Subic Bay, January 2017

Subic Bay is north of Manila. There's a navy base there that used to be a much bigger US Navy base there after World War II. To get there from Manila airport, I could have taken a taxi to the bus station, then a bus, then a jeepney and then a tricycle, but I did have an awful lot of dive kit, so I paid for the ₱4000 fee for the transfer. Saturday afternoon is possibly the worst time to arrive, though Friday night might be worse, and it took almost 5 hours to get there, over half of it crawling out of Manila in a jam. In comparison, going back early on a Sunday morning only took 2 and a half hours.

I was staying at and diving with Johan's at Baloy beach. I'd booked one of the budget rooms, though they do have a selection. It was fine with an ensuite bathroom. Johan's has a 24 hour bar and restaurant and the menu is huge. They also have a large selection of worldwide beers, including lots of Belgian ones. There are some other places along Baloy beach, bars and restaurants. One of these is Harley's which was notable for having Magners and real ale on draft. They also showed English football and other sports. It was busiest during Premier League matches.

The main town of Barrio Baretto is about a ten minute walk away. There are more restaurants there, including Sit 'N Bull and Shamboli's Pizza, a couple of 7-11s and enough of a choice of ATMs that you should be able to find one that works. There are also a lot of bars. As you might expect from a town that used to be near a big navy base, a lot of them are girlie bars, though most of the clientele these days is old men rather than sailors. Cheap Charlies was notable for selling San Miguel at ₱35 a bottle, which is the cheapest I've seen.

The diving is very relaxed. Everyone just turns up at about 9am and they decide what they're going to do. The downside of this is that it's not exactly the quickest method of sorting out diving. I took the first day off after the very long day getting there, but on the next day I was ready to go diving. There was a group of 3 regulars from Hong Kong who wanted to do something different, as they'd done all the usual dives. They were going to do the tail fin of an Orion submarine hunting plane for the first dive and the wing of it for the second. Both sites are at 42m and they were doing it on air as a no deco dive, which seemed pointless to me as it would be so short. So after a bit of discussion, I had a twin set of 26% and a deco stage of 50%. The stage seemed complete overkill and I didn't bother with it again.

The tail section sits on white sand. The viz was about 12m which was enough to see the whole tail. As there's no reef habitat anywhere near it, there was a shoal of small fish living around it and a number of grouper and coral trout which obviously fed on them. After about 14 minutes on the bottom, I'd swam around it enough times that I thought I might start getting dizzy and we headed up. The Orion is a big plane, but the fuselage was salvaged for the electronics and this is only the tail section. The second dive was similar, though it was a wing section this time.It wasn't quite so deep, at 40m, and I did a little bit longer on the bottom.

The next day we were supposed to be doing a landing craft but the shot missed it and the viz wasn't very good.After 10 minutes of swimming around the sea bed at 40m, we gave up and went up. The second dive was an LST and this is probably the best dive in the bay. It sits upright in about 35m. It has started to collapse in the mid section. This is a recent development and there are big cracks in the deck in other places, so we were warned not to go inside. I managed a much longer dive on this site, going from end to end twice in 50 minutes. There was a nice shoal of squid hanging around the shot line as we came up.

Next day, we did the Tabby plane wreck first. This was a Japanese plane, a Showa L2D which was a version of the Dakota DC3 built under licence. It crashed upside down though the cockpit has twisted at the front, so it's more on its side. It lies in 44m, but 15 minutes was more than enough to see all of it.

The second dive was the wreck of the El Capitan. She sank in a storm and lies on her port side. There's plenty of life on the wreck, especially jack fish and there are some big, open sections of the ship that you can swim through. It's only in 24m as it lies in a bay, though this does mean the viz wasn't as good. It was probably about 10m. This was a much longer dive. We surfaced after almost an hour.

The following day was the Japanese patrol boat, also in 24m and not far from the El Capitan, so with similar viz. It's also a very silty wreck, so depending on your companions, it may kick up a bit. It sits upright and there are some rooms you can swim inside and have a look around. It was a pleasant, easy dive as was the LCU, or landing craft utility. I've dived a few landing craft, mainly in the UK, and this was somewhat bigger. It even had a galley area which you can stick your head into. It's also a bit silty and I got 21m on that dive.

The final day, and our plans to do the USS New York were abandoned because a Filipino frigate had gone over it the previous day doing manoeuvres and stirred everything up. So we did the Skyraider first. This is another plane wreck. It lies up the right way, and you can still see the rader equipment inside the rear cockpit. The bags containing the parachutes are still packed into the back of the plane, untouched since it crashed. At 35m, it's not quite as deep as the other planes and I did it on a single of 30% for a reasonable bottom time.

My last dive was the Bridges. These were the structures used when they were doing maintenance on the ships. There are also a couple of barges down there. So there are these cage like structures down there which are quite good for attracting fish. They like to shelter inside and there were also some nudibranchs and other life on the structures themselves. At 32m, it was an easy nitrox dive.

It was a little disappointing not to do the USS New York. For much of the week, there were boats in the base and they don't let you dive it then as it's in the shipping channel. They did do it the following day and only got about a metre viz on it, so I'm not sure I missed much.

Johan's has nitrox, they can probably do you trimix with some warning. There were twinsets available and stage bottles. The only slight nuisance was that a twinset dive was charged extra even if you used the same tanks for both dives, so I switched my regs over for the second part of the week and used a single. However, the prices aren't very high anyway. The centre made sure that I got to do a new dive each time and I think I dived most of what was available. There are a couple of deeper wrecks outside the bay, but they're in trimix territory.

Johan has been there for over 30 years and is constantly looking for new sites with his side scan sonar. Subic Bay has a maximum size of 4 divers to each guide rule for all operators, which keeps the diving more personal. The centre had 3 boats, though I think they had another one in for repair, and they're proper dive boats, made from glass fibre with ladders on them that were actually designed for divers. I had no trouble climbing one in a twinset.