Some videos I have made recently or which feature places we go
There are loads of other dive videos that I like on my www.gordonmackie.com site here
TRUK LAGOON 1993
At the tail end of a wet Friday in June 1993, the last thing I expected when the telephone rang was my partner Lorrie asking me whether I wanted to go to Truk for two weeks leaving in ten days! One glance at the rain soaked streets of Edinburgh was all it took to make my mind up. All that remained was to clear out the building society and bank accounts and we were booked. having been there and been bitten by the bug, I have organised several trips for clients and friends
Having rummaged through my back issues of Diver, I located the excellent articles on Truk in the December 1991 and January 1992 issues written by Roy Smallpage (incidentally, I have since lost the January 1992 copy and would be grateful if anyone could send me a copy if they have a spare). These articles, along with the Lonely Planet guide to Micronesia and the information supplied by Chris Warrington of Distant Horizons were to prove invaluable information for the planning of the holiday as well as our only pre dive information on wrecks until I located "Hailstorm over Truk Lagoon" by Klaus Lindemann (Pacific Press Publications - ISBN 981-00-2968-3) in the Continental Hotel in Truk.
My next visit was to Doug McEwan at the Edinburgh Dive Centre to buy a shiny new Motormarine II to record the dives, going to Truk without a camera would be insane.
Truk or CHU'UK as it is more correctly known, is one of the atolls of the Federated States of Micronesia and is located about 1000 miles North East of Papua New Guinea. It is a collection of volcanic islands surrounding a 40 mile wide lagoon. The history of Truk is well known, the important part for divers being the events of 17 February (or 16 February by American reports as they did not alter dates when flying over the International Dateline) when the American Task Group 50 attacked Truk and sank around 60 armed merchantmen and small battle craft as well as destroying over 250 aircraft. Luckily for the Japanese fleet, the main battleships, the flagship MUSASHI, the NAGATO, YAMATO and FUSO and several carriers and cruisers had already left Truk for safety. Over two days, American aircraft bombed, strafed and torpedoed Truk's shipping and defences until it ceased to be a military threat. The results of this raid, shipwrecks and aircraft, rest on the bottom of the lagoon as memorials to that cataclysmic two day attack.
Travel to Truk is relatively easy and accommodation is varied. We flew from London to Bangkok and on to Guam with THAI INTERNATIONAL. The flight was excellent with an overabundance of food and drink, the only problem we had was that our reconfirmation of the return flight was not processed and we found ourselves bounced off a full flight on the return leg. Our planned day in Bangkok on the return leg was spent dealing with Thai International staff in the airport until the "full" flight suddenly acquired two empty places. I would strongly advise that you get confirmation of your reconfirmation in writing as the staff in Guam claim that they cannot reconfirm flights as their computers do not link in to Bangkok. This does not explain their inability to reconfirm Guam to Bangkok flights though!
The onward flight to TRUK is with Continental Air Micronesia "Air Mike" who continue on to Pohnpei, Kosrae and on to Honolulu.
In Guam airport there are free telephones to call the local hotels to arrange for a courtesy coach or to book accommodation. We stayed in the Mai Anna, a basic motel style lodge about 15 minutes from the airport. While there is no requirement for UK passport holders to hold a US visa for Guam, Thai Airways staff deliberated for 30 minutes before allowing us on the flight to Guam despite Lorrie having a US visa in her passport. At Guam, immigration will be familiar to anyone who has travelled to the United States, it made no difference if you had a visa or not, you still had to fill out forms promising that you were not intending to start a communist coup or import cabbages! From conversations with Guam residents that we met in Truk, the diving in Guam is well worth trying if you can arrange a long stop over en route to Truk. The diving in Pohnpei and Kosrae was similarly recommended and many locals "island hop" around Micronesia for diving holidays.
