We arrived at the first dive site: the Kogyo Maru. Being first boat there, we were assured a decent dive, there being no other divers to kick up the silt and obscure the view. Gerd's brief was thorough and precise. He gave me the history of the ship: Kogyo had been a supply ship used to carry construction materials. She'd been full of wire, cement and other supplies when she went down. Gerd showed me exactly where we'd penetrate the wreck, and where I could see the interesting stuff like the tractor in her forward hold.
We geared up quickly, Gerd casting the occasional eye at me as I did so. You always feel you're being evaluated on a dive boat. There's good reason for it...and you get an idea of someone's standard as soon as you head down the shotline to the bottom. Hand signals were re-iterated, the main one being the sign for my tank being half-empty; he'd have to calculate the rest of the dive by my air consumption so far, and therefore know when to head back towards the shotline and the surface. A giant stride off the boat later, we gave the OK sign...and down we went.
Visiblity isn't great in Coron Bay. The close proximity of so many islands ensures a run-off into the sea to cloud the view. But this only makes it a little more edgy and therefore exciting. We dropped into darker water, and my heart skipped a beat as the rusting hulk appeared from the gloomy depths. Gerd had warned me that I'd consume my air more quickly the first few times on the wrecks. He wasn't wrong...I was excitedly sucking in breath like never before.
Dropping over the side, we approached a cargo hold. He asked me via hand signals if I was happy to go in. Too right I was. In we went, the light disappearing behind me as we pulled out our flashlights. He pointed out the wreckage of the tractor and we swam above this and through a large hole into the next hold. No sound accompanied us, bar the hiss of inhaled gas and the trickle of bubbles heading up and away. The atmosphere in the wreck was beautiful; passages opened up before me as we headed for the engine room and its two impressive furnaces. Beyond was a hole which led further through the remains of the boat. It got darker, my heart hammering in my chest and the blood pounding in my temples as we found our way through to the farthest holds.
Time flew, and all too soon we exited the wreck, to swim across the hull and see the fish and corals that have claimed her as home. Beautiful schools of fish drifted around as Gerd made the OK sign in a questioning manner. Fucking right I'm OK, my friend...let me at the next one as soon as humanly possible. Arriving at the shotline, we carefully made our ascent to the surface. I looked back as the wreck disappeared from view. I was hooked.
"Nice dive?" asked Gerd as we climbed out of the sea. My grin said it all. The smell of frying fish teased my nostrils as we got out of the wetsuits, and Dennis laid a right old feast before us. Lapu lapu and pumpkin curry, fresh mango and banana. Far and away the best food I'd had in the Philippines. We discussed the wreck, and the next dives, over lunch. I'd definitely made the right choice with this bunch. Great guys, great banter and great food.