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My first ever overseas diving holiday

I’ll never forget my first ever overseas diving holiday… it was to the Solomon Islands.

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They say the first overseas diving trip is always the best and I can tell you the Solomon Islands is a diving destination which sits right up there.  The Solomon Islands has it all! Big marine creatures; Sun Fish, Mantas, Cool Sharks, Barracuda and heaps more. It has small stuff… Clown fish central! Macro photographers will love the Sollies! In fact photographers and videographers will love what the Solomon Islands has to offer.

SolomonIslands-101-e1459764905577Situated  in the Pacific ocean a  thousand kilometres north east of Australia, the Solomon Islands were heavily involved in World War II with many famous battles of World War II taking place in this area. The battle of the Guadal Canal is a very famous one which left so many wrecks afterwards, they renamed the body of water between the islands, Iron Bottom Sound. Unfortunately, the depth of many of these wrecks is beyond the reach of recreational divers. However that is just the start of it when it comes to wrecks. There are literally hundreds of ships, planes and submarines scattered around this area. If you are a WWII historian, you will love the history of the Solomon Islands where everything during the war was so well documented that there are memorials which literally list the ships lost, dates that they sunk, how many personnel were lost and how many survived.

Whilst on my first trip to the Solomons, I dived a couple of wrecks which have remained as favourites of mine right up to today. The Aaron Ward wreck near Tulagi (the ex capital of the Solomon Islands) is one of my all time favourites. This wreck sits upright in 70 metres and is an amazing wreck. 113 metres long – Small in comparison to a lot of shipwrecks in the Solomons, the Aaron Ward was a US Destroyer loaded up with 4 x 5” guns, 2 x 40mm Bofors, 5 x 21” torpedoes and 7 x 20mm guns. Unfortunately all of that fire power wasn’t enough for it to avoid being sunk on the 7th of April 1943 near Tinete Point. To date, less than a thousand people have dived on the Aaron Ward.

On my first dive on the Ward (yes I went back… 3 times), I remember dropping in freefall to 60m on the deck. It seemed to take forever with nothing to see but the odd fish and a dark gloomy haze until all of a sudden, there it was… the mast came into view first and then the whole wreck just appeared. Visibility was around 40 metres so you couldn’t see the whole wreck, but you could certainly see a lot of it. Dropping onto the main deck you could see that Picture2this ship went down with all guns blazing. Turrets were all facing straight up skywards at the aerial assault which eventually would be the demise of this fantastic asset of the US Navy. Bomb holes littered the deck. One of which was a direct hit on a gun turret with only a hole remaining and a twisted ladder heading down into the darkness of the lower levels of the ship.  Boxes of ammunition scatter the decks where they were left as the crew distributed them as fast as they could whilst under heavy fire and bombardment. Making sure the gunners didn’t run out of supplies with an almost never ending array of Japanese Zeros descending on them. One Kamikaze bomber drove into the main mast partially destroying it. We weren’t able to find the remains of this plane due to the depth of the wreck and the very limited time we had to explore… Swimming around the wreck you could imagine the chaos that was going on when the attack occurred. As we made out way across the deck of the Aaron Ward, we were buzzed by a couple of Manta Rays – We were later told that this was the first time they had ever seen Mantas at this depth and certainly never so close to the Aaron Ward… It was an awesome sight!

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On the evening of the 7th, the Aaron Ward was settling in for the night and the chefs were busily making dinner for the crew when the Japanese Zeros began tearing the Ward apart. I was fortunate enough to have stumbled across a small doorway which led into the galley. The sight in front of me was something I’ll never forget. A full kitchen, stoves pans and pots littered the main area. There were pans still hanging by their handles on hooks above the work station. Stacks of plates sitting upright on the benches and some stacks leaning against a wall were very easy to identify. The plates all had the US Navy insignia on them and the Aaron Ward ship number printed underneath. Looking beyond the galley, there was a small narrow hallway leading down to the Captains room and the highly ranked officer’s quarters.

080305_Honduras_2544Most of these doors were still sealed from the day the Aaron Ward went down silt and rust welding them closed to anyone who dare venture that far into the wreck.

Unfortunately the fact that by now I had around 25 minutes of decompression stops to do and I hadn’t even left the bottom yet, it was time to say goodbye (very reluctantly) and head back out and towards our ascent line.

Leaving the deck of the Aaron Ward left a mixed feeling of awe and of loss. The thought that I may never get to dive on the wreck again and may never get to go down that hallway and check out what is in the rooms where the doors weren’t completely sealed. The feeling of wanting to see so sbaumuch more but also the feeling of WOW to what I had just seen. The long deco stop was not so bad. My imagination was going wild as to what happened and how it all happened and imagining how it must have felt for the crew destined that night for the bottom of a deep and dark ocean floor with nowhere to go. They went down fighting to the very last minute and the decks showed that they put up one hell of a fight before succumbing to the Japanese attack.  Surfacing was just a bunch of yahoos and high 5’s as everyone on the dive knew that what we had just encountered was something special in anyone’s diving career… Especially mine.

The Aaron Ward wreck is just one of many wrecks in the Solomon Islands and each and every one of them has its own story… but that is for another time…

If you would like to join us on our awesome trip to the Solomon Islands in July (18th – 28th), call the store or come in for a chat with us. There are only 6 places left.

Get your wreck and reef shoes on and lets go diving!!!

Managing Director Lee Johnson


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