Into the Subic Soup

Subic Bay dive sites (map “borrowed” from

November 15, 2012: A few days ago, I decided to go diving and stopped in to check out the dive shop closest to the marina, Boardwalk Dive Center. It’s local, the prices were reasonable and the staff were really helpful. So I signed up.

The night before, I got my gear together. Dive gear? Check. Batteries charged for camera and light? Check. Bag packed? Check. Money and c-card? Check. Just to be safe, I double and triple checked that I had everything. Good to go!

Yesterday was the big day. I hauled the bag up to the lobby and took a taxi to the dive shop. There were lots of people hanging around outside when I arrived. The divemasters, the shop staff, the guys who take the tanks to the boat and even one DMs wife and little baby.

There were only two of us diving. Sachi, a lady from Japan, and me. And we each got our own divemaster. Mine’s name was Jasson. I learned later that he’s been diving for four years, has about 1000 dives (all in Subic Bay) and hopes to become an instructor one day. Lots of time yet. He’s only 23.

After our dive briefings, we got our gear together and everything was taken across the street to the boat waiting by the beach.

They call it a speed boat. Not so much to look at. Open design. A row of tank racks down the middle. Bimini over the back half. No seats. You sit on the gunwale. But a brand new Mercury 90 HP engine sitting on the transom. So she’s quick.

From all reports, the Philippines has some incredible diving. Notably Apo Reef, Tubbataha Reef, Puerto Galera and the wrecks at Coron, among others. Subic Bay also has a number of wrecks from the Spanish-American War and WWII, but for some reason this place isn’t usually mentioned along with the other areas. I was about to find out why our friend Rob, from PG, calls it the Subic Soup!

The wrecks closest to the beach are reportedly off limits to divers right now because of the amount of boat traffic in the area, so our first dive would be the Japanese Patrol Boat south of the Cubi Airport. It was about a 15 minute ride to the site, where a buoy marks the spot. We tied up and started getting ready. This is where I realized two things. I did forget something after all and my old underwater camera was dead as a doornail. It wouldn’t turn on. So no pictures and no clips to hold my octi and computer. At least clips could be improvised.

Japanese Patrol Boat (image “borrowed” from

We did backroll entries and after exchanging okay signs, made our descent down the buoy line.

This wreck sank during WWII in Triboa Bay. Whether it was a patrol boat or a fishing trawler is unclear, but that it was sunk during the war is certain. It sits upright on a sandy bottom. The top of the wreck is about 18m with the bottom about 25m. It was rather dark and murky, with visibility ranging from just two to four metres. A torch is definitely needed on this dive to bring out the colours. (More on this dive site here.)

First we went to the bottom where we found a couple of sting rays hanging out. Lots of holes in the sand were home to little shrimp and fish. But no reef here. It’s pretty silty. I’ve heard it’s from the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991 and for all I know it could well be.

We made a couple of slow circles around the outside of the wreck at various depths. The condition of this wreck meant it isn’t safe for swim throughs, so had to be content with peeking in through portholes and other openings. The pilothouse was my favourite spot. Schools of small, colourful fish just hanging out. Overall, healthy soft corals, good variety of fish life and interesting dive. It kind of reminded me of being on the GB Church back home…only a lot warmer (and not quite so dark).

Back to the surface and onto the boat where we found out that even brand new outboard engines sometimes cause trouble. So we puttered over to dive site number two, El Capitan. It sits in Ilian Bay near the Ocean Adventure outdoor aquarium. Here we could watch trained dolphins jumping in threes. Sachi and I were grinning like kids. I guess a trip to the aquarium will have to go on my list of things to do.

After an hour surface interval, we geared up again and jumped back in. The water actually felt a little cooler this time. I was glad for my wetsuit and booties!!!

El Capitan (image “borrowed” from

Another descent along a buoy line to the wreck. El Capitan was a US vessel that sank in a storm in 1946. It sits on its port side the depths ranging from 5m to 21m. This one actually has some coral reef around it. Not just a sandy bottom. The viz was a little better here. (More info on this dive site here.)

After swimming to the far side, we swam through the hold for quite a distance. A little strange because everything was on its side. There were batfish and barrel sponges in nooks and crannies. Looking out through the openings in what was once the deck, I could see schools of Jacks. If I shone my light their way, they’d all dart off.

There’s an air pocket in one of the holds. We went up into it for a peek but was warned not to remove my regs. I guess a 66 year old air pocket is a little stale (or toxic). Somewhere in the holds, the battery in my torch decided it was done. But there was enough ambiant light coming through the openings to keep going. Note to self: charge two batteries next time and switch them between dives!

Back outside, more corals, clams, and fish, including most of the usual tropical suspects. Parrotfish, tangs, butterflyfish, angelfish, anemone fish, boxfish, fusiliers, Moorish idols, triggerfish, wrasses and more. I had to look them up online, I couldn’t remember the names! A great dive!

Back onboard with the engine working again (thanks to the efforts of the boatman) and we zipped back to the dive shop, where the crew quickly set to rinsing and hanging up everything to dry.

I’m already plotting to go again. The viz might be a little soupy, but I want to try out our new camera and Ikelite housing that we bought just before we left home.