Accommodation in Truk ranges from the basic Christopher Inn (our choice) to the Truk Continental Hotel (expensive) and the two live aboard boats; THE TRUK AGGRESSOR and the SS THORFINN which are at permanent moorings in the lagoon. The Christopher is a supermarket across the road from the airport with rooms above and two restaurants. The rooms are basic with rattly air conditioning, a fridge and a shower. They are clean and as should be expected in the tropics, the odd cockroach, mouse and cat will get underfoot. The rooftop restaurant offers basic fish, meat and rice dishes from $2 - $5 but only serves soft drinks. The ground floor restaurant serves breakfast and also provides a packed lunch for $2 - $3 which you can take on the boat. Yumi's cafe, two minutes from the Christopher is the local bar and diner which serves cold beer and the same food as the Christopher but can be a bit rowdy and often has MTV on one TV, American Football on another, a Karaoki session in the corner and the sound system playing loud country and western music - after a few beers it sounds ok! The Takarajima Restaurant beside the Continental serves mainly Japanese food at $5 - $10 and the continental ranges from $10 - $15 for good international cuisine.
The local population spend most of the day driving up and down the island's only road in pick up trucks and will give you a lift to the Continental for around $1. Taxis are identified by a scrap of cardboard on the dashboard with "TAXI" scrawled on it. All cars tend to stop around 5 in the evening and so your only method of returning from the Continental is if you arrange a lift from one of the dive shop team.
All in all, Truk is not an ideal holiday destination for a non diver unless you stay in the Continental, another aspect to bear in mind is that it is in the tropical belt and you should expect rain to fall for about two hours per day and it is REAL RAIN, not wimpy British rain!
We booked a ten dive pack with Blue Lagoon Dive Shop through Distant Horizons and added another ten dives and two night dives locally at $65 per day for two dives and $40 dollars for a night dive. We were collected every day in a pickup at 8 am, delivered to the boat and were on the first wreck around 9 - 9:30. After the first dive you can have a snorkel on a shallow wreck like the Zero fighters or the Suzuki destroyer in 3 - 5 metres followed by a packed lunch on Etan Island which has the bombed air control buildings now home to several families and their livestock. In the afternoon - around 1:00, you have your second dive and are back at your accommodation by 2:30 or 3:00. There is not a lot to do in Truk of an afternoon so take plenty of books!
Blue Lagoon Dive Shop was started by Kimiuo Aisek and is now managed by his son Gradvin and our guide was his other son Doone. They have a casual attitude to diving, we were taken on 55 metre dives without even a glance at a qualification book and met one diver whose brother had taken a five day certification course in a pool in Georgia, gone to Truk and been taken into an engine room at 30 metres on his first dive, panicked, been assisted to the surface and swore never to dive again. The boats are small and fast and well suited to the purpose with a small cabin to provide shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. Doone knows all the transits and the highlights of all the wrecks and proved to be an excellent guide. His repertoire of gunfire and explosion noises accompanied with mimes of firing machine guns and exploding shells was demonstrated at every opportunity. A more worrying habit was his tendency to bash live shells on the deck and then start to thump the spare bottle on mines in the hold of the San Francisco Maru at 45 metres after pointing at them and shouting "boom". Luckily the fuses are not fitted! He also has a hidden stock of skulls and delights in waiting till you are in a dark silty corner of the interior of a wreck before thrusting one into your torch beam!.
That is the overall view of Truk, I do not think that any diver, wrecker or otherwise, could failed to be captivated by the diving. The corals have turned all the wrecks into coral gardens and the wrecks are full of articles of everyday life and all the brass remains! I will never forget the feeling of peace and solitude on the deeper dives where the blue gave an unearthly appearance to the wrecks as they stretch out in 50 metre visibility.
