To dive, we had to leave Bamboo Island and take the banca boat to Sangat Island which is around 1 hour away. Luckily there was no wind and unlike every other day, the sea was totally still, it could have been a lake. The journey to Sangat was mesmerisingly beautiful. Along the way, not only was the scenery breathtaking but we saw a few huge turtles!
Coron offers some of the best wreck diving in the world but wreck penetration can be dangerous, and leaves little room for loss of concentration or panic. During my Advanced PADI Course, one of the dives I selected was a wreck dive. The wreck dive in Boracay is at around 28-30 metres deep and is called Camia. This Russian cargo ship was purposely sunk in 2001 to act as a reef for fish and to be honest, as a marketing tool to encourage divers, especially beginners, to the island. Camia is one of my favourite dives in Boracay so you can imagine how excited I was to finally put the things I had learnt on Camia into practise. This was enhanced by the fact that the wrecks in Coron were real war ships that had sunk during a real battle. Quite unnerving if you really close your eyes and imagine how it would have been in 1945.
Although I have never had any anxiety about diving, I was slightly nervous about diving with a new instructor who didn’t know me, on huge wrecks in the middle of a sea I didn’t ‘know’. I know that sounds silly but as with any environment, once you get used to it, you feel safe and I feel completely at ease just off Boracay. Obviously you cannot talk underwater and once you go down you cannot suddenly panic and decide you want to end the dive because you need to slowly surface in order to decompress. You must therefore communicate through body language and signs. So diving with someone new when you are still a beginner can be daunting. I decided I would make it very clear from the moment that I stepped on the jetty that despite my advanced qualification, I still only had 9 dives under my belt and I felt like a novice.
Luckily, the moment I was introduced to William, the instructor who would accompany Max and I on the wreck dives, I knew everything would be just fine. He was not only an incredibly passionate and knowledgeable diver but he had also worked as a paramedic at another time in his life. Always reassuring! With his soft Dorset accent, he explained the formation of the wrecks we would be diving and we discussed how we would penetrate them.
Before I explain the dives, it is important to set the scene. In the midst of this paradise, a bloody battle was taking place.
On the 24th September 1944 a US Navy strike force of fighters and dive bombers attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 24 ships, at anchor, in Coron Bay and around Busuanga Island. It is still debated as to how they were located. Some think the Japanese fleet was spotted by aerial photo reconnaissance interpreters who noticed that some camouflaged ships had moved and some think Japanese radio transmissions were intercepted. The consequence of this detection was a surprise aerial attack by US Navy carrier based aircraft that sank the fleet at anchor. In the early hours of the morning of September 24th 1944, a total of 96 Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter escorts and 24 Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bombers took off on a flight to their targets 340 miles away. Upon arrival it took just a 15 minute attack to leave behind a carnage of burning and sinking ships. We would be going into 2 of these ships during the day.
As you can see, the ocean was incredibly still and peaceful!
Our first dive was on IJN Akitsushima, a seaplane carrier. The ship was 118 metres long and 15.7 metres wide. Basically, enormous! The Akitsushima is laying on her port side. She was hit near the stern where the flying boat rested on the metal tracks and sank immediately. The ship was almost torn into two pieces. It was an incredible diving experience to be inside this magnificent ship teeming with history. It didn’t even compare to the little wreck in Boracay! The sheer scale of it is hard to get your head around.
This video is quite dark but it gives you an idea of how dark it was inside the wreck.
After this dive, we were taken to a near by resort for a coffee; very civilised indeed! After some chitter chatter we got back on the boat and it was just a short journey to the next wreck, Okikawa. William was impressed with how relaxed I was during the first wreck penetration so he was happy to take me inside the next one, which is more technical.
There was a boat already at the dive site and they had said the current was quite strong, so we decided we were going to drop straight down onto the top of the wreck and swim along to the prop shaft and enter through it. However, the sea had other plans for us! Once we were down onto the wreck we had predicted the current would be much weaker. Normally current is strongest in the first 5-10 metres of water and then near the bottom, it weakens. However, it was absolutely ripping against us. Max was pushing me along as I just wasn’t making any ground.
We got to a ledge and the prop shaft was below us so we had swim over this ledge to reach it. By this point I was clinging to a buoy line. William went first and it looked like even he struggled. Max made it over the ledge and waited for me but I just couldn’t get the power to propel myself over. I was just getting pushed back by the current. Even if I had got over the ledge, the side of the wreck was covered in sharp coral and I would have been knocked against it. During all of this I must have grabbed or hit some coral as I noticed I had sliced my hand in a few places. William came back up, I felt I had sort of let Max and William down. I obviously need to do more squats!
We drifted back along the ship and then entered a different way. I must add at this point that the coral here is some of the best I have seen. It was absolutely stunning and there were so many brightly coloured fish. It’s a shame there was so much current because we have very little footage from this dive. That’s an excuse to go back I think! Despite the current, the rest of the dive went really smoothly and once we were back on the boat William praised my ability for so staying cool and calm in that situation after only 10 dives. I’m pretty proud of that I must say!
We thoroughly enjoyed diving the wrecks, but there was one more place we wanted to dive before we left Coron; Lake Barracuda. The dive centre didn’t have Lake Barracuda on the daily schedule and with only two of us, it wasn’t going to be worth taking us there but we luckily managed to find a few others who wanted to come along! So off we went…
Pulling into where Lake Barracuda is like something out of the King Kong movie.
Barracuda Lake is a very unusual dive site famous for its Thermocline. It is about 40m deep and surrounded by sharp limestone cliffs. The first 4m layer of water is actually fresh water around 28°C. When you are going down you then meet salt water. There is a huge Thermocline and Heliocline at 14m deep and the water temperature is rising to 38°C, so no wetsuit needed (yay)!
To get there you must carry your tank up some steep steps and down again. The tank was incredibly heavy, I thought I may turtle at any moment, and the steps certainly wouldn’t have passed any kind of health and safety test but it was all part of the experience.
Once in the lake there is not much to see except Gobies, Shrimps and Groupers. Apparently there is this legendary enormous Barracuda but I’m not sure it actually exists. If anyone has seen one, I should think it’s just the locals throwing one in there every now and then. However, you don’t go to the lake to see stuff, it’s more to feel the odd sensation of the temperature changes. Sometimes it was so hot it was almost slightly suffocating but it was fascinating to see the therms and suddenly hit the cold water after being so warm.
I really enjoyed this dive and would highly recommend it. Prior to diving, we were initially put off when we read lots of things about hiking for 30 minutes with your tanks, up-hill. That’s rubbish. It’s no more than 10 minutes and it’s all steps, yes they are steep, but for anyone who is fit enough to dive, it’s not difficult.
We sped back to Sangat Island after a busy but incredibly satisfying day.
We had one more night on Bamboo Island and arrived back in time for more star gazing. Dreamy.