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Published: November 11th 2014
An engineer's skull embedded in the steel
Caused by the explosion from a torpedo that sunk the Yamagiri Maru
Where do I begin?
I like to think of myself as well travelled-ish but Truk Lagoon, or Chuuk Lagoon as it is now known, blew me away.
For those of you that don’t already know, Truk Lagoon was the site of Japan’s naval fleet in the pacific during WWII. In February 1944, as part of Operation Hailstone, Japan’s fleet were pretty much wiped out in a series of attacks which resulted in the world’s most amazing WWII wreck diving site.
This is a scuba divers dream destination but don’t worry, I won’t bore you listing what I did/saw on each dive. I will however list my dive sites at the end of this blog for those interested.
When we landed in Micronesia the passport control and baggage reclaim was unlike anywhere else I had been in the world. Baggage reclaim consisted of a hole in the wall where bags are literally thrown through for you to pick up. The heat and humidity were unbelievable. I had shorts and a t-shirt on and I still felt like I was melting.
There are only two hotels on the island, we
stayed at The Blue Lagoon Resort, set up by the man whom pretty much founded diving in Truk Lagoon, Kimiou Aisek.
The fairly short drive to the hotel, in terms of distance, took nearly an hour due to the most uneven and flooded road I had ever driven along. Lush, green trees and plants with tin houses and broken down cars scattered everywhere. It had been a while since I had been to a country as poor as this. Micronesia also has the added problem that it is so isolated in the middle of the pacific that anything shipped in is expensive and takes time.
We spent a few nights on land in the resort before a week on a liveaboard dive boat, The SS Thorfinn.
Accommodation at The Blue Lagoon Resort and The SS Thorfinn were basic to say the least.
We had to change rooms at The Blue Lagoon as our first room had lizards running all over the walls.
The Thorfinn was our first liveaboard. It was….different to how we imagined it. The Thorfinn, unlike other liveaboards, does not move. It is like a hotel on the
water, we didn’t know this before we arrived. I don’t mind a short boat ride to dive sites but the weather in Truk can be scorching sunshine one minute and rain storms the next. The rain storms make that short boat ride back to the Thorfinn feel like being back in Britain.
I learned fairly quickly that I’m not built for living on boats. After smashing my head walking through a door and again walking up stairs I realised I had to hunch over for the rest of the week if I wanted to avoid any more bumps on my head or concussion.
With up to 5 dives per day on offer you don’t really have time for much else apart from eating and sleeping but after travelling half way around the world just for the diving I didn’t want to do anything else.
Our dive briefings were delivered by the Thorfinn’s captain. Unlike a normal dive briefing his briefings also came with stories about the wrecks including how they were sunk and their role in the war.
One of the stories he told was about a wreck known as ‘The Ghost
The actual name of the ghost ship is the Hoyo Maru. According to the captain a war veteran, who was involved in the attack on Truk Lagoon, was diving the ship but when the dive group penetrated the wreck they all came out except the war veteran. The group notified the relevant people who then sent out a search party looking for him.
The danger of diving wrecks is becoming disorientated, getting lost in a wreck and then running out of air trying to find your way out again.
When the search party arrived at the Hoyo Maru they searched everywhere for him and eventually found his body in the room furthest away from the entry point. Apparently, when a diver becomes trapped under water, in most cases when they eventually run out of air they knock off their mask, knock their regulator out of their mouth and in the case of being in a wreck, they kick up silt from the floor. When the war veteran was found his mask was still on, his regulator was in his mouth and he didn’t have any silt on his body. He was literally just
sat in the room. No rescue party had ever seen anything like it and said it must have been the ghosts of the ship that took him to that room as punishment for their deaths.
Several of the remains of the people killed at Truk Lagoon still lay entombed within the ships they were on at the time.
The most spine chilling is the skull of an engineer on board the Yamagiri Maru. The Yamagiri was sunk when a torpedo hit the engine room causing an explosion. The engineer in that room was blasted with so much force that his head has been embedded in the metal on the ship ever since. The skull is red, I’m assuming from the heat of the explosion. Other bones are placed underneath the skull to unify his body in its final resting place.
Most people in Micronesia live off of the land, tourism is its biggest external source of income and it only gets about 5000 people a year. Roughly 100 people a week!
In terms of diving I have been to popular dive sites where there are up to 100 people at the same
dive site at the same time. Truk is different in that respect, the busiest dive whilst I was there was the San Francisco Maru, a nearly 500 foot long ship wreck, which had about 10 divers in total on our first dive of it.
