PLACES AND FACES OF TRUK LAGOON - 2003 TRIP

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TRUK TRIP FOUR, MARCH 2003

Steve Phillips

I arrived in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia yesterday afternoon. Truk is also called Chuuk if you want to be politically correct. I donít. The flight over was extra long this time. I had a 14 hour layover in Honolulu. Thatís really not so bad. I wish all my layovers were in Hawaii. Continental Airlines wouldnít give me good connections and made me come early and stay later than I wanted because I used frequent flyer points for my ticket. This is a very expensive flight and they donít like you to use points for the trip even though they charge 60,000 points. If you give them 120,000 points they will be nicer and give good connections. I had to be very stubborn to get a flight at all for 60,000 but I did finally get my ticket. Continental is the only airline that flies here so they can be a horses ass about the airfare. I was able to get good connections for our other divers. They will be coming in tonight. Iím staying in a little hotel across from the airport and will be going to the Thorfinn tonight with our other five divers. I met an interesting young Mormon man on my flight to Hawaii. He is originally from Koserae,(pronounced CosRye), but now lives with his wife and 6 kids in Minnesota. He does landscaping work in Minnesota. The opportunities to earn a living in Micronesia are almost nil. These are nice, mannerly people who live in FSM (Federated States of Micronesia). Iíve never met anyone in Truk that was not nice and usually smiling. I like these people a lot. The people here can go anywhere in the U.S. and live or work. They do not need green cards or visas because FSM is a U.S. Protectorate. I donít see much sign here of any protecting or putting in any money. Iím sure we send some money but it canít be much. Some of these young people should join the U. S. military as they can do. That would give them a good living and a real future. I speak from experience on this. Thereís no telling where I would have ended up if I had not joined the military when I was 17, probably jail. Iíve never regretted going in the military. That was the main turning point in my life and exposed me to great people, education and opportunities. The people and the military helped give me extreme confidence in my abilities, probably a lot more than I deserve. I also learned to scuba dive in the military about 40 years ago and Iím grateful for that too.

Quite often I lose patience with people who make excuses for not being able to do something that they want to do. Thatís the problem, they are looking for reasons not to win, not to go, and not to succeed. Forget that crap and start finding the reasons you can. Everything will work out just fine.

                Today I just walked around some and ate and drank beer. Breakfast was at the Plaza Garden Rooftop Bar and Restaurant. I sat in a pink plastic chair and ate fish and rice and some sort of vegetable with shredded ginger on top, good stuff. After that I walked a mile or so through the village until a local guy picked me up and gave me a ride to Blue Lagoon dive store and hotel. Iíve stayed there before and it is a nice place. I ate lunch there and looked at the pretty young waitresses as I often do, Then I met a neat old dude. He is in his 70ís and retired 6 years ago. He is a Lacoda Sioux and lives in Arizona. He was orphaned when he was 10 and grew up in a Catholic school. When he was 17 he joined the military. They helped him get his college degree and he has done much since. Mostly he has been a hospital manager in many places over the U.S. Now he and his brother own a 3,000 acre horse ranch in Montana but he lives in  Arizona. He is over here as a volunteer to try to improve the medical facilities around these islands. He is working with a group of Mennonites. He says all religions are over here in force but they are more interested in signing up souls than in putting money into medical needs. This old guy is neat and you can tell that he never slows down. We talked about Indians a little bit, Sitting Bull and Gaul. I told him I was part Indian and I wish I was more. He said he has a lady friend in Blount County, AL so I asked him to come see me and we will find arrowheads on my farm. I told him that I think President Andrew Jackson was a bastard for the way he mistreated the Southern Indians. He agreed with me.

March 10th on Thorfinn. Perry Massie, Rick Dennis, Don Sublett, Greer Geiger and Terry Banks all came in last night and we came out to the Thorfinn.

