Like most little girls of my generation, I was moderately obsessed with The Little Mermaid. Splashing around in the pool pretending to have fins, arguing over who got to be Ariel, and passionately belting the words to Part of Your World was a staple of my childhood. But unlike most others, I never quite outgrew the mermaid infatuation.
I’ve always loved the water and spent my summers swimming every day and snorkeling on family vacations. When I went off to university one of the first things I did was get SCUBA certified to take my mermaid status to the next level. Whenever I travel, diving is always on my to-do list and I’ve been lucky enough to dive in world renowned locations like Borneo, the Channel Islands, and the Caribbean. So when I heard there was some famous shipwreck diving in Coron, the island in the Philippines I was planning to go to, I knew it was a no-brainer that I had to check it out. But I had no idea how absolutely, mind-blowingly incredible it would be!
What I hadn’t realized until right before I arrived is that you need an Advanced Diver certification to dive shipwrecks. With your Open Water certification you can dive around the wreck, but to actually be able to go inside and explore the ship you must have your Advanced. Your Open Water also limits you to about 18 meters and because shipwrecks are often found at lower depths you need an Advanced to be able to reach them.
Chelyn and I arrived on Coron and began hunting for a dive shop to certify us. While several of the options seemed a little sketchy, we finally found a shop called Corto Divers that we were thrilled with. We had to wait a couple of days for them to fit us in, so we spent the day island hopping, lounging by the pool, and diving Barracuda Lake. What a shame.
Barracuda Lake is a partial salinity lake with a dramatic thermocline. As you swim parts of the water are as hot as a jacuzzi and suddenly icy cold. You can literally see the layers of water and stick your hand through them to feel the temperature change. I half expected my hand to disappear and find itself in a new dimension.
Coron is one of the top shipwreck diving destinations in the world, and for good reason. Seven Japanese ships lie at the bottom of Coron Bay as a result of attacks by US Forces during World War II. Learning about the history of these ships added a fascinating and eerie element to the dives.
To descend to the wrecks we made our way down a line tied to the ship with a floating buoy at the top. We couldn’t see anything around us but murky water and had to simply follow the line and our dive master. Finally the ship loomed into view and if I hadn’t had a regulator in my mouth, it would have taken my breath away.
The ships have become complex reef systems, teeming with more life than I’ve seen on many coral reefs. Our dive master oriented us by leading us around the outside of the ship first, pointing out lion fish, stone fish, sea turtles, fluorescent nudibranches, and other incredible sea life. Eventually it was time to enter the ship, something I’ll admit I was terrified about. It was dark inside; the passageways were narrow; and bad, scary things always happened in the movies inside dark underwater ships.
We broke out our flashlights and squeezed through a porthole that definitely did not look like it would fit a human with a large cylinder on her back, but somehow we made it through. Our dive master shined his flashlight into a large cavern, illuminating a large pink jellyfish hovering in the middle.
As we made our way up, down, in and out of the ship, I couldn’t stop reeling over how amazing it all was. Am I really doing this?!?! was all I could think. This was just like the opening scene of The Little Mermaid! Only I hope the shark doesn’t show up to chase me around…
It was truly one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. Because I tend to get claustrophobia in small, dark spaces I was really nervous that diving inside the shipwreck would trigger a panic attack. Luckily I was so in awe of everything around me that I forgot my fear and enjoyed it. I can’t wait to dive more shipwrecks and live my mermaid dream.
Here’s a little video I made. It’s shoddy camera work but it gives you an idea of what it’s like to swim through the wrecks!