By Maree Toogood
The President Coolidge was a luxury passenger liner converted to troop carrier during W.W.II. She carried troops from the U.S. to the Pacific, and during one such occasion she struck a friendly mine while entering Santo harbor and sunk on the 26th October 1942. Almost completely intact you can swim through the many holds and decks viewing the many reminders of war. Dives include the famous “Lady”, that now sits at 40 meters. Dives on the Coolidge are broken up into many different sites with dives to suit all levels of experience and interests. Experienced professional dive guides and Divemasters guide all dives. The Coolidge is also home for many corals and fish, schools of barracuda, trevally and Nessie the moray eel.
The Coolidge’s most famous resident would have to be Boris the 200kg grouper that lived on the wreck. Boris was an attraction in himself as divers rarely came that close to such an enormous fish.
Named after Boris Karloff this was one big grouper. Only Allan Power’s dive team hand fed him his breakfast every day as divers watched in awe as his 200kg frame glided across the water to swallow his morning fish. Boris lived on the wreck and was first spotted by Allan 38 years ago. He was often seen lurking around the 3 – 9 meter safety stops near the Coral Garden and was followed around faithfully by juvenile golden trevally. He was even spotted by divers following them around during their dives on the Coolidge. The sheer size of Boris possibly daunted many a diver but Boris had a personality all of his own – he was a gentle giant as he moved effortlessly among divers. He was a photographer’s dream as he could be photographed at close range.
Allan Power met Boris when he first dived the Coolidge in 1969. He was with two other grouper – one much larger than Boris and the other approximately 68 kg. They used to stay together near the engine room – about 80 feet above the side of the Coolidge. He was curious unlike the other two grouper, which would move away from off the wreck when divers swam underneath them. Boris would have a good look and circle before leaving.
From the first time Allan fed Boris in mid 1970 he fronted up every day for his next free feed. Boris used to wait for his feed midway down the wreck near the engine room at first. He then slowly ventured up the wreck, eventually enjoying his breakfast on the coral garden, to the delight of many divers.
Boris was the largest type of Indo-Pacific reef fish and known by a variety of common names such as Queensland Grouper, Giant Grouper. Boris was around 2.5 meters (7 feet) in length and weighed around 200 kg (440 lb), these are only estimates of course. Male or female is anyone’s guess. He used to leave in the second or third week of September every year and returned around mid-January the following year. When he left he was fat and glossy, but when he returned he had a concave belly, sunken cheeks, split fins and scales missing, a real mess.
It is assumed his absence was for breeding, like salmon he may have traveled some distance to his special spot and while traveling did not feed. Boris was given his name when a lady diver asked what his name was. Allan hadn’t thought of a name for him so she suggested Boris, after Boris Karloff, the actor who used to appear in many horror movies. So, Boris it was, and Boris it remained.
Boris was quite comfortable with scuba divers, but was not at all happy if someone was snorkeling above him – he knew where the danger was. To see Boris cruising among divers without a care in the world was an experience not forgotten. Sadly Boris disappeared some time ago and did not return.
A new grouper moved in last year, and is making his presence felt on and around the wreck. Affectionately named Calvin II, Allan’s team has been feeding him and he is slowly getting used to divers approaching him. He will usually accompany the first divers down to the wreck, meeting them at the bow. Following at a distance, but if you check behind you will most likely find him keeping a watchful eye.
Calvin is much smaller than Boris and is obviously quite young. Already playing for photographers, he is becoming quite cheeky, always remaining just out of arms reach. It is hoped that Calvin will remain and become a popular resident for many years to come.
Dive with Allan Power Dive tours and share their experiences and stories. Join Allan Power after the morning dive for coffee and buns and view his personal collection of artifacts. Allan Power has a vast knowledge of the wreck, he is the man they call “Mr President. Allan ventured to Santo almost 40 years ago on a salvage expedition and remained to become the caretaker of this magnificent underwater adventure.
Published in November Divelog.
Regular trips are planned, 7 or 14 days to Santo to dive the Coolidge and then Hideaway Island in Vila, for some relaxation and spectacular reefs. If you are interested drop me an Email, and I will keep you informed. Anyone is welcome, diver, non diver, overseas or Australia. I will arrange everything.