Coron Beyond Surface

Coron is one of those places I kept coming back, more than its pristine beaches, crystal waters, stunning views and friendly people,  I love its mystery beyond the surface.  In our fifth homecoming we dove at Irako Maru, Kogyu Maru and the East Tangat Wreck. Penetrating the holes and the darks inside the monsters  always blew me away!

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.

Missing the Monsters!

Glorious Kayangan Cove!

Coron is now one of my favorite destination, discovering it in March 2008 without second thought I went back three months later to know more of the secrets of the Calamianes.  I visited it again last year with my favorite dive buddy- yes, you guess it right – to explore more of its secrets in the depths! Angel and I loved every bit of it, he swore it was his best dive experience so far and in fact it was our deepest at 114 feet!.  And I could not deny that exploring Akitsushima and Taeie Maru was exhilarating – going down and penetrating the mysterious wrecks was so challenging and enthralling!

Exploring more of the monsters was so irresistible that we planned for another Coron trip this year, I booked my tickets as early as April! Indeed, we eagerly wait for October while enjoying other dive trips.  For us, Coron waters is something special, with its limestone cliffs, crystal waters and rich marine life we wanted to experience its beauty over and over again.

I thought everything was in place, except for my leave from work but alas by end of August, my community have scheduled on the date when I will be in Coron, a spiritual retreat for us and required everyone  to come!  Remembering my trip, I was bit shaken,  I wanted to delay my response.  In my mind, I tried to justify I had my tickets already and it was scheduled long before.  I remembered I was sullen that day, hoping it will be postponed to other dates.  Actually my heart sank… Going back though, I reflected that the Lord has been so good to me, He had lavished me with wonderful trips and provided me all the resources.

In submission I prayed for grace and decided to cancel my trip and be there for the Lord – He asked just one day from me!  It was a breaking news, but I guess Angel felt relieved  because his friends will be coming with him and he is not comfortable diving together with me!  Anyhow, I would be missing the Coron wrecks this year and have to let go my CGY-MNL-CGY ticket and the amount attached to it, refunds or rebooking is not possible.  Always, there is a reason for everything and I am waiting it to unfold one day.  But again, I can look up and be thankful He emerged victorious over my much valued trip.

I’ll be in Coron again hopefully in March with or without my dive buddy – that’s a promise to myself…

Diving in Coron Waters!

explore the wrecks!

It was a bright sunny Monday morning and after a sumptuous Filipino breakfast, I went up to the diveshop to sign up for two fun dives. I learned I’ll join a German diving instructor (Manfred), who’s on a diving trip in Coron. Jasmine (diveshop assistant), collected the gears for me, trying to find my size. Earlier, she was eyeing on me asking things like – “no physical disabilities?”, “mentally sound & healthy?” but I signed no waiver. After some preliminaries, I got into the boat. The dive master, Manong Nonoy informed me that our baon would be bread and bananas only, suggesting that I’ll just take full meal during dinner. I don’t find it a problem since I feel comfortable diving with less food intake.

We started our cruise to Akitsushima Wreck – our first dive site – at Manglet Island which took one hour and forty minutes. Blue waters, blue sunny skies, green mountains. The waves rocking our boat….

Akitsushima Wreck

A Japanese Seaplane Tender 118 m long located between Culion & BusuangaIslands, near MangletIsland. N 11*59. 218′, E 119*58. 417′

The IJN Akitsushima was a seaplane tender/carrier. The ship displaced 4724 tons, had a length of 118 metres and was 15.7 metres wide. The ship was powered by four diesel engines driving twin props, a total of 8000 shp, giving a maximum speed of 19 knots

Akitsushima was armed with 10 25 mm anti-aircraft guns, four five inch (50 cal) guns and carried one large Kanwanishi flying boat.

The Akitsushima is a very big warship 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. The flying boat disappeared. Only half of the metal on the starboard side and half of the metal on the bottom of the ship kept the stern from separating from the rest of the ship. The internal damage is impressive.

The crane used for lifting the seaplane out of the water is intact. The crane is lying on the sandy bottom and attracts schools of giant batfish and barracudas. One mounting of a 3-barreled AA (anti-aircraft) gun is still present at the front of the flying boat tracks. This is a fascinating dive where you can see giant groupers, schools of barracuda hiding under the bow, and yellow fin tuna.

Due to depth and metal hazards within, no swim throughs are allowed without wreck diver certification. Wreck divers can make an impressive penetration into the engine room to see the four engines. The gears and machinery for operating the crane are the main objects of interest for a penetration into the stern.

Max depth: 35 or 36 meters, average depth about 26 to 28 meters. Recommended certification level: Advanced Open water Diver. For penetration: PADI Wreck Diver specialty.

