Saturday, July 13

A Diving Safari to the Pacific Islands

 I've been quiet on the blogging front recently but I have had a great excuse!!
Those few of you who are also "Facebook friends" may already know why - if you've seen ALL the pictures.....
Last July, a diving friend of mine, Rosemarie, asked if I was keen to join her and her husband John on a diving trip to Truk Lagoon in the Pacific Ocean. I didn't even hesitate - the answer was yes.
When I first started diving, whilst at college in the UK 35 years ago, I had heard about Truk. In those days, most British divers were "wreck crazy" and Truk was a "dream" destination. When I say "dream", I don't mean the balmy, palm fringed beaches type of dream, but rather an extremely remote and highly unlikely place to ever get to, but a "mecca" never the less. In those days I don't think you could fly in to Truk, and certainly many of the ship wrecks hadn't yet been charted.
But time passes by and destinations once extremely remote are now easier (though not much cheaper) to get to. I had also, in the intervening 35 years, been lucky to do a few wreck dives, both in the Red Sea and here in South Africa, and I knew it was a type of diving that I really enjoy.
So, the immediate answer was yes to Rosemarie's question:) We just needed to set the date.
A bit of background.......
After WW1, the Japanese were mandated a significant number of the Pacific Island groups, Truk included. In secret (in violation of the mandate) they built a significant naval base at Truk and after they joined WW2 this was a key base for them in the Pacific. The Americans decided against a land invasion of Truk (it was considered to be fairly impregnable to land/water based attack) and to attack it from the air instead. One of the American reconnaissance flights was spotted by the Japanese early in Feb 1944 and most of the Japanese naval vessels (carriers, destroyers, battleships etc.) were sent on to Palau. However, when the Americans did attack (Operation Hailstone) there were still a significant number of auxiliary and support ships in the lagoon. During Operation Hailstone and several more attacks during 1944, over 36 ships were destroyed / sunk in the lagoon.
 Truk (now called Chuuk) lagoon is a bit like a large lake in the middle of the ocean. It's barrier reef provides significant shelter and the scattered islands provide sheltered anchorages within the lagoon. This combined with its remote location (off the tourist/diver) route, has meant that the shipwrecks have been relatively untouched by time (and humans) - except for the amazing coral growth on the shallower vessels..... Even now, there are only 3 flights in a week, and approximately 5000 tourists a year.

The corals on the sunken fleet are quite amazing, but the only reason one makes the lengthy trip to get to Truk is the wreck diving -  I did 20 dives in the 7 days we were there, 19 of which were on wrecks, and we didn't see even a fraction of what could be done. (It's a bit like my safari guests coming on a "once in a life-time" 3-4 day safari to Kruger - one has brief encounters with some of the major highlights, but that is just scratching the tip of an elephants tail hair, if you know what I mean).
 Some of the tourist brochures for Truk talk of the "Ghost Fleet", and believe me, it is truly an eerie experience in many respects. There are still some human remains scattered amongst the other day to day artifacts that litter the decks and holds of the ship wrecks, plus many torpedoes, submarine parts, aircraft parts, tanks, bull dozers, truck chassis, weapons, mines, blankets, saki bottles, shoes............
 To add to the overall experience, the Captain of the SS Thorfinn (which was our home and base for the 7 days in Truk) has been in the area for over 30 years. So over every meal we had interesting and entertaining tales about the islands, Operation Hailstone, the shipwrecks and how they were sunk, his own history leading up to Truk etc. etc.  His knowledge and stories really brought those ships and the Japanese history in the islands to life.
Well, sadly (I could have spent much much longer diving those wrecks) we eventually had to start heading back home.
As a group (there were 4 of us who eventually went on this trip) we had decided to do an "add-on", which was a 3 night / 2 diving days stop in Palau on the way back.
Absolutely wonderful!!
First of all, it broke up the very long journey home, but best of all we got another 5 dives on some of the most renowned reefs in the Pacific Ocean.

Sharks, turtles, multitudes of colourful reef fish, blue reef walls, glorious corals, jungle clad islands, blue/green lagoon waters, and on the last non-diving day, a fascinating land tour of the islands.
The highlight of this "stopover" for me was our 5th and last dive - Chandelier Cave. A mostly submerged limestone cavern with stunning stalactites both above and below the water line.......unforgettable.
Well, that pretty much sums it all up.

To dive Truk Lagoon has been a vague but persistent murmur in my sub-conscious for over 30 years, and now I have amazing memories (and photographs) which will never dim or fade.

I'm still coming down from the high:)


OneStonedCrow said...

Welcome back - thanks for sharing this great adventure ...

Coral Wild said...

Thanks Graham

I'm going to catch up on your posts next week - glad to see you back online as well!

Joyful said...

Welcome back to the blogging world! You have been on a great adventure and to a beautiful place. Looks so very different from Africa but both have their beauty.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - I've never dived .. this trip sounds as fantastic as you've described it - no wonder you're on a high .. brilliant photos - and I'm so pleased you've fulfilled a dream ..

Cheers Hilary