Tag Archives: Subic Bay

Diving Subic Bay-Part Two

I got up on Thursday morning, March 16th looking forward to the days diving. I’d requested the day before to go to Barges and San Quentin. They’re normally done together due to their proximity to one another.

I left my hotel and took a trike to Johan’s. It’s a fairly short ride. Less than 10 minutes. At Johan’s I had breakfast, then put my camera setup together. The staff at Johan’s set up my tank. I checked it over and they carried it to the boat. I put on my wetsuit. Grabbed my camera, mask, and fins and was on the boat a little after 10 AM.

The “Barges” aren’t actually barges, although they are similar in appearance. They’re actually sections of a floating dock, that were originally set up after Subic Bay was re-taken during WW II to conduct repair work. The floating dock eventually sank and is now a favorite dive site. The sections of the dock form a rough “T” and sit on a mainly sandy bottom. There is some separation of the sections. One side drops off from roughly 20 feet to around 60 feet. The other drops to over a 100 feet. My dive started at 11:08 AM and ended up being 55 minutes. Since I’ve dived this site several times I was allowed to buddy with another experienced diver and we did our own dive. It was his first time diving Barges so we ended up exploring the whole site. Maximum depth was 107 feet.

A dive on a sunken floating dock now known as the “Barges” near Grande Island, Subic Bay, Philippines.

One of the things I enjoy about diving Barges is that it seems like I often see something different. There are always schools of fish around, going in and out through seams that have opened up in the floating dock. Sweetlips, snapper, jacks, triggerfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish, nudibranchs, mantis shrimp, lionfish,… all the usual suspects! Visibility is normally better further out and this day was no exception with visibility being 40 feet plus.

Plenty of life around the Barges, a dive site in Subic Bay, Philippines.

After our surface interval we moved over to the mouth of the Subic Bay, not far from Grande Island for a dive on the San Quentin. The San Quentin is a Spanish-American War wreck that was scuttled and sank by the Spaniards in 1898 to block access by the invading American Navy. Considering that it’s almost a 120 years old now it’s actually in remarkable shape. Although the ship itself is largely deteriorated and scattered about, the boilers are virtually intact and heavily encrusted now. There are always plenty of fish around the wreck. It’s also a prime spot for nudibranchs I’ve found. It sit’s in just 50 feet of water.

Nudibranch (Phyllidiella pustulosa) photographed on the Spanish-American War wreck of the San Quentin.

My dive started at 1:35 PM and ended up being 65 minutes. Maximum depth was 50 feet. Water temperature was 81F. I came back to the boat with 50 bar/725 psi in my tank.

This dive was no exception. Plenty of fish. I photographed a batfish early on that was in the last stages of it’s juvenile phase. Still just a touch of orange along the edges. Damselfish were everywhere. I played hide and seek with a grouper that just didn’t want to pose for a photo! Nudibranchs of course. Anemonefish here and there. A couple of different hermit crabs posed for photos. A very nice dive. You see me write that a lot I suppose, but in reality I can truthfully say it almost always is. When I’m blowing bubbles I am definitely in my happy place!

A batfish in the last stages of the juvenile phase photographed on the Spanish-American War wreck of the San Quentin near the mouth of Subic Bay, Philippines.

We were back at Johan’s around 3:30. I rinsed my wetsuit, mask, and fins. Rinsed my camera setup and dried it off so I could remove the camera. Then showered and put on a dry pair of shorts and t-shirt for the ride back to the hotel. After a cold San Miguel Light. I grabbed a trike and headed back to T-Rose. Dinner at Sit-N-Bull again and an early night.

The next day was Friday. I decided to take a day off and just get ready to leave since I was flying the next day. I had breakfast at the WestPac Sailor Bar and Restaurant/VFW. It’s one of my favorite places for breakfast. I can get an American breakfast there, eggs to order, bacon, hash browns, toast, and coffee for around a 180 pesos (about $3.50). I went back to Johan’s, settled my bill, and picked up my equipment. I hung the wetsuit up at the hotel as it wasn’t completely dry. I spent some time working on photos and then ran some errands.

Saturday morning I slept in a bit. After my shower I finished packing then walked across the street to the VFW for a late breakfast. After I ate, I decided to take a trike to the bus terminal in Olongapo City rather than take a jeepney as I just didn’t want to wrestle with my bags. The going rate for a trike is 150 pesos and takes about 25 minutes or so.

I took Victory Liner from Olongapo City to Dau. The bus left at 2:20 PM and the ticket was a 140 pesos. We arrived at 3:35 PM, so only an hour and fifteen minutes away. From the bus terminal, I took a trike to SM-Clark Mall where I hung out for a while and had a late lunch/early dinner. From SM-Clark I had a van pick me up to take me to Clark International Airport on the old Clark US Air Force Base. The van was arranged through the same guy who I’d hired to take me home from the hospital after my second angioplasty and stent the end of January. It was my first time flying out of Clark and I would later figure out that 500 pesos was too much! The ride was about 15 minutes.

