A May 2003 trip
to Chuuk by Hotcurrie
Quote: Short account of my trips to Chuuk Lagoon in 2001 and 2003.
As the pilot begins his final approach, you catch a glimpse of the runway on the end of Weno Island; a runway that is mostly reclaimed from the ocean. As you approach over the water, you pass over numerous small boats that look close enough to reach out and touch. You pass over water, then mangroves, then swamp and touch down it seems only several metres from the end of the runway.
The pilot throws the engines into full reverse thrust and applies the brakes pushing you forward in your seat. When the plane finally slows down enough to turn, you are at the other end of the runway looking out over the water. As you disembark from the plane and walk across the runway, you are greeted by hundreds of locals who aren’t necessarily there to meet anyone, but simply have nothing else to do.
There isn’t much to do in Chuuk Lagoon if your don’t Scuba Dive. It is scuba that has put Chuuk on the map, albeit a divers map. There are only a few hotels on Weno, and none on any of the other islands. By far the best is The Blue Lagoon, which is situated right on the water. There is no swimming pool, in house movies, or flash restaurants, but the rooms are comfortable and clean, the weather is fantastic and the wreck diving is irrefutably the best in the world.
We chose to stay on a live aboard, and after much research settled on the S.S. Thorfinn – and we weren’t disappointed. The rooms were comfortable, the food was surprising good and varied, the crew were all locals (except the captain) and very attentive and the dive boat shuttle system is an excellent way to dive a wider range of wrecks.
We have visited Chuuk twice and both times have managed in excess of 25 dives on over 20 different wrecks and never got exhausted.
Keep some US Dollars on hand for local souvenirs. Local craftsman will come to your live aboard periodically offering wood carvings and other souvenirs. Don’t buy from the airport as the prices are up to 4 times higher.
Take candy and treats if visiting the outer islands. The kids on these remote islands will love you.
My wife recommends taking shampoo and conditioner as the salt water is not conducive to keeping your hair soft.
If you haven't dived beyond 20m on a regular basis, and aren't a confident diver, it may be worth doing a deep diver course before going to Chuuk. There aren't very many good wrecks shallower than 20m, and all the big name wrecks - San Fransicso, Fujikawa, Rio de Janeiro, Amagisan and others - are beyond 30m with quite a few beyond 40.
If walking on the islands be sure to take some insect repellent. There isn’t any malaria but the islands have lots of swampy areas and even more mosquitos.
However, the food was quite good, and the serving sizes were ample. There was a good mixture of chicken, steak, fish all served with vegetables or salad. Each meal had an entree of some desciption and desert was available for those who wanted it.
Saturday night is BBQ night on the spa deck, and the crew, who are all local Chuukese, perform traditional dances for the guests.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 15, 2004
The Thorfinn operates a fleet of smaller 24-foot shuttle boats that ferry up to six divers to each wreck. The Thorfinn stays anchored in sheltered locations within the lagoon and acts like a mother ship. This is better than the other operators who move around the lagoon, often anchoring directly on the wrecks.
The ride to each wreck site is short--no more than 10 minutes, and sometimes less than 1--and the accommodation aboard is quite comfortable.
The diving is excellent. The visibility is good but not exceptional. This is due to the run off from the nearby islands. However, the shear volume of good wreck diving available more than makes up for the views.
The water temperature is a steady 29C, even at 53m. There is no surge and only the occasional slight surface current.
Heaps of fish life! Loads of coral! Rich in history! Who could ask for more.
For more pictures and information on this wreck visit my website
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 15, 2004
As you descend from the surface you can see nothing but blue water. It takes about 60 seconds before you first see the dark outline of the superstructure approaching from the depths below. As you reach the superstructure a quick check of your dive computer reveals a depth of 45m and eight minutes before the NDL.
From here you can already see the three tanks on the deck, the forward gun, and the tankers in the No.2 hold. You continue your descent to the deck at 50m and quickly circle two of the tanks on the port side. You now have only four minutes to the NDL.
Swimming forward you pass over the No.2 Hold and have a quick look at the two completely intact fuel tankers. Having past over No.1 Hold you reach the forward gun after a 60 second swim. You circle the gun swimming out over the bow of the ship. This is eerie in the half light at 50m. You can just make out the sandy bottom a further 15m below at 65m.
By this time your computer starts beeping, signalling only three minutes to the NDL.
Swimming back towards the superstructure you would notice the NDL time now only three minutes away. Reaching No.1 hold you see the beach mines stacked to the top of the hold, and notice some have been taken. You descend into the space were these mines used to be taking your depth to 53.5m.
Being so close to tonnes of explosives that have been sitting in this spot, 53m below the surface, for 60yrs makes your heart race. You ascend out of No.1 Hold and head aft.
Arriving at No.2 Hold you descend into it and take up the driver’s position in the starboard side tanker. Your dive buddies think you’re ‘Narked’ as you simulate driving the fully load fuel tanker.
You're now past the NDL and you're required to do 1 Deco stop.
It’s amazing to see that after 60 years the tyres on the trucks are still in almost perfect condition and still look inflated.
