Diving – USS President Coolidge and Million Dollar Point

Luganville on Espiritu Santo Island and Aore Island

August 2023

We are back in Luganville ready to do two world renowned diving locations; The USS President Coolidge and Million Dollar Point.  These two dives are the big draw card bringing tourists from around the world to Vanuatu (and Luganville specifically).

Espiritu Santo (in New Hebrides as Vanuatu was called at the time) was a major base in the Pacific for the US during World War II.  The USS President Coolidge was a 200m luxury liner that had been converted to a troop and equipment carrier for the war.  In October 1942 while on approach to the Port of Luganville she hit a mine and started to sink. The Captain had not been informed of changes in the protective minefield laid around the port to protect it from submarines (shame to be sunk by your own side).  He drove the boat into the shallows and got all the people off; major achievement.  But the ship sank and is now a major dive site in great condition. Because of where it sank, the shallowest point it is about 20m deep and the stern is at about 70m deep. Diving companies offer a number of different dives that showcase various aspects of the wreck and go to a range of depths.  There were divers we spoke to that had been diving all week and still not completed the whole wreck.  We did not want to spend a long part of our dives in decompression stops, so we signed up for a couple of the shallower dives near the front of the ship.

Both our dives simply entailed getting our scuba gear on and walking off the beach. Within 5 mins you are down 25m and the huge ship comes into sight. The first dive was around the bow and promenade deck. The ship was in remarkable condition, and we could clearly see the gun up forward, the anchor winch and chain (such huge links!) and into the holds. We also met a large moray eel who had made the ship his home and was totally unconcerned by us peering at him [As we haven’t dived for a while, I decided not to take the camera for these dives so I could concentrate on the actual dive mechanics instead, we haven’t dived lower than 30m for quite sometime. So unfortunately, no photos for you.]

After a suitable rest between dives and a morning tea of fresh fruit, we set off on our second dive. This one was really interesting as we went into the holds. You could see the vehicles still in the holds, layers of old ammunition and an area of medical supplies.  I nearly missed one of the highlights.  Our guide was pointing to a corner with a broken pipe, which I didn’t think looked incredibly noteworthy until he moved his torch away.  In the corner was a small lightning show!  It was being produced by a Fire Clam; a brightly coloured and electrically active little thing – totally gorgeous.

I wasn’t very keen on going inside the wreck as part of this dive (I still recall being completely blind and needing to feel my way out of The Swan wreck in WA, after other divers didn’t ‘not fin’ all the silt up as they exited.  But this wreck was like walking through a cathedral with high open windows and alcoves that you could pop into.  Where we went in the sides have mostly gone but the ribs are still in place, so you can see outside (a good ‘inside’ dive for the nervous).  The flickering of light through the arches was very beautiful and a bit eerie.

A few days later we did a dive at Million Dollar Point, further east along the channel from the Coolidge.  It was another walk-in from the beach.  I’ve decided I’m not keen on the walking-in thing.  I now have to carry 8 lead weights to maintain buoyancy and it is really awkward walking across rubble feeling like a pack donkey – this dive was definitely worth it though. We had been told, in no uncertain terms, by a fellow diver that Million Dollar Point was the worst dive she had even done.  It turned out that she was focusing on the waste.  It’s funny how different people see different things.

At the end of WWII, the US needed all the ships it had to carry troops back home and due to a lack of room, had to leave a lot of heavy equipment on Santo.  They left all the infrastructure; roads, buildings, power supply etc. untouched for the locals.  The heavy equipment was offered to the French (they were in charge of ‘New Hebrides’ at the time) for a cost of 6c in the dollar.  But the French turned down the offer. They assumed that they would score it all for free, as they knew it couldn’t be taken back to the US.  This miffed the US, so they built a jetty, drove everything with wheels off the end, used a dozer to push everything else off and then blew up the jetty – thus creating Million Dollar Point (Millions of Dollars’ worth of equipment off the Point).  The Vanuatu people have the win in the end, as it is a big tourist attraction for the country.