The following is a guide to the wrecks we dived on, they are in no particular order
This is everybody's first dive in Truk, it is easy to find as the tip of one mast still pokes through the surface. As you drop down to the bow gun at 13 metres you see the rest of the ship unfold. Every surface is covered in coral and the sides of the ship are a coral wall dive on their own. The fore 6" gun has the brass maker's plate rubbed clean by every diver who visits and there is a box of ready ammunition beside it, Doone obligingly takes shells out and taps them on the deck with an evil glint in his eye, shouting "boom". This sets the tone for Doone's guide to things that go "boom", "da da da", "tak tak tak" and "wooooo". The forecastle is well worth a visit, the light shining through the massive chain openings means that no torch is required. The first hold contains spares and complete Zero fighters, one can enter the cockpits for the obligatory photo. There are also shells, torpedoes, machine guns, spare aircraft propellers and wings. The next stop is hold 2 which has a perfect Zero fighter fuselage inviting another opportunity to sit inside, this is a less tight fit for a kitted diver. There are also piles of bullets and gas masks littering the hold. The third hold does not contain much of any interest. The bridge area is the centrepiece of the wreck, all the decking has rotted away and this makes for easy access, the decks below contain the heads and galley in perfect condition and exploring the cabins can take an entire dive, counting a night dive, we dived here 4 times and still had more to see. The engine room is entered via a skylight and is in pristine condition, the massive cylinders are coated with fine silt and the room has a cathedral like quality. Off to one side is a machine shop with lathes and tools which were belt driven from a drive shaft in the ceiling, the belts have since rotted. The ceiling is a pool of oil with bubbles mirroring on it which can make a mess of your hair if you do not notice it.
Exiting the engine room and continuing aft, the stern holds contain a bank of bottles and a compressor, these contained CO2 and were a central fire control point to pump CO2 to extinguisher outlets around the ship. The stern holds contain stacks of plates, bottles and galley stores and are well worth a good dig around. Continuing up to the stern, the stern castle is large and interesting and the stern gun is a mirror of the bow. The maximum depth in the holds and engine room is 32 metres. The wreck takes your breath away and is certainly a good introduction to diving in Truk.
THE HEIAN MARU
Sitting on its port side in 34 Metres, the starboard side is at 11 metres and the name is picked out in raised letters over a foot high in Japanese and English, these are kept well polished and are a challenge to photograph as the visibility is low in shallow waters. Previous divers have salvaged several items and laid them on the side as photo props. A tea pot and service are very popular. The first hold contains several submarine torpedoes, the pressure vessels have all ruptured but they are recognisable there are also two periscopes and piles of crockery in this hold. An interesting find is a large ceramic water filter.
The bridge area is very open and there seems to be a lot of damage in this area. Two large live mines are located here and even Doone gave them a wide berth. The aft holds are very dark and silty and contain a lot of crockery etc.
THE SHINKOKU MARU
Like the Fujikawa, this is a must for any visitor. A large fleet tanker over 500 feet long, she sits in 38 metres but it is only 12 metres to the bow gun. Descending into the bridge, the telegraph and compass are still in situ and the bridge is a riot of brightly coloured corals. The holds contain fuel transfer hoses and a bicycle can be found. The galley has a huge stove and several pots and kitchen implements are lying around. In this area there are two heads, one with a typical Japanese twin tub bath. The urinals and toilet bowls are uncolonised by marine life and are easily recognisable. Further into the superstructure, there is an operating theatre with several bottles and instruments as well as a sterilisation autoclave.
Finning to the stern, the engine room is well worth a visit, it is huge and easily accessible. The maker's name plate is kept well polished and there was ample room for 8 divers in the area at one time. it is possible to exit via the torpedo hole and come up the side to the massive stern accommodation. This area is the main accommodation and a long gloomy, deep silted passageway leads from fore to aft on both sides. Even careful finning quickly reduces the visibility to zero and the cabins on each side have a selection of personal effects poking out of the ooze on the floor. Exiting this claustrophobic area it is a delight to finish the dive in a garden of soft and hard corals with batfish and an extremely nervous shark which stayed well out of camera range. This wreck really comes alive at night, when soft corals and tubeworms turn it into a garden of living colour.
THE KYOZUMI MARU
Lying on its port side in 30 metres, the starboard side is only 12 metres down. The cargo is very sparse, a spare propeller and some bicycles. There is a massive torpedo tube with a fire control centre (Doone really excelled himself in miming that!) as well as a large range finder. The bridge area is interesting and easily accessible.
