Friday 5th December
The penultimate day of diving and the morning routine was slick and efficient. I was fed, tanks checked, camera prepared and ready to dive before the briefing had started!
Captain Mike took us through the day’s agenda. We would do two dives on Nippo Maru followed by a shark dive and then spend the rest of the day on Sankisan Maru.
The Nippo Maru is a Passenger-cargo vessel launched in 1936 and then requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1941 as a water transport and auxiliary distilling ship. She is 3,764 tons, 353 feet long, has a beam of 50 feet and sits between 45 – 50 metres with a list to port. Her main decks are around 30 metres. Highlights are the tank and truck body on the deck and five holds containing motors, shells, water tanks, gas masks, gun barrels and more sake bottles! Her superstructure is still intact and the wheelhouse is accessible so you can see the helm telegraph and speaking tube.
This was going to be a relatively deep dive so we needed to be guided to ensure we got to see all the best bits. We planned to split the wreck over two dives and Annette kindly guided us on the deeper sections at the stern of the wreck.
As we descended down on the stern the water was filled with loads of jelly fish….. there have been some on every dive but there were hundreds all drifting across the wreck. We passed over the three light howitzer guns, round the stern and over the top of holds 5 and 4 towards the superstructure. As I ascended slightly to appease my computer, I felt a sharp sting on my forehead. Ouch….. I had just head butted a jelly fish!…..
Rubbing my head, we continued on to swim through the companion way but meeting oncoming traffic we exited out between the railings. Up to the wheelhouse and in through the window. Due to the slight list it was a little disorientating which was further compounded by at least 6 other divers entering at the same time! I made a quick exit back through the window without getting the picture I wanted so I hoped my buddy had!
We headed down to the bow where there was a set of binoculars without glass resting on what used to be a winch but by this point our time and air was getting low so we shallowed out to the mast, which was covered in marine life and shortly after our arrival lots of other decompressing divers too. We made a move to the mooring line to wait for the boat to swing by and make our exit.
Back on board, after vinegar had been applied to my jelly sting, we planned our next dive over a cup of tea and warm cake. A 90-minute surface interval and then we would jump again to go and have a look in holds 2 and 3 and more importantly see the tank!
It was nice to be just our buddy three again, bimbling around at our own pace admiring the view. The tank was awesome…. clearly visible on the deck complete with its tank tracks….. further round was the truck body still with tyres. We dropped in to hold number one to look at the shells, gas masks, barrels and yet more bottles……. In the hold we hit 35 metres so time was counting down. We shallowed up to look around the bow and I swam out into the blue (cloudy grey) to see if I could get a shot of the bow and anchor chain. We then followed the same routine as before and shallowed up to the mast and then on to the mooring line and waited….. and waited, and waited. A slight rope entanglement episode and an additional safety stop later we gave up waiting and went to look for the boat. The wind had dropped so it wasn’t swinging as before so we had to make a swim for it.
After a leisurely lunch we sailed for over an hour to the outer reef for a shark dive. Annette announced the schedule for Saturday as this would be the big day for the techy boys as it would be the San Francisco Maru. Her bridge is at 45 metres and main decks at about 50 metres so they would have to sacrifice today’s night dive and then not dive until after lunch tomorrow. There was to be an alternative dive for the non techies to enjoy too.
The other excitement was that it would be steak for tea and a check list was provided for whether you wanted rare, medium rare, well done or cremated!
The shark dive plan was to feed the sharks and for divers to gather round and watch. We decided to sit this one out. As soon as the boat was moored up at least 10 sharks were immediately around the ladders of the boat. The crew started feeding the sharks and more came until the water was just a wriggling mass with snappers leaping out of the water to get to the meal first. Divers kitted up and watched from the platform as the sharks circled the ladders… who would be brave enough to jump first!
The crew then manoeuvred a large frozen fish bait ball into the water to attract the sharks to where the divers had taken up their view point.
By the time the shark dive had been completed and we set sail for the Sankisan Maru it was realistically going to be a dusk dive next. We cruised a little way before mooring up and Captain Mike gave us the dive briefing.
Being in the shelter of the island the water was calm and the sun was out – this is the weather we should have had all week!
