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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Federated States of Micronesia Flag FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA: Chuuk


April 10. WENO “Wreck DivingIt was our fist day of diving in Chuuk Lagoon, famous for it’s over 60 WWII wrecks.  After sorting out our gear we hopped on board a small dive boat along with our guide, Aman, another American diver, Scott, his Canadian guide, Milo , and the boat driver.  Scott and Milo were set up for tech diving with twin tanks and Nitrox mix so they could explore the wrecks for a longer amount of time. We were just excited to finally be on our way to seeing some of the world’s best divable wrecks.  Our only experience up to this point was a German cargo ship in Palau and a drug boat in Bonaire, both over 100ft long but we did not penetrate either of those.  The ships in Chuuk’s lagoon are up to 550 feet and have cavernous interiors that can be easily explored.

Our first wreck was the Rio De Janeiro Maru, a 9,626 ton Naval Transport ship that was lying on its starboard side at 30-100 foot depths.   We started at the bow and made our way slowly down the 461-foot long ship to the stern.  We entered two of the cargo holds to find remnants of Japanese blue and white porcelain, sake bottles, cases of beer bottles and oil barrels. The coral growth was beautiful, a real demonstration of nature’s force over man.  A large gun was still in tact on the stern and the enormous propeller was easily recognizable.  Penetration of this wreck was considered dangerous so we only did some superficial penetration along the port side of the ship as we returned to the bow.

The water in the lagoon was calm, protected by the large reef that engulfed Weno and other smaller islands.  We had a nice rest waiting for Scott and Milo to surface. As a break between dives we went snorkeling at a nearby wreck of a zero plane in about 20 feet of water.  The planes wings and cock pit were in tact but the nose and tail were largely destroyed or deteriorated.  We took turns skin diving to the wreck until we could both touch it.  Milo had brought some delicious coconut bread to snack on while waited out the decompression time. 

The second dive was one of the lagoon’s most popular wrecks, the Fujkawa Maru, a 6,938 ton passenger-cargo ship sunk upright at 40-110 foot depths.  This was our first real penetration experience into a ship.  We entered through a small skylight and wound our way down a dilapidated stairway into the engine room of the ship, beneath the smoke stacks, where we could see the huge pistons. Exiting the engine room we entered a large cargo hold that was open, allowing for plenty of natural light. It housed oil drums and a few machine guns lay rusted on a platform in the middle of the hold. I could see swirling clusters of a substance that looked like oil or gas co-mingling with the silt that floated in the water. We came up partway out of the cargo hold and moved through a three foot high area and lowered ourselves between beams and coils of cabling into a second cargo hold.  This cargo hold had at least three zero planes in various states of dilapidation but one still had its instrument panel in tact.  On a higher storage platform within the same cargo hold there was about a six foot torpedo and remnants of porcelain.  Looking up from inside the cargo hold, past the rows of beams, I could see a large school of silver fish circling above the ship. We slowly rose up out of the cargo hold and came around the bow of the ship.  Schools of thousands of tiny sliver and blue fish swirling amongst the corals and anemones were an unforgettable sight. The growth of the corals was impressive, turning this huge hunk of steel into a vibrant reef.  A very large gun was still recognizable on the bow as we came up over the side of the ship and made our way across the deck to the bridge.  Inside the bridge we passed a room full of toilets, still lined up in a row, and came through the kitchen where a coffee maker still sat against the wall.  The doorways of the ship seemed small, not much higher than 4 feet, shrunken by the build up of silt and wildlife.  On the deck of the ship there was a collection of dark bottles that could have been medicine bottles since they sat along with a bottle of white pills.  Next to the bottles was a stack of books where the pages still clearly showed the Japanese kanji and furigana. We rose back up along the smoke stack to the decompression bar that hung beneath our dive boat.

The diving had taken us into early afternoon, just missing the lunchtime close of the Truk Stop restaurant at 2pm .  When we docked Milo ran ahead and asked them to keep the pizza oven warm so we could get something to eat.  They had pretty good pizza and it filled our hungry stomachs.  The rest of the afternoon didn’t amount to much. We crashed as soon as we got back to our hotel. 

April 11. WENO “Wreck DivingOur second day of diving started at 9am so we got up early and went to the Police Station when it opened at 8:00.  The Administrative Office was still dark when we arrived but everyone who passed by assured us they would be there soon.  The office full of police men invited us into their air conditioned room, one even offered to sell us a license plate he had.  When the Administrative office opened the look on the face of the woman told us that she had forgotten about the license plates.  She quickly disappeared upstairs and for a good 15 minutes we heard things banging and shuffling as she searched for the few license plates that she supposedly had.  By about a quarter to 9:00 she came down again and said she remembered that they were in a closet in her office and after rummaging for some keys emerged with a pile of automobile and motorcycle license plates. We were invited in to look through the stack and found there were a few used old Truk license plates amongst the pile of new Police license plates. We took one of the old plates and a new motorcycle plate.

