Monday, December 11, 2006

Truk Trek, Part 3

Final part of my dive journal from a recent trip to Truk Lagoon, see Part 1 and Part 2.

Day 5- Dive 15
San Francisco Maru. This is the deep, big-time "money" wreck here in Truk. The Odyssey is much more organized in diving it now, as before Capt. Lenny only took a few of us out to do it in the skiff. Now they have just put in a mooring and with enough DM's in the water, they are able to lead groups of 6-8 down to it's decks at 165'. Called the "million-dollar wreck" for it's wealth of cargo and relatively un-touched state, it's a very interesting dive with lots of see.

After a through briefing, we split into two groups and gear up. We are diving 23% EAN, really actually air, with a 15 min (or 1500 # of gas) bottom time starting on our descent that takes around 2-3 mins. Time is very short and I have a pre-visualized dive plan to take pictures of the tank, deck gun and hold one where land mines, artillery shells and cordite are stacked to the ceiling. Things go pretty much according to plan, I'm not too narced, concentrating on my dive plan helps. I get some good shots and enjoy shooting up out of the ammunition holds with no one around. I'm sort of amused at myself directing Paul a little higher and lower over the deck gun, art direction at 170'...once an A.D., always an A.D.

I have one minute left of bottom time and motion Paul that I'm going back for a couple of quick shots of the tank, after which I get turned around, but sort myself out and head quickly for the mast and start up. In the one minute or so, I burned 300# of gas!

We ascend slowly, taking lots of time up the mast and switching to the line at 100' then back to the boat. I clear my 30' stop on the way up and move up to 20' to do 3-4 mins there, only to find that the line is loose and I bob up towards 13'. Charlie comes over and motions us to the mooring ball and line that is fixed better and I clear, wait a bit for Paul and then take off for the hang bar at the back of the Odyssey, finding a bit of a swim in the current and with the boat swinging away from me. I make it there and have another 4-5 mins or so of final deco at 10', but Paul comes up and his Suunto has him slammed with 12 mins. During the week, we're finding that his computer is much more conservative than my Oceanic, and I consider it to be a fairly conservative computer.

The second group also enjoys their dive and all are back on deck after doing a fairly difficult planned deco dive.

Dive 16
Rio de Janero Maru. This is one of my favorite wrecks here in Truk. It lies on it's starboard side with the bottom at around 140' and the top, or port side, at an easy 45'. It is massive at 360' in length, a converted freighter/cruise liner that was fairly well-known before the war and infamous during the war as a coastal raider and transport. The US was quite happy to put ships like her and the Heian Maru on the bottom. I guess I like it because of it's history and that it really looks like a wreck as depicted in the movies.

Only in Truk can you dive wrecks like the SF Maru and the Rio in one day and it's a real treat. We drop in and swim down, enjoying decent viz to start that seems to diminish as the dive progresses. The scale of the wreck is awesome, huge stack on it's side, holds and bomb damage twisting plates and making for interesting views. Our plan is to make for the props and take a few shots of Paul, myself, as well as out friends Carol and Greg. The props are massive and make for a good frame. After the others leave, I drop down over the huge rudder and enjoy shooting the lower prop and rudder. I even sit on one blade and take in the vista, dwarfed by the looming wreck. We swim back around and poke around the various spaces, spying s small eagle ray circling about. There's not a lot of growth on this wreck, mostly small mounds of hard coral on the side of the hull. I shoot a porthole on the side that still has it's glass in it. The Odyssey is swinging on it's mooring in a wide arc and after swimming up to the hang bar we enjoy and E-ticket ride swinging back and forth above the massive wreck doing our deco stop.

Dive 17
After hearing good things about the engine room, Paul and I ask guide Kent to take us there. We quickly swim down to a doorway and into the pitch dark wreck at 80', ducking over and under gangways and pipes. We make it into the engineers' space with walls covered with gauges and valves, engine telegraphs gleaming in the dark. A small clock lies hangs upside down stopped at 7:20 am, presumably when the ship sunk. Kent leads Paul further into the tight spaces while I take some pictures. The strobes are firing intermittently now and it's driving me crazy. Seems like a bad sync cord.

We exit the engine room and go to the aft hold that is about half full with beer and sake bottles and boxes. Again I see deterioration in the wrecks and although there's still thousands of bottles and cases, much of it has fallen down to the bottom. This is mostly the result of natural deterioration of the wood cases.

We come up on top and it's now too dark to shoot much, so I decide to swim up to the caved in bow. Four years ago I got turned around in the blown apart forward magazine and I had a personal ghost to exhume to see it again. I thought it was just along the edge, but I forgot that the whole bow had partially collapsed because of the explosion. It seemed that it too has fallen down further from deterioration as well, but I can't quantify it in my mind.