THE KANSHO MARU
Sitting upright in 40 metres, the Kansho is intact but has considerable damage in the area of the forward holds. The bridge is complete with telegraph and compass and by dropping down through the deck which has rotted away, you find yourself in the radio room with all the associated equipment. Behind this is an open room with portholes leading to a well preserved galley with stove and cooking implements. From here you exit to the stern and drop into a spacious engine room with tools and spare parts. The stern holds have bicycles and there is some bomb damage to the stern itself, the stern castle is open and you can enter and investigate the steering mechanism before exiting via the bomb hole in the stern.
THE "BETTY" BOMBER
The "Betty", or Mitsubishi G4M bomber, sits in 15 metres and makes a good second dive. Other than the damage to the mainly glass nose, the plane is in good condition after a crash landing in the sea. When she crashed, the engines kept going and can be found about 100 metres in front of the wreckage. The wreck is easily entered via the side "bubble" gun turrets which are similar to a Catalina flying boat and the radio equipment etc is lying around.
THE FUMAZUKI MARU
Sitting in 40 metres, it is 30 metres to the deck of this old destroyer. The bridge and superstructure have been destroyed and so the aspect is very flat with guns, torpedo launchers and depth charge launchers sticking up along the decking. For some reason this wreck has more fish on it than any other I dived in Truk. Someone has collected plates and bottles and binoculars from within and arranged them in tableaux on the deck to make attractive photographs. I do not know what made this wreck stand out but the combination of fish and complete weaponry made this a classic.
THE YAMAGIRI MARU
Lying on its port side in 35 metres, it is 15 metres to the starboard side. You enter through a torpedo hole and exit via the top of the forward hold. The superstructure is badly damaged in this area and it is hard to identify anything. The bridge area is very open and the telegraph is still in place. Some tight squeezes will get you into the engine room but it is hardly worth the trip. The attraction of the Yamagiri lies in the aft hold, she carried the shells for the super battleships Yamato and Musashi. These shells are 1 metre long and had a range of 46,000 yards and lie on the bottom of the hold at 32 metres. Also in the stern holds, there are the remains of a steam roller but they are barely recognisable.
THE NIPPO MARU
The Nippo Maru has a considerable list to port but can be classed as upright. She lies in 38 metres with a depth of 37 metres in the holds and is in near pristine condition. The currents in this area mean that the visibility is better than average. The Nippo is a treasure trove! A truck, a tank, three field guns, land mines and shells, and that is just the deck cargo!
At the stern, the gun is badly damaged, the stern castle has steering gear and access into some kind of cabin running along the side of the ship which did not invite deep inspection. The rear hold contains a jumble of guns and gun stands along with building materials and cable. The deck has field guns which look like cargo but there are makeshift mounts welded on the deck which match the gun bases, indicating that they were part of the ship's armament. In the next hold, there are what appear to be old radios and valves, the rest of the hold is a mass of bottles, despite obvious bomb damage in this area.
The superstructure is very complete, the telegraph is in place and every compartment has personal effects like buttons, combs, ink bottles and scraps of clothing. The galley has been tidied by a visiting diver and all the pots are perfectly lined up on the stove with spoons and ladles arranged by size. In the bridge, the brass rim of the wheel still hangs on the spindle, the wood has long gone.
Hold 3, in front of the superstructure is mainly empty, but it allows access astern into the bunkers. The forward holds are packed with rubber boots, more bottles, even more bottles and a very orderly arrangement of shells and war heads. On the deck there is the famous type 95 tank, as was the norm, the gun barrel was removed for transit. In the next hold you will find mess kits, gas masks, thousands of rubber shoe soles and anti boat mines along with large glass acid containers. On the deck there is the remains of a truck, well corroded. This dive is well worth repeating as at a hold depth of 37 metres, there is a decompression penalty to be paid for extending your bottom time.
