“Up” I indicated with my finger pointing to the hatch. I think the dive master could read the anxiety in my eyes. We had just passed through two dark cargo holds inside the 200 m long Okikawa Maru. I had felt an eerie thrill floating through the passageways of the WWII Japanese freighter, but now I wanted out. My panic eased as I swam through the hatch and was greeted by sunlight and a deck covered with spectacular corals and anemones (though I still look a little stressed in the photo above).
On September 24, 1944, a US Navy strike attacked a Japanese supply fleet anchored in Coron Bay. Now, more than a dozen of these sunken ships are a haven for wreck diving enthusiasts. We were neophyte wreck divers. My son and hubby embraced it immediately. And, despite my fears of the deep, dark stuff, I was strangely drawn to this unique experience.
During our time in Coron, we dove on six wrecks and a few reefs. There was definitely a clear male-female division among my family on what we enjoyed most about wreck dining.
The guys loved penetrating the interior of the wrecks. I suspect it was the adrenalin rush combined with seeing cool stuff like anti-aircraft guns, cranes, bulldozers and construction material. My nemesis, the inside of the Okikawa, was my son’s favourite. He was a tad peeved that I’d bailed and he had missed out on the remaining cargo holds and engine room.
Runner-up for the guys was the 200 m Akitsushima, a seaplane tender lying on her side. I must admit, the swim-throughs on the Akitsushima, and on the 140m Morazan were pretty awesome, in a frightening way (kind of like a scary ride at the amusement park). Beautifully diffused light shone through the cracks and holes in the hull, illuminating schools of tiny fish. At one point, my son motioned for me to look up. He had poked his hand through the water into a small air pocket. A little comfort at 34 m deep!
Truth be told, I much preferred exploring the profuse marine life covering the outside of the wrecks. My favourite was the 30 m Lusong Gunboat, lying at only 3-12 meters. This shallow wreck is teaming with life. I spotted many varieties of nudibranchs, as well as cuttlefish, eels and even the highly camouflaged ghost pipe fish (can’t take credit for finding that one).
A close runner-up for me was the Olympia Maru, a 130 m freighter. I’ve never seen as many scorpion fish and crocodile fish on one dive. A huge school of giant batfish followed us along the skeleton frame of the cargo hold, and the variety of soft coral was outstanding. Both the Olympia Maru and the Lusong Gunboat are the kind of dives I’d never get bored of going back to.
We did our Coron Bay diving from the comfort of the Sangat Island Dive Resort, a rustic place with a relaxed vibe, on a drop-dead gorgeous bay backed by towering limestone cliffs. The dive operation at Sangat is great, with the added bonus of the dive sites being only minutes away. Many divers stay in Coron Town, which definitely has cheaper hotel options, but it’s much further from the dive sites and not nearly as peaceful and picturesque.
Wreck diving continues to grow on me as I’m sitting in the safety of my den a few weeks after getting back from the Philippines. Like a scary roller coaster ride, I inexplicably want to do it again.
PS: The photos don’t do justice to the scenery. I hope to get some better ones from a fellow traveler. Stay tuned for those and for some posts on top side activities.