I swam on down to 95' and looked for what was left of the magazine. All I could find was a twisted opening and it didn't look like where I had been on the earlier trip. But I stuck my head in and it started to look a bit familiar, however I couldn't find the unexploded 6" shells that I found before. I looked it over, wondering what the hell I was thinking when I went in there at night with limited air the other time. I guess I found my peace and thanked some higher being for my good luck in finding my way out. Coming up over the edge of the hull, I found the name on the bow and brought Paul down to see it as well. I was into a few minutes of deco, so we went up, found the Odyssey on it's swing over the wreck, went up to the hang bar and paid our dues to the deco god.

Day 6 - Dive 18

Nippo Maru. Another nice wreck, a water carrier, a bit deeper than some, but with a particularly good wheelhouse and deck cargo of cannons, tanks and munitions. We jammed down to the wheelhouse and got in there before the viz got spoiled. I took a few shots, now really fighting the strobes and ten continued down to the aft deck at 135' to shoot the deck cannons and have a look around. As we came back, Paul found a nice pair of mating nudibranchs and I switched over to macro to shoot them. Lying at 125' trying to get them in focus and having the strobes first over-expose, then not fire was frustrating. I finished the shot and swam up with about 1100# of gas left and into 6 mins of deco and made for the bow and up line. I couldn't find Paul, he went into the cabins apparently and racked up a long deco stop, so that I was on the boat before I saw him again.

I shot a few quick shots and a couple of natural lighted bow shots on the way up. Back on board I determined that the optical sync cord had broken at the strobe connector and I was able to strip off a new end to fix my lighting problems.

Dive 19. Feeling that I hadn't done the best job in the wheelhouse, with its wheel and telegraph still standing there, I went back and got better shots. We also went down into the forward hold and I shot some large piles of artillery shells there, as well as some nice bow shots and finally captured the anchor lines I was looking for with the ship anchored for eternity. we finished up on the mast I shot a small moray eel without much success.

Dive 20
Kensho Maru. This was the only wreck I hadn't dove on before. Located back in the repair anchorage where we started our cruise. It was a smallish freighter without a great deal of interesting cargo, but with a very open wheelhouse, cabin and engine room.

When we got in we were greeted by very cloudy viz and huge numbers of jellyfish that made it difficult to find see much of anything at first. Following a line down to the ship, we swam around the cabin and I amused myself shooting some artifacts, not really seeing much else. I had wanted to find the radio room and while looking I saw both guides swim quickly through a skylight down into the center of the wreck. Swimming though I found a massive, wide-open engine room with huge pistons, boiler and valves that I played around shooting. Coming up Paul pointed me to the radio room, now just a rack of old gear. Poking my head up through the cabin roof I found a very nice telegraph that I also shot.

We came up the forward mast and found some nice anemones with their resident clownfish to finish the dive shooting. Making our way back forward and to the Odyssey in the murk and jellyfish, I felt that it had been a very good week rediscovering some great South Pacific diving in Truk lagoon.

We spent a night packing and eating leftover food and drink on the boat. Sunday, we were delivered to the Blue Lagoon Resort for dayrooms until our flights.

After everyone rested a bit we met for lunch at around noon. The restaurant is an exercise in patience, futility and exhaustion. It took nearly 2.5 hrs to get a burger and meals ordered and eaten. The food is ok, or mediocre if you guessed wrong.

After that, we decided we needed a drink. Several folks had bought booze for the boat, only to find that it was included. So there was a spontaneous cocktail party starting in our room and quickly spreading to the lawn. Lawn chairs, coconut palms and a stunning sunset to enjoy. 151 rum is dangerous stuff and by the time our dinner reservations were ready, a few members of the group had to be carried to the table. They had plenty of time to sober up, as dinner again took 2 hours+, with repeated trips to the kitchen to beg water, silverware or "service". The waitresses are locals and really, they just don't get it. Not their fault, cultural I think, but the hotel needs to spend much more time training them to work in a touristic environment. Although the hotel is nice, and their in-house dive op good, trying to get fed in the place is enough to drive you nuts.

After getting onto the Guam/Hawaii flight we had an ugly incident with a man having a heart attack in mid-Pacific, three to four hours from anywhere. Luckily there were two docs and three nurses on board who worked very hard under difficult circumstances to give CPR and resuscitate him. Unfortunately he didn't make it and died. After guiding his poor wife to first class, they wrapped the body up and left it in about row 40 for the duration. Pretty surreal. We were met by the coroner and sheriffs in Honolulu, and after a brief investigation were were allowed to continue our way home.

