Another amazing week in Truk - diving 13 wrecks over 17 dives. Great people and easy, safe dives with the awesome crew at Blue lagoon Resort, and Blue Lagoon Dive Shop.
We departed Brisbane international with nervous anticipation, full of hopes and expectations.
Stopping over in Port Moresby to change planes and stretch our legs, hopping aboard the smaller Fokker 70 for the last leg to Chuuk. Two flights with a slight crosswind, but still smooth. Arriving just before sunset we made our way to Blue lagoon Resort with a gaggle of other divers just as excited as our team.
Arriving in time for dinner, falling into bed we spent our first night in the tropics under doonas in the spacious air-conditioned rooms.
…. SUNDAY ...
Up early and breakfast complete we made our way to the dive shop, signing in, meeting our guides and drivers, and making our selves comfortable with the processes here at Blue Lagoon Dive Shop. Setting up our kit, we boarded our vessels #7 and #8 - our trusty steeds for the week, then our drivers Dear and Max bore us away to our shakedown dive.
Front and centre, we started our trip with the pearl of the Lagoon - Fujikawa-Maru. This stunning wreck sits upright simply dripping with soft corals on the upper structures. Well known images/marketing show this vessel often with its stunning bow and stern gun still upright and covered in colourful growth. The Fujikawa’s bow in particular is a haven for fishlife, with every dive having schooling trevally off the bow, pilchards going berserk, and myriads of small fish filling in the gaps. The engine telegraph still sits proudly at the bow.
The bridge unfortunately is destroyed - apparently a large vessel dropped an anchor through it sometime in the past - restricting access to the once spectacular engine room.
Currently the machine shop is still accessible through the rubble, with a little careful maneuvering and very careful propulsion. (Silt stirring here will create a very strong ‘orange-out’ in your torch light.) This shop is excellent for discovery - vices, a lathe, compressor, and light fixtures along with the remains of perishable ropes, lines and power connections. The back corner has a room littered with lights, fans and batteries - which is noted for the difference in corrosion level - much less than elsewhere.
The main drawcard of this wreck however are the aircraft in the Cargo Hold 2. 4 Zero fighter bodies in various states are found here, along with many spare parts in the tween deck above. Unfortunately, the most stunning image remembered in this hold - that of an aircraft tail rising out from the gloom is no longer - thanks to an inconsiderate diver deciding they wanted to be photographed sitting on the tail, and consequently the tail sheared off under the weight. This only occurred recently.
Still, the hold is an amazing place to puddle around looking carefully at items and wondering at their usage. We discovered piles of shoes, empty artillery shells and even a lone torpedo lying about! The king posts reach up to just below 5-6m so a sensational way to complete a slow ascent and safety stops while you study all the marine life vying for space!
Our next wreck was the Yamagiri-Maru.
This stunning wreck lies on its portside, with the uppermost section of its hull fairly shallow and being slowly carpeted in boulder/massive corals. Making our way through the devastating damage from the torpedo that led to her sinking, we popped in and out of the cargo holds spying massive artillery shells and rollers for road building.
Her king posts stretch out horizontally into the blue waters, giving soft corals, sponges and filter feeders a fantastic base to build upon and catch their food. A great spot for photos too of course! A smaller access to the engine room, giving taste of what was to come on other ships in the Lagoon. Swinging around the stern her propeller is almost unrecognizable due to the heavy encrustation of whips, sponges and hard corals. Cruising back to midships with all the boulders corals is a slightly surreal feeling - you could almost feel as though you are above a coral reef floor - except for the glint of smooth rusty metal between the massive coral ‘mushrooms’.
Getting to know each other that evening over dinner, we bonded a little more and made plans for the following day - three dives to come! Our shedule continued as such for the rest of the dive week, so from here I will continue with site breakdowns from here!
