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David Eggerschwiler
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Monday, September 29, 2014

SS President Coolidge

The SS President Coolidge was built in 1931 as a cruise and merchant ship. From 1940 to 1942 it was used by the US military to evacuate citizens and transport troops. In 1942 it was finally converted into a true troopship and equip with guns. On 26 October 1942 it hit two friendly mines when navigating towards Luganville in Espiritu Santo. The captain tried to beach the ship and almost everyone could be safely evacuated. However, because a coral reef was in the way, the ship ended up slipping back into the water shortly afterwards.

Nowadays, it lies on its side in shallow water and offers perfect conditions for divers. This was the main reason why I traveled all the way to Espiritu Santo.

Once in town I hooked up with Allan Power Dive Tours. Allan Power, now retired from diving, is the leading expert on the Coolidge, with over 15'000 dives logged. I was lucky enough that it was reasonably quiet at the time so I got a personal dive guide for most of my dives and thus we were able to explore the wreck to its fullest and slowly extend my experience with deep dives. Even though the wreck starts at 15 meters, the interesting things are normally to be found close to or past 40 meters.

After an intriguing introduction dive where we stayed on the outside and looked at the different guns the Coolidge was equipped with, we ventured on our first penetration dive to visit The Lady. The Lady is a porcelain sculpture that was originally located in the dining room and is now in a more accessible spot for divers.

The next step was a visit to the engine room at 46 meters, where we could still see the gages set for full steam ahead.

Venturing deeper we visited the outside pool at 54 meters, which has an interesting mosaic floor, but which gave me some trouble counting all the different colors used ;).

Since that dive went well, we ventured into the Galley, which is located at 55 meters, where a large number of China bowls were still present, together with three huge cooking pots.

A short visit to Cargo Hold 6 & 7, revealed an immense spare propeller blade and boxes of ammunition, and set a new depth record of 56.9 meters.

Another highlight of the Coolidge are it's night dives, where you venture into Cargo Hold 2 at 30 meters without lights to see a spectacular show displayed by Flashlight Fish. It felt like being in a disco :).

My last dive day brought it all together. We swam on the surface until the end of the ship, where we descended and were greeted by the two resident Hawksbill Turtles. We then entered Cargo Hold 7 and progressed inside the ship past Cargo Hold 6, the Galley, Cargo Hold 3, B- and C-Deck and out through the Chain Locker. Completing a 200 meters inside traversal of the whole wreck with a maximum depth of 58.4 meters. Once we exited the wreck my computer showed 26 minutes deco time after 26 minutes diving, and it took 53 minutes until we were clear to exit the water.

I had a fantastic time diving the Coolidge and would like to thank Allan Power's team for making it such a memorable experience!

Unfortunately, my underwater housing only goes to 40 meters, so I don't have too many pictures of these dives, but the pictures I have can be found in this web album.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Humpback Whales in the Kingdom of Tonga

In the Kingdom of Tonga, one of the few South Pacific countries that was never conolized, we boarded the wonderful liveaboard Nai'a for a ten-day trip to the Humpback Whales in the Ha'apai Group.

We had a fantastic times with many whale sightings both above and below water.

Highlights were when we could spend close to an hour with a mother and her calf. While the mother rested the calf curiously swam up to us and then back to her mother again.

Later we spotted a Heat Run, that is a competition between several males for one female. It lasted over three hours with spectacular displays of tail slapping, pectoral fin slapping and breaching.

To end the perfect trip we had an encounter with four friendly Humpbacks that swam around the boat. We just stayed in the water and waited while they swam by repeatedly. One of them was particularly adventurous and repeatedly showed us his belly, swimming past underneath us on his back.

It was an unbelievable experience, seeing those huge animals navigate effortlessly through the water and even lifting their whole weight of 50 - 80 tons out of the water for spectacular breaches.

In addition to all the whale watching and snorkling we also did a couple of dives. However, diving in Tonga is not as good as other parts in the world, so if we had to choose between diving and whales I always selected the whales (at least after day 3). Nevertheless, we did see some interesting things on the dives. My highlights were Dogtooth Tuna hunting a school of fusiliers and a Corrallimorph Deocrator Crab.