I showed my itinerary to the security guard and was allowed into the terminal. I checked in and got my boarding pass, then went through security inspection. I was flying Cebu Pacific and was about 2 1/2 hours early. I took a seat in the waiting area and made a call to Kiwi Lodge (my regular hotel) in Cebu City to see if they had a room (they did). My flight boarded on time and we took off at 9:18 PM. A little less than hour later we landed at Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

My previous flights in I’d been met at the airport, either with a private shuttle to wherever I was diving, or by my friend Charles who lived in Cebu City up until late last year. This was the first time I needed to take a taxi. I took a yellow airport taxi without giving it much thought, only making sure that they would use the meter. This later turned out to be a mistake as the yellow taxi’s are twice as much as the white ones (who will also use the meter). Taxi fare ended up being 423 pesos and the ride to the hotel, with no traffic, took about 30 minutes.

After checking it, I had a quick bite to eat, then called it a night…

Next Moalboal..

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Diving Subic Bay-Part One

I’ll start with a few more details about the trip from Puerto Galera to Olongapo City and Subic Bay. I took the FSL ferry from Sabang. 230 pesos plus 20 peso tourist fee. We pulled away from the pier at 11:45 AM and were at the Batangas Ferry Terminal by 1:05 PM. Half as much time as my trip over by small bangka boat. The big ferry’s can make much better time than the smaller boats. As usual when leaving the ferry, I was approached by multiple people offering to take me to Manila by private car or taxi. They can be persistent! Usually a firm refusal works. I’ve been known to offer 200 pesos (approximate bus fare) and that will also make them go away. I just don’t see the need to hire a car usually. The trip is relatively short to Manila and since the bus is on the expressway most of the way, I wouldn’t save a significant amount of time. I boarded a bus and we departed right after 1:30 PM arriving in Cubao by 4 PM.

The bus let me out on the opposite side of EDSA from where Victory Terminal is located. Since it’s a divided and very busy road and was going to require a good 10-15 minute walk to get to, I grabbed a taxi. I just didn’t feel like maneuvering through pedestrians pulling a big bag full of dive gear and my small hard case filled with camera gear! The cab had to take a bit of a detour due to road construction, but even with tip I only spent a 100 pesos. That was $2 bucks well-spent in my book!

At Victory I boarded a bus for Olongapo City. We were on our way a little after 5 PM. A little over 3 hours later I was in Olongapo. A short jeepney ride and I was checking into my hotel in Barangay Barretto 🙂 I’d messaged Jocelyn, the owner of T-Rose, while en-route and she’d confirmed that there would be a room for me when I got there.

During recent trips I’ve stayed either in T-Rose or Coffee Shop when coming here for short periods. T-Rose has a bar associated with it, but it closes early. It has a gate and the rooms surround a small courtyard with trees and plants. It has a bit of privacy and being off the main road is quieter. Only a 1000 pesos a night (around $20 bucks). It’s in a decent location also in the center of Barretto. Walking distance to restaurants, nightlife, and the beach. Coffee Shop is a restaurant frequented by many locals. It has a 3 floors of rooms and is also well located. Rooms here can be had for 1095 pesos a night (about $22 dollars a night). Coffee Shop is a bit nicer, but not quite as well located. Both places are clean and have hot water and wifi. For this stay I opted for T-Rose.

For long term accommodations, I’ve stayed at Bella Monte on Del Pilar Street and at Suzuki’s which is right on the beach. I’ve also stayed at accommodations that are managed by Two Can Bar which is on the main highway in Barrio Barretto. I spent a month at Suzuki’s while I was recovering from my angioplasty and stent placement that was done at Medical City-Clark the end of January.

Tuesday I hung out and visited with friends. I also bought a plane ticket to Cebu to leave on Saturday. I normally dive with Johan’s when I’m diving Subic. Johan has one of the oldest dive operations around Subic Bay. My friend Rick Kirkham from Frontier Scuba in Puerto Galera runs some of his advanced technical courses there, taking advantage of the many wrecks in Subic Bay, and utilizing Johan’s operation as a base. Fun dives with Johan’s are running a 1000 pesos a dive if you have your own equipment. This is pretty much the lowest rate around Subic. You can pay more though. I like Johan’s. I’ve been diving there off and on for almost a year and a half now. Nice people and a laid back atmosphere. It’s very relaxed. They normally do 2 dives a day which fits in perfectly with the way I dive now. You can find his website at http://www.johansdiveresort.com/ They have rooms available also and they’re right on the beach in Baloy.