.… MONDAY to FRIDAY…
This oil tanker wreck is reminiscent of the Fujikawa-Maru in terms of sitting upright in waters shallow enough to encourage huge amounts of marine growth in the top 15m. Recently, what was an intact bridge level has succumbed to time and salt water, and it has collapsed from the window edges upwards. The previously accessible area was known for three very photogenic engine telegraphs. I could locate two still very visible and surrounded by soft corals draping the fallen metal. Beautiful, but a stark reminder that these wrecks of Operation Hailstone have now been submerged for 76 years and time is taking its toll.
The superstructure has access to a medical bay, where an operating table is still an amazing location for a photograph and another reminder of what occurred here with shinbones to be seen. The king posts on the Shinkoku are simply stunning, with the deeper sections looking like a garden gone wild - covered in red whip bushes and their resident small fish. I was lucky enough to spot a large Whaler (Shark) off the depths of the stern cruising off into the blue.
Also known as the ‘Stern-High’ Wreck. Her nose sits in 30+ metres, while posterior and stunningly beautiful propeller sits in 2-4m depending on the tide. Laying on her side, you can swim through the hole in her belly and out the deck, past heaps of torpedoes, peer into her engine room and spend many happy minutes marveling at the life growing so close to the surface. Heaps of fish life on this one, although you can see the metal is starting to weaken now, with large coral heads once attached to her stern flaking off with the iron to land on the seafloor.
This ship (upright) suffered a bomb strike to the rear portion of the hull, igniting the ordnance it held, subsequently blowing it in two pieces. There is very little left of the stern - only the propellers and a bit of rudder sitting in the crater of the explosion at about 40m. The rest of the wreck is a fair swim away sitting up proudly in shallower water. I love this wreck - one of the only shallower sites you can still see and recognize trucks inside the cargo holds, aircraft engines, along with masses of bullets carpeting the lower decks, and many tiny glass medicine vials. The main deck is coated with marine life, making it difficult to outline another couple of truck chassis. The king posts are again covered in growth, stretching towards the surface, making it perfect for safety stops.
Let's go the see a submarine!!!
This Imperial Japanese Navy vessel’s story is an incredibly tragic one. After Operation Hailstone, the I-169 submerged to evade air attack report (which was false). However, they were unable to resurface, and despite efforts to resurface, all aboard perished in 40m over the next three days. Following this, to prevent salvage, the bow and conning tower were intentionally destroyed by explosion - the tower is still partially recognizable, but the 10m of the bow was shredded.
The remains of these submariners have now been removed by the Japanese Government and laid to rest, but access inside this ship is forbidden. As it is, her structure is starting to degrade externally, the pressure hull gone in patches exposing some of the structures right under the skin. The most amazing features (to me) of this vessel are both at the stern. Her propellers are partly submerged in the sand, and coated lightly with a striking red encrustation. Looking up you can see the stern torpedo tubes - peering into where metal death once have spat from. Whip corals bristle from her stern, less so from the length of her back to the bow, which has a few anemones and even has the bottom of the periscope rising proudly from the mess of what was once the bow.
Michelle definitely had the advantage over us on this dive - being an ex-submariner herself - she could certainly identify more than the rest of us could! The I169 Always a beautiful, but sobering dive.
The Heian Maru is a great dive to match with the I-169 as she was fitted out as a submarine tender and carries many parts that would have been suitable for the Imperial Navy Sub!
Laying on her side - The Heian-Maru is the largest vessel in the Lagoon and has some amazing sights. Firstly, her name - in Both in Romanized letters and Japanese Characters, are both spectacularly visible on her bow. Her Starboard propeller - huge - dwarfs divers posing around it for photos. Her forward cargo hold is full of torpedoes - laying scattered about like toppled bowling pins.
Swimming through the bridge you glide above submarine periscopes - still affixed to the ‘wall’ which now is your ‘floor’. Artillery lying about - from the two massive ones on deck to the 8-inch projectiles in another hold. Her position is great for multilevel diving, and her hull lies only 12m from the surface, and still can be enjoyed from above on safety stops.
Time for the Nippo-Maru.
