Fifth Stop, Sangat Island

January 29-31, 2014: After a leisurely start to the day, with coffee and two gigantic fresh fruit platters for breakfast, we set off for our next destination, Sangat Island. It was only 8.5 nautical miles from the Busuanga Yacht Club, so we weren’t in any rush.

The sea was beautifully calm, and even Nukaat seemed to enjoy being on deck and underway. For much of our 1.5 hour passage, I sat on the pilothouse roof with a pair of binoculars and the camera, while Chris had the helm. It was a quick trip and we tied up to one of the four moorings adjacent to the Sangat Island Dive Resort. Take note of our GPS position on our chartplotter in one of the photos and compare it to the photos showing us on the mooring and note how far we actually are from shore. This has been a big problem in some of the anchorages around the Calamian group of islands in Northern Palawan. Fortunately we also have the Navionics charts installed on our iPad and it gives us a more accurate position, although we’re finding that the charts themselves are not totally accurate or complete, especially when it comes to depth soundings.

After a short wander onshore to make our presence known and find out about the plans for diving, we decided to go paddling. We popped the kayaks in the water and explored the area along the southeast shore of the island from one point to the other. The water was crystal clear, the reef looked really healthy and we spotted a variety of birds along the cliffs and in the trees, as well as a jumbo monitor lizard that scurried off noisily as we approached.

On each of the following two mornings we joined one of the resort’s dive boats for a dive. With plenty of time topside, Chris managed to get some hull cleaning done while I tried my hand at some new recipes. And we enjoyed a couple of sunsets discussing cruising, diving and living in the Philippines with some of the dive staff at the watering hole on “The Rock”.

With rollers coming in from the southeast, we didn’t find this anchorage particularly relaxing. Although there was a nice breeze during the day, one our second night it died down after dark, so MOKEN ended up broadside to the swells. It meant a sleepless night as we rocked side to side, even after we deployed the paravanes.

Lusong Gunboat:
This wreck, located on the east side of Lusong Island, was probably a gunboat or submarine hunter. The stern breaks the surface at low tide, with the bow situated in 11m of water. The reef nearby drops down to a maximum depth of 18m. We started the dive on the reef and found a few nudibranchs and a jawfish holding its eggs in its mouth while it popped its head out of a hole in the sand. The wreck itself is covered with healthy hard corals and home to a wide variety of fish life. There was a fairly large crocodile fish sitting in a hollow near the bow. The shallow reef surrounding the wreck was fun too. We were once again enamoured by a solitary cuttlefish and found a variety of small fishies seemingly sleeping in amongst the coral. They weren’t swimming, just swaying back and forth with the slight movement of water around them.

Irako Maru:
Japanese Navy Refrigerated Provision Ship/Reefer. Length 147m, beam 19m, 9,570 gross tons. Built in 1940-1941. Commissioned December 5, 1941. Damaged on August 12, 1944 while underway from Japan to Taiwan carrying a deck load of reconnaissance water planes. Arrived in Coron Bay on September 22, 1944. Sunk by air attack on September 24, 1944 with considerable casualties. Lies upright. Depth 34-45m. Reportedly the best wreck dive in the Philippines.

Here we were again on the Irako. Jojo, who manages the diving and watersports at the resort was our guide for this, our second attempt on this wreck. We opted for Nitrox to extend our bottom time, but it would mean our maximum depth would be limited.

We took a Nitrox course when we were diving in Indonesia about three years ago and this was our first dive on Nitrox since. Nitrox is a gas mixture composed of nitrogen and oxygen. Normal air (what is usually in our scuba tanks) is approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% other gases. This time our tanks would have 31% oxygen and thus a lower level of nitrogen. Nitrogen builds up in our bodies when we dive. The deeper we go and the longer we stay underwater, the more nitrogen builds up. There is a limit to what that body can handle, limiting how long divers can spend at various depths. When we reduce the amount of nitrogen by increasing the amount of oxygen, there is less risk of decompression sickness for the same dive profile, and less chance of requiring decompression stops on our return to the surface. It doesn’t come without a price. As the level of oxygen in our blood becomes elevated on the dive when we use Nitrox, the risk of oxygen toxicity increases. Breathing oxygen becomes toxic at high pressure, and the deeper we go, the more the pressure increases. That’s what limits our maximum depth. On normal air, the limit is 57m or 187 feet. On a mix of 31% oxygen, our limit would be 35m or 116 feet.

We dove with Jojo in the lead, Chris behind him taking underwater video and me bringing up the rear with my little underwater camera. On the pre-dive briefing, Jojo explained what route we would be taking through the wreck and what we could expect to see. He emphasized how tight some of the openings would be and reminded us to watch our buoyancy control so we wouldn’t stir up silt and reduce our visibility. He wasn’t kidding either. The amount of space in some areas between the silty floor and the ceiling reduced the wall heights by half. There were cables dangling and passages leading off in many directions. It would be easy to get lost on this wreck without a properly trained guide. At one point not long after we entered the wreck I could hear both Chris’ and my dive computer beeping to let us know we’d exceeded our maximum depth by five feet. Jojo had warned us about that too! It was a great dive through this wreck and its numerous small rooms, including the galley where we spotted huge pots and tools still hanging about. In one room, we even found a bicycle, rather encrusted and no longer in one piece, but still clearly identifiable. By the time we arrived back outside, we were seven minutes into deco, so there was no time to explore the deck. It was time to make our ascent and do a couple of decompression stops before we could safely return to the surface. All in all, one of our best dives on the Japanese wrecks of Coron Bay. It definitely made up for the disappointment of our earlier attempt (see previous post).

Up next, a return trip to the Busuanga Yacht Club to wait out the passing of Tropical Storm Kajiki.

Date Area Guide Dive Site Highlights
January 30, 2014 Lusong Island Caloy, Sangat Island Dive Resort Lusong Gunboat WWII Japanese Gunboat or Submarine Hunter sitting upright in shallow water. Crocodile fish, cuttlefish and “sleeping” fish.
January 31, 2014 Coron Bay Jojo, Sangat Island Dive Resort Irako Maru Wow! What a difference a small group and a few days makes. And Nitrox! Exceptional dive inside this massive wreck.
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