Diving in Subic : Exploring the Wrecks of USS New York and El Capitan

Looking for a quick and challenging dive spot from Manila? Hop on the bus and head to Subic! Here is what I saw diving in USS New York and El Capitan!

For months, I have put off my plans of diving! I was probably meant to have my 20th dive in the place where I learned diving (courtesy of Boardwalk Dive Center).

Subic Bay is home to a lot of wrecks! When you go wreck diving, you have to make sure that you have a good trim or else silt will ruin the visibility. If someone calls you a seahorse while diving, that means you suck at doing the trim. Day in and day out, people from different countries would visit to test their skills. I have always been lucky enough to go diving with people who had more experience and who were of higher levels: technical dive masters and rescue diver while I am still an advanced adventure diver.Anyways,I probably suck more at selfies underwater than on land (my rate of success on land is 1/20) so I hope you forgive me for my futile attempt at underwater photography.

First dive was at USS New York, one of the most popular wrecks in Subic. If you want to explore the entire wreck, you will need to have excellent technical dive skills. The wreck is not for the fainthearted. It will test you and bring out the claustrophobic in you. Three divers have died exploring inside the USS New York – which indicates significant hazards and the need for advanced technical wreck training. My bottom time was 30 mins. since I was just using air. I wish I could have stayed longer.

Depth: 16 until 32 Meters

Length: 116 Meters

Position: Port Side

Current: Generally Calm

Suitable for: Advanced Open Water/Experienced/Technical Wreck Divers

Perfect for: Intermediate-Technical Wreck Penetration, Historical/Heritage Appreciation.

Diving Information:

Basic Divers – Lower than average visibility (due to proximity to the Olongapo river mouth) and deeper water makes this site more suitable for divers who have gained experience beyond entry-level training. The top of the wreck lies in 17-22m depth, covered in soft and whip corals with many reef fish. Lying slightly deeper (~59 ft (18 m) deep) divers can examine the uppermost barrel of an 8 in (200 mm) primary gun. The 361 ft (110 m) length gives plenty of area to observe. Corals, sponges and fish life that have had over 60 years to convert it into home. Scorpion fish are common around this wreck and divers are reminded that contact with these fish is dangerous. Experienced Wreck Divers – More advanced divers can explore the propeller, conning tower and deck areas. There are some areas of relatively easy penetration, with open-spaces and sufficient height to stay clear of major silt deposits. These include the following. The mess deck (2nd deck down) has an interesting penetration 197 ft (60 m) with port holes above allowing light, but no exit. The boiler room can be explored within recreation diving limits. Due to the nature of the wreck, with low light/viz and the risk of silt disturbance; redundant gas supplies and guideline deployment training are recommended for penetrations.

Advanced/Technical Wreck Divers – Three divers have died exploring inside the USS New York – which indicates significant hazards and the need for advanced technical wreck training. Divers with proper decompression and advanced/technical wreck penetration training can reach the engine room, machinery spaces and lower decks. These are in excellent condition, with huge pipes, machinery and valve wheels. Spaces are extremely confined, with many restrictions and high risk of silt-out. Penetration is generally made on twin tanks, whilst deploying a constant guideline to the exit. Both engine room entrances have notices, warning of the dangers to the untrained.

I am no stranger to the second dive site El Capitan (USS Majaba). It was where I did my first and second dive. Unlike USS New York, I was unlucky because the go pro ran out of battery while we were exploring inside! It was a beauty and I will definitely go back to take good videos and photos. I forced the gopro and somehow it worked and I got to take photos of the school of jacks at the end of the dive! We also got to see a spotted ray and not-so-giant clams.

Depth: 5 until 21 Meters

Long: 90 Meters

Wide: 16 Meters

Position: Starboard side

Current: Generally Calm

Suitable for: All Levels of Divers Perfect for: Novice Wreck Penetration, Fun

Diving Information:

At a depth of slightly over 18 meters the outside of the wreck provides an excellent site for divers. The forward hole is wide-open allowing entry by even novice divers. The top side (starboard side) is at 5 meters, which eliminates the need for an extra safety stop. This area is alive with a variety of fish. From the forward hole, additional areas of the ship may be accessed. One route takes you to the accommodation area and on to rear cargo hold. Wreck History: Normally referred to as the El Capitan the USS Majaba (AG 43) was built as SS Meriden by Albina Engine & Machine Works, Portland, Oreg., in 1919; acquired by the Navy under charter as SS El Capitan from her owner, E. K. Wood Lumber Co., of San Francisco, Calif., 23 April 1942; renamed Majaba and commissioned the same day. She was placed out of service 14 March 1946 at Subic Bay.

How To Get There From Manila:

Take the Victory Liner Bus from Cubao, Quezon City. Take the one via SCTEX, it is a lot faster. When you get off the terminal, you can ask around where to take the jeepney that goes to SM Olongapo or if you have a lot of cash, you can take a cab into Subic Bay for P300. From SM Olongapo, you can just walk through the gates into Subic Bay Freeport.

Where To Stay When In Subic Bay Freeport:

If you are on a budget, you should check-out The Cabin by Subic Park Hotel. It is one of the cheapest accommodation than you can find.

A practical place for practical people. The only Backpackers Hotel inside Subic Bay Freeport Zone. It is located along Schley road, Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Owned and managed by Subic Park Hotel. The Cabin has dormitory type accommodations with (5) five bunk beds, individual cabinet, fan, and fully air-conditioned. We also have twelve (12) Private Rooms with air-condition, LCD Television and Coffee Table available for single or double occupancy. You can also enjoy our homey type reception area where you can feel and enjoy the warmth hospitality of our accommodating staff and its country side atmosphere. For as low as Php 430/night to Php 750/night you can now avail and enjoy the most affordable country style service with free Wi-Fi access everywhere.