My favorite wreck in the lagoon. Once a water carrier, this massive girl lays a little deeper and at a slight list, so all the footage looks a little drunk!! So large we just plan to explore her forward half today - dropping onto the bridge, and straight down to one of her more recognizable sights - a 2 man mini-tank sitting proudly on the deck.
I've never managed to get good footage of this tank - always too rapt in just looking at it!! Up through the forward cargo holds and the sight of a massive box falling to pieces, but stacked with 5-inch shells! Gas masks, more bullets and even trucks perched hanging over the side of the hull, plus another that had fallen down to the sand below. We find ourselves at the bow - the rest of her falling down to the depths. One anchor still firmly attached to her hull on the starboard side, the left side just the anchor chain disappearing down into the blue.
Heading back midships we were mugged by a school of emperors that appear to have settled in on the ship as I saw them a few times on the two dives on the Nippo. The Bridge is still a stunning sight. Sitting proud, the deck is still in place, and swimming through brings you to the steering binnacle (the wooden wheel has long since perished but the metal band is still there sitting on the hub) and the engine telegraph, both getting slowly coated in bright orange encrustations.
The Rio de Janeiro was our next dive.
Like the Heian Maru, laying on her side (but starboard side) with part of her name still visible on her stern (I must admit - I really had to squint!) Her hull facing the sun is dotted with healthy boulder/massive corals, looking like a field of mushrooms! Sponges, anemones here and there, and critters scoot around these boulders, with tropical brightly coloured fish darting above.
The Rio also has a massive propeller to swim around, and a huge stern gun that can be mistaken for a king post unless you have a good look at it!! One of the cargo holds is stacked with sake bottles – so many you don’t realize that all the walls around you are also stacked full!!! Have a really good look around in the cargo holds, sometimes it's easy to miss really obvious things – such as a massive gun barrel appearing out of the gloom next to you – as you are looking ahead instead! The midships kingposts are truly awesome – sticking out horizontally into the blue – great to swim around with myriads of blue damselfish darting about their home. The Rio still has patches of wooden decking to see here and there – still not rotted away by the ocean! We bumped into a Zebrafish on our return to the mooring line, who danced about a boulder coral keeping a wary eye on Glenn with his camera an myself with mine.
Next up was the Betty Bomber
The Mitsubishi G4M Bomber - also known as ‘The Flying Cigar’ and the Emily(Kawanishi H8K1 Flying Boat) also known as ‘The Flying Porcupine’. These two aircraft came to rest close to each other and are perfect for a half a tank dive on each. Betty has hit the water and her propellers have torn off, careening ahead before coming to rest about 30m away from her fuselage. This give wide access to the fuselage, but as with the Zero in the Fujikawa, I wouldn’t recommend transiting through her anymore as she becomes more and more fragile and liable to suffer further damage from a wayward divers' bump.
The Emily has all four propellers more or less attached – with her cockpit ripped off the fuselage, laying a short distance away. She feels utterly huge as you swim from wingtip to wingtip.
Nippo Maru again! But this time exploring her stern – which was such a great surprise! Three wheeled artillery guns sit just behind the bridge with their barrels still pointed skyward. They were hard to identify at first with the school of Emperors swarming over them looking for some breakfast!
Moving to the aft cargo holds we swam amongst sake bottles layered over the floors, cordite lying about, bedframes stacked up and hiding in the corner – motorbikes! Pushing our way through the schooling emperors, we found our beautiful Nippo stern, with her ‘bum’ resting on the side of an undersea sand mount. Back to the bridge and a last chance to swim through and see the beautiful binnacle and telegraph. Again, age is catching up to the Nippo, with her engine funnel tops now missing – remembered from previous trips seeing them proudly aloft catching the currents. I spotted her engine skylights open on the return swim to the bridge and hope to visit her engine room on my next trip!
