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Chuuk Trip Report

If Pohnpei has rain, then Chuuk has torrents.  The pilot aborted the first and second attempts at landing and, we learned later from one of the business class passengers, that he was replaced by another pilot seated in business class for a third attempt.  After a successful landing we are handed umbrellas for the long walk to the customs station.  The umbrellas offered little respite from the rain and by the time we reached the shelter of the building were soaked through.  A rather surly inspection officer went through her routine as slowly as possible and managed to clear six passengers in about the same amount of time that the officials in Guam would clear an entire plane.  We gather our bags and head outside into the storm to meet the Blue Lagoon Resort representative.  The bags are loaded and we set out on the next leg of our adventure.   Apparently they don’t have roads here, they have rivers with ruts.  The posted speed limit is 15 mph but I doubt if even the most stalwart off-road vehicle could manage to maintain that.  I have been to a number of locations that would constitute third world status but Truk gives new meaning to abject poverty.  Never have I encountered such deplorable living conditions.  There is an overwhelming air of despair and groups of young men huddle together beside buildings; it does not appear as though any of them have any work.  Even in daylight it is a daunting scene.  We have been forewarned not to venture away from the resort and I fully intend to follow that advice.  As we get further and further from town a road actually appears from beneath the water and we meander uphill in an area where the buildings are no longer constructed of corrugated tin.  Each time we come across a building that looks like it might be a resort I hope that it is not the Blue Lagoon Resort.   Eventually we arrive at a security checkpoint and enter the resort grounds.  The difference is like night and day.  The grounds are manicured and maintained and the building, though not a Hilton, is clean and structurally sound.  The rooms are air-conditioned and we have a view of the ocean.  Internet access is occasionally available in the room although the TV does not have any reception at all.

After an early morning breakfast we deliver our dive gear to the dive shop and fill out all the requisite paper work.  We are introduced to Estos, our dive guide and Gladwin, the boat captain.  We set out to sea for our first wreck dive.  We descend the anchor line to the stern of the wreck of the Shinkoku Maru and are immediately impressed by the sheer size of the ship.  There are numerous holes that make for easy penetration and we are escorted through the ship’s surgery where human remains lay scattered about on a table.  It is a stark reminder of the battle that took place here on February 17, 1944.  A second dive takes us to the wreck of the Rio de Janeiro Maru, another cargo freighter.  There are cases upon cases of bottles of sake in one of the holds and various engines and spare parts in another.  After a lunch break we dive on "Emily", a downed seaplane.  Two large engines adorn each wing and the cockpit is still relatively intact.  It is interesting to note what qualified as aeronautical so many years ago. 

It rains most of the night and Saturday morning dawns to a fierce storm.  It doesn’t look good for diving but by the time we finish breakfast the rain has stopped and the winds have died down.  We set out for the wreck of the Fujikawa Maru, another freighter.  Visibility is quite a bit better than yesterday and this ship is covered with hard and soft corals and literally thousands of small reef fish.  We penetrate the holds and make our way past crates and crates of sake bottles.  This gives me the impression that the Japanese were either planning an elaborate victory celebration or kept their troops inebriated most of the time.  There is a landing gear with the tire still partially inflated and a number of truck chassis in one hold and although the sidewalls of the tires have deteriorated, the treads are as new.  Another hold contains the remains of five Japanese Zero fighter planes.  After a lengthy surface interval we descend onto the wreck of the Sankisan Maru.  Again, hard and soft coral formations adorn the structure and dozens of large clams add to the interest.  We drop down into one of the holds where thousands of medicine bottles lay scattered about.   They are of varying size and colour, perhaps to distinguish one medicine from another.  Moving in to the next cargo hold we find hundreds of thousands of machine gun rounds.  Many are still held in their clips.  Whether this ordnance was for the troops or for the defense of the ship remains a mystery.  We head back to the resort for lunch and then do an afternoon dive on “Betty”, a small Japanese two engine bomber.  Although the cockpit is twisted and shattered the fuselage allows for penetration.  From inside it is easy to see where the bullets found their mark as daylight enters the dozens of holes.  There are oxygen bottles still retained within their mounts and the gunner’s chair rests askew amidst a tangled web of cables.

Day three takes us out to the wreck of the Unkai Maru which has huge holes in the stern from a direct torpedo hit.  Penetrating the holds reveals gas masks, shoes and some log books that have not been used.  The outer structure of the wreck is covered in coral and thousands of small reef fish make it their home.   Our second dive takes us through the Kyosumi Maru, which rests on the port side and, once again, sports huge holes from direct torpedo strikes.  Fuel barrels, gas masks, sake bottles and even a bicycle can be found in the holds but it is a bit disorienting since the wreck lies on her side.  The superstructure is almost completely covered with hard corals and schools of fish meandering about.  There are also some pieces of china, electric lights, sake bottles and a fire extinguisher that have been gathered together.  Visibility on this wreck was not much better than twenty feet.  After a break for lunch we descend to the overturned hull of the Oyo Maru.  Penetration is a bit difficult except through the torpedo hole but care must be taken because of the twisted and severed beams of steel.  Huge rolls of cable are still within one of the rooms.  This superstructure is also covered with hard corals and visibility here is perhaps less than ten feet.  The rudder and propellers are prominent features of this wreck.