I unpacked my gear and setup my tank. Then had breakfast there at Johan’s. One of the things I like about Johan’s is they often don’t go out until about 10 AM, depending on where they’re diving that day and who is there. The dive sites are a bit further out than they are in Puerto Galera. We’re usually back between 3 and 4 PM depending on where we dive, which is also good. A nice relaxed day of diving!

We did 2 wrecks that day. The first dive was El Capitan. El Capitan was acquired by the US Navy in early 1942 and commissioned USS Majaba in April. It was used to move cargo around the Pacific during WW II. She was struck by 2 torpedoes from a Japanese submarine at Guadalcanal in November 1942. The entire engine room and boilers were destroyed. The ship did not sink though and was towed to the mouth of the Tenaru River and beached. In January 1943 the ship was towed to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. The hull was repaired and the ship was used as a floating barracks and material stores vessel for the remainder of the war. After that it was towed to Subic Bay, Philippines in 1946 and officially struck from the Navy Ship List. It remained in Subic Bay awaiting return to it’s original owners, but ending up sinking during a storm. El Capitan is almost 300 feet long. She lies on her port side, on a sloping bottom. The stern is at just 13 feet with the bow at 73 feet.

A diver makes his way along the coral-encrusted hull of “El Capitan” which is laying on it’s side in Subic Bay, Philippines.

Visibility can be quiet variable. Subic Bay is protected on 3 sides and has a large island (Grande Island). This means that sediment that can be washed into the bay can take a while to filter out. Visibility during rainy season can be 10 feet! Although Subic Bay has recovered a lot, it’s not completely recovered the pristine status it enjoyed prior to the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1993. Ash and sediment is still being washed into the bay. Having said that I still enjoy the dives in Subic. The wrecks still attract plenty of fish life and are interesting to dive on due to their historical status. Visibility on this dive was around 30 feet.

El Capitan is lying on it’s port side at the bottom of Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Johan’s uses small fast boats to move about the bay, with a canopy for shade, and GPS to help quickly pinpoint the dive sites. My dive on the El Capitan started at 11:06 AM. My maximum depth on this dive was 66 feet and I was back on the boat with 70 bar/1030 psi after a 52 minute dive. Water temperature was 80F.

Early in the dive I spotted a nice grouper peering out from the wreck… almost eating size! A blue-spotted ray swam away from where it’d been resting in the muck near the wreck. There were bannerfish, butterflyfish, grouper, and sweetlips swimming around the wreck, along with parrotfish feeding on the algae growing on the encrusting coral. The issue often, but not always of diving in Subic Bay, is the amount of silt and volcanic ash that was deposited into the bay and still gets stirred up. Muck diving has become more popular here as a result.

A grouper makes it home on El Capitan one of the many wrecks found in Subic Bay, Philippines.

After our surface interval we moved to the next dive which was on the LST (Landing Ship Tanks). These ships were designed and used during WW II to support amphibious operations by landing tanks and vehicles on the beach. At 328 feet it’s bigger than El Capitan. It’s sitting with a small list, but upright in 90-120 feet of water on the eastern side of Subic Bay. I enjoy this dive. There are plenty of fish throughout this wreck. I’ve never done a real penetration here, but there are compartments that can be accessed easily that I’ve stuck my head into to take a few photos. There are large schools of cardinalfish who make the wreck home and usually a few lionfish are about.

A photo shot looking into a compartment of an LST (Landing Ship Tanks) sunk in Subic Bay, Philippines.

My dive started at 1:12 PM. We explored mainly along the superstructure and the top of the wreck. My maximum depth on this dive was 77 feet. My dive time was 50 minutes and I was back on the boat with 50 bar/750 psi. Water temperature was again 80F.

A lionfish hunts along the side of the LST wreck in Subic Bay, Philippines.

After we were all back on the boat, we headed back to the dive center. We were back well before 3 PM. One thing they do at Johan’s is meet you as get back and take your drink order. All divers get a free drink at the end of the days diving. Sometimes I have hot tea and sometimes I have a San Miguel Light, depending on my mood!

After getting back to T-Rose, I showered and got a nap in. I had dinner that night at Sit-n-Bull Restaurant on Del Pilar Street in Barretto. This is one of my favorite restaurants and I have dinner there quite often when I’m in town. They have a wide variety of American, Mexican, Italian, and Filipino dishes. I’ve never had anything from their menu I didn’t like! Be prepared for huge portions though! A good place to go with an appetite.

After that back to the room, work on photos for bit and sleep… yes I know very boring!

In the next installment I’ll write about two of my favorite dives at Subic Bay… Barges and San Quentin… stay tuned!

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