The experienced folks we dove with suggested 10 dives to get a good feel for the wreck. I would have to agree. We saw glass port holes, gas masks and many places where you can penetrate the wreck. The engine room seems to be a popular spot.
We went for an easy one dive intro given our limited time. All dives on the Coolidge are deep. Our beginner dive went down to 130 feet. Many divers were on doubles and put in over a half an hour in deco stops. I would have loved to stay for more.
On the way up, particularly due to the long deco stops some folks have to make, Alan has created a coral garden near his wall. The divers at the shop transplant anemones (with their clown fish intact), flower pot corals and every other type of reef dweller you can imagine. The stop areas have hand holds, are clearly stepped at different depths and are surrounded by a wonderfully diverse transplanted reef. I'm not sure what I think about the transplanting process and its impact on the donor reef but it certainly was entertaining to explore during our stop. Margaret even located a large octopus who was sneaking through the coral changing colors abruptly to match all the while.
I would recommend Alan Powers diving. I think they are a well trained and very safe group with good equipment.
While Margaret and I were having fun, Hideko grabbed 10 gallons of gas for the dink in jerry jugs, got the laundry going with the Beachfront resort and lined up various other items on our get out of Dodge quick list. I love my wife! It was a scramble but we actually managed to clear out and get our duty free fuel permit before everything shut down for lunch at noon. We were trying to use up the last of our cash and actually ran out when it came to paying the harbor fees (7,800vt or about $75 USD). The ATM in town actually decided to give us cash though so all was well.
Back at the big boat we called in to the Pacific Gas folks and arranged a fuel delivery to Simpson Quay (one east of the customs quay). They only sell fuel in 200 liter drums. We needed a bit more than 500 but I settled for 400. Duty free it was about $4 USD a gallon, not too bad for these parts. As we waited for the truck on the quay things started to cloud up.
I was getting concerned as things darkened. Particularly because last night after setting the anchor we ran across the bay to the Aore Resort. We enjoyed a nice Melanesian buffet and then the wind began to pick up. I was getting ready to get the girls together to run off to the big boat and then it hit. A nasty whipping squall with lots of rain. We waited out the worst of it and then dashed back. Swingin' on a Star had definitely been swingin', she was a good 150 feet from where we left her but after a quick plot I determined that the Rocna hadn't moved an inch. I love that thing.
Anyway, the last thing I wanted to do was sit on a big concrete fishing quay while wind and waves bash my plastic boat to and fro. The fuel guy finally arrived after a prodding phone call. He pumps from the can on the truck while you fill. I ran everything through our baja filter and we were ready to go by about 4 PM.
We left the quay to pick up a mooring across the bay at the Aore Resort hoping to see our new friends on Polaris. The resort has 8 moorings and it makes for an easy out. When we came by last night in the dinghy we didn't see any. When I inquired they said the high tide hid them. Hmmm, they need to higher a more experienced mooring installation crew. It would be pretty dangerous to motor through a mooring field in the evening looking for solace with all of the moorings submerged at prop level. When we arrive tonight the tide was maybe +3.5 feet and they were still visible.
Hideko and Margaret picked up a mooring and immediately took off in the dink to grab the laundry. Polaris is near by but the crew seems to be out and about. We meet Polaris last night and immediately hit it off. Not only are they the first yacht we've seen in a few days, they are the only yacht we've ever met heading to the Solomons. They mentioned that a few of their friends were there now. They are German and there's a good German cruisers net that provides hook ups and weather with the controller now in Honiara (capital of the Solomon Islands).
Polaris is staying another day or two in Santo so we'll be leaving them tomorrow but we look forward to seeing them again down the road. They are avid divers with a compressor on board also, so we will no doubt be sharing some wonderful dives up north.
The Aore Resort is a nice little spot isolated from the rest of Luganville across the channel. The Resort has about 8 moorings which go for 1,200 vt a night (about $11 USD). They supposedly monitor VHF 68. They have potable water for yacht jerry jubs free of charge and sell direct yacht tank fills for 1,000 vt per hour. They also have a laundry service for 2,000 vt a load, machine drying is an extra 500 vt per load. You can use the dive showers to rinse off for free or pay 500 vt for a hot shower where soap is legal. The resort runs a ferry to Luganville which yachts can jump for 250 vt if there's room.
We're of to the Aore for dinner and then to bed early. We leave before 5AM tomorrow for Gaua (aka Santa Maria). It is the beginning of our forced march to the Honiara. It is 80nm to Gaua and another 80 to Tegua, where we will spend the second night out. After that we will make a 280nm overnight to Port Mary, San Cristobal in the Solomons. Then we have three easy 60nm day sails to Honiara on Guadal Canal. We're excited to see our next bit of this incredible forgotten part of the world.