Day four dawns with heavy rains and overcast skies.  This time the rains do not let up.  We are joined by a Japanese photographer and a family of four from Muskoka.  Their two boys aged 10 and 12 are being home-schooled and have already visited 48 different countries in their young lives.  Dad joins us as we dive the Kansito Maru, another cargo freighter sitting upright in about 90 feet of water.  This dive reminds me of swimming in Jellyfish Lake since there are so many of them floating about.  Caution must be taken though since these jellyfish have not lost their capacity to sting. We penetrate the engine room which appears not much different from the day she sank with all the railings and ladders and walkways still intact.  There are sake bottles and electric lights and china strewn about the deck as well as a typewriter that is only identifiable as such since a few of the keys still remain on the keyboard.  After about 40 minutes we ascend for our safety stop.  Next, to keep the young lads amused we snorkel over another cargo freighter.  She also sits upright in about 40 feet of water and has a pair of depth charges still secured on the bow.  Since we got off to a late start we head back to shore for lunch and then set out for the Yamaigiri Maru.  Resting on her port side she is covered with coral and is only accessible through the torpedo hole in her side.  Numerous 18” diameter shells are stacked within one hold and dozens of fuel containers are held in the next one.  It is easy to see why so many of these ships exploded and sank rapidly.  The third dive of the day takes us out to the Heian Maru, at 510 feet she is the largest wreck in Truk Lagoon.  There are oil slicks on the surface from oil still seeping from her tanks after nearly 65 years.  Again, resting on her port side we descend to the stern and are amazed at the sheer size of the rudder and props.  We make our way to the bow and then enter into the first hold.  Numerous torpedo warheads are still stacked in neat piles and, as we pass through into the second hold, find the torpedoes where these would have been attached.  The torpedoes are probably 20 feet in length and there are dozens of them.  Moving along the passageway into the third hold we find sections of submarine periscopes and more periscopes are discovered alongside the companionway.  This was the supply ship for the battleship Yamato and the aircraft carrier Shokaku and the first real indication of weapons of mass destruction.  It is relatively easy to penetrate the belly of these beasts but caution must be taken since there are so many potential obstructions.  We swim across the starboard side of the hull and it is easy to imagine that you are scuba diving a coral reef since nearly the entire hull is encrusted with coral.

Our last day of diving dawns bright and clear and we set out for the destroyer, Fumijuki.  She rests upright in 120 feet of water with both fore and aft guns aimed at the same target on the starboard side.  A direct torpedo strike to the port bow caused her destruction.  Although a long way from the freighters that we have been diving all week, she is headed towards the action and appears to have died a warrior’s death.  A small, narrow ship in comparison to the cargo freighters we have seen previously, the large guns attest to her capacity for battle.  The forward gun has two cases of shells beside it, one full with twelve shells, the other holding only three.  Penetration is not possible here without proper equipment so we just observe her from the outside.  Our surface interval takes us just off-shore the air field and we skin dive over a downed Japanese Zero.  Resting upside down in about 20 feet of water it is remarkably well preserved, the landing gear retracted indicating that she was not shot down during either a landing or takeoff.  One machine gun is still visible on the left wing.  Our next dive takes us to the Gosei Maru, another freighter resting from a depth of 10 feet to more than 100 feet with a slight list to her port side.  We do not penetrate this wreck since a group of CCR divers are literally crawling all over it.  Perhaps buoyancy control is not an issue with closed circuit re-breathers.  We stop for a traditional barbeque at lunch with our dive guide and boat captain and I am left with the task of choosing the site for our last dive.  The Fujikawa Maru is selected but instead of penetrating the holds we content ourselves with touring the outer structure.  Both guns are pointed in the same direction, indicating that the attack came from the starboard side and it is still possible to look down the barrel of the stern gun. Hard and soft corals have formed here, providing homes to thousands of small reef fish as schools of Jacks and Barracuda patrol the periphery.  The bow appears as though somebody planted a coral garden and is breathtaking in its beauty.  We tour the deck twice and then ascend for our safety stop.  It is a fitting close to our diving here in Truk Lagoon.

On our first day of diving we met Roy, a Californian who was here for his ninth consecutive year.  Later in the week we met a group from New York who are here on their fourth tour.  Initially I could not understand somebody scuba diving the same location over and over again but after only five days of diving and fifteen dives we barely scratched the surface as to what is available here.  It is estimated that 275 aircraft were downed and more than 60 ships, comprising in excess of 300 tons, were sunk during Operation Hailstorm, an assault 15 times more powerful than the attack on Pearl Harbour.  Many of these wrecks are so large that you could probably dive the same vessel every day of the week and still not see all of it.  Truk Lagoon is the only place in the world where so many shipwrecks are accessible within recreational dive limits in such a relatively small area and should be added to every wreck diver’s itinerary.         

 

 

 

Katyk BriceƱo
"Amazing!!! Beautiful!!" 
 
Daniel LaFrance  
"Beautiful, akin to an underwater spiritual experience of sorts."
 
Walter Marshall   
"Whenever I watch your videos I am just taken away." 
 
Shaun Diaz   
"Well done, very well done. Mysterious, gorgeous and deeply inspiring... The best part is I am not naming any of it. It is nature in its most perfect and beautiful form." 
 
Christie Lopez  
"David...the video is beautiful and so is the music!! I love the music!!!!" 
 
Brian Dodd
"I just wanted to thank you for the moments of peace and beauty these clips brought to my hectic life."