WRECK DIVING - A DIFFERENT SIDE OF OAHU, HAWAII
When most people go to Hawaii, they think about the beaches and the visiting volcanos and attending a luau. Sure, I did those things too, but that's not why I return to Oahu over and over. It's the SCUBA diving. Hawaii, Oahu in particular, has some of the best wreck diving in the world. It's crystal clear waters averaging 72-79 degrees are the perfect setting for viewing some spectacular wrecks - some put there on purpose for the benefit of divers - but most are just unfortunate accidents.
Take for instance the WW2 era Corsair plane wreck, located in Maunalua bay. It crashed in 1946 on a routine training mission, but it is rumored that the pilot survived and swam to shore. It sits on the bottom of the ocean, 115ft down, but the water is so clear that you can see it from the surface. There is a family of octopus living in the wings and eels make the cockpit their home. Nearby in the seemingly empty sand around the plane are fields of garden eels.
The largest shipwreck in Oahu, located right off of Diamondhead State Park, is the YO-257. It was a Navy refueling vessel that proudly served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Since it was sunk on purpose, it has been "cleaned" meaning things that usually make it dangerous to dive such as loose lines or residual fuel have been removed prior to sinking so that penetrating the wreck is easy and fun for even a beginning diver. Due to the currents and depth (120ft), however, it should be considered an advanced dive. Swimming through the doorways and posing for photos at the helm are a most amusing pastime. Keep your eyes open for the Atlantis Submarine that cruises around the wreck, as this ship was sunk by them to improve their underwater tours and it cannot stop quickly if you get in it's way.
Another ship sunk by the Atlantic group is the San Pedro, a long line fishing boat. It was only sunk two years earlier (1996) than the YO-257, but it's in terrible shape. This might be due to the ripping currents around the ship that make even getting to it a challenge. Some divers pull them selves along the bottom of the ocean to avoid being swept away or consuming too much energy or air. It's swimming distance from the YO, so often a trip to it is tacked onto a trip to the YO if air supplies and bottom time permit. Keep an eye out for white tip reef sharks that like to sleep here. They are benign, but don't like to be cornered.
The Sea Tiger is on the south shore of Oahu near Honolulu is the closest shipwreck SCUBA dive from Waikiki. Most diving operations will take you here first to see if you can handle wreck diving. It was confiscated from the Chinese by the Coast Guard for engaging in "illegal activities". The Voyager Submarine Group bought it for one dollar at auction, spent a million getting it ready to sink, and then went out of business due to pressure from their competition, the Atlantis Submarine Group. It has been "cleaned" but does have some sharp edges and a few advanced penetration options, but it also affords a large shallow deck (65ft) and plenty of sealife.
If I had to pick a favorite Oahu shipwreck, it would be the old WW2 Navy minelayer, Mahi. It's located on the calm, dry side of the island, 45 minutes from shore. The Mahi was voted by Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine's reader survey as the fourth best wreck dive in the United States which is remarkable considering its remoteness. This wreck is home to the most sea turtles I have ever seen in my life. It is literally crawling with them. They are unique in that they don't swim away from you like most of them because they must have accepted that divers come to visit their home and that we don't harm them. I would say we don't even touch them, but these guys must have gotten a few hand-outs over the years and can be pretty friendly even when you're just trying to take their picture.
There are many others, I could go on and on but I have to start planning my next trip to Oahu!