Koh Tao is home to numerous dive sites offering a wide range of conditions, marine life and challenges. From the easy going Twins and Japanese Gardens, filled with thousands of juvenile tropical fish, to the more advanced and deeper sites like Chumpohn and Sail Rock which offer up larger species like Whale Sharks and schools of barracuda. What you may not know is that Koh Tao also has it’s very own ship wreck, purposely sunk for people like us!
The HTMS Sattakut was built in the United States and launched for the first time on February 27th 1944, originally commissioned into the US Navy as a Landing Craft for Infantry. She was involved in military action numerous times during world war 2, the most famous being the battle of Iwo Jima. After the war she was sold to Thailand and was eventually given as a gift to the Koh Tao dive community. She was purposely sunk In June, 2011 to provide an exciting and suitable training site for wreck divers.
It’s hard to forget the first time I saw the Sattakut. It was monsoon and heavy rains had reduced the visibility a little giving the water a slightly eerie atmosphere. As we swum toward the site, her bow ominously materialised before my eyes. With an impressive cannon still mounted at front, she stood impressively in the gloom, a silent guardian standing vigil on the sea floor. Tropical bannerfish and rabbitfish darted about the gun emplacement added a colourful juxtaposition to the ageing hull. As we made our way back along toward the wheelhouse, trevally swooped in and out trying to catch a snack of smaller fish. The wheelhouse loomed large midway down the length of the wreck. Here was the home of larger species; groupers hovering heavy and silent with their grumpy looking faces, large snappers sheltering under metal ledges and big red emperors assuming a kind of comical pantomime of a crew in the wheelhouse looking out. At the stern another large cannon came into focus, the rear guard pointing south and proud.
It was an impressive first visit for me and one that left a lasting impression. But I couldn’t help but feel like there was more to see. On my dive I saw a few people actually entering the wreck. I need to see that. My divemaster at the time told me that because of the different conditions inside a wreck, special training is required to penetrate ship wrecks. Needless to say, I signed up as soon as I could.
The wreck specialty was a fantastic course and included 4 dives on the HTMS Sattakut. The reasons we need specific training to enter a wreck were made very apparent right from the start. Overhead environments create unique situations which we need to be aware of and prepared for. The course begun with a dive on the Sattakut, mapping its structure and noting important features like entry and exit points. Depth and length were important too in planning how long we would have to be inside exploring. Important techniques for using a reel to navigate the corridors and rooms were essential for our final dives where we made our entry into the wreck.
If witnessing the steel beast that is the Sattakut from the outside was an impressionable experience, then entering its ghostly halls and rooms was an encounter bordering on life changing. As we tied off our reel outside our entry point, a giant grouper silently cruised in before us, beckoning us in. Once through the entry door, the gloomy atmosphere surrounded me instantly. Small holes in the structure formed by rust shot vague beams of light into the room. A feeling of an abandoned room overwhelmed me and I suddenly thought of the brave soldiers that once walked these levels, the fear of imminent battle heavy in their hearts. Our dive took us down some stairs and into the engine room at the stern of the ship. Our torches shone brightly about, discovering the old fittings of an engine that must have once hummed with noise. These decks are visited less than some of the others, and the silt was caked thick on every surface. Despite our best efforts not to stir it up, eventually the silt obscured our vision and we made a hasty exit to the above deck. Thanks to our training, the exit using the reel line we’d set was quick, efficient and easy. After that we made our way up a narrow stair case to the wheelhouse. The large groupers and red emperors here were startled to have visitors and eyed us suspiciously as we made our way back down and out. All too soon the experience was over.
That was many moons ago for me and I can still recall those dives with clarity. As an instructor now, I get the distinct pleasure of creating this experience for my students. The thrill and challenge of a new kind of diving experience like this never gets old, and the amount of wreck diving destinations worldwide means there are always new wrecks waiting for you to dive them. Additionally, wreck diving couples well with other specialities such as Deep and Nitrox. Deep, because many wrecks, including the Sattakut, lay in water below 18 metres. And nitrox training will extend your no depth limits allowing you more time at certain depths to explore those ghostly decks and rooms that once were home to the proud sailors who worked them.
If you’re interested in diving the Sattakut, and checking out what secrets she hold within, send us an e-mail or come and see us in the shop. We also offer a bunch of dive packages, allowing you to combine your wreck specialty with others like Deep Diver and Nitrox, saving you money.
Thanks for reading folks, I hope to see you sometime soon, maybe underwater in the halls of the HTMS Sattakut!