 1st dive 8:00 AM dived on I169 submarine. This is a huge sub 345 ft. long. We did not penetrate this one. We saw a couple lionfish and got some good pictures. 115 ft. for 37 min. This is the first submarine that I have dived on but it is not a very pretty dive, not much soft coral on this dive.

2nd dive 87 ft. 58 min. Fujikawa Maru. This is probably the most popular dive in Truk. This one has lots to see. Several airplanes are in one of the holds. Lots of soft corals and blue fish. There is a real big cannon on the bow that is totally covered with corals now. The structure of the ship comes within 30 ft. of the surface. It is a very pleasant dive.

3rd dive Heian Maru 80 ft. 48 min. The biggest ship in the lagoon. Submarine tender has torpedoes, periscopes and other things needed to repair and supply subs. This is a deep  penetration dive and is dangerous in my opinion. We spent much of our time inside the ship. Visibility was not real good on this dive , about 50 ft. Took some pictures way inside of ship of stacks of plates and bowls.

 4th dive, We went back to the Fujikawa instead of diving on a Betty Bomber airplane 68 ft. 53 min. We wanted to get good pictures of the soft corals. This dive was just before dark and some more of the corals were out. Also photo ops of a big friendly puffer fish about 2 ft long. A big anemone had a family of tiny Peterson shrimp living in it. I hope these photos come out.

March 11th. Good breakfast waffles, cinnamon rolls, eggs and bacon.

 5th dive. We all skipped last nights dive to get caught up on our sleep, of course we did spend some time in the hot tub drinking beer and smoking cigars. 8:00 AM 145 ft. 41 min, Nippo Maru. This is one of my favorites. There is a 2 man tank on the deck and lots of gas masks, canteens and personal stuff. The bridge area is outstanding and has an engine telegraph and all the navigational gear. I went 11 minutes into deco. But thatís no problem, after off-gassing at my stops I still had enough air that I could have easily stayed another 20 minutes in the water if I had needed to. We are all using 2 computers each. All of our divers have Suunto Spyder computer watches and most of us have cobra computers. These Suuntos are the best you can buy. The camera I am using is a Sealife digital 200 with 2 strobes and 3 lenses. I am recharging batteries between each dive and swapping them out. I can shoot about 40 shots each dive and I donít have to buy film or get them developed. I save much money this way and can look at the photos on the TV in my room and delete what I donít want.

6th dive, Yamagiri Maru , 98 ft. 51 min. 85 degrees. Deep in this ship is the skull and bones of a Japanese seaman. The skull is embedded in the bulkhead, blown into it by the force of the explosion that sank this ship in less than 1 minute. All aboard were killed. The ship was a supply ship and was carrying the huge artillery shells for the battleships.

 7th dive, Shinkoku Maru, 90 ft. 53 min. Donít hold me accountable for proper spelling on the shipís names. I could go back and look them up but Iím tired now. This ship has the most soft corals and is a great dive but the vis is not so good on this one.

     

             

Engine Telegraph in Wheelhouse                                                      Machine Guns and Ammunition

 

 Well Iíve forgotten what day it is now, but I have made 11 dives so far.

Dive 8, night dive 39 ft. 30 min. Sutsuki. We dived on a destroyer and the vis wasnít real good. OK for close up photos but not good at any distance.

 Dive 9 Kansho Maru 146 ft. 38 min. Clear water and lots to see. I took a lot of pictures in the bridge area of navigational equipment and the engine telegraph.

Medical emergency, I had asked Narita and Betewen about eating some of the sea shells, so Betewen picked up a large Murex type shell on one of our dives. The cooks sliced it up and cooked it for a snack for us. It tasted similar to lobster but was very tough and chewy. We all ate a little of this and it was pretty good. Perry ate a piece and had an allergic reaction. Within 2 minutes of eating his piece his face had lost its color and was puffing up. He lost his voice and his throat was closing off and breathing was difficult. He had a burning feeling in all his insides from his mouth to his rectum. We were fortunate to have our divers: Greer Geiger who is a doctor and Terry Banks who is a pharmacist with us. They gave Perry attention and some pills which started relieving the swelling within about 10 minutes. He had to wait about an hour before feeling better. Perry and I were grateful to have Greer and Terry with us. This could have been a dangerous situation without them. Thank you Greer and Terry.