Some wrecks need more than one dive for a number of reasons. Deep wrecks mean shorter dives and therefore to fully explore a ship you need two or more dives. Some wrecks have a number of rooms inside with some amazingly preserved artefacts, these dives usually require more than one dive too.
There aren’t only ship wrecks in Truk Lagoon, there are plane wrecks, submarine wrecks and of course fish and coral. The water in Truk is so warm I didn’t need to dive with a wetsuit. I wouldn’t recommend diving without a wetsuit though as there are a lot of jellyfish that have very painful stings.
One dive I rolled back into the water and heard another dive boat shout “JELLYFISH” when I looked under the water there were literally thousands hovering around the wreck. My dive was not enjoyable at all as I was constantly looking around trying
Bottles and bones on a bed
In the infirmary inside the Shinkoku Maru
to make sure I didn’t get stung.
Another thing I would recommend is wearing gloves. The wrecks of Truk Lagoon were involved in a war, they have jagged edges from explosions and also from the coral that has built a home on the wrecks. I cut my hand badly on one dive.
On one of the last dives of the week you are taken to a shark feeding spot where all divers gather around and the dive guides feed them. Unfortunately due to bad visibility I didn’t get the pictures I wanted of the feeding but it was the first time I had seen them fed so it was interesting to see them thrashing around. There were only about 5 or 6 black tip sharks in total.
For me the best part of the dives was penetrating the wrecks, especially the engine rooms. The machines, pumps, cylinders and gages all look the same but eerily different submerged in water. In some wrecks there are still complete bathrooms, toilets and kitchens, thousands of bottles of beer and wine, shoes, lights and many other artefacts. I suppose you could say I love penetration lol.
Our week ended on a bit of a downer when we were called into the captain’s room and accused of theft of a light we had hired. The light had been misplaced and we happily paid to replace it as it was our responsibility to look after it but to be accused of theft when there was no suspicious circumstance involving its disappearance was ludicrous and unnecessarily made us feel uncomfortable.
Also, if you’re going on the Thorfinn, take a wetsuit, Nikki and I hire our equipment where ever we dive, the Thorfinn doesn’t have wetsuits to hire. Luckily the water was warm enough for me to dive without one.
Dive Wreck Wreck length Depth Notes/artefacts seen
1 Heian Maru 500 ft 75 ft External dive only
2 As above “ 90ft Penetrated wreck-engine room, skull inside
3 Sutsuki XXXXXXX 45ft Night dive, penetrated wreck, very narrow entrance
4 Nippo Maru 520 ft 105ft Tanks, trucks, gas masks, partially penetrated wreck
5 Kiyosumi Maru 350 ft 90ft Penetrated wreck-engine room, hold
6 Sankisan Maru 385 ft 60ft
Penetrated wreck, not many artefacts except bullets
7 Betty Bomber 33 ft 60ft Plane wreck, penetrated wreck, pilot’s seat separate
8 Hoki Maru 450 ft 120ft Penetrated wreck, tanks, trucks, bulldozer on board
9 Kansho Maru 285 ft 90ft Penetrated wreck, big engine room, lots of artefacts
10 Gosei Maru XXXXXXX 105ft Top of ship in shallow water, not much to see
11 Emily 92 ft 45ft Big plane, wing span over 100 feet
12 San Fran Maru 385 ft 150ft Deco required, tanks, trucks, guns
13 Fujikawa Maru 435 ft 90ft Penetrated-engine room, lots of artefacts
14 Rio De Janiero 460 ft 90ft Unable to penetrate as unstable, huge propeller
15 Hoyo Maru 475 ft 75ft Ship upside down, penetrate through side of boat
16 Seiko Maru 390 ft 120ft Penetrated, toilet, bathroom, kitchen, artefacts
17 Yamagiri Maru 300 ft 90ft Engineers skull, penetrated engine room
18 Futagami Tug 275 ft 75ft Saml boat, lots of silt on penetration
San Fran Maru 385 ft 165ft Deco required, penetrated wreck
20 Shinkoku 500 ft 90ft Penetrated, bones in infirmary, artefacts
21 Aikoku Maru 500 ft 150ft Unable to penetrate unless tech diver
22 Sharkville N/A 60ft Shark feeding dive
23 Fujikawa Maru 435 ft 90ft Repeat of first dive on Fujikawa
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