The In-Transit Report

Chuuk Lagoon: Part Two

Overall, diving in Chuuk was an absolutely mind-blowing, amazing experience. It’s an underwater museum, relics of war preserved in the sea, but losing slowly to the battle of life being fought by the coral that grows on the wrecks. The wrecks, representative of death and war, are the building blocks for these massive colonies of life. Among the rusted metal are brilliantly colorful corals, many kinds running into each other, with all kinds of fish swarming around them. In addition to those, we saw a few sea turtles, an eagle ray, and myriads of other small but intriguing others (cleaner shrimp, anemones, nudibranchs, for example). Sadly, no sharks.

There are a lot of details I remember, but can’t put to one ship versus another. Stuff that seems trivial and unexciting when you see it above ground in modern times, but is infinitely fascinating on a wreck. Oxygen bottles, electrical consoles, small bottles and gadgets, perfectly preserved and unbroken teacups and teapots, guns, gas masks, pipes and cables, the way air gets trapped in the ceiling of the wreck, a moving mirror you swim under. Pieces of bathrooms, dish ware, the folded uniform of a soldier, sea clams living on tanks, the masses of coral clustered on the mast of a sunken ship. Just amazing.

29/07 Shinkoku Maru – my max depth 27m/89ft
This was my first shipwreck, so of course it was really awesome. It felt really, really, big, and we didn’t even get to see all of it. Lots of little artifacts strewn about, like china, bottles, and pieces of machinery, in addition to a whole lot of coral and sea life growing on the metal. Swimming through a wreck the first time was a surreal experience, but not nearly as creepy as I expected.

29/07 Betty Bomber – max 20m/66ft
An airplane that was shot down, it sits fairly close to the surface and is easily accessible and well-lit. It’s broken apart, with engines in a different location, and has a small swim-through going the length of one of the plane’s parts. There is some equipment laying outside the plane, including a seat and a radio.

* 30/07 Kansho Maru – max 30m/99ft
The swim through was incredible, helped along by a bit of nitrogen narcosis. We passed a bathroom with intact tile, and to the other side I could see outside through the small windows, and then we ascended a staircase (floating up a staircase has to be one of the coolest things about wreck dives!). We then entered what’s known as the catwalk, a walkway across a huge room. Diving in this environment is like floating through a ghost story, a little slice of tragic history in front of you in the form of rusted metal that takes a few looks to identify. Something about that swim through, and the way it felt to go through the catwalk, really struck me.

30/07 Kiyosumi Maru – max 29m/95ft
Another very accessible wreck, with lots of swim throughs and stuff strewn about to see, including intact sink basins, a lantern, bottles, even some bones.

31/07 Rio de Janeiro – max 29m/95ft
This one has guns on deck, and bottles upon bottles of unopened beer and sake. The electrical control panel is pretty cool, too. There was a small statue of Mary tucked away that our guide showed us.

31/07 Sankisan – 23m/75ft
This one was really cool. Lots of drug bottles, ammunitions, guns, a few trucks, and plane engines. The floor in one part we dove through is completely covered in bullets. Really cool coral on this one, too.

31/07 Shinkoku (2nd time) – 31m/102ft
Saw some more of this ship, which we’d done the first day. Made it into the engine room, enjoying the soft corals on the way out.

* 01/08 Nippo Maru – max 38m/125ft
This is one of my top three dives! There’s a little tank on the deck that I spent a good 5 minutes enjoying before venturing on. There are artillery guns on deck and around, lots of little artifacts as well. The steering wheel is accessible and really cool to see.

* 01/08 Yamagiri Maru – max 30m/99ft
Another favorite. Huge shells, propellers, and other large equipment pieces. A skull embedded into the engine room ceiling. Almost all of the bodies were removed from the ships after the war, but the skull is actually fused in place. Very creepy.

01/08 Hoyo Maru – 32m/105ft
This is the quintessential creepy shipwreck. Huge, in murky water, and upside down. Lots of huge spaces to swim through, and some big equipment, but it’s really all ambience. Apparently there’s a local legend that the guy who torpedoed it during the attack in WWII went back to dive the wreck, and died in it. I doubt it’s true, but it makes a good ghost story.

* 02/08 Hoki Maru – max 41m/135ft –
Described as “the underwater truck parking lot”, and oh my God, it’s in the top 3. The trucks are in surprisingly good condition, too, an underwater museum. And there was a BULLDOZER. Lots of other parts like propellor blades and huge bombs. Apparently there was a skull, but I didn’t see it, and it may have been removed. If I remember correctly, it also had a display of propped up guns donned with white gas masks. I highly doubt they were set up like that when the ship sank, but it looks pretty cool anyway. Loved this one!

* 02/08 Fujikawa Maru – 32m/105ft
Everyone’s favorite shipwreck, and it is indeed pretty awesome. The best part was the hold full of Zero fighters, most of them in such good shape you could almost slip into the cockpit. I wish I could’ve taken a picture from above, just looking down at those planes. Seriously amazing. The rest of the ship had lots of artifacts – more huge shells, propellers I think, and other cool stuff everywhere.

We were coming back from our afternoon dive one day, and spotted dolphins. We slowed down, and they played with us, jumping in front of the boat, not a couple meters (6-7 feet) away from my eyes. We were on a tiny boat, so we could lay down at the front, and I swear I could almost touch them. They would jump, and then turn to watch our reactions. Dolphins have to be the most intelligent animals on earth, just catch that look in their eyes! I threw on my mask and snorkel and jumped in, watching them swim below me about 6m/20ft below me, just watching me. One of the most amazing and unexpected experiences of the trip.

Diving through Truk Stop was awesome, and really provided a personalized experience. While I was there, it was me and one other diver, together with our instructor (we were both doing the Enriched Air course) and dive guide, who was a really cool local dude. The owners know my cousin, so on the last night we both came to the bar for a drink and celebrated the fact that they hadn’t lost me. Very comforting. Out there in Chuuk, not exactly a luxury destination, you know people are there because they love what they’re doing. And having spent 5 days diving the most amazing wreck dive sites in the world, I don’t blame them.

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