Luganville, Espiritu Santo
Written by Cathy Siegismund
September - October 2003
We left early Wala Island before 0700 so we could arrive in Luganville by
mid-day and have favorable tides going into the channel that separates Espiritu
Santo and Aore island. We motorsailed to charge our batteries and make water and
made good time, arriving just before noon.
Route from Wala Island to Luganville, Espiritu Santo
There are two options for anchoring in Luganville. The first is to anchor in
a very shallow area in front of the west end of town. There isn't a very
convenient dinghy landing spot at the heart of town and the anchorage can be
exposed to and become rolly because of the predominant southeast winds which
blow through the channel. The second option is to pick up a mooring at the Aore
Resort on the south side of the channel from Luganville. When we arrived the
resort moorings were full, but we were third on the waiting list. We ended up
anchoring in the shallow anchorage and waiting a day and a half until a mooring
opened up at Aore. We then moved across the channel at picked up a mooring.
Segond Channel between the main island of Espiritu Santo and
Felicity finally settled on an Aore Resort Mooring
The Aore Resort is quite nice and a renting a mooring gives you access to the
resort amenities. They have a dock where you can tie up your dink, use their
water, the restaurant, bar, and pool, and they also provide a free water taxi
that makes three daily round trips across the channel to Luganville.
Aore dinghy dock and water taxi
Pool at Aore Resort
Luganville was going to be our final stop in Vanuatu. The main attraction for
us there was the diving. Luganville was the base for US military during WWII,
with hundreds of thousands of troops passing through the base during the war.
Remnants of this military presence is seen everywhere both on land and
underwater. Old rusty Quonset huts litter the town and downed planes, ships and
jeeps, etc. Two of Luganville's most famous dive sites are Million Dollar Point
and the wreck of the President Coolidge. Million Dollar Point basically an
underwater junk yard of WWII US military equipment. At the end of WWII, the US
was going to sell all of its surplus equipment to the French government in
Luganville. Just before the US was going to pull out of Luganville, the French
lowered their offer to pennies on the dollar thinking the US would have no
option but to accept as it was not cost-effective to ship all of the equipment
back to the US. In typical friendly US-Franco relations, the US got its back up
in the air and decided rather than sell to the equipment to the French, they
would rather bulldoze all of it into the ocean. The result is Million Dollar
Point. The second famous WWII dive site in Luganville is the wreck of the
President Coolidge. This is the largest most accessible shipwreck in the world.
The President Coolidge was launched in 1931 as a luxury cruise liner. The ship
was 654 feet long and weighed over 21,000 tons. It was arguably the most
luxurious cruise ship to have ever been built in the US. During WWII it was
commissioned by the US Army as a troop carrier. Many of its luxurious
appointments were removed to maximize the ship's occupancy for troop movement.
The Coolidge made several South Pacific runs in 1942. On October 6th, she
departed San Francisco for New Caledonia and Espiritu Santo carrying 5,092
troops who were reinforcements for the battle of Guadalcanal. On the morning of
26th October, the Coolidge approached Espiritu Santo by the Eastern side of the
Segond Channel, just as we did in Felicity. The US navy had neglected to radio
captain of the Coolidge the 'Special Instructions', due to security. The
"Special Instructions" would have alerted the captain of the "friendly" mine
field that littered the entrance to Luganville. Warnings came too late and the
Coolidge struck several mines. To the captain's credit, he knew the ship was
lost and sent the ship full throttle toward shore to be run aground. Of
the 5,092 people aboard only 2 were killed in the shipwreck. One man is figured
to have been killed in the explosion, and the second man was lost who returned
to look for him. There was a massive loss of supplies and military equipment and
of course the loss of the fantastic ship.
Evacuation of the doomed S.S. President Coolidge
The ship slowly slipped backward down the slope leading to shore and as she
sank she rolled over onto her side. She now sits on her side with her bow in
about 90 feet of water and her props sit in about 250 feet of water. The
visibility is not superb on the dive, but the novelty of diving on such a large
ship and the history of her makes it a requirement for divers visiting Vanuatu.
Ken and I along with GB and Sarah from Djarrka signed up for some of the
dives on the Coolidge. The first two are the Promenade, a warm up dive for the
divers to see the Coolidge and for the dive operator to assess your diving
Gun mounted on the boat of the President Coolidge after she
was commissioned into Army service
The promenade dive takes you on a few easy swim throughs, and takes you
around the exterior of the bow of the ship. The second dive is The Lady. The
Lady is actually a ceramic bas relief sculpture of the "Lady and Unicorn". This
had been set above the mantel of an antique marble fireplace in the opulent
First Class Smoking Lounge on the Coolidge. This sculpture is remains beautiful
today with the colors and detail little effected by over 60 years underwater.
This dive does require swimming deeper into the ship as The Lady is in about 140
feet of water.
The Lady and Unicorn
Swimming up to the famous sculpture
Ken posing with the Lady, which sits sideways in the water
as the ship rests on its side
GB & Sarah pose with The Lady
The dive also featured mosaic fountains and ceiling lamps, which have changed
little since sinking in 1942.
Port holes in the Coolidge
Exiting the ship by swimming out through one of then ships skylights
At the end of each dive on the Coolidge, as most of them are decompression
dives, you swim to a small man-made coral garden in about 25 feet of water and
do you decompression stop. We were happy to find several clown fish which
provided us entertainment.
Sarah waiting at the decompression stop
Cath and several shots of clown fish at the coral gardens
Following our second dive, I came down with a cold, but Ken and GB and Sarah did
few more dives in Luganville. These included a trip to Million Dollar Point and
several of the deeper dives on the Coolidge into the holds where more of the
Military equipment was located.
Jeeps, wheels, and tires that filled one of the holds in the Coolidge
Mess hall items
GB checking out the dishes
Ken following the dive guide through the narrow swim-throughs in the Coolidge
Most of our time in Luganville was spent exploring the town, diving or relaxing
at the resort. Many an afternoon we met GB and Sarah ashore for canasta games.
The familiar site of our afternoon card games at the Aore Resort
We where also delighted to see John and Amanda Neal on
Mahina Tiare pull into Aore
Resort and spent enjoyed catching up with them and meeting their current group
of expedition members.
At the end of September, we started to go into our pre-passage mode. We made our
to-do list and worked on small repairs, as well as our usual passage prep
of watching weather, getting fuel, and provisioning. We have enjoyed all of the
places we've visited in the Pacific, but Vanuatu is one of our favorites and one
where we hope to return some day.