There is still time enough to swim past the tank on the starboard deck before beginning your ascent. As you past the superstructure you notice you now have to do two deco stops.
Total bottom time 11 minutes including descent. Total ascend time 25 minutes including stops for 2 minutes at 20m, 5 minutes at 10m and 10mins at 5m.
What an absolutely awesome experience – one that I have been fortunate enough to do three times.
For more pictures and information on this wreck visit my website www.shanecurrie.id.au
Because of the relatively shallow depth of this wreck, its mast used to break the surface, nearly the entire wreck is visible as you descend from the surface. First into view are the masts, which most of the dive boats hook up on. The fish and coral life on these is outstanding.
Generally you will head straight for the Holds, because you would have heard about the special surprise in the No.2 Hold. No.1 Hold is almost empty apart from an assortment of miscellaneous debris. As you swim between decks into No.2 Hold you begin to see the wreckage strewn about. It takes a little while to realise that you are looking at fuselage parts of Japanese zero fighters. These fighters were carried in major sections and assembled on site at the airfield. As you swim around you see the cockpit section, wings, tail section, wheels and other assorted parts.
You pause for the obligatory photo sitting in the cockpit. It is a tight squeeze with all your dive gear on, but you eventually squeeze in. There’s no rush as the depth here is only 27m giving you plenty of time to the NDL. After spending a good amount of time in the Hold you exit and continue along the deck towards the bow.
There is quite a lot of debris on the deck and you swim through swarms of small Blue Chromis as you go. As you near the bow the dark shape of the bow gun comes into view. Although heavily overgrown with coral its shape is still instantly recognisable, pointing slightly to starboard and on a slight angle. As you swim around the gun you are approaching the 35min mark of the dive and it’s time to start heading back.
It is also possible to penetrate the bridge area and into the main superstructure where there is a bathroom with a large communal tiled bath.
The safety stops can be done on the masts surrounded by thousands of small Blue Chromis, Humbug Dascyllus, Blue-Green Pullers and numerous other species. Total dive time approaches 60mins as you exit the water, with another unbelievable story to tell.
For more pictures and information on this wreck visit my website www.shanecurrie.id.au
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 16, 2004
Now lying in relatively shallow water, it is one of the best dives in Chuuk for access and ease of diving. Dive boats generally hook up to the forecastle and as you descend the deck of the wreck is immediately visible.
A short swim forward brings you to the bow gun located at about 15m. The coral growth is amazing on this wreck because of its relative shallowness. The bow gun looks as though someone has draped the growth over it like a table cloth, and it hangs down as if frozen in time. There is a rubber gas mast positioned at the foot of the gun which adds to the overall surrealness.
Swimming aft towards the bridge structure you will pass the holds which are empty. About have way back there are two large anemones absolutely swarming with pink anemone fish. As you pass the forecastle you swim through thousands of Blue Chromis.
Arriving at the bridge you enter the small hatchway. The first thing you notice is the size of the internals and how empty they are. Most of these wrecks had wooden decks which were either burnt when the wreck was bombed, or have since rotted away.
You have to be careful here not to stir up the sediment on floor or else you will be enveloped in a cloud of red silt. There is also a total lack of growth inside the wrecks, because there is no light. The only colour is the redness of rusting steel superstructure when your light beam hits it.
Moving through the bridge structure you see the scattered wreckage of tables, bottles etc and as you approach the exit you stop to look into the bathroom, complete with white porcelain urinals and a large tiled communal bath.
Please see Diving the Shinkoku Maru Part II for the rest of this story.
As you exit the superstructure you are again swamped with coral and fish and immediately come across another large anemone complete with its family of Orange-fin Anemone Fish. You continue aft passing through 20m and past the large mast reaching towards the surface, totally encrusted in coral.
After a long swim, passing over heaps of assorted debris scattered on the deck you reach the engine room superstructure and enter the darkness within. Proceeding through the walkways you come to the engine room and stand on the catwalk looking down at the tops of the huge pistons. You swim down for a closer look. There is very little damage here and most of the gauges are still intact displaying their last readings.
You’re now at 30m.
After a few minutes you exit the engine room and continue onto the stern of the ship. Here you find an engine telegraph and pretend to order full steam ahead. You’ve now swum the entire length of the ship and turn around and make your way back to the forecastle to make your ascent.
The safety stops on the forecastle are possibly the best fish experience in Chuuk Lagoon, with the Sankisan Maru perhaps the only ship better. The shear volume of small fish that inhabit these structures is beyond description. They are literally hypnotizing to sit with. They move with the ebb and flow of the surface waves – small as they are – and occasionally dart into their hiding holes when they spot something they don’t like, coming out again soon after to continue their dance.
The hard and soft corals are a rainbow of colours. Being only 5m below the surface the natural light is enough to light them up. You could spend hours closely inspecting each of the corals looking for the small shrimp, crabs, worms etc that inhabit them. All the while schools of batfish circle in mid water keeping a close eye on you.
As you exit the water after 55mins you feel a sense of loss at having to leave.