Allan Power, a legend of the diving industry in the South Pacific, passed away recently in his long-time home of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. Power put Vanuatu on the dive map as first a salvager, then as a long-time dive guide on the world-famous WWII wreck the SS President Coolidge.
Commonly known as Mr. President, (a reference to the Coolidge), Power led thousands of dives on the wreck by himself as the only dive guide for decades. He began to employ local dive guides as his business became more successful.
No one dove the Coolidge more than Power — a staggering 25,000 times — and indeed, no one led more divers through, over 20,000.
Power was born in Sydney, Australia and after a few different careers in his younger days, he was drawn to the Barrier Reef and underwater photography. His book “The Great Barrier Reef,” published in 1977, became a classic.
Shortly after moving to Vanuatu for a salvage operation, he established Allan Power Dive Tours. The thousands of divers who met him over the years may recall Power’s incredible memory and detailed knowledge of fish species. He was famous for taking divers back to his home for coffee and buns after a dive, where he would entertain the group with various stories about the Coolidge.
Interviewing Allan Power
I heard a few of his tales earlier this year in his leafy garden after a morning dive. I asked him how he came to be in Santo.
“One day, back in 1969, a couple of friends offered me an opportunity,” he said.
“They had a salvage vessel and were heading up to the New Hebrides to take the propellers off a ship called the Coolidge. And they asked me if I wanted to join them, and I said, yeah, why not. So, I came, just to have a look. Forty-eight years, and I’m still looking. Haven’t decided yet whether I like it.”
And when did the Coolidge become a dive site?
“Around 1970. The salvage work continued though. They put you down with a twinset of tanks on, and you’d have a spare twinset sitting beside you on the pier, and if you hadn’t finished the job, well then you brought down another twinset. Stayed until you finished the job. I did over 600 dives completing one job, removing oil from the tanks. It was great. Oh, I got used to peace, and unlimited time underneath the water.”
Was there much marine life around the wreck then?
“Yeah. It was turtle heaven back in the old days,” he said. “You used to see five or six sharks on each dive. You know? The little gray reef sharks, swimming around. We used to go down underneath, onto the deck, and they’d be there.
And of course, there was Boris. Allan’s connection with Boris is well known.
“Boris was a big, big grouper who hung around for about 20 years. He was about 8-foot long. Boris was special. But I never ever got a photo of him. That would have been a beautiful photo. You know? He’s my friend, I hope.”
In November 2011 the International SCUBA Diving Hall of Fame inducted Power as a member. This prestigious award recognized his contribution to the diving industry with specific mention of his work and achievements, above all, on the SS President Coolidge. Allan was still diving into his eighties and actively involved in running of the business when he passed away.