I wasn’t expecting to be diving at the wrecks as my certification is only for open water diver. But Divemaster Manong Nonoy who speaks Visayan as he hails from Escalante City, was kind. He told Manfred, he’ll be accompanying me as I don’t have a buddy so Manfred will be alone. The waters was bit rough, I descend through the bouy line slowly as I equalize, Manong Nonoy with me. At first it was hazy, banner fishes emerged as we continue to descend. Then the wreck appeared, like a big monster lying there. We got into the deck and I feasted with everything I saw – such rich marine life! Lion fishes, bat fish, angel fish, butterfly fish, surgeon fish, colorful anthias among others…. There was that snake-like specie in white, my first time to see such thing. Colorful sponges, hard & soft corals, feather star, nudi branches… Real amazing! Manong Nonoy signaled we go inside but I signaled back for no — I know I’m not allowed (for sure my dive instructor will disapprove). But he held my hand as we go through an entrance like crevice. Wooooooo! The walls rusty and the insides dark, he gave me the light as we penetrated on our way. I passed by a rusty wall with reefs, suddenly something moved – I examined closely and found out it’s some kind of a big clam attached to the wall. Yikes! Few critters are watching me I guess. J In few moments we got out into the open, we didn’t spot Manfred. We ascend slowly through the bouy line equalizing again, had our safety stop before we finally surfaced…

We went down at 28m in 37 minutes, not bad…. While having our surface interval, we had lunch of bread & bananas cruising to our next dive site. Manfred was story telling until we had our second dive at Tangat Wreck.

The Tangat Wreck

A Japanese Freighter sitting upright in approximately 30 mts of water and located very close to Tangat Island in Coron Bay. N11*58. 291′, E 120*03. 707’S

The Olympia Maru was 122 metres long and almost 17 metres wide, displacing 5612 tons. The ship was originally powered by a steam engine but during 2 June to 2 August 1930, an oil two stroke six cylinder engine producing 582hp was installed. The ship was built for Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha Ltd and was owned by them right up till it sank. It was requisitioned by the Japanese Defence Forces during the War but was still owned by Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha Ltd.

A very good dive spot with a variety of marine life. Large shoals of banana fish, giant bat fish and giant puffer fish, especially around the mast, bow and stern. There are also specimen crocodile fish and scorpion fish so be careful where you put your hands. Easy penetration at the cargo rooms. It offers a good opportunity to discover wreck diving. Max depth: 28-30 meters, deck level 18-24 meters.

Manong Nonoy was again with me, we descend slowly from the bouy line as I equalize. It was bit hazy at first until we saw the wreck… We got down on the deck, filled with colorful reefs. We toured around, then we went through a square entrance just enough for a diver to penetrate – I was bit hesitant again but Manong Nonoy went first signaling me to follow. Pinnnngg! My tank bump a little bit as I went through. J So wonderful – big lion fish (first time to see one that big), sweet lips, oversize grouper, bat fish, butterfly fish, big puffer fish (looks funny), colorful nudi branches, a stonefish!, sea anemone with anemone fish & clown fish. The critter on the wall was there also, which closed when I got near! We went some stretch of the wreck. Finally, we sighted Manfred who pointed to us the stonefish – great find! We had our safety stop on the rusty ship pole covered with reefs, with anthias swimming around. So fantastic, these colorful fishes swimming around so close to my face. We finally surfaced, Manong Nonoy tagging along to assist me in taking off my gears while on waters. The tank is heavy for me and I need to be careful with my shoulders.

We went 25m in forty five minutes.As they were going for another dive for Manfred – we talk leisurely for their surface interval as we eat bananas again. Manfred wanted to find a crocodile fish and a mermaid. Perhaps he heard about Dyesebel! 😀 We moved to East Tangat Gun Boat for a short 20 minutes dive for the two guys.

East Tangat Gunboat

This ship was a small gunboat or submarine hunter 40 meters long. Location: Inclined on the coral reef on the east side of TangatIsland. The wreck is 40 meters long, 500 gross tons, it lies listing to starboard down a sandy slope, with the stern at 22m and the top of the bow at 5 m pointing 320 degrees This dive site is good for wreck diving beginners and underwater photographers. It is also a lovely dive between deeper wreck sites. The wreck starts at only 3 meters down so even snorkelers can see the shape and explore the bow of the ship.

To make most of my time, while waiting for the guys to surface I went to snorkel near the wreck. I sighted a handful of angelfish as I got into the water. Going further, I got into a vast of coral reefs! Amazing sight – I went on to find rich marine life… Nudibranches in yellow, brown, violet; super big hard corals in white, yellow, purple, green; sea fans, and sponges. There was also a starfish, big black sea urchins, butterfly fish, fusiliers, a yellow puffer fish! I sighted also a lone hawkfish – I thought they dwell in deep waters only. Wonderful sights, I never thought I had encounter with those creatures in such shallow waters. J I was so engrossed I didn’t notice I had gone far from our boat. I swam further to catch a glimpse of the wreck, I sighted its bow end only. I swam near the boat when I notice the two divers were surfacing already.

We got all into the boat and cruised back to town, with a smile in my face I tried to etch in my hard drive up in my head all the things to scribble on in my logbook on my marine life encounters I have for the day. But while few things can be written about this experience, a lot more of these will be left unsaid or unwritten but forever impressed in my memory.

on a surface interval…

Exercises from my Dive master today:

Clearing my mask
Using his alternate air source and back to my own regulator
Diving inside a wreck, penetrating a wreck

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