Truk Lagoon (also called Chuuk), part of Micronesia, is a bit of a pain to fly to, mostly due to the fact that it gets very little air traffic and the 2 planes that fly there using a former Japanese built runway, do so at inconvenient times. It's SFO to HNL, then a long flight from HNL to Guam and one last flight from Guam to Truk. At least all of them use proper jet planes with normal luggage allowance.
The history of the battle that happened in Truk Lagoon is fascinating, but in a nutshell, the Japanese forces were on the retreat and they knew they would be attacked, so they moved out all their big ships, but were not able to move out their smaller ships in time. They were all sunk in shallow waters, creating lots of artificial reefs that can now be dived. It is sobering to see the loss of Japanese life that happened there in all those boats that got sunk. At the same time, it is quite interesting to see this slice of history with bullets, bombs, tanks, parts of airplanes and trucks loaded on those boats, and sunk.
Per recommendation, I booked with the Truk Odyssey, captained by Mike, an American who has dived all those wrecks probably more than anyone else, and did a really good video documentary on them, which we used for our dive briefings.
Our Boat for the week
The Truk Odyssey was a spacious boat with a great crew. The food was adequate but not beyond that, and the service was good but didn't match the Waow or Philippines Siren. That being said, it was more that good enough. A big plus was the knowledge of all the staff on the boat and their catering to people with rebreathers, double tanks, or fancy deco mixes. Their biggest downside IMO is that they only offer 5.5 days of diving while Trukmaster had the option of a 10 day trip instead of 7 days. Getting to Truk and back is a major pain, so doing a longer diving trip can make sense, and 8.5/9 days of diving may be a sweet spot.
Back to Odyssey, we had a great dive guide, Bobo, who knew all the boats like the back of his hand and took us in dark corners we'd never have found or dared going on our own. His knowledge of all those wrecks sure came in handy and he was also quite funny:
trying to fin the boat around to our buoy :)
our dive guides spent deco time doing bubble ring wars, this one could make them with his fin, awesome!
Even better, bubble rings with a fin kick:
Some divers had a lot of heavy gear, so our boat had a nice lift to get you back out of the water:
Truk had ok reefs that went on top of the sunk boats, but the sea life was still on the limited side compared to most places we've been to. Nonetheless, we saw a few nice things anyway:
friendly looking leopard/zebra shark
slipper lobster, cute eyes
lots of nice soft corrals
soft corals of all colors
I was able to spot a humphead parrotfish, rare in that area
During the trip, Jennifer and I did the PADI wreck diving certification. It had some useful concepts, but its limitations made it not useful at all for the kinds of diving we did where we were deep in enclosed spaces (engine rooms) for up to 15mn or more at times. It would have been helpful if Jennifer and I did wreck diving on our own without guides, but it was so much more efficient to go with experienced guides, which we did have on the boat. At least we learned a few concepts like frog kicks to avoid silting out a wreck and making it hard to see. I also got to try a pony bottle, although I couldn't get certified for tech diving and doing deco on 50% or 100% O2.
We did 4 dives per day on most day, with the option of a night dive, of which I did a few, but they were not earth shattering. We found lots of things on those boats, despite their age now, and many things having been eaten away by the seat.
Random eating-ware, bottles, medicine vials, and also gas masks:
lots of beer and sake bottles (sadly the corks failed and they were empty)
Toilets and Japanese baths:
Favourite parts of the ships were telegraphs (to send orders from one part of the boat to the other):
Engine Rooms, lights:
many doors taking us into the insides of the boats
lots of light bulbs somehow survived the water pressure
aptly named R2-D2 compressor
many light switches and plugs, it was tempting to try to turn them on :)
nice set of tools
Gas cartridges, gas tanks, ammunition, bombs:
Then, engines, plane parts, tanks, trucks, and more:
truck engine, V6 maybe?
plane parts, including wings, and fuel barrels
nice propeller blades
airplanes fuel tanks
airplane rotary engine
The outside of the boats was interesting too. Several had huge canons, and others were laying on their side and you could see their prop
Rio de Janeiro, formerly a cruise ship, was laying on its side
We also went to dive one the Betty Bomber, a plane that had crashed and was at the bottom:
Then, there was the San Francisco Maru, the deepest wreck you could dive. Deck is at 50m deep and it goes down to about 65m. We only went down to 55m, which allowed us to see the first level of the cargo hold (the lower ones were not safe for us to reach on our 24% nitrox mix). We prepared for that dive given how deep it was, and on 24% nitrox, we budgeted for only 12 minutes at the bottom. While it might seem like a long time, it sure wasn't, and even less so when I was fairly narc'ed (nitrogen narcosis), which for me caused me to struggle more at simple tasks:
We had a fair amount of technical divers with proper dive gear, including rebreathers
airplane rotary engine
I was deep enough (55m) that my computer gave me a PPO2 warning (oxygen toxicity) instead of my depth
ladder down to even deeper where I couldn't go without trimix
tank #2 and tank #3 on top of it
During the longish way up to deep deco stops on the way, Bobo, our guide, brought back the extra emergency air tanks none of us ended up needing:
And that was it for the Odyssey: 24 dives (out of 27 possible) in 5.5 days of diving. While I wish we could have dived a bit longer and didn't have to wait 36H between our last dive and our flight, we sure got to see a lot during those dives, thanks again to our expert guide, Bobo, who made sure that each and every one of those dives counted.
You can get a bit of a feel of what things looked like inside the boats with those videos:
The last day, due to unfortunate timing of the rare United flight to Truk, we spent the entire day and a few hours of the night at Truk Blue Lagoon Resort for our flight nicely timed at 02:50 (ugh!)
The founder of blue lagoon resort, a micronesian who documented what the Japanese did and started the first diving on those Japanese ships
A nice map of all the dive sites in our area
I got to see mud skippers for real, the coolest fish that can leave the water and hop on land
Lots of ruins left from the Japanese occupation
we went to say hi to the boat staff from a canoe
we're going to die! :)
and after a mere 3H of sleep we had to wake up and go to the airport for TRK -> Guam -> HNL -> SFO. Sucky times.