TRUK LAGOON EASTER 2017
What a sensational week it has been.
This Truk trip was planned to be perhaps 7-10 divers joining me for a week of amazing diving.What actually resulted was 22 divers coming together with myself and Tim, to nearly take over Blue Lagoon Dive Resort for the week.
A better trip is hard to imagine. Maybe a bit longer would be nice?
If you like history and rust, Truk (Chuuk) has it all.
The blog below comes from one viewpoint (mine!) - Mackency & Dears’ Boat # 6– and the sites we dived. Three other boats took divers to 80% the same dive sites over simlar and different days and times, and even snuck in some extra sites along the way!
Day 1 – Saturday
Our Brisbane-based divers all met up at the Brisbane airport, previous buddies catching up and meeting new. The check-in at Air Nugini took longer than expected, but with 3 hours between check-in and flight – at least it took up some of that!
Our flight was aboard a 767-300 – very comfortable with a pillow, blanket, free entertainment, drinks and food – but it seemed a bit excessive, as we were on a speedy trip – taking only 2.5hours to reach Port Moresby! From there a 7hour layover allowed our divers from Sydney to join us, and we were able to relax and enjoy the hospitality of Gateways hotel nearby the airport during that time.
Back to the airport and the departure lounge – a little interesting moment when a couple of people were asked to stay overnight in Port Moresby – perhaps to make up for all of our dive luggage!
We were allowed 45kg check in plus 7kg hand luggage to pack our dive gear: Very nice allowance seeing as many of us took some weighty cameras and boxes along!
Our next and last flight was direct from Port Moresby to Chuuk, 3 hours in a smaller place – the Fokker70. Most of us had a little sleep and then it was touchdown and through customs and off to the Blue Lagoon Resort & Dive Shop.
A lovely coconut drink to revive us upon arrival and then off to our rooms and a well deserved sleep before the action starts tomorrow!
Day 2 – Sunday
After breakfast in the restaurant – watch out for those pancakes – only 3 but can you eat all of them? So filling!
Off to the dive shop and meeting the Dive Team.
With such a large group we split into smaller groups aboard 4 vessels with our own guide and driver. Our dives today took us to the famous Fujikawa Maru and the Shinkoku Maru – both upright and simply smothered in marine growth in the shallower areas. A few wobbles along the way with equipment, but all in all everything was sorted out and streamlined by dive 2. A few drinks at the sunset bar (and more than a few for some!) and bedtime!
Dillpot-of-the-Day-Award goes goes to someone whose BCD fell apart as he geared up on the boat – the backplate lost a nut! Luckily there was a spare set of gear floating around!
Day 3 – Monday
Kansho Maru & Rio De Janeiro Maru
Waking this morning saw a few sore heads, safe enough to dive, but possibly not to repeat last nights celebration of our first day diving.
The Kansho Maru is one of my favourites – it has an amazing engine room, with so much to look at, and with so many levels you can spend some time exploring in there easily!! The Rio De Janeiro is a huge ship, laying on her side, one hold full of sake bottles, neatly packed to what was the wall, and is now the ceiling. With massive propellers a favourite photo area for divers to make a memory. Her bow gun is so encrusted with growth it can be hard to recognise as a massive weapon! Amazing are the OUTWARD blown holes in her hull, as ordnance exploded internally, blowing the steel plates outwards.
A big hit of rain this afternoon had everything looking green and lush, and kept the humidity at bay….., for a little while!!
A quick snorkel on nearby Eten Island glided us over the remains of an upside down Zeke (Zero) aircraft. So small but so agile and deadly in flight!
Dillpot-of-the-Day-Award went to the over-indulgers from the previous night - you know who you are!
Day 4 – Tuesday
Ranging further afield, the team departed to firstly dive another famous and awesome wreck, the Nippo Maru. Again upright, this deeper wreck can be done as a planned decompression dive, however 85% of the group are recreational, and so we enjoyed a shorter, but very enjoyable dive. The Kingposts are swarming with life, and the standout memory for most is the beautiful light artillery tank squatting on the main deck. Simply fantastic!
For our surface interval and lunch break, we rested with a packed lunch on Fanamu island, an isolated islet with a small amount of accommodation and facilities if you REALLY want to get away from it all!!!
Most astounding thing spotted today was the island’s resident dog leaping through the surf to catch the small Blacktip Reef Sharks – apparently every now and then he is successful and brings home dinner!!
After lunch and a snooze, we headed off to discover two sunken aircraft. Aircraft underwater are a really spooky thing. Ships spend their life on the water, so seeing a sunken one is not a massive leap of the imagination. But seeing something that should be on a runway or in the air just messes with your brain.
The Betty is a bomber, her cockpit broken off, and if you are careful, you can swim right through the fuselage. The propellers tore themselves off when she hit the water and are a good distance away – enough to swim there and back during the dive.
