Wednesday 26th November
The day was finally here. After counting down for the last 18 months our adventure to Truk Lagoon was starting. The mini bus pulled up at 8.30 am and we loaded up our bags and headed off to the next pick up. There were 6 more people to be collected and our 4 bags were already taking up a good portion of the luggage space and our driver was getting concerned that the mini bus might not be big enough…… they had allowed for 8 people but not necessarily 8 lots of luggage…… and divers’ luggage at that!
We drove from house to house collecting passengers and yet more luggage. It was becoming more and more of a squeeze but eventually we were all jammed in, drinking champagne and heading for the airport!
Heathrow to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Manila, Manila to Guam, Guam to Truk………
The first leg of the journey started well. A massive plane that was half empty so plenty of room to spread out. Abu Dhabi to Manilla was more exciting. We boarded the packed plane only to be off boarded due to a passenger making a bomb threat. We all had to go back through security, the hold luggage was off loaded and re-screened and after nearly 3 hours we finally took off – it was either that or new crew would’ve had to be found!
Manila airport was shockingly slow but Guam was a lovely, friendly airport which had a ‘Smoking/Cocktail’ lounge which was amazing…. by this stage we had been travelling for over 30 hrs so didn’t care it was only 6.30 am!
Finally on our last flight we descended and landed on the runway right by the sea. The airport was very small so we had to wait our turn for a luggage trolley before meeting outside for our transfer to the hotel.
The drive from Truk airport to the hotel was interesting. The roads are full of pot holes which were flooded with water so they resembled lakes more than roads. The town is quite poor but everyone seemed friendly and the children waved at us as we went by.
We finally checked into the Blue Lagoon Resort at 11.00 am on Friday 28th November (Truk is 10 hours ahead of UK time)
After 4 flights, 41 hours (and 5 minutes) and 10,086 miles we final arrived in Truk (or Chuuk as it is known now)….. the bucket list of bucket list dive destinations! Wreck diving at its most awesome! – Bring it on……
We would not be joining Odyssey until Sunday 30th November so we had time to rest and recover. We decided to explore the resort and wandered around looking at the history, gun emplacements and artefacts that have been recovered from the wrecks. In the evening the bar was opened which was on the water’s edge and decorated with signed T-shirts donated by the many dive clubs that have visited. Everyone was tired so after a few beers it was time for dinner and then bed.
On Saturday and Sunday some of the more hard core group members opted to go diving, others went on an Island tours but we opted to laze around on our balcony, watching the world go by and go for a snorkel in the lagoon.
Sunday finally arrived! The boat picked us up at 5pm to take us to the Odyssey. We had been admiring her from the bar while she had been at anchor Saturday evening with the sun setting behind her. She looked a lovely boat……
As soon as we boarded we were allocated our rooms so we could drop off our hand luggage and immediately muster in the bar, with a cold beer to complete the paperwork. Our room was amazing! Massive! A king size bed that you could walk all the way round, cupboards, drawers, shelves, at least 8 plug sockets in accessible places, under bed storage, a shower that worked with hot water…… fantastic!
We all quickly grabbed our luggage, picked our spot on the dive deck and started to put our kit together. Again, the dive deck was spacious, more than enough space for 16 divers and crew.
Mike, the captain, took us through the boat briefing. We would moor up on various wrecks throughout the week, have a briefing, then we could please ourselves about when we dived, how often we dived and how long we dived for! Brilliant!
Breakfast 6.30 – 7.30, lunch 12.30 and Dinner at 6.30 and the bar was free……. everything so far was looking good…. the only thing that could spoil this holiday now was the weather!
“Oh, by the way, there is weather coming….. high winds and torrential rain….. maybe Monday/Tuesday, things change quickly around here so I will let you know!” Apparently this area is where the storms and typhoons that typically hit Japan and the Philippines build up! Fingers crossed it will not interrupt our diving…….
Monday 1st December
I woke up at 4.00 am – was this excitement or just jet lag?!…. finally it was time to get up and get ready for our first day of diving!
Breakfast was leisurely….. you could order eggs how you liked them, a variety of omelettes, waffles, all with the option of a side of ham, bacon or sausage….. proper diving food!
Captain Mike started the briefing with a bit of history about the US Operation Hailstone that created all of these fabulous wrecks. He used a combination of his DVD documentary on Truk Lagoon as well as pre-prepared white boards that detailed the key details of the wreck. Even better these dive plans were available as slates which could be purchased so you could use them for mid dive navigation – brilliant – they have thought of everything!