THE SAN FRANCISCO MARU
For many, THE dive of Truk. Lying upright in 60 metres, it is 46 metres to the deck and 55 metres to the 'tween decks holds. On the fore deck, there are three type 95 tanks, two to starboard and one to port. There was a steam roller on the port side but it has fallen overboard and lies on the bottom along with a truck which has a partner on the starboard decking. In the hold there are the remains of two tanker trucks which are largely frames with radiators. There is also the remains of a limousine but I missed that one! In the next hold there are piles of mines up to deck level with typical horns on them. Doone mimed "do not touch" with a few "booms" and "woofs" and then started to bash them with the spare cylinder, gosh how we laughed!. The forecastle has an attractive gun which makes a good photograph. The bridge is interesting, very open and well worth the visit but the short bottom time meant that I gave it a passing nod on the way aft and into a hold stacked with trucks. The final hold contains torpedo bodies and drums. The dive plan called for 22 minutes bottom time and incurred an extremely boring decompression stop for 18 minutes watching Doone blow smoke rings of air to the surface. The San Francisco is a very peaceful dive, the light is a delicate blue and the currents have kept the silt down.
THE "EMILY" FLYING BOAT
Although badly damaged following an ambush by American fighters, the pilot managed to crash land this huge flying boat off Dublon Island. Sitting in 15 metres, upside down and in three pieces, this wreck makes a good second dive and the surrounding reef is well worth a visit as the wreck will only take 15 - 20 minutes to explore. There are several entrance points but nothing of any great interest remains inside. The number of bullet and cannon shell holes bear testament to the solid build of the aircraft. This four engined 'plane is as large as the American Superfortress and was similarly well armed.
THE AIKOKU MARU
Lying in 65 - 75 metres, this is one of the deepest dives in Truk. The bridge is at 40 metres, the deck at 50 metres and the holds go down to 60 metres. This ship was bombed by an Avenger piloted by one Lt. Briggs with 2 crew. The high explosives in the forward holds exploded and the entire forepart disappeared in a massive explosion, taking the attacking airplane with it.
This is a magnificent dive - looking over the front of the remaining superstructure, there is no sign of any part of the bows of the ship. The anti aircraft gun barrels are frozen with one barrel out and one barrel in, the recoil load mechanism in the action of firing at the attacking aircraft. The superstructure is dim but spacious with hanging electric cables forming a trap for the unwary. It is a very eerie area lit with a dim blue light. Doone, naturally, keeps a skull handy to frighten the visitors.
Following the superstructure aft, silt becomes stirred up and visibility drops to near zero, this clears as you enter a well lit room leading to the promenade deck with a solitary sink standing proud on the waste pipe. Under the promenade deck, you can double back into the galley which is large, intact and full of kitchen utensils.
In the aft hold, there is access to the 'tween deck accommodation which is now the grave of hundreds of troops who slept in rows of bunks in this area. Running out of bottom time, we had to leave this peaceful war grave for yet another long decompression stop, the penalty for attempting to see the entire ship in one dive.
THE SUB CHASER (EX SUZUKI CLASS DESTROYER)
This ship has an interesting history - as a destroyer, it was accidentally rammed by the TACHIKAZE and lost the entire forepart of the hull. A crude, wedge shaped bow consisting of two flat plates was welded on, a makeshift bridge was constructed and the aft part was cut away to form a ramped deck which allowed landing craft to be winched on board for fast transit to landing sites.
At 3 metres to the deck, this wreck is normally used for a lunch time snorkel but the interior is well worth a tank dive. The engine room is very compact with tight squeezes around the compartment but it is a mass of pipes, gauges and electrical equipment. The light bulbs are still complete and the telegraph is still legible. Other areas contain gas masks and batteries etc and are well worth exploration. The shallow depth means that one can easily spend an hour exploring this interesting wreck in bathwater temperature water.
THE SANKISAN MARU
Relatively shallow at 15 metres to the deck, the Sankisan sits upright on a slope, 24 metres at the bow and 46 metres at the stern. There are the remains of at least 5 trucks on this wreck, mostly well corroded but with steering wheels and gearsticks still attached..
The first hold is littered with bullets, clips and detonator caps, this gave Doone the opportunity for a few "da da das" and "tak tak taks" along with a Rambo impersonation. Hold 2 contains radial engines for aircraft and bolts of rubber sheeting along with more truck remains. Also to be found in this hold are the fuselages of several glider aircraft made out of canvas over a wood frame. These are remarkably well preserved.