While the dive was fascinating from a historical point of view and seeing all the equipment still there and clearly recognisable, it was also interesting seeing nature slowly taking it over, as she does.  It was an all round great experience.

Peter driving a truck (not going anywhere)

So many large dozers

Me admiring tyre treads on some very badly parked trucks.

No, this one is really, really badly parked (down at 40m, so the photo is a bit darker).

It is amazing to see and to see Mother Nature doing her thing too.  I like this photo (although it’s not as well-lit as I would have liked).  You can see history in the background (tyres), current use (diving) and Mother Nature sliding in, in the foreground (a cute if grumpy Whitebelly Damsel fish).

Not as big as the eel we saw on the Coolidge, but I’m not going to mention it to someone with a really pointy set of teeth.

Even the safety stop at 5m was interesting, with its own little coral garden to entertain you while you waited.

Research Ravings: The Ripple Effect of One Sinking

The sinking of the Coolidge wasn’t a catastrophe for those on board, but it had significant ripple on effects.  One of the things you notice when reading about the Battle of Guadalcanal was that at the height of the fighting, the troops were tired and only had light weaponry.  It turns out that their 1000s of relief troops and heavy gunnery were all on the Coolidge. (We saw the equipment.  None of the troops of course, as all but two people got off safely.  A poor lad in the engine room was blown up in the initial explosion, and the body of Captain EJ Euart was finally found and buried with honours in 2014. He had gone back to help some injured people to get off, but then got trapped himself).  Also on board (and we saw this too) was the entire supply of quinine for the whole of the SE Pacific.  As a result, Guadalcanal treated 8 cases of malaria for every gunshot wound.  The ripple effects of one event!

The front lawn at the Beachfront Resort is getting very soggy and is full of crab holes.  Take care when walking back to the beach at night lest you turn an ankle.  The tender needs to be pulled all the way up onto the lawn to keep it above the tide.

While we were doing our dives, we stayed anchored off the Beachfront Resort.  The weather was still overcast with showers and constant winds.  This didn’t affect the dives too much but did make accessing shore difficult.  We cracked out the little rubber ducky instead of our usual tender for taking into shore.  The ducky is light enough to carry up the shore, so it is safe from the tides for the longer times that we were away on the diving days.  [We found out later that the dive centre we used, Pacific Dive, would have picked us up from our boat – the things you learn].

The ducky is light and easy to carry, but a very wet ride – you can’t have everything.

The weather did not look to be improving in the next few days and it was quite uncomfortable at the anchorage, fortunately we scored a mooring over at Aore Island.  Paul and Lyndel White from ‘Aore Adventure Sports and Lodge’ have three moorings in front of their house on Aore. They are a lovely Australian couple and have built a comfortable house and grounds, with a very impressive self-sufficient setup from which they run their diving tours, a small lodge and of course the moorings. I relaxed for a few days and Peter spent most mornings out on the SUP board exploring the island’s coastline.  We did some snorkeling on the small bommies in front of the main ‘Aore Island Resort’, together with a couple of ‘real restaurant’ meals at the resort, and life was pretty good as we waited for the weather to change. The locals we have spoken to say, the South Easterlies this year have been remarkably persistent which is unusual.

Look carefully, I love the big blue Seastar, but that is not what this sequence of photos is about…

Can you see him yet?

He is watching you.

Aren’t those eyes amazing.  He/she is a Yaeyama Coral Blenny, all of 10-15mm.

Boat Works:

The boat kindly thought to provide us with some distraction from doing nothing for a few days (she is too kind).

Today we were tracking down a toilet smell.  We started with the air vent line from the black tank.  Black is the toilet tank and it has an air-hose to the outside so that pressure doesn’t build up in there.  Sometimes the air hose gets clogged, if the level of ‘stuff’ gets too high or sloshed around too much.  Peter had to dismantle most of a wardrobe to get to it – I don’t think there is anything on a boat that is easy to get at when you need it.