Lying on her side in the shallows. Swimming towards the bow, we enter the ship through a bomb hole in the hull near the bow, swimming out what was once a cargo hold. The damage is frightening and devastating – twisted bulkheads, shattered beams and torn hull plates looking up out of this massive mess of destruction, and then nature intrudes, and 2 jellyfish pulsate in front of the camera to calm the soul a little. Meandering down the hull as though walking her deck towards the stern again, we took a close look at a mess of items, which slowly resolved into an anti-aircraft gun, with twin barrels laying on the structure. We then proceeded inside her engine room, exploring the tops of her engine cylinders, and then a lovely dark swim through a transit of ladders, pressure cylinders, beautiful gauges, switches, dials and a wall of fuses. Further towards the propeller and a few more cargo holds give some more gems, with two bicycles hidden in a corner, and the epic sight of two massive ship propeller blades sitting proudly against a wall, with many 44-gallon drums wedged above in what is now ‘the ceiling’.
Unfortunately, somewhere around here Steve lost connection with his GoPro, which left us all behind on a trip skyward, and despite a bright yellow floating handle and an hour searching on the surface – it was sadly not relocated. We rounded her stern, and see her single propeller slicing through the hull. It is so encrusted with growth it's hard to identify at first – in fact, as you glide over the hull, if not for some flashes of metal here and then, you would be forgiven for thinking you were swimming over a coral seafloor dotted with those boulder coral mushroom-shaped corals, with blue damselfish dancing all over the place. Back to midships and the mooring line and back to the boats and the resort for lunch – to prepare for this evening's night dive!
Everyone was very excited to explore the Fujikawa-Maru on our Night Dive – with some divers on their second ever night dive, and some not having completed a night dive in many, many years! Cruising out to the dive site in the late afternoon light, we watched the sun go down behind the Islands before rolling into the inky black. The Fujikawa truly comes alive at night, with Tubastrea(daisy coral) blooming into bright yellow daisies on the underside of every surface. This coral is black/drab dark green smooth branches during daylight hours, with the bright tentacles only extending to feed in the darkness. Inside the machine room, we explored a lathe, shelves full of lights, springs and ropes, 2 vices and a room of batteries and light fixtures.
Cruising back out of the machine room and towards the bow, passing the stunning bow gun, spotting sleeping parrotfish, and visiting the beautiful bow engine telegraph with. a gas mask sitting close by. Cruising back amidships we swam along the ‘promenade’ brushing past outstretched whip corals and filter feeders, peering into the officer's bathrooms, with tiled bathtubs, washbasins and urinals on the walls. Too busy to think of it earlier in the dive, when my video light batteries started to run low we were ascending away from the wreck, and I flicked on my blue lights to see if anything would fluoresce – and a honeycomb coral truly jumped out at me. Brilliant lighting!! A fantastic night dive and cruise back through the darkness under the bright milky way above. Filling dinner and hitting the hay ready for our last day diving tomorrow.
The best engine room I have seen in Truk so far would belong to the Kensho-Maru.
Entering at the upper structure and transiting through the galley, we make our way through to the ‘gantry room’ above three boilers and all the linear cylinder heads. Michelle and I paused here, exploring the massive exhaust tube leading up to the funnel we could see through the skylights above, while the reest of the team descended further – swimming down a ladder (and it feels just as weird as that sounds) to the next level where open ended wrenches line the walls in neat and tidy size order, vices pose ready for use, and gauges surround the room in various states of being; from shattered to seemingly ready to be flip a switch and go.
One of my favourite spotting was a tap/faucet down low to the floor, just waiting to be turned on. After discovering the lower engine room, the boys were low on NDL, so we left them exploring the life on the king posts in the shallows while McKency, Michelle and I went to explore the stern. I was stunned when entering the aft steering house, and swam over the steering/rudder mechanism, the room so low that it was hard to film it all. Exiting through a massive bomb hit, I looked below to the propeller sitting serenely in the seafloor before returning to the boys on the mast to complete our own safety stops. Angelfish, schools of blue damsels, masses of pilchards, bucketloads of glassfish, Utterly spectacular dive!