From the superstructure aft, the ship is a mass of destruction as the ship was carrying ammunition which exploded when the bombs struck. The stern is blown apart and is a twisted mass of steel on the bottom. The coral has softened the destruction and has made this a most picturesque and enjoyable wreck suitable for a second dive, the aft section being a reef rather than a wreck dive.
Truk lagoon must certainly be the ultimate wreck diving destination, Scapa Flow with sunshine. The waters are warm clear and blue, the dive guides expert at dropping the anchor onto the bridge of a wreck 40 metres below without the aid of GPS or echo sounders, relying on transits which are barely visible on the horizon. While the wrecks are protected by law and removal of artifacts is strictly prohibited, the bell from the San Francisco Maru is proudly displayed in the Hawaii home of a retired police officer and several features described by Klauss Lindemann cannot be located on the wrecks any more. Visiting divers are removing a bottle here and a bullet there and the cumulative effect is that a pile of ink wells or sake bowls soon becomes a sparse scattering. The use of anchors rather than permanent buoys (to discourage looting of explosives by local dynamite fishermen) has led to the collapse of rusted bridgework and funnels. The coral growth will continue and the wrecks will, in time, become entombed in coral and eventually collapse. I will certainly never forget my dives in Truk and hope that this article will encourage others to visit and advise on the features to explore when you arrive.
BIKINI ATOLL 2003
After about 6 years of thinking about it, 18 months of planning it and a long trip to Bikini, stopping off en route in Honolulu, we were finally kitted up on the boat and ready for the check-out dive on the Saratoga - a 40 minute dive at 35 meters on the largest wreck in the world has got to be a good start to a dive trip!
As we piled down towards the deck, we passed the Gun Director and bridge, covered with coral and surrounded by jacks and bat fish. Massive grins all round as we hit the deck which stretched off in either direction. The bow and stern were invisible in the distance and the aircraft lift shafts were spookily dark, these were all treats in store for us on dives later in the week. We finned over the port side to see the bottom another 25 meters below, 2 aircraft on the bottom to be explored later in the week. We inspected the anti-aircraft guns and the heavy guns on the side of the ship before returning to the bridge via the huge double 5 inch gun in front of the superstructure. The bridge was perfect, light filtering through the slits in the dogged down ports. I finally got to try the tiny joystick that was used to steer this massive ship and see the dials and binnacles and the bugle hung up behind the bridge. On our next dive, we dropped down the lift shaft and saw the 500 pound bombs and the Hell Diver planes sitting in the hanger deck with wings folded. The rear flight deck is dented in from the A-Bomb test and the ceiling of the hanger deck has collapsed in, the main bulkhead sways eerily in the current like a massive curtain of steel. While the planes look almost useable after a good dust when you view them from a distance, when you get close, you can see the damage and also find that the fuselage metal is so thin that you cannot touch it in case you poke through it. Dishwashers and kitchen equipment from the deck above have fallen through, adding a surreal touch to the hanger deck. Also above, there are massive walk-in freezers that threaten the planes below.
On another dive, we entered via the rear aircraft lift to do the dive known as "the haunted house" as the dent in the deck has created two spooky tunnels on either side of the hanger. A solitary Mazda light bulb reflects your torch beam as you start the trip round, passing torpedoes, depth charges, racks of rockets etc. Faint blue light can be seen from ports above - leaving the starboard side, you swim over the gully and over to the port side, entering the wreck via a couple of hatches to gain entry to the port side of the hanger, again this is spookily dark and silty with faint patches of blue way above you as you work to the front hatch and rise slowly to the light above.
The bow dive has to be the most impressive sight, I swam out and out from the bow to try to see the entire sight, by the time I could frame it all in a 16mm lens, I was too far away to light it with a strobe. I took a couple of shots anyway but it is just too big. Under the bow, the main anchor chain flows out of a massive "mouth". Following the chains down to 55 meters and looking up at the bow rising to make a giant letter "T" where the flight deck meets it just has to be one of diving's greatest sights. Finning out from under the wreck, you find a Hell Diver with 2 500 lb bombs lying upside down on the bottom. Next to this there is an Avenger with a huge torpedo. Inside the torpedo bay, 2 clown fish have set up home, oblivious to the threat that the unexploded torpedo poses. As I passed, a huge stingray settled himself in the sand to hide - the 3 arm length remoras on his back did kind of give the game away though! As we swam back, the 25 meter high shadow that is the Saratoga's hull filled us with awe as we headed back up to yet another 40 minute deco stop on 75% Nitrox.