Nothing was obviously wrong at that end.  So, we opened up the other end at the tank.  That end needed a bit of cleaning. I also cleaned the inconveniently small duck valves on the anti-syphon loops (they allow air into the pump-out lines so that there isn’t a vacuum created in the pipes that sucks water back into the boat.  They too can get cloggy and were).  Hopefully that will be the toilet sorted [Stay tuned for part two of this story]

SUP boarding is not enough to fill in Peter’s day, so he thought he would use the time to service the boom winches and replace the dyneema line (dyneema is easier to use than the original steel rope but it gets degraded in sunlight).


Taz headed off to inspect the engine room.  (In fact, he got locked down there again and twice in the lazarette – I spend half my time on the boat trying to find that blinking cat!  One of our pre-start checks is to locate him before we start the engine).  He pointed out that we should replace the rusting cap for the coolant tank.  He is correct and we do have a spare, but it doesn’t want to fit, so we are making-do at the moment.  The cap is very inconveniently located directly under the frame that surrounds the engine – we are going to have that stainless steel cross piece moved when we get to New Zealand].

Cruising Comments (Luganville):

Fresh Produce Market had a lot of fresh-looking produce that included; egg plants, spring onions, very small capsicums (mixed colours), taro, peanuts, breadfruit, cocoa beans threaded onto sticks, bok choy, tree cabbage (use like you would spinach), bananas, green coconuts but no pineapples.  

There was also tobacco in twists, looking for all the world like icicles that you would find on a Christmas tree, only dark brown and addictive. 

The best brekky, based on the Eggs Benny, was at The Espiritu.  Brekky with coffee for 2 cost ~2000V.

The Post Office is upstairs in the building across from the ANZ bank.  Not the first place I looked.  The postcards took 1 month to arrive in Australia.

Parking the tender at the dinghy dock – use the steps and drag the tender to the back to tie up.  In the photo you can see the long reef that runs along the shore front.  Bring the tender in very close to the eastern side of the bay (dinghy dock side) to avoid the reef.  We did see some catamarans anchored on the outer side of this reef.  While there is easy access to the town, we wouldn’t be comfortable that close to grounding (but each to their own).

Public Holiday; August 15th, The Assumption of Mary.

Mooring cost on Aore Island; 2000V / day, quite some swell coming through on a few evenings, but you are well out of the wind and chop.

Navigation Notes:

Anchored Luganville:  5/8/2023, at 15 31.342S, 167 09.962E, in 7.5m water with ~1.2m tide, 35m chain, exit angle 180o.  Winds E <5knt, significant swell.

Moored off Aore Island: 9/8/2023, at 15 32.128S, 167 10.949E, in 32m water, exit angle 240o.  Contact Paul or Lyndel +678 5550271, info@aoreadventures.com, or CH16 on approach. Cost 2000V/night, credit card accepted (with the usual processing fee).

Banner Photo: Coral Garden at the deco stop Million Dollar Point

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I had to laugh at the million dollar point story. I have some stories just like that that involve tiffs between my girls haha. I’d rather no one have it then you have it for free!

    1. Exactly Alana! I was taken back to our teaching days in the playground dealing with 7yr olds saying the same thing. I’m sure your girls are far better behaved than that.

  2. What a fantastic story, do you use your flopper stoppers at all in the south pacific ?

    Jason, Nicole , Hudson

    1. Greetings Jason, Nicole and Hudson, glad you enjoyed reading the blog.
      The short answer; Yes and they work a treat.
      The long answer; We are in the habit of putting out one of the flopper stoppers pretty much whenever we anchor, as it less stressful than being woken up at a tide change to hear things moving around because the boat has picked up a roll. I’m not sure what ‘Lucky Stars’ is fitted with, but we found the original system on ‘Opal Lady’ to be very labour intensive (and sometimes dangerous to retrieve) so we modified it by removing the heavy chain and installing pulleys. It’s now much quicker and safer to use and we can vary the depth to allow for shallower anchorages (our system was originally setup for using paravanes when travelling).
      Thanks for the question and feel free to contact us if you want to talk flopper stoppers.

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