Captain Mike informed us that he was continuing to watch the weather closely as the storm was going to pass close by. It was going to get windy later but he wasn’t quite sure when…..
Our first dive was to be the Kiyosumi Maru. She was a Passenger – Cargo ship launched in 1934, 4453.5 feet long , 60.7 feet beam and 6,984 tonsShe was requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy on 1st November 1941 and was converted to a 8,613 ton armed merchant cruiser. She had eight powerful 150 mm (5.9 inch) low angle deck guns from old decommissioned cruisers.
Was this really a wreck?!
Where the deck has corroded it was possible to swim inside between the deck beams but we chose not to. When we reached the bow we ascended and finned along the side of the ship seeing the anchor chain running down to the sea bed and eventually coming to the huge blast hole in her hull which caused her to sink all those years ago.
We signalled to each other that air was low and we needed to ascended to our safety stop and we joined the swelling numbers around the mooring line to count down our minutes. All of a sudden the dive guides started beckoning for the group to come closer together and people not to ascend but hold their position. The mooring line on the boat had snapped as the wind had got up so we needed to wait………… a full 20 minutes in actual fact! Eventually the skiff came round, rising and falling an alarming amount, to pick us up!
As quickly as the high winds had come they went again and we were safely back aboard Odyssey!
The captain concluded we had passed the ‘check dive test’ and reviewed the weather situation to determine our next dive site….. there was going to have to be a change from the original itinerary.
After a splendid lunch of tacos and fajitas we waited eagerly for the dive briefing…….. it was to be the Heian Maru.
The Heian Maru was an 11,616 ton passenger – cargo liner launched in 1930 for the NYK’s North Pacific service between Yokohama and Seattle. She is 511.6 feet long, had a beam of 66 feet, was powered by two 8 cylinder Burmeister & Wain diesel engines and could carry 330 passengers. On her maiden voyage in 1931 she set a new transpacific speed record for Nippon Yusen Kaisha Line ships.
In October 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy requisitioned Heian Maru for use as a submarine depot ship. She was converted and fitted with 5.9 inch single mounted deck guns, two dual-mount type 93 13 mm AA machine guns, one 1,100 mm diameter searchlight, one 900 mm diameter search light and a 3.5 m range finder. She was further refitted in 1943 and her deck guns where replaced with two 4.7 inch AA, two twin type 96 25mm AA auto cannons, two twin type 93 13.2 mm AA machine guns and sonar.
Heian Maru now lies on her port side on a slopping bottom with her bow sat in deeper water of 35m with her stern slightly shallower. We decided to take up the offer of a guide for this dive as we would only get one opportunity so wanted to make sure we saw as much as possible. We swam along the wreck towards the bow to see the name of the ship embossed on its side. We then passed over and down the deck to work our way slowly to the stern. There was a letter box style slit in the deck which you could swim in to and see torpedoes and further along there was a swim through to the companion ways where submarine periscopes are stacked. We didn’t fancy the second penetration option so decided to split from the guide and the rest of the group and continue making our own way to the stern.
We passed the mooring ball that the wreck would have been attached to and rounded the stern to be greeted with the beautiful sight of the ship’s propeller standing up in the water! Wow it was huge! She had a very shapely stern! We also managed to catch up with our guide again so bimbled along the top of the wreck looking at displays of objects divers have collected and placed outside for others to see.
Happy and content we ascended for our safety stop, we spied the ship’s deco bar and ladders so hung around waiting for the minutes to count down. All computers happy we looked for the boat – who has stolen the boat! I’m sure it was right here! The wind had picked up and she was now swinging at her moorings. As it swung towards us two of the group swam to the ladders. I then moved forward to take my turn and the boat started to swing away again – there was no way I could swim and keep up with that! I decided I would wait for it to swing back my way but a very helpful crew member threw me a line and pulled me back to the ladders…….. Exhausting for both me and him!
I hope not all the exits from the water are going to be this exciting – Its almost like UK diving, just with warmer water!!
The wind was getting up and the storm was coming. Rain was coming down sideways by the bucket load. There was an option to dive the Heian again but tired from two colourful dives we decided to sit this one out.
Once everyone was back on board the captain moved the boat back to the shelter and safety of the Blue Lagoon mooring…….