The next stage of diving trip was to take us to the wreck capital of the Philippines – Coron. We left Moalboal with 10 days left on our adventure and were very excited to be doing some challenging diving in and around WWII Japanese wrecks in the shallow bays of Coron.
Yet another early start to the day to get to our next port of call which involved buses, taxis and 2 flights to arrive on the island of Busuanga. We were lucky to be allowed to land as the mists were rolling in and were only in a small aircraft arriving at an airport with no control tower and a very short landing strip!
Once arrived we jumped in a taxi to get us to the town of Coron, located on the south side of the island. In the busy little town of Coron we managed to find the dive shop we were looking for – Sea Dive. We met up with the dive crew there and worked out a schedule to dive the big wrecks of Coron plus a trip to the strange and bizarre Baracuda Lake.
During WWII the supply vessels of the Japanese Navy and Army took refuge in and around Busuanga’s shores. September 24th 1944 was the day that changed Coron’s history when a US Navy strike force of Hellcatfighters and Helldiver dive bombers attacked around 20 or so anchored ships. Most were unable to flee the surprise attack on the fleet and as a result the Japanese lost not only some of their ships, a few men but also vital supplies for the Japanese fleet – oil, rice, construction materials, spare parts and other cargo. The battle was seen as a vital success which stopped the Japanese attempting to reinforce their forces occupying the Philippines between The Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19th and 20th 1944, and The Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 23rd to 26th 1944.
Luckily for us divers past quarrels have left us with some awesome wreck dives. Fortunately for us as well the ships were anchored in shallow water (mostly 40m or less) so are diveable for recreational divers but with Nitrox we could safely push the limits. So on our first day out in Coron’s Bays we were going to tackle the Irako aka “The Monster.” The Irako was an auxiliary supply ship that now lies at 40m deep and 1hr 45min boat ride from Coron harbour. She is the largest (150m long), most challenging to penetrate and deepest of the regularly dived wrecks in the area.
Before we analysed the tanks and set up our gear we were given our strangest dive briefing to date. On the back of all the divemaster’s “Penetrate The Monster” T-shirts were sketches of all the wrecks, so each of the dive guides could show the entry points, special points of interest, route and importantly the exit points for each wreck.
As we plunged into the murky depths the wreck soon came at us. If you want great vis then Coron is probably not the place to go but all the same it makes for an exciting and challenging dive. We entered the propeller shaft at 40m deep then squeezed into the black opening with only a small line to guide us through the dark abyss for the next 30m. Its pretty daunting stuff not knowing where the end is, even a torch is pretty useless down there but eventually we popped out and started touring round the cargo holds. Not stirring up sediment is a key to wreck diving and luckily our group managed to stay perfectly buoyant as we squeezed through holes and ledges no bigger than 1m². In the darkness of it all we managed to locate the workshop with an old drill press and lathe. As we made our way shallower and shallower our guide took us through maintenance rooms, cargo holds, sailors quarters and then finally we emerged through the cargo hold to start a number of safety stops on the way to the surface. An astonishing wreck dive and one of the largest wrecks that either Luke or I had dived before. Pretty much all the wrecks had been cleared of most fittings but the ones that did remain brought back a sense of what it was like on board and also the fear of being attacked whilst on such a huge vessel.
The remaining dives of the day were completed on a slightly shallower wreck – Kogyo Maru at 30m which hosted more amazing swim throughs very dark passages and a lot of trust in where the guide was going!! We were in good hands though as these guys dive these wrecks everyday, in fact one of the guides on board, Nonoy had now had clocked up around 20,000 dives!! The final dive of the day was a nice shallow dive at around 12m on a sunken submarine hunter gun boat which was littered with colourful nudi’s.
We had 8 days in Coron so we planned to dive one day rest the next as we were doing some pretty intense, deep and full on diving. We soon found out there is not much to do in Coron apart from dive, but we were glad for the rest and a few midday beers and games of pool at the Helldiver Bar to relax even further!
Apart from Wreck diving here there is one special dive that fellow divers told us we had to do which was Barracuda Lake. For both Luke and I this was a day of firsts. Neither of us had dived in a lake before, or in fresh water and also in water above 31 degrees and with huge thermoclines. As soon as you descend you start seeing visible shimmering layers in the water. The lake is divided into around 5m of fresh water at the surface (30 degrees) followed by 2 distinct layers of heated salt water (4m – 30m) and then a final layer 30m+ which has extremely low visibility.
This was certainly a dive where you felt rather than saw things. The only marine life there are lots of friendly shrimps and a gobie-like catfish hanging out on the walls of the lake and only a couple of barracuda. As you can imagine the bottom has a lot of sediment build up and our guide showed us how soft the bottom was and how far he could stick his head into it, burying himself to the chest! As we continued the dive things started to become uncomfortable. The water temperature had reach a warmish 39 degrees and instead of having to clear my mask of water I now had to clear it of sweat!! Luke commented “that it was the only time he could pee in the water and leave a cool spot!” We continued round the lake going from hot to warm before coming up to a safety stop in the beautiful, pristine and clear fresh water. This dive felt as though you were on another planet and no description or photos can really accurately describe this epic dive! Do not miss out on this dive if you are ever in the area.
The rest of the week was spent finishing off the remaining wreck dives – Akitsushima, Okikawa Maru and Morazan Maru. The most impressive of all these wrecks was the Akitsushima which is one of the true warships of all the wrecks on Coron. The Akitsushima was a flying boat tender, although its flying boat was never found. Penetrating this large wreck with loads of cargo holds and then squeezing through narrow passages was exciting as well as nerve wrecking. As you dive through these wrecks you can’t help to think what it was like onboard at the time of attack as now the wrecks are barren, quiet and eerie.
The whole experience not just of the Coron but the whole three weeks when we were in the Philippines was amazing. I was a little sad that I had not dived here before and strongly urge people to put it on the their list of dive destinations. It may seem further to get to but believe me when you are here you will not be disappointed!