Photo notes: Truk requires lots of strobe power and wide angle lenses. I was shooting two Inon strobes and I really missed my old S&S 120 at times. Buy the biggest dome lens you can find and long strobe arms. It's a pain to take into the wreck, and I would figure out some sort of dome cover that you can take on and off uw, but it's the right gear for the job. There's some macro life, but it's not prolific. Visibility is up and down there, I think the Spring may be better than Fall. It varies, as you get out to the outer anchorages it can improve, but the amount of junk in the water can be frustrating to deal with.

Photos: Truk - Part 3, Truk Scenics and Truk Portraits

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Truk Trek, Part 2

A continuation of my dive journal, see also: Truk Trek, Part 1

Nov 15th Day 3
Dive 8

Hoki Maru. Gene and Judy, Paul and myself boogie into the water and down to the aft hold where there is a bulldozer, paver, trucks and other equipment. I missed the hold at first and drop over the side, but realize that at 128' I'm alongside the rudder. Oops. Back up and into the small littered hold, squeezing through the girders and drop down to the between decks where the equipment is. We manage to get our shots just before the thundering herd of fellow divers descends on us. Out and back aft I follow Gene into the steering station where the remains of the rudder gears and lines are. After that we break up and cruise around the wreck, not seeing anything too remarkable. Viz is much better here, maybe 80-100'. Finished the dive up the mast where the color is wonderful, I try to frame some divers in the structure to not much avail.

Dive 9
Fujikama Maru. This is a "money wreck" (what I call a dive site that you spend the money on a trip to see), lots to see and at a decent depth so there's lots of time. Sam, olur guide, leads Paul and myself on a tour of the engine room and machine shop. The wreck is more open then I remembered from last time, but still some tight squeezes, especially with the camera. We luck out and are the first to get to the machine shop and I get some good shots of the air compressor, nicknamed R2D2 that's pretty famous. After that I shoot the lathe and then back out to the engine room as the herd descends and spoils the viz.

We continue out into the superstructure and I frame some shots in the openings, definitely deteriorated since 4 years ago, with more marine growth as a result as the light hits it more. We duck out a window and then decide to go to the hold with the zero airplane fuselages. Dropping back into it there's lots to look at and I'm able to get some nice shots with he dome lens, still having some weird light flare issues, even pulling the strobe back and out.

Back out and I've used up my camera card, but linger a bit on the king posts, where there's very nice growth. I go into a couple mins deco, but clear by the time I get to 20'.

Dive 10
Paul and I head for the bow as I thought this wreck had some nice anchor lines going out that were covered with soft coral. This wasn't the case, but there was an interesting anchor still on the starboard side and as I shot it I spied a couple of grey reef sharks out in the gloom, as well as the school of snapper and jacks that the sharks were interested in. They circled around a bit, but never really came close, especially after a guide tried swimming out after comment.

We poked around on both sides of the bow, it wasn't that interesting, but coming up to the top of the bow, the deck gun was pretty large and I took a few shots, waiting quite a while for others to leave the area...

Took a few deckscapes and then dropped over the side again after I saw a small school of tuna down near the bottom. Thought I might be able to drop down on them quietly, bu they were aware of me and lazily swam off. Likewise a few snapper wearily kept their distance.

I swam around the bottom at around 90' and thought I might wake up a large fish or something, but nobody was home. Came back up and swam around the deck, finishing the dive trying my luck shooting macro of some pink anemone fish, with about the same results as the rest of the dive...mediocre.

Came up, downloaded the pics to find that on the previous dive I had marred the dome lens enough that it was causing the camera to loose focus or for the marrs to show up on the shots...ARRRGH.

Dive 11
Evening night dive. Paul and I splash about 6 pm again and make for the aft of the Fujikawa, as we haven't toured it yet. Paul drops into the last hold and I follow after making sure it is pretty open and easy to find my way out of. It seems to be filled with saki bottles and other assorted cooking gear as well and what looks like a canoe or something.

We come out and find a few artifacts on deck and then I drop over the stern to see if anything is lurking there to shoot. Nothing but some nice small coral displays. We look around for a while, then at 1650 pounds of remaining gas, start to head back up towards the aft king posts as was our plan after hearing that the corals were nice there.

They are indeed, it's much more pristine, as most divers don't use it for a safety stop and haven't kicked it all to hell, as is the forward king post. I shoot some soft corals and small bright yellow tubestra tube coral. We motor back up to the forward king posts and find we each have a fair amount of deco obligation to clear. I wish they'd have set down a half rack of beer instead of an extra air tank there...

I think the Fujikawa Maru is in danger of being over-loved and dove. There is a lot there and everyone enjoys poking around in the moderate depths, but it's looking pretty beat up to my eyes. Broken coral, scraped areas and trashed holds seem to be the norm. Even then, it's still a great dive.