The Emily – Flying Boat
The Emily’s cockpit is virtually snapped right off, but the most beautiful sight on this girl is her propellers all in place – huge amounts of coral life, and only 20m of water, so plenty of no-decompression time for both aircraft.
Back to base and a relaxing few hours before heading back out to the Fujikawa Maru for our Night Dive!! Colours explode under torchlight as she virtually is reborn to our eyes. Amazing!
Special event this evening, as it was Linda’s birthday! Organising a birthday cake on a remote island in Micronesia isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it was well worth it, and YUMMY!!!!
Happy Birthday Linda!!!
Day 5 – Wednesday
A double dive planned for the morning and then an afternoon dive to follow.
Our morning had vessels travelling all over to different sites, but our two headed off to the IJN (Im perial Japanese Navy) Submarine I-169 - a sub with a very sad story – she not damaged in Operation Hailstone by the incoming aircraft, she submerged to escape the attack. Unfortunately a valve was left open and after the attack was over, was unable to surface. Attempts were made to salvage the sub before those still alive perished, but was unsuccessful. A very somber dive. No penetration is possible here, but a deep swim down to the propellers and stern torpedo tubes is stunning.
We headed of to Eten Island for our surface interval. (and received yummy fresh coconuts!) During the war, Japanese forces reclaimed much land, creating the odd shape you now see from the air – it was a runway!
For a small donation, we were allowed by the land owners to take a little hike through the forest to the remains of wartime buildings, complete with bomb damage. The jungle has hidden the airstrip, but traces of asphalt poke up here and there through the forest floor. The buildings stand tall, despite some having extensive bomb damage, while being encroached by the jungle.
Our next dive was very special.
The Heian Maru is one of the largest wrecks in the lagoon. Starting her life as a luxury liner, she was requestioned by the Merchant Navy and started her new life as a submarine tender. She lies on her side, again with massive propellers thrusting upwards. Her holds are full of torpedos, sake bottles and there is a fantastic swim down a companionway with 4 spare periscope tubes fastened to what was the wall – now below you. What was more special was on this dive, Heather, Di and Brett had been conspiring for a month or three, to spring a surprise on Bill for their 5th wedding anniversary.
Renewing their vows at 15m.
Our guide Mackency played part of the Priest very well, and when Heather and Di arrived at the sunken bow a few minutes after Bill and Brett, wearing dresses, and Heather with veil and bouquet, lets just say Bill got a surprise! The renewal was beautiful, the surprise even better – and I would say incredibly unique!!
Back to the resort for Lunch and the afternoon dive kicked off with a dive on the Kiyozumi Maru – lying on her side. A gentle dive, with lots of damage to be seen. A massive crater in her hull you can swim through and out the out through what was once the top deck. Her hull is covered in small boulder corals, anemones, and where she drops off – whip corals branch out like grass in the breeze.
The other boat ventured off and dived the salvage tug IJN Futagami (this tug attempted to salvage the IJN I-169 Submarine) – very heavy with silt, she has an excellent engine room, but can silt out rapidly, so most divers stuck to the external and explored her decks.
Day 5 – Thursday
Two amazing wrecks today, with our first being the Sankisan Maru – originally a cargo vessel until a massive explosion ripped her apart – with her bow and front end sitting upright, and what little is left of her stern and propellers a long swim away in the deeper region beyond 40metres or so!
Her forward cargo holds are full of machine gun artillery – bullets overflowing the floor, the remains of trucks (of course those rubber tyres last!), medicine bottles and masses of marine life coating the bow and the forward mast which stretches up to almost meet the surface!
Another rest on Eten island and this time those who missed out on seeing the Zeke (Zero) fighter in the shallows headed out for a snorkel of discovery.
I got incredibly excited on the way back to discover a full wing of a large aircraft in the shallows. Just the wing. I don’t think it leads to a mystery – probably just thrown in off the airstrip!
Our second morning dive led us to the Gosei Maru – Di now has a new favourite wreck!
She was moored in the shallows when struck, and the devastation of a torpedo hitting her hull has resulted in being able to swim completely through the hole in the bow. One lonely torpedo sits quietly on the sand, and the bow slopes down in the very clear water to 30m. Her holds carry more topedoes and a narrow wiggle of a silty engine room, but the best lies in the shallows, with her single propeller before the rudder in 5m of water, lush with life, and fish! The fishiest site in Truk, with schools of drummer, blue green pullers and damselfish everwhere in the shallow zone. Easy to spend ages just floating in the shallow.
The afternoon held another special occasion – Linda’s 200th Dive – no she didn’t dive naked with all the rusty projections on the wrecks, but we did a special group dive back on the requested Fujikawa Maru, exploring the machinery room and the aft gun. 1, 2, 3, 4….10 dives will never be enough on this amazing wreck!
