Tour guides take you into the briny blue to explore sunken wreckage off Oahu
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 20, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 07:59 p.m. HST, Nov 20, 2011
Nick Fidelibus likens wreck diving to a treasure hunt. "It's thrilling, it's fascinating, it's mysterious," he said. "Seeing a plane or ship underwater makes you want to learn more about it. Who owned it? What was it used for? How did it sink? Your imagination runs wild."
Fidelibus and his brother Chris own Waikiki Diving Center, which has been providing scuba diving charters and services since 1979. The company operates two Coast Guard-certified dive boats. Twenty-five-foot Submariner, which accommodates 12 divers, departs from Maunalua Bay in southeastern Oahu. Moored at Kewalo Basin, 39-foot Snoopy V has been cleared to transport up to 28 passengers.
Wreck tours last three to four hours, the experience depending on the level of certification a diver holds.
"The more advanced you are in your training, the more of the wreck you can see," Fidelibus said. "For example, if you are at the lowest Open Water Diver level, you'll be able to swim over and around the wreck up to a depth of 60 feet. If you are an Advanced Open Water Diver or hold the Wreck Dive Specialty Certification, you can go inside the wreck."
Although Waikiki Diving Center offers wreck dives daily, no two are exactly alike. "That's because the marine life in and around the wrecks is constantly changing," Fidelibus said. "Recently a group saw a pod of dolphins playing around YO-257 (see sidebar). On another day majestic eagle rays were hanging out there. Maybe you'll notice something about the wreck itself that didn't catch your eye before. You can dive to the same wreck a hundred times and see something different every time."
Fidelibus has been diving for 20 years — since he was 12 years old — and never tires of it. He's a PADI open-water scuba instructor and leads tours for Waikiki Diving Center at least four days a week.
"Diving is a wonderful escape from reality," Fidelibus said. "No phones are ringing, and you don't have to deal with traffic or think about checking email. The world beneath the waves is peaceful, relaxing and completely liberating."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.
IF YOU GO …
>> Meet at: Waikiki Diving Center’s headquarters, 424 Nahua St., Waikiki. Free shuttle service is provided to and from Waikiki hotels.
>> When: Daily, by advance reservation (book at least three days in advance)
>> Time: Registration is at 7:15 a.m. Return is around noon.
>> Cost: $125 per person ($90 for kamaaina), including use of gear and transportation to the dive site. Divers must be at least 14 years old with PADI certification. Snorkelers and riders are welcome, but because a reserved seat is taken, there is a $55-per-person charge. The ratio for groups is four divers per guide.
>> Phone: 922-2121
>> Email: email@example.com
>> Website: waikikidiving.com
Notes: Waikiki Diving Center offers other tours, including three- and five-day two-tank dives. No certification is required for the two-tank beginner dive, although participants must be at least 10 years old, pass a medical questionnaire and be able to carry 30 pounds on their back.
The company is a PADI Five-Star Instructor Development Center, providing all levels of scuba certification. It also fills air tanks, sells and repairs equipment, and rents scuba and snorkeling gear. Join the Waikiki Dive Association, its dive club for kamaaina, and receive discounts on classes, dives and merchandise plus other perks. Annual membership is $100. Sign up in person at the center or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four of Oahu’s most popular wreck sites are artificial reefs that harbor an abundance of marine life.
>> Location: Three miles off Hawaii Kai
>> Depth: 107 feet
>> Background: On a training exercise from Pearl Harbor in 1948, the pilot noticed the needle in the plane’s fuel gauge was falling. He continued the flight, thinking the equipment was defective. Soon after, however, the engine began sputtering, and the pilot realized he was in trouble. He executed a perfect water landing, and the plane sank, upright and intact. Humpbacks might be spotted in the area during whale season, which begins this month.
>> Location: Oahu’s south shore, quarter-mile off Kewalo Basin
>> Depth: 130 feet, but most of the wreck can be seen between 65 and 100 feet
>> Background: In 1992, 93 illegal Chinese immigrants were discovered aboard this 168-foot ship, known as the Yun Fong Seong No. 303. Its five crew members were imprisoned, and the vessel was sold in 1994 to a Vietnamese fisherman who renamed it Sea Tiger. Coast Guard inspectors fined the owner several times because the ship continually leaked fuel and oil into Honolulu Harbor. Eventually the owner abandoned it at Pier 40. Defunct Voyager Submarines bought the Sea Tiger in 1997 for $1 and sank it in 1999 as an artificial reef. It holds the distinction of being the deepest recreational diving wreck off Oahu. Advanced divers can explore the ship’s cargo holds, passageways, stairwells, bridge, engine room and mess hall.
>> Location: Two miles off Waikiki
>> Depth: 65 to 115 feet
>> Background: YO-257, commissioned in 1944, was a fueling ship for Navy vessels at sea during World War II and the Korean War. Measuring 174 feet long, it carried 250,000 gallons of fuel at full capacity and was one of the few ships in its class to carry a 3-foot gun (the mount is visible on the stern). Sometime in the 1950s, YO-257 was decommissioned and mothballed in Guam. It was removed from the Naval Vessel Register in 1982, paving the way for Atlantis Submarines to acquire it. The company sank the ship as a marine life habitat in 1989.
>> Location: Two miles off Waikiki
>> Depth: 80 feet
>> Background: Alongside YO-257 is the 111-foot San Pedro, which was built in Japan and operated by a Korean fishing company. In 1975 the ship was carrying bait, food and other cargo to a fishing fleet when it caught fire off South Point. Although it was badly damaged, businessman Matt Andrade bought the ship with the intention of turning it into an interisland freighter. The ship was towed to Keehi Lagoon, where it remained anchored for nearly two decades before sinking in 10 feet of water. In 1993, harbor workers discovered containers leaking toxic material. After handling the cleanup, the state’s Boating and Ocean Recreation Division intended to sink it. Atlantis Submarines stepped in, acquired the ship, reimbursed the state for the cleaning expenses and sank it in 1996 as an artificial reef. Experienced divers can access its stern area, rooms and cargo holds.