You can book here: http://www.thecabinsubic.com/

If you want high-class accommodation, you should try The Lighthouse Marina Resort. It is the best hotel in Subic Bay.

The Lighthouse Marina Resort is a three-floor, 34-room boutique hotel capped by a lighthouse. The hotel is sleek and ultra-modern in its Palafox-designed architecture. Done in almost austere Italianate architectonics with its elegantly simplistic hotel facade, the hotel main building provided a perfect compliment to the 20 meter light tower done in surprising detail very faithful to naval architecture specifications. It’s exclusive location hidden in the midst of the busy Waterfront Road makes it the ultimate haven of retreat. The Lighthouse established back in 2007 to provide transient residence to executives of business locators of the Subic free port zone; and for tourists who frequent the port more for its sailing and eco-tourism than its business.

You can book here: http://www.lighthousesubic.com/ or through agoda.com

After the dives, I realized I need to save up for a better underwater camera, my wing (the one I used for Miss SCUBA was just borrowed), my torch and jet fins for the love of having a more streamlined dive in the future! I also need to practice more on taking better selfies and perfecting my trim! Also need to ask someone else to take photos of me so I have full body ones. It sucks when you are the one with the camera, you barely have decent photos!

It is always a good experience to dive at Subic! It is easy access and you can go to a lot of wreck sites.You should not miss diving there!

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Diving in Cebu: Shark Diving in Malapascua Island

As a young animal lover, I have always dreamed of seeing sharks and swimming next to them. I remember staying up late to watch dive expeditions being shown on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Diving with the thresher sharks was part of my dive bucketlist.

According to some stories, some Spaniards have been sailing through the Visayas in the year of 1520 and ended up stranded on Malapascua on Christmas Day because of the unfortunate incident they called the island Mala Pascua, which literally means “Bad Christmas”. I am not certain how they could’ve thought it was bad luck to be in a beautiful island. Although the older local people still insist that their island’s name is “Logon” (same name as the main village here on Malapascua) and not Malapscua. This island a popular dive destination in the Philippines. The picturesque island is home to a world famous treasure. A special kind of shark, the thresher shark. As a young animal lover, I have always dreamed of seeing sharks and swimming next to them. I remember staying up late to watch dive expeditions being shown on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Diving with the thresher sharks was part of my dive bucketlist.

To get to Malapascua is not that quick, from Cebu City, you will have to take the bus all the way to Maya which takes about 5 hours. For my trip, I took the bus to Bogo  and stayed there for the night. The following morning we took the bus from Bogo City to Maya Port. I enjoyed the bus ride as it passed through rice fields and mangrove forests. When we reached Maya Port, the locals immediately asked if we were heading to Malapascua. I was told that the usual price is 80 PHP but we arrived a bit late (most boats don’t go to Malapascua in the afternoon unless you charter them because of the current) so we had to just say yes to them.

IMGP0137
Malapascua from a distance.

The weather was on our side that day despite warnings of thunderstorms that weekend. I sat and enjoyed the calming sea breeze for 30 minutes as the boat sailed smoothly over the placid sea. The other passengers looked like babies on a cradle slowly falling asleep.

Malapascua Island
Malapascua somehow reminds me of Boracay in a less touristy way.

Unknown to many, 2 years ago, Malapascua Island was also one of the islands ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Expats and locals both pitched in to recover from the destruction and while I was walking around there were little traces.

Bangkas in Malapascua
Clear blue skies and white sand.

We did not make any prior bookings relying on the fact that it was off season in the island. It was not difficult to find accomodations. I saw more than 10 resorts all lining the coast of Malapascua. More than a decade ago, I visited the island as part of my mother’s regular company outing. I could barely remember the details of the island and would’ve gotten lost if not for Lucas. He already went to Malapascua several times for diving.  I am always embarrassed when people ask me where I did my dives ( I probably did more dives in Mabul and Sipadan than in my own country). It was my first dive in Cebu by the way! Anyways, we headed to French Kiss Divers first to try squeezing in a dive for that day (we needed vitamin Sea so much that they anyways their local staff thought I was Thai, not sure if I should be happy or not). They were nice enough to schedule a 3:30 PM dive.

Boat
Serene view.

After taking care of our dive for the day, we headed to Malapascua Exotic Island Dive & Beach Resort. Exotic is one of the established resorts on the island and they offer budget accomodations (for those who want to spend more on dives than their beds). We left our bags and had a quick lunch (they had a wide variety of dishes and the servings were good). Once we filled our stomachs, we walked back to French Kiss to prepare the dive gears and do all the necessary equipment check.

BCDs are ready!
The view just makes you want to jump right in without your gears.

Shark diving is the main activity in the island but you can also do macro-diving. Malapascua offers sandy bottoms, seagrass meadows, mangroves and coral reefs. The island has other top class dive sites apart from Malapascua such as Gato Island, Lapus Lapus and Dakit Dakit. If you are spending more days in the island, you can even hire a boat to take you to Kalanggaman Island in Palompon.

Here is a map I created to show you a few of the different sites:

DEEP SLOPE

Our first dive was at Deep Slope which was a unique underwater sand dune that slowly turns into a small wall which is covered with soft corals.  Pygmy seahorses, yellow and pink ones can be seen inside the different sea fans along that reef.  An interesting dive site for more experienced beginners and advanced divers. For beginners, you need to be aware of the slope and make sure to always check your dive computer to avoid diving beyond your limit. While doing the dive, I got a bit nervous when we suddenly saw a banded sea snake (more than a meter long) swimming along the reef wall (FYI: I hate snakes and centipedes).

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