Our last dive in Truk for this trip – we celebrated on the Fujikawa Maru. e have started to understand this wreck, with Glenn doing his 6th dive and my 7th dive on it. Cruising down to the machine shop, we all had a much better look after having visited the night before - discovering much more that we missed. We took a final look at the Zero’s in the cargo hold, and explored the tween deck and found aircraft wheels, wing-shaped fuel tanks and engine cowls. Cruising to the front gun, more photos and spotting a school of Trevally off the bow, we dragged our fins, making our way back to the masts at 12m before final safety stops, handshakes, fist-bumps and underwater hugs and thankyous for a great week underwater.
...SURFACE INTERVALS... were not spent bored on a boat!!....
For a couple of our surface intervals, we headed to Eten Island.
Huge tracts of this amazing island were created by hard labour during the Japanese occupation, in order to build an airstrip (one of 5 airstrips in Chuuk during the war) and lodging for aircraft and the associated buildings to control the skies above. From above it is obvious that the shape is not natural - although once on the ground, as nature has taken over, little can be spotted to advise of its former history. Eten Island local Anso supplied us with green coconuts full of warm coconut juice and soft flesh - so very luscious, washing away the salt after the morning dives. While some snoozed in the shade, the rest of us accompanied Anso on a tour of the local points of interest, hiking through the banana, coconut and mango trees along with native jungle that has reclaimed the island. Here and there mounds of tarmac break through the jungle floor, along with remnants of buildings here and there. We reached the Radio Communications Building and explored the remnants of it standing proudly in the jungle. Bombs struck this building, savaging it, and the environment is doing the rest to try and bring it down. A massive hunk of concrete dangles by a few strands of reinforcement wire, right next to the main damage.
Further on, three massive blockhouses stand - one has a huge fig tree growing… from a windowsill. Next to this, its twin is accessible to us which shows internally they are beautifully built - with huge columns and cornices supporting the roof above.
The last blockhouse had a lovely local very keen for us to understand its history. Of course, nothing remains inside except for those amazing columns, a huge bomb hole in the ceiling, a mezzanine level and the foundations on the floor - which were the electricity generators for the island. From all indications there were two and would have been huge!
Jeep Island is another lovely location for a surface interval, a lovely rest and quiet snorkel circumnavigating the islet. There are cabins here and very light facilities for those who really want to get away from it all!!
Resting in the shade of Fanamu Island, watching the baby blacktip reef sharks in the shallows, snoozing on deck chairs in the shade, fixing all the troubles in the world and learning more about each other in the process, we off-gassed a little more. There are also accommodation cabins here.
Part of one surface interval was spent snorkeling on the shallow remains of IJN Sutzuki/Patrol Boat 34 - interesting history, especially since the vessel is not the size and shape she was launched as, due to modifications to her structure after heavy damage.
But it all must come to a close... After our last dive, dinner, drinks and some pool watching the sun go down at the sunset bar, I organised a bus tour of Chuuk taking in some of the special sites including the Xavier school and the massive gun on the mountain overlooking the airstrip – located in a hand-hewn tunnel through the mountain itself.
Last drinks, sunset and dinner, along with some swift changes to our returning flights meaning an earlier roll-call than usual, last minute shirt and souvenir purchases and goodbyes to fellow divers continuing the week without us, we hit the sack ready for an early departure, visiting the Capital of the Federated States of Micronesia – the island of Pohnpei on our flights home. Swift changeover at Port Moresby, and slick flight to Brisbane, we arrived with the sunset after being fed all day by Air Nugini’s smiling crew!
A sensational week of diving with a great team including the awesome drivers and diver guides at Blue Lagoon, the lovely ladies looking after us at the restaurant, the fun crew at the Sunset Bar – special mention to Ram who mixes a mean Black Russian - and the ever-smiling crew of Advin and his team on the front desk, who met every request. Brilliant afternoon cheese, rum and biscuit sessions on our verandah (Special thanks to Susan for this decadent tradition) watching the sun go down made for special memories and warm and fuzzies about the whole that is Truk.
Thanks again to everyone – I hope to see you all again in May 2021. The verandah cheese and cracker sundowner tradition will continue!