Coron: World War II Wrecks Once More

Coron horizons….

“I am always moved by the sight of a hull lying at the bottom of the sea.  To me, it seems that a ship in that situation has entered the ‘great beyond’, into another existence, a world of shadows.”          ~Jacques Yves Coasteau~

Coming back to Calamianes this year has been kind of melodramatic, why when I was all set to go a year ago – plane tickets paid and dive plans in place – it was cancelled to give way for another priority.  My heart sank, but it was a victory being able to give up desires over something for spiritual growth.  To appease myself, I promised to return early part of this year but again deferred and boldly set it in October.  This all-consuming passion to dive once more for the monsters keeps nagging me, my gills and fins were aching for it.  I have wanted to be in Coron once a year with my favorite dive buddy for wreck diving.

Glitches, No More?

Be careful what you wish, you might end up with it.  I gave Angel with incredulous look when he smiled and reminded me I wanted to be with him for the round trip passage to Coron – perhaps. I have prearranged plane tickets all the way to Calamian and back home to save leave from work. Well, we ended up taking the boat after our flight was cancelled and me coming back to Manila with him on the boat again.  Halleluiah – but with a price!  It’s a taboo for me to talk on here about finance issues, but I have to admit it cost me much for the penalties in changing my return flight home.

Waiting, queuing, negotiating, calls, arrangements, changing tickets, rushing to pier, and getting tickets.  It was exhaustive, but we made it though.  We were thankful we had other alternative after our flight was cancelled. It was miracle, we got tourist accommodation in adjoining bunks when the boat was filled with people.  But again, be careful….

Back to Paradise

Arriving midday with the scorching heat, I sighed with deep breath as we descend from the boat with quick steps down to the port. It was two years ago, I waited long for this homecoming.  I was smitten with Coron during my first visit, I went back three months later to explore more of its splendor.  All its wonders in the surface was indeed pristine and alluring – a perfect paradise in the last frontier.  And more enticing to me was its mysterious depths.

Blue world still, even from the wreck…

The shipwrecks in Coron is the second largest concentration of diveable World War II wrecks in the Pacific, sunk in September 24, 1944 just a year after SCUBA was invented by Sir Jacques Cousteau. .  Now almost seven decades underwater, it created vast artificial reefs as haven for varied marine species and wonderful spot for divers.  In the world, there are only two other wreck diving destinations that offer a comparable historic experience: Truk Lagoon in Central Pacific and Scapa Flow, off the Orkney Islands in Scotland. But the Coron wrecks win over these sites – it is less expensive to dive here and the water is warmer.

Coron sunset from Mt. Tapyas

As the remaining afternoon would be too short for island hopping, we dismissed the idea and opted to rediscover downtown Coron.  We walked around for over an hour and had a relaxing stop at BOG Café for coffee break, the cake & pastries were great and exactly what we fancied for our cravings! Thinking of the glorious sunset, Angel and I agreed for an afternoon climb to Mt. Tapyas – just to be fit and get away with the calories from the rich cheesecake.

Mt. Tapyas Cross

Angel was teasing me not to look tired as we passed five other groups as we climbed our way, we did the 700+ steps in 25 minutes!  We waited for sundown as we watched overlooking the town, outlying islands, calm waters and the surrounding hills. Then slowly, everything in the horizon turned reddish and golden as the setting sun ebbed down in the distance over the vast ocean. Such great splendor, it was my best sunset so far!  It was dark already when we descend, the lighted cross created a wonderful glow on the mountain top. We finished off our long day dipping in Maquinit Hotsprings  –  one thing I don’t miss when I’m in Coron.  Nothing could be more perfect than soaking in warm waters while gazing the stars above us –  it felt  so heavenly.  Famished we got back downtown to try Old House Resto, we ended having dinner in candle light as there was no electricity! We both love the food at the Old House. 🙂

Descend, Descend, Descend!

Thinking of additional three wrecks to explore thrilled me, arriving later as scheduled gave as another surprise – Irako Maru is in the list for our dives!  It was a perfect sunny Sunday as we cruised for over an hour northwest for our first descend, together with other six divers – all foreigners just like in my previous dives.  It seemed that divers from all corners of the world came unceasingly for these historic wrecks.