Our group went on a land tour to Dublon Island. We walked through a pretty village and gave candy to the kids. The gasoline storage tanks that were the supply for the Japanese ships were heavily bombed and shot up. One of the local men was shooting at birds with a slingshot. Bats and pigeons are popular eating here. We came back to the ship for lunch then made dives10 and 11. 86 ft 56 min. and 74 ft. 42 min. night dive.

Dive 12: San Francisco Maru 184 ft. 35 min. This is the deep one. The water was very clear 100 ft. or better vis. We saw 2 or 3 tanks on the deck. We went into the forward hold and saw wooden cases of fuses for mines. Many stacks of mines in there too. I had 14 minutes of deco time but my cobra computer handles all the thinking for me. This is a great dive.

 Dive 13, Sankisan Maru, 76 ft. 53 min. Thousands of rounds of small arms ammo and cases of artillery fuses are in the holds of this ship. Large areas of medicine bottles. Machine guns are laying around on deck. This is one of the best dives and vis. is good.

 Dive 14, Rio De Janeiro Maru, this was a passenger ship that was used for troops and freight. 112 ft. for 50 min. Hundreds of cases of sake bottles are in one hold. Big engine room to go through and see all the gauges.

Dive 15 Hino Maru, 56 ft. 51 min. This small freighter was blown apart by two bomb hits and sank in shallow water. It has one small cannon on the bow that is only a few feet underwater. We found lots of seashells here. I was digging up 50 cal. bullets and cloth in the rubble pile. I dug up a rubber sole from a shoe. I made 4 dives today and they were the best of the trip so far.

 Dive 16, Amagisan Maru, 158 ft. 35 min. Clear water. Ship lies on port side, has a good looking cannon near the bow which is good to get under and photo up toward the light from the surface. Stacked up bicycles and a car in the holds. We  are anchored off the island of Uman.

 Dive 17,Yubae Maru, 121 ft. 44 min. Saw phonograph records, nudibranch and a flatworm. Had 16 minutes of deco on this one.

 Dive 18, Gosei Maru, 109 ft. 53 min. This is always one of my favorite dives. She lies at a steep angle on the reef and comes up to about 15 feet from the surface. There are lots of torpedoes in the hold and big bombs and shells. One big yellow painted bomb that I remember from my last trip to Truk is not there now. The locals raised it to remove the powder and use to blow up fish. Thatís a popular way to fish here. Very dangerous unloading the munitions. That bomb probably weighed well over 1,000 pounds. I had a fun encounter with a big octopus on this dive. It was in the coral but not real shy. I came at it from below and controlled my breathing to not scare it. I put my fingers about 8 inches from him and curled my finger to get it to come to me. It watched for about 1 minute then slowly raised up and reached out to me with one tentacle and shook my hand. Perry videoed this and will probably show the video on his show on the Outdoor Channel. His show is Prospecting America.

 Dive 19, Sankisan Maru, 54 ft. 48 min. Night dive. The Aggressor was anchored on this wreck so we had several extra divers this time. I saw a flatworm that swam around for me. I think these little creatures are very interesting and beautiful. Iíve been using my Nite Rider HID headlight and it has worked great and freed my hands for my camera. I recharge the light and camera each night in my cabin. Iím using a Sea Life digital camera that lets me take over 300 pictures on the flashcard. I can take over 1,000 if I want just email quality. Five of us have a total of 9 Suunto computers that we use and they have worked great. When diving as many deep dives as we are it is best to have two computers for some redundancy if one quits or gives trouble.