Nov 16, Day 4
Dive 12

Unikai Maru. The morning dive is on a freighter that has heavy bomb damage forward, actually splitting the ship in two. It's at moderate depths, so we start towards the stern, duck in a shoot up towards a missing skylight. I swim around the stern shooting heavily encrusted depth charges on the rails and some gangways and so forth. I then see some nudibranchs, and as it is the first I've seen and had time to shoot, I switch to macro mode and blaze away, lying on the deck at 100'.

Swimming alongside the cabin I see a small school of jacks going after some small fry excitedly. Continuing along towards where the bow was, I see another nudibranch in some green growth, and then a neat flat worm out in the open. It pays to look small sometimes, and most of the trip has been w/a.

I also shoot some artistically arranged gas masks and then play around shooting some sun balls behind the masts, but am unable to get Paul in the position that I want.

Sort of a "more of the same" dive, but a nice little wreck.

Dive 13
Pizion Reef Shark Feeding dive. We've been warned that we might not be able to do this, but skipper Nick is pleased to tell us at the morning brief that the weather is quite good and the trades are finally filling in to hold us off the reef while we dive. We motor about 1.5 hrs out of the lagoon and swing south to the low lying reef where they have put in a mooring. After chumming up the sharks a bit and briefing us on what to expect, we all get into the water and sit in a natural amphitheater around a tethered wire and when the fill a lift bag it brings down a large chunk of frozen tuna.

We are surrounded by lots of 5-6' grey reef sharks, a few smaller black tips and a large school of snapper as well. They go after it a bit at first, then in a huge ball of fish excitedly trying to tear chunks out of it. It's frozen very hard and each of the two chunks takes 15 mins to be fought over and disappear.

When the first chunk is being fought over they are able to pull the line over a bit practically in my lap. I gamely keep taking pictures, finally switching to a w/a lens. After my strobe arms are hit repeatedly and I have to punch several away from me, I decide to move over a bit, which is hard to do on the rocks. I also find that guide Charlie is riding herd on me, keeping them from hitting me in the head from the rear. I actually am fairly non-plussed, as after feeding the fish in the Seattle Aquarium it's not unlike the big king salmon bashing me around. Ok, these fish have teeth, but they are only after the food, and really don't concern me much.

Towards the end of the feeding a few much larger silver tips come in, including about a 11-12' female that the guides think is pregnant. She's the queen of the reef and takes no guff from the reef sharks. They are very elegant animals and even after the feeding is done I go down the wall a bit to 90' and watch them all swim back and forth. There was a huge temperature thermocline there, with the water 10-15 degrees cooler, and I think the larger animals like it.

I meander up to the shallows and pick up Paul and we poke around seeing some little reef fish that are all to shy to shoot. Four years ago this area was a very pretty shallow dive with lots more fish and hard corals, but apparently a couple of typhoons have hit it hard and it's pretty dead, with only a few small bits of coral alive amongst mostly dead rock.

We finish the dive sitting on the hang bar at 12' with the boat stern in 200' of water watching sharks go past in the crystal blue warm water.

Dive 14
Shankisan Maru. Coming back into the lagoon we anchor over the blown apart stern of this ammunition freighter. Swimming over the melted remains of the stern we find the middle section of the ship and continue to the holds. Once again I find that the ship's cargo has been scattered around or taken. Before there were huge mounds of bullets in the aft hold, with lots of untouched cases stacked around. Now they are a fine layer along the bottom, with just a few cases left along with some detonators. While they've enforced taking anything from the wrecks, they haven't enforced a no-touch rule and I think it's a shame to see such deterioration in the impact of the cargo to see.

We continue along checking out some airplane engines and so forth and then swim up to the bow for a look to see if there's any interesting growth off the bow. Turning back, I swim up amidships and find a cleaning station with a couple of jacks or small tuna being cleaned by small colorful wrasses. As the wrasses pick off parasites, the jacks shiver with delight, quite amusing to watch.

I loose Paul about that time and later find he ascended up the mast and then back to the boat. I continue on down the starboard rail, or what's left of it, and am rewarded with some large schools of black turbans and even quite a large, bump-headed parrotfish. I finish the dive shooting some nice soft coral and in the dusky light swim back trying to find the anchor line in blue water and after discerning the Odyssey, I see the anchor line which makes it easy to ascend and do deco. To cap the dive, I swim past a large barracuda hovering under the boat in near dark, as I make my way to the hang bar. I'm a bit worried about Paul, but they spot his bubbles just behind me and he's on deck a couple of mins later.

Continued on Truk Trek, part 3
Photos: Truk Trek - Part 2 photo set