If you are a real depth hound, there is a scour on the bottom beside the port propeller that will give you 58 meters on your computer, the official "deepest point in Bikini". Swimming out, there is yet another dive bomber on the bottom. Rising back up the side, you swim along the covered companionway, looking into the cabins before dropping back down into the hanger at the mid point for another chance to photograph the bombs, more bombs, bigger bombs, torpedoes and the planes. On the way back up, you can check out the 5 inch shell charges and shells in the ready use store under the bridge and get Tim to pose with his collection of musical instruments.
The Saratoga is truly "awesome" as the Californians say! It defies description - DIVE IT!
Launched April 7, 1925 and commissioned November 27, 1927, Saratoga was a massive ship for her time and she still is today. She is 850 feet long at the waterline and almost 900 feet long at the flight deck. Completely loaded with fuel, munitions, aircraft and provisions, she weighed about 48,000 tons with a draft of 27.5 feet. Her 180,000 hp steam turbines drove her at speeds up to 34 knots [38 mph]. Saratoga was faster than any battleship of her day. [In comparison, Titanic was 883 feet overall, had a gross tonnage of 46,228 tons, 51,000 hp and a top speed of 23 to 24 knots.]
"OK" I thought when Tim Williams briefed us before the dive, "A destroyer is a destroyer, is a destroyer...small, guns, stuff..what's this after the Saratoga?". But this turned out to be a stunning dive - so good we asked to go back for another look.
Dropping down in a swarm, bubble tubes linking us to the surface like ropes, we raced each other the 55 meters to the Lamson. The ship is almost hidden by glassfish, I tried to photograph the bridge but all I got was glassfish! A nice shark stopped behind Paul for a photo shoot. Paul obligingly posed for the shot, completely unaware that a shark was lying right behind him. The wreck has big guns, small guns, torpedoes, depth charges, a telegraph with ruby glass for night lighting. One of the anti-aircraft guns has a red anemone round the end of the barrel with a yellow sponge inside the barrel..this looks like the flash of a real shot being fired from the gun. Dipping down the engine room hatch, the maker's name can be seen on the boiler plate.
This was a classic dive. My deco ended up taking a fair spell as my Suunto Vytec (again) registered the wrong depth, 5 meters shallower than reality and my Dive Rite Nitek3. So I had to do my 3 meter stops at 8 meters to keep the Suunto happy and then do my "proper" stops while the Suunto decided it was on the surface at 5 meters and went into surface mode. When we got back home, I returned it to Suunto and got a new one in the post.
This is a classic WWI battleship. As at Scapa Flow, battleships turn over as they sink due to the weight of guns and superstructure. As you drop down the side, you find a classic old battleship side gun mount. Carrying on under the ship into the dark, you come across the massive 12 inch guns that jut out the side. Coming to the bow, you see the "reverse" shaped bow which comes to a point on the bottom rather than the modern cruiser bows. This looks almost like an ancient Greek ramming bow and makes a great photo opportunity. Swimming up to the bottom, you see the massive damage the bomb made. The thick armour is twisted and crushed like tin foil, 12 inch plate buckled into contorted shapes. A fantastic dive!
Diving on His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship, the battleship Nagato, was a dive into history. She was the most hated ship at Bikini because she was associated with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Nagato's biggest sin was having been Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's flagship in 1941, when he and his staff planned the Pearl harbor attack. Ironically, neither Admiral Yamamoto nor Nagato participated in the actual attack. Nagato was the only Japanese battleship to survive the war and some thought using her as a target vessel was an act of revenge because of her association with the Pearl Harbor attack. Once a proud ship, 727 feet, 9 inches long and weighing 42,850 tons when fully loaded, she now lies upside down in 160 to 170 feet of water. Her huge propellers reach up from her hull; her bridge juts out to one side.