Dive 20, Aikoku Maru, 165 ft. 39 min. This ship had the largest loss of life at Truk Lagoon. It was used as a troop carrier and over 1,000 died when we bombed it. Half the ship blew up and she sank immediately. Many skulls and bones on this wreck. This is a ghoulish dive and I donít like this ship. Don, Terry and I got lost inside the debris. I was trying to follow Betewen into the ship but I lost him. I could not find my way and we couldnít see any light from the outside. I turned us around and tried to find the way out. We could not find the way we came in, but we did finally see light and went that way . There was a small opening and we forced our way through it. We were damned glad to get out of there. Lots of hangtime on the line. No corals at all on this ship. A real scary dive and not fun.

 Dive 21, Gosei Maru, 110 ft. 63 min. We went back to this ship, always a great dive , lots of life. We found seashells and saw another octopus.

Dive 22, Fujikawa Maru, 75 ft. 54 min. Beautiful dive. We saw 3 nudibranchs, some banded coral shrimp and a puffer fish. Many medicine bottles are laying out where some divers have dug up and left for others to see. The bottles are still corked and you can see pills and stuff in them. I saw a wooden box full of paper books in Japanese writing. I think they are music books. These will deterioriate fast now.

Dive 23, Da Hino Maru, 81 ft. 62 min. Late afternoon dive, the ship comes within 5 feet of the surface and is a fun dive. We saw another octopus and found lots of seashells. All of our group is using Sea Life cameras or Ikelite housings for video. None of our cameras have flooded or gave any problems. Our new Aqua-Lung Legend regulators are fantastic. Easy to breathe even at great depths. All the Suunto computers are working perfect. One old computer could not handle the depth and shut off, going into error mode. This one is not a Suunto and was not capable of the depth.

Dive 24, Fujikawa Maru, 102 ft. 66 min. This was our 3rd dive on the Fujikawa. It was our choice to go back again because there is so much to see. Saw a turtle, 5 nudibranchs, a live tiger cowrie, 1 shark , 1 eel , 2 airplanes, lots of machine guns, the big gun and lots of everything. That was our last dive from the Thorfinn. After lunch we are going to Falos Island for two more days.

Dives 25, 26 and 27. Falos Island. Two years ago our group was the first from the outside to dive on Falos. No dive store group or individuals other than local snorkelers have dived here. I set this trip up both times and we really enjoy the time on the island. There is no resort here, just a few concrete rooms. No fancy stuff like tables or chairs. We sleep on plywood cots with about 1 inch foam mattresses. We do have a commode but you have to pour buckets of salt water in it to flush it. We came with 4 crew members from the Thorfinn to take care of us and cook. We eat lots of barbecue and drink lots of beer. This time we brought up a small giant clam that Narita wanted us to bring her. She cooked it for us. She also fixed us some octopus and local tapioca. Iíve grown quite fond of Narita and Betewen over the last 2 trips here. Iíve been on many live-aboards and usually have a good time but none compare to the Thorfinn. The crew of the Thorfinn are Chuukese and cater to all our wants. They constantly are handing us a fresh towel, or setting up our gear, or bringing us coffee or a beer. Betewen takes great care of us on our dives and keeps us safe. The only times that we dive without Betewen is shore dives from the island. The island trip is like a private paradise for Southern Skin Divers and I just love it. Most live-aboards are crewed by rich kids who are on permanent vacation and vastly overrate their skills and experience. I mean thatís fine for them and divers that know no better but I want an adventure and we got a special one this time. Our 6 diver group was a pleasure to be with. We had no whiners, bellyachers or macho chest beaters. They were all real good divers who wanted the best dive trip they ever had and they got it. We took over 1,000 pictures and many hours of video. All of our group have told me to sign them up for our next trip to Truk Lagoon in 2005. Join us if you can. Check out the web page to see the rest of the 2003 Truk pictures.

 

 

More Truk 2003 Pics here


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