21 October 2009 | Aore Island, Vanuatu
After about a week anchored in front of Oyster Island we followed Tin Soldier, Airstream and Kairos out the pass and down to Segond Channel, the entrance to Luganville and Aore Island. Tin Soldier and Airstream were getting ready to check out of the country and head for Australia, Kairos was going to check out and head north to the Solomon Islands.
We picked up a mooring in front of the Aore Island Resort and spent a few days enjoying the pool at Aore, and crossing over to Luganville in Santo to do some shopping and sightseeing.
Luganville is interesting because, as we learned, it was home to 500,000 U.S. servicemen during World War II, and was, for a time, the largest US military base in the Pacific Theater. The numerous corrugated-iron Quonset huts they left behind are still standing and you see them throughout the town. We snorkeled "Million Dollar Point", so named because this is where the U.S. dumped tons of their military equipment after the war. I had great expectations of snorkeling over tanks and aircraft but the reality was a little less impressive: lots of unidentifiable scraps, some building materials. Only a few times I saw something I could actually recognize. John and Maddie saw a complete Caterpillar earth mover and someone else saw a nearly intact Jeep, so that was kind of cool.
More impressive I'm sure is the dive on the S.S. President Coolidge. The Coolidge is an old luxury liner that was converted to a troop and cargo transport during the war. Unfortunately as she was steaming in to the base in Luganville she was misdirected and steamed right into the field of mines that guarded the channel entrance from Japanese subs. The subsequent explosions had her sinking fast. Luckily the Captain gave the order to ground her on the nearby reef where she listed for about an hour and a half- long enough to get her crew off- before slipping off the reef and sinking beneath the sea until she finally came to rest on her side in about 180 feet of water. She has become one of the world's premier wreck dives. .Bill and Janet dove on it about 6 times- always seeing something new: the cargo hold (still full of jeeps), swimming pool, the engine room, etc. Glen and Jaryd dove on it twice. They bought a DVD about the wreck which told the history of the ship with excellent footage of her in her heyday as a luxury liner and as she sits now, encrusted with coral and home to exotic sea life.
It was a bittersweet couple of days as we realized our time with these cruising buddies was drawing to a close. We were all going in separate directions, and this time we are not going to end up in the same place. Particularly difficult was saying goodbye to Glen, Marilyn and Jaryd on Tin Soldier. We've been sailing with them off and on since we met them over 2 years ago in San Diego and we will surely miss them.
Next up: Maewo Island.