Our third afternoon boat headed off to explore the Hoyo Maru.
Day 6 – Friday
Our last diving day.
A little bit of tetris this morning with reorganising divers onto different boats, and dive site changes at last minute.
Divers headed off to the Momokawa Maru, Yamagiri Maru, Fumizuki Maru, and the more advanced Tec Divers prepared for their decompression Dive on the San Francisco Maru.
As part of the San Francisco deco team I can say a few things:
- We were slightly over-prepared with equipment, but it gave us confidence in preparation for any problem occurring could be dealt with safely and with confidence
- Wow did I get narked. Descending fast to ensure we did not lose too much bottom time, I did find myself floating above a truck, steering wheel in hand yelling ‘BEEP BEEP’ over to Dom, who completely ignored me and took photos of silly tanks instead.
Meanwhile, our guide and my buddy Mackency just about wet himself laughing at me.
- Once getting past the awesome truck steering wheel (oh yes,… narked) I took out the camera again and the narcosis retreated, leaving me to stare in amazement at the 3 light artillery tanks on the deck.
- Getting a massive case of the wibblies as I stared at stack upon stack of sand mines in the hold.
- Looking down on two trucks in amazingly good condition in the cargo hold.
- Staring up at the massive mast reaching up to the light.
- Swimming around the deck gun, because of the depth there is little marine growth, and so appears in excellent shape.
- Swimming away from that amazing upright bow and then looking back at her - If you can hear my words in the video listen carefully – no swearing I promise: its actually:
”That’s a BIIIIG bow!”
- Cruising back to midships and our ascent line after 12minutes, still devouring everything I could see with hungry eyes, we started not only our own stops but also those recommended by Blue Lagoon Dive, as the experts on diving this wreck. We planned the dive on air, but breathed a higher Oxygen mix for our shallow stops to add an extra safety buffer before our final dive this afternoon, and of course our flights later the next day.
The IJN Fumitzuki is an Imperial Japanese Navy vessel (IJN) spiky with guns, quite deep, and no penetration.
The Momokawa Maru is another massive cargo vessel, filled with interesting artifacts. Parts for aewroplaces and even massive replacement ship propeller blades! On her side, the bridge is very intact, making a great swim through to visit the telegraphs and then swim over the truck chassis hanging down from the deck now on its side.
Some divers also visited one of five ‘Jill’ bombers – still very intact and not far from the Resort!
In the afternoon our boat dived the Yamagiri Maru - another wreck on its side and my last dive for this trip. One of the memories that stick with me from this wreck, swimming through a massive torpedo hole in the hull, through the bulkheads, past the struts that cover the cargo holds, and out the other side, exiting next to a set of king post still stretching proudly out into the blue, covered with soft corals, whips and anemonies. Looking into the engine room you can easily see the top of the triple expansion engine, and the walkways and ladders spider-webbing the room.
Swimming up to the bridge, turning your head in its side looking from its port to starboard (surface to the seafloor) Towards the stern there are massive Warhead originally destined for the warshops stored at about 30m. She has a beautiful single propeller just in front of her rudder.
Traditionally the last dive of a group trip led by Di is the ‘Naughty Knicker’ dive.
A visit to the Salvo’s to buy something outrageous to wear on the last dive brings hilarity to the divers, and the dive shop all seem to enjoy the laughs, and gives them something to remember us by. By the way – maybe it was the red satin panties, but Ross can shake his bon-bon like no one I have ever seen! WooHoo!
A memorable dive to end our diving obsession for this week.
Our last night at the Resort – became a massive party. The 8 Dive crew – (4 guides & 4 drivers) set up tables and local cheffie Anthony cooked us up a feast of fish (sashimi and cooked), ribs, sausages and chicken. Many toasts, speeches and farewell drink followed, and divers received their Truk Certificates and Dive Permits. Two of our ladies found themselves local admirers, who asked me to make sure I bring them back again – Andrew and I nearly would up married by one of our drivers, Ross found himself shirtless somehow, and everyone seemed to find themselves a great time. Tabasco and Gin Brett?
Our last night, some sore heads in the morning and a few opted to sleep it off while half the group jumped aboard the Blue Lagoon Bus with Yonan for a tour of the Island of Weno.
Driving through ‘town’ during the light of day was enlightening, from living quarters from the Japanese occupation, to lean-to’s from rusting galvanized iron.
A hexagonal building for the mayors office, Spanish flavoured hacienda’s and of course meticulously pristine churches.
Our path led us to the Xavier High School for gifted children (no – not Xmen but good joke!) which is perched at the top of a hill, with the most scenic view and school in the worl has I think! The main building was the Radio Communications block for the Japanese during the war and was very heavily fortified/ Just look at the window shutters(i.e. massive hunks of steel)!!