Lying upside down with a slight list to port, she is easy to get at. Diving under the massive deck, you swim "up" into the deck, entering the huge seaplane hanger and then exit through the side hatches. going back down, you swim under the wreck, blue light visible at
the edge of your vision. At first you do not realise that they are guns..the massive 16 inch barrels are improbably huge and everyone just has to see if their head can really fit in the end! As the bottom is at 53 meters, you have to leave the guns some time and go to visit the massive props to get a few diver and big prop photos. As Tim says "those Japanese sure had propeller envy!" they are pretty big!!! A lovely grey reef shark followed us all the way back to the deco bar and slowly circled us as we did our 47 minutes on the bar.
The Nagato bow came later, again there was a nice shark at the bridge that is lying out to the side. This is a massive structure with gun director ports. A Pagoda of steel! A great chance to see where Yamamoto launched the Pearl Harbour attack with the cry of "Climb Mount Nitaka!". Carrying on under the deck, darkness surrounds you as you travel between the massive 16 inch gun turrets, rising up unto the wreck, you find the famous Nagato Wheel, nobody knows what the heck it does but everyone takes a shot of their buddy turning it anyway.
This is the Lamson on its side. 350 ft long with a nice prop sticking up for photos. Bridge is really accessible and a toilet sits strangely on the bottom beside it. Loads of destroyer stuff for destroying things: guns, torpedoes, more guns, depth charges, even more guns and a friendly house shark that seemed to be guiding me round, proudly showing off the features of the wreck. As with the Lamson, glassfish almost hide the wreck at times. While we toured around, Tim was continuing to try and pry open a hatch that will open up more of the inside...but a cunning buckle at the foot continues to confound his efforts. His cursing was almost louder than the noise of his lump hammer and chisel!
Having toured the USS Bowfin in Pearl Harbour, we were well prepared for this. An added bonus was a bunch of sharks that darted up to meet us as we started down the 53 meter drop to the wreck. I managed to get a couple of shots in before they got bored and went off
to look for something more interesting. The sub is covered in whip coral and glass fish (which are also called Apogon!). There are two interesting Remote Torpedo Directors forward and aft of the conning tower. There is a nice big hole above the forward torpedo room and you can see the torpedoes, bunks and loads of brass!!! A lovely sub dive. As we started back up the line, the sharks returned, cruising effortlessly round us as we headed for another fun filled 40 minutes on 75% Nitrox before getting back to the sunlight.
The trip was a delight to organise, everything ran like clockwork - I just have to congratulate myself for my astounding efforts in making this such a success! We flew from Edinburgh to Honolulu with United Airlines, Honolulu to Majuro with Continental and Majuro to Bikini with Air Marshall Islands. Accommodation in Honolulu was Ohana Maile Sky Court and we stayed in the Marshall Island Resort in Majuro. Both were excellent value and very comfortable.
In Honolulu, we dived with Alex Mason's excellent AAA Diving - highly entertaining chap and very organised diving!
We were just a bunch of Scottish divers who wanted to dive the Saratoga, we did it and then some! We have fantastic memories of the trip and many photos to enjoy.
On Bikini - huge thanks to Tim Williams, Jon Salas, Edward Maddison, Ronnie Lokiar and all the guys who run the Island. All the dive briefings were thorough and comprehensive and also great fun. Every dive is 40 to 55 meters on air and deco is carried out at 24, 12, 9, 6 & 3 meters, the 9 meter and above stops on 75% Nitrox fed from the boat to the 3 bar trapeze below the boat. I had to admire the Scubapro MK25 first stage that fed all 15 of us on the bar - that valve must stay open for the full hour we hung there every dive!!!
I hope this inspires others to get out there and dive Bikini - it was my dream for many years and I can't explain how I felt to get there and dive the Saratoga. If I can help anyone arrange the trip - get in touch and I will sort it for you!
Contact GMdiving to get info on booking Bikini, Truk, Palau or any combination.