I could go into much more detail what we saw on each day, but Joshua and Amanda, the cruise directors, already did a perfect job of that, so if you are interested what else we saw then I can highly recommend the following blogpost.

All my pictures can be found in this webalbum.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Sharks in Fiji

Right after leaving Fiji two years ago I vowed to return to see the Bull Sharks. And so it was a happy coincidence, that the first part of my group tour to Tonga accommodated 9 days in Fiji with 3 Shark Dive Days!

But first we went on a regular "check" dive. Since we were an advanced group, we went straight for the outer reefs where we explored the wreck of Tasu 2.

On Monday it was time for the first two Shark Dives. For the first dive we went down to 25.5 meters and we encountered more fish than we expected. First of all we spotted many Bull Sharks, Sicklefin Lemon Sharks and Tawny Nurse Sharks. Even an elusive Silvertip Shark swam by in the distance and after the feeding ended we spotted a Whitetip Reef Shark cruising along the reef.

For the second dive we went down to 18.5 meters and saw even more Bull and Tawny Nurse Sharks. In addition we spotted the elusive Blacktip Reef Shark.

On Tuesday, another regular dive day was planned and we went out to Frigates, which boasts one of the worlds most famous breaks, which many surfers frequent. For divers it offers many interesting swimmthroughs and a nice wall dive.

On the way back we had a real highlight! Pilot Whales were spotted and we were able to go into the water and snorkel with them! We saw several smaller groups of up to 9 whales and even a mother with her calf! That was a promising start, considering we expect to see many more whales in Tonga :).

On Wednesday, the second Shark Dive Day came around. This time the Silvertip and Blacktip Reef Sharks stayed away, but there was enough action from the other specimens and so it was another memorable two dives!

Thursday was a day of relaxation, which I spent at the pool reading books :).

Friday meant our last day of diving in Fiji and it was another Shark Dive. The first dive was spectacular! At first a Sicklefin Lemon Shark swam right past me and then four Silvertip Sharks turned up and came really close to the divers. They mainly cruised around behind us, which had the advantage that they were easier to spot than all the other sharks which were cruising around the bait.

During the last dive there was a lot of activity again. But one of the highlights was when a guide showed me a Stonefish in the reef during the safety stop.

We had a fantastic time in Fiji, the Shark Dives were definitely worth coming here. The other dive sites were nice, but there wasn't as much fish or soft coral as we would have expected. Nevertheless, for Shark friends, this place is a must visit!

The Waidroka Bay Resort had very friendly and helpful staff. They also drove with their own boat to the Shark Dive, which was an advantage, even though the trip took almost 55 minutes one way.

All pictures can be seen in my webalbum.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

California: Best of

After one week in California and 1'068 miles in a rental car it is time for a short review. These are the things I enjoyed most:

1) Scuba Diving in Santa Catalina Island
2) Hiking in Muir Woods
3) Driving the Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) between Morro Bay and Monterey (driving from North to South offers the better view, as you are on the correct side of the road ;) )
4) Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park
5) Six Flags Magic Mountain

All pictures from California can be found in my webalbum.

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Six Flags Magic Mountain: Riding Rollercoasters till your dizzy

As a big fan of Roller-coasters, I forewent the standard visits to the Universal Studios and Disneyland and visited Six Flags Magic Mountain instead.

As it turned out, I picked the perfect day, there were very few people and so standing in line was the exception rather than the rule. In most cases I could walk right up to the gate and board with the next wave. Sometimes I chose to wait out up to two waves to catch front-row or rear-row seating.

In that way, I managed to visit the big 9 thrill-coasters within 4 hours (including a lunch break), some of which i rode twice. On the Screamer I could even stay seated in the front row because there was no one else in line!

The weather meant it well too. Too well... It was almost unbearably hot and every time I spied the Hurricane Harbour water-park next door, I was envious of the people who could cool down in the pools and on the slides, but one cannot have everything ;).

After 6 hours my head was shaken through enough and I enjoyed a wonderful ice cream before heading back to Los Angeles and my plane to Fiji.

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