The building copped a direct bomb hit, which an be seen from the inside still, and testament to the fortification, the amount of reinforcement in the ceiling. Up onto the roof, the ‘cap’ over the bomb site can be seen, repaired for the building to be usable again.
The view is amazing. Stunning. Majestic. You must see to believe.
We made friends with the very attentive security guard, and I believe we have been invited to come fishing with him next time!
We all declined the 1.5hour climb up the mountain the visit the lighthouse after our big week of diving and nitrogen load, but headed off instead to visit another local man’s land, upon which is a hand dug tunnel (actually more than one) boring through a mountain top, with a massive artillery (6 inch) gun pointing out the end. Originally bought in from Singapore, this overlooks our Weno airstrip to protect the harbour, but could not be raised high enough to fire at aircraft, and so was not a protector during Operation Hailstone.
On our way back to the Blue Lagoon, we stopped in at the other dive shop, the Truk Stop, so that I could personally thank their baker for making that delicious cake for Linda’s birthday.
Back to Blue Lagoon, a late checkout was organised for us, so some afternoon naps, packing the bags, and final bit of souvenir shopping of shirts, maps and books.
In the last hour one of our number had fallen quite ill and was taken to the Chuuk hospital, where they did some amazing magic, and managed to get him to our plane in time to join us on the flight home. Again, the Blue Lagoon staff went out of their way to get everything happening as safely, and quickly as possible to ensure us the best outcome.
Never before has travel insurance been in the forefront of international trips minds – DAN diver cover and Travel Insurance – always, always, always people!
Our redeye flights on the ways home, while tiring, were very quick. Chuuk to Pohnpei – 1 hr, 1hr on the tarmac, Pohnpei to Port Moresby 3 hours, and the 2.5 hours from Moresby back to Brisbane.
All in all, we left Blue Lagoon Resort at 8pm, and arrived in Brisbane at 9:30am.
Howzat for epic travel?? So much easier than the transit required via Guam in times past.
I really can’t explain just how friendly and open the local Chuukese people can be. Their smiles are infectious, and at such places as Blue Lagoon, after staying from a week, the Restaurant staff, Reception crew and Dive Shop become family, and it is hard to say goodbye. Most heart warming is the next time you visit – they are still there, and remember you.
Big warm hugs and hearts on them all.
There are so many thankyous to be made:
Air Nugini – wonderful staff & service , and very fast flight on the 767-300. For good airline food (you know that’s rare!)! and for sneaking us into the Paradise Lounge for a few hours while we waited for our next flight.
Blue Lagoon Resort – there are too many staff to list, but those who made some epic efforts for us: Felix & Cathryn – for Cake, Land Tour, all around good guy, and Feliox driving like a rally car to get our unwell diver all sorted out.
My gorgeous girls in the restaurant –Kayvee, Vanessa, oh, too many to list – who got the biggest kick out of the ‘birthday surprise’
To Andrew for trying to play the guitar for Happy Birthday, while we sang off key and the strings broke in his hand.
Our Dive Guides – Mackency, Joe, Apo & Joncky
Our Drivers – Dear, Stan & Ansel
And a special one to driver Max – Max - the hardest working person you have ever seen – on his day off after our massive party, must have had a hangover: he:
- cleaned up after the party
- was still with our customers when I finally left for the evening
- was also seen with the maintenance crew the next morning digging a massive hole to China while looking for a water leak
- helped out late that night with our sick diver
- came to the airport to see us off
- and even wore a motorcycle helmet to join in the dress up for our Naughty Knicker farewell dive that last dive day!
Hats(Helmets?) off to you Max – you astound me!
My tireless fellow trip leader Tim, always there to lend a hand
And of course to the divers – many of you made huge efforts to gain the extra skills and experience I recommended before the trip, and it paid off in spades – you dove well, safely, and your guides and drivers commented to me that we had an experienced and skilled group.
They also had a great time, so thank you all – the trip wouldn’t have happened without you.
So, whats next?
Yes, the next Truk trip has been scheduled.
A little longer, and more dives included, payment plan will be in place to help out, and will make use of two flights over and only two flights back (not via Pohnpei this time.)
Late August 2019 (it will be my birthday this time!)
8 nights, 14 dives included
*options as before on more dives and night dives*
And for those who want to get some advanced Tec training in to join us on the San Francisco Maru and other deep wrecks that time – I will organise PADI Tec Rec 40, 45 and 50 before then also, so you can plan and complete decompression dive safely!
(and get as narked as I did while staying in control!)
Keep your memories golden
Keep in touch with your buddies,
(Thankyou Very Much)
PADI Staff Instructor #110726