We arrived at the dock just as they were loading the tanks aboard.  Our first dive of the day was a 45 minute boat ride across the lagoon near Tol Island , the Hanakawa Maru, a 4,739 ton passenger-cargo ship sunk upright in 50-100 feet of water.  There weren’t any buoys marking the wrecks so it was a mystery how the Chuukese found them. Aram and the driver said they could spot the location by just looking at a couple of land references but they were surprisingly accurate and never had to pass twice to find the right spot.  They anchored the boat right on the mast of the ship.

We descended down mast and into a cargo hold full of oil drums. At the back of the cargo hold we exited the ship briefly through a hole that was blown in the side and re-entered a hole in the adjacent cargo hold full of oil drums.  We ascended out of the second cargo hold into the bridge where we cut across a stairwell that was too dark to see to the bottom and into a room full of toilets.  Rob went to the back of the room and found a row of typical Japanese-style squatter toilets lined up against the wall.  Exiting the bridge we came out towards the bow of the boat.  The coral growth on this ship was spectacular.  The anti-aircraft gun mounted on the bow was thickly overgrown in corals. The wildlife made this unnatural object their home and all of the odd shaped ship parts made the variety of corals and anemones clearer to see than on many natural reefs. Around the front of the ship one anchor was still rooted in the sand and a large puffer fish was lingering along the giant chain.  Lace-like coral created a wall between the mast and smoke stacks in the middle of the boat and the large corals protruding from the mast made a hiding place for a couple of lion fish.  

Between dives we stopped at Udot Island , pulling into the dock in front of the mayor’s lavish three-story home, in stark contrast to the simple homes of the other islanders.  We walked down the dirt road that circled the island and found people to be very friendly and welcoming.  They probably got few visitors to their island and seemed to find us entertaining.  When we got back to our boat we found four green coconuts waiting for us, a gift from one of the young boys that had watched us pull into the dock.  We drank our coconut water, ate some mangos and coconut bread as we cut back across the lagoon towards Weno.  The water was getting choppy but the slightly overcast day was cooler and more comfortable.  When we reached the dive spot and anchored to the mast of the ship we saw a school of bat fish whipping around the surface of the water.  They had become used to visitors and our guides threw bits of mango overboard that they zipped around to catch.

Our second dive was within eyesight of Weno, the Shinkoku Maru, a 10,020 ton Naval Tanker that was sunk to 40-120 foot depths.   Milo told us we could enter the ship from the torpedo holds on the stern but our guide cautioned us that it was a bit deep and would shorten the dive. We decided to go for the deeper dive so he swam us from the mast out over the stern and down 120 feet to the underside of the ship where we came vertically up into the torpedo hold, ascending a ladder into the cavernous engine room.  Coming out onto the stern of the ship we saw the largest growth of corals we had seen on any ship.  The ship really looked like an underwater float made for Pasadena ’s Rose Parade.  Our guide took us swiftly up to a lower depth so we could prolong the dive.  The ship was 500 feet long and full of color and life.  I saw a few black tipped reef sharks circling shyly off of the starboard side of the ship.  We re-entered the ship at the bridge where an operating table stood with a gas mask and several bones.   On deck a collection of artifacts had been assembled that included some porcelain, bottles, and batteries.  The dive was finished with a lengthy decompression stop where the bat fish clustered around us to get bits of mango Aman was slicing off with his dive knife.  I sat on the decompression bar and watched Scott and Milo swim below us.  Their bubbles came up underneath us and the large convex bubbles made mirrors that reflected the bottom of our dive boat and me sitting on the decompression bar.   It was the most exciting dive of our trip and a record depth for both of us.          

Again, we arrived back ashore after lunch so we settled our final bill with Milo and headed back to our hotel.  Rob wanted to buy two more Truk license plates so we stopped back by the police station and stirred up the administrative office once again to get the last two Truk plates in the pile.  We had used all of our cash on tips and license plates so we walked back to the hotel. 

For dinner we went up to the Rooftop Garden restaurant for some mediocre sashimi and then retired to our hotel room for the rest of the night.   Not being able to get around at night made Chuuk a dull place in the evening.  We were waitlisted on the Saturday flight and with our diving behind us I was looking forward to getting on to Guam.

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