Holes and rusted bars of wreck

We took the giant step for our entry splashing the cold waters, I can’t wait to see Irako described as the longest and deepest wreck in the area.  We hold on to the bouy line as we descend slowly, it was all hazy until we catch glimpse of some solid form.  DM Nonoy briefed us to stay only outside and may penetrate some lighted portion.  He motioned that we go ahead of the others, the silts might be stirred and we would see nothing.  Admittedly, I was distracted of the monster I barely noticed the marine life around.  This large ship can not be explored in just one dive, at 147m long covering the whole stretch was impossible!  It has been literally stripped of anything – it is now mere skeletons. It is now a bare vast metal encrusted with hard corals and brownish rust.  We swam around a bit and reluctantly got back to the bouy line when our DM motioned for it.  As we slowly ascend having the safety stop, a large school of jackfish appeared nearby.  I went to take a closer look but sadly I went back deeper, which made me to do again for the three minutes safety stop.  It was a short dive at 36 minutes with 32.2m as my deepest.

Graceful flatworm floating before us…

We cruised shortly for our next site and had our early lunch as our surface interval.  Olympia Maru aka Morazan Maru is another new site to me, it was another large ship slightly smaller than Irako.  We hold on again for the bouy line as we descend directly on its port side as it was lying on its starboard side. Some kind of a wide surface, we found holes both square and round ones.  Feeling that familiar rush to get inside and explore its dark secrets!  We floated slowly as if flying careful not to stir the silts, felt so wonderful.  I challenged myself as we got into a small square hole for smooth entry and just flow inside like the waters. Following our DM as we penetrated and searched for something lurking in the dark corners, but not forgetting to make sure Angel was just around nearby. We spotted lionfish, scorpion fish, juveniles, a puffer and camouflaging colored clams.

A peacock lionfish!

The big cargo rooms and boiler rooms allows penetration and we practically roam around passing chambers going up and own and back again. Rusted bars, big iron wheel perhaps for the boilers and we saw the hole damaged by bomb strikes which disabled the ship.  The ray of light penetrating inside gave some interesting effect inside the dark rooms. I practically ignored my dive computers flashing signals, I just need to make most of my time down but covering the whole stretch of 122m is again impossible.  We finally headed for the bouy line to stabilize our depths, alas I needed a deco stop and was penalized for 8 minutes – first time so far! But with still more than 100 bars of air I had no worries, I had a total bottom time of 58 minutes with 24.4m as my deepest.

The ship mast encrusted with corals and rust

Our last descent was at East Tangat Wreck situated southwest side of Tangat Island in the  Bay, the wreck lies listing to starboard down a sandy slope.  It is a shallow wreck  in fact it was near the shores, I catch a glimpse of its end while our dive boat moored for our surface interval.  We had rounds and passed by rusted bars and few chambers, its mast is now covered with hard corals and brown rust.  We spotted sponges, hard and soft corals, crinoids and sea grasses clinging on bars. We spotted too at least four specie of colorful nudis – lavender, blue, white with orange antlers, and another bluish

Taking shelter in the wreck

crawling on the corals. There was flatworms, graceful lionfish, clown fish, sea squirts, bat fish and spade fish.  The marine life was wonderful enough for photos but again I got distracted with the wreck. We ascend after 49 minutes with 16.8m as my deepest.  All my residual air were still more than 100 bars in my tank for all three ascents.

Patience and Obedience in One

Last year was a test of obedience in pursuing my dive trips – plainly no Tubbataha and no Coron. Now, I know why. Just two months later after my Coron fiasco, the Tubbataha dream was answered unexpectedly! Surely it pays to wait and obey, and even with some glitches we made it to Calamian.  My trip this year was filled with treasured memories, new discoveries and new learnings.  It might be awhile before I can return but deep in me there is always that desire to exhaust the remaining wrecks in Coron waters.  They say, do not go for a trip like seeing 20 countries in a 30-day tour. Now, I say do not go for safari dive trip in Coron for you will miss to savor the beauty and mystery of these awesome monsters. Exactly why I am not in a rush…

Exactly why Angel and I still have reasons to be back in Calamianes, who knows it might be sooner!

NB.  Underwater photos courtesy of Angel, using his Olympus Tough 8000 with PT 045 as casing.

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