The Sankisan Maru is a passenger-cargo vessel launched in 1942. She was 367 feet long, with a beam of 52 feet but her stern was devastated by a massive explosion so there is basically only the superstructure and bow left. She sits upright on the seabed with her bow at 24 metres and what is left of her stern at 45 metres.
By the time we got in the water it was 4.45pm. We managed to get a guide and the buddy four were ready to go. The mooring line at the front of the boat was tied into the debris of the wreck so we needed to swim under the boat to get to the wreck. Mika led the way over the debris field until we shallowed out at what remains of something that looks like a ship. We finned in to hold 3 and our guide showed us the medicine bottles and candles that had been stored. We dropped down to investigate further and bottles and bits were everywhere.
After a good mooch about we ascended a little and crossed over to hold two which had trucks and airplane wings. There was a very open swim through from hold two to one which was full of bullets – individual ones, magazines, boxes and detonators. Some divers had even taken the trouble to handle the live bullets and spell out their names! Not sure touching live bullets is a good idea personally……
There was one final swim through the forecastle which was a tight squeeze so single file was required….. yay I did it….. am I now a hard core penetration diver?! Probably not as I haven’t yet dug around in a murky engine room!
We started to shallow out and circled around the king post which was a very pleasant way to spend a safety stop!
When we got back on board the BBQ was going and steaks were being grilled. This was our last supper on the Odyssey. Saturday night would be dinner at the Blue Lagoon or a buffet of scraps on the boat (where the bar is free)……. no prizes for the most popular option!
After dinner Captain Mike talked us through the plans for tomorrow’s big dive day. The techy boys were getting excited, discussing stages and deco stops! Captain Mike then shared the video footage he had been shooting all week. Everyone was featured and there was some great footage of the wrecks which would be a nice memento………
The lovely ladies that have looked after us all week, cooking all our meals and cleaning our rooms treated us to a bit of ukulele playing and singing of local songs which was very entertaining. One of the songs was a church song warning of the perils of drink and Ann Rose played such a convincing drunk that Poorly couldn’t play for laughing so much – good fun!
With the last item purchased it was off to settle our bill……. where has the time gone?!
Saturday 6th December
We woke to gorgeous sunshine and calm seas for the first time really all week…… this is the weather we had been hoping for. At least it will make kit drying easier later in the day.
Today was the big day. Today was San Francisco day!
The atmosphere over breakfast was a combination of excitement, concentration, nervousness and fear!
The morning dive for those not doing the San Francisco would be on the Unkai Maru. She is a cargo steamer built in Britain and launched in 1905. She was the oldest ship in the fleet moored at Truk Lagoon. She is 331 feet long, has a beam of 48 feet and sits upright on the seabed at 45 metres. Highlights are the bow gun, the steam stack and the chain steering gear at the stern.
We opted to take a guide so that we could see all the main features within our time on the wreck at approximately 25 metres.
We descended in a group and followed our guide over the wreck towards the bow. I dropped down to get a picture of the impressive bow and anchor chain and then ascended to view the deck gun. The light was pretty good and the wreck was nicely covered in life. Heading across the deck there was a collection of shoes that had been recovered from hold one…… not all looked to be original to me and I’m sure I saw some flip flops in there!……
We swam through the companionway, peered into the galley and up over the collapsed steam stack. At the stern you could clearly see the old fashioned steering chain. Low on time we circled back to the mast and gradually ascended viewing the marine life on the way up. When we surfaced the sun was still out, there were blue skies…. it was looking like a beautiful day!
The techy boys were on the dive deck checking, analysing and stroking their tanks getting everything ready for their big dive…….
Captain Mike called the briefing and everyone sat silently watching the documentary footage of the San Francisco Maru and the tanks, holds full of ammunitions and the engine rooms.
The San Fran sits upright on the seabed at 60 metres with her main deck at 50 metres. The highlights, apart from the depth, are tanks on the deck, trucks in hold two and huge quantities of bombs. They call it the million dollar wreck due to the estimated value of her cargo. When she sank it was amazing that the torpedo didn’t ignite the explosives in the holds and blow the ship to bits.
Two dive guides would be in the water and for those wanting guiding the focus would be on the bow and takes about 12 minutes to fin round with a slow ascent up the mast. This usually incurs a 15 – 20 minute deco stop. Yikes!
This is the only wreck all week that is outside our recreational limits.
Everyone briefed, final dive plan discussions completed the techy boys headed to the dive deck to kit up……… time for us to catch some sun!
Eventually the techy boys reappeared on the dive deck with tales of how deep they went and which holds they penetrated! Once dried off it was off to the shop to purchase the mandatory ‘I dived the San Francisco’ T-shirt!
Captain Mike set sail for our next and final wreck which was to be the Kensho Maru. We would just about manage to get a dive in before lunch with the techy boys being able to jump after lunch
The Kensho Maru is a passenger-cargo vessel launched in 1938 and requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1940. She is 4,861 tons, 384 feet long, a beam of 53 feet and powered by a single screw 6 cylinder Burmeister and Wain diesel engine. She sits on a slope, with a port list with her bow at 40 metres. Highlights would be the easily accessible, cavernous engine room and prolific marine life – Captain Mike called it ‘clownfish town’!
It was 11.45 when we finally jumped in the water in our buddy 6 and followed our guide to the wreck. The original plan was to drop through the skylight into the engine room but the gap looked quite small so I opted to stay outside. The boys followed the guide through the hatch and the girls circled around looking at some of the artefacts out on the decks. Once the boys reappeared, we headed down to the bow to see the large gun on the deck which is encrusted in coral.
We finned back towards the superstructure, past a pile of sinks/urinals and a few other bits and pieces laid out on the deck. There was what appeared to be a couple of books too which were the first I had seen. It was getting close to when lunch was served so our guide led us back towards the mast so we could shallow out while enjoying the marine life – what a beautiful dive, just a shame the viz wasn’t great!
Once back on board we rushed to get dried off to see if any lunch had been left for us – chilli – yum!
We discussed whether we would jump again and as we sat and relaxed the enthusiasm was waning….. the suggestion was then made to have a beer with lunch so the deal was sealed and we had dived our last in Truk Lagoon!
The techy boys where getting geared up ready for their last dive as we sipped beer in the sunshine…… Once the dive deck was clear we headed down to wash our kit and find somewhere to hang it to dry before they all got back……. There were grey clouds in the sky again so there would be more rain.
We arrived back at the Blue Lagoon mooring at about 4.30 just as the rain started. There was a mass scramble to move partially dry kit to somewhere undercover and people started to pack. It was our last night on board so the beer and the wine flowed while we tucked in to the scraps from the week – it was like a summary of the best bits of our holiday!
Sunday 7th December
We departed from Odyssey which was sad as she is such a lovely boat and we have crammed in some fantastic diving but it was now time to rest and recover before the long journey home.
The TV in the hotel reception was showing footage of typhoon Hagupit that had hit landfall in the Philippines yesterday and was likely to be circling over the area for another couple of days…….. hmmmm, we fly to Manila on Tuesday……. this could be interesting!
Tuesday 9th December
We mustered in the hotel reception at 13.30 for the mini bus transfer to the airport. Back along the bumpy, flooded, pot holed road – maximum speed of 10 miles an hour!
Chuuk International airport is small and basic. There are no X-ray machines so hold luggage was opened and searched……. they could probably do with some of those gas masks to combat the aroma of festering dive kit wafting from the opened bags! The smokers were happy to be allowed to stand by the runway to take their last puffs before boarding.
The time at Guam was limited but 40 mins is enough time for a beer and another smoke. It was 6.30 pm and the Smoking/Cocktail lounge was shut! We managed to catch a different bar that shut at 7pm! this is a very odd airport.
Our flight to Manila was boarding – phew – the typhoon had been downgraded to a tropical storm so we would be able to travel. Only the severe weather warnings in the UK could stop us now!
The rest of the journey home was thankfully uneventful. From airport to airport connections where made with very little rushing or hassle. The severe weather warnings were hitting the north of the country so Heathrow was unaffected – we would be back before the bad weather arrived in the south of England.
Eventually, after 38hrs 20 minutes we arrived back home