08 February 2009 | Truk Lagoon
Hideko stayed on the boat today to avoid the imperfect weather and to get some things done around the boat. Eric and I were undeterred by the overcast morning and went out to meet the guys from Blue Lagoon Diving for a second day on the wrecks in the lagoon.
Our primary target for today was the wreck of the San Francisco Maru. The San Francisco Maru is a 385 foot long passenger/freighter build in 1919. She plied the west coast of the Americas until the war and then became a support ship. She was sunk in day two of operation Hailstone in Truk Lagoon. She lies in 200 feet of water and is known as the million dollar wreck, due to the vast collection of goods that lie with her.
It is a technical dive and our plan was to visit the deck only, at 160 feet, for no more than 12 minutes. We would stop at 60 feet for three minutes, 30 feet for ten minutes and 15 feet for as long as air allowed. We were diving with 100s so it was going to be a lot of hanging around in blue water for 12 minutes of bottom time. We were hopping it would be worth it.
It was awesome. The San Francisco is in great shape due to the depth she sits in. She has much less growth than the shallower wrecks. We parachuted in, dropping down as fast as we could manage while staying together as a group. When the deck is at 160 you see nothing for some time, even though the visibility was probably 70 or 80 feet. At first it is just the mooring line (whose float is a good 4 feet underwater so only local knowledge will locate it). Then the towers rising 50 feet off of the deck come into view, deeply encrusted with corals and other creatures. Next the superstructure materializes. Then you check your depth gauge and you are on the deck at 150 feet.
The first hold you come to has piles of unexploded mines and other ordinance in it. Good buoyancy control is a plus here! There are three fully intact Japanese battle tanks on deck which are wondrous to look over. Our short stay uncovered many controls and operational widgets in great shape along with aircraft engines, trucks and other relics.
Normally I would say deco dives are not worth the 45 minutes or more you spend hanging around on the way up. This dive was an exception. If you are comfortable doing decompression dives, this is one you should try.
Our second dive was the Shinkoku Maru. This 500 foot long naval tanker is almost as great as the San Francisco. Lots of stuff to see and some cool swim throughs. We ran across a big manta ray who played with us for a bit as we were swimming along the deck. The hull has lots of growth, in particular some huge anemones. A good sized black tip reef shark came to take a look at us and a school of trevally 100 strong circling one of the ships towers.
As we were surfacing we saw the reef hook anchor go flying by. Looking up I could see that a nasty squall had set in since we descended. Big waves were rolling by and rain pock marks covered the surface. We all stayed down at the safety stop as the boat drifted away. In a bit he fired up the motors and came back up to the underwater buoy and dropped the hook down. It was like being Charlie Tuna in one of those old commercials. One of the shop guys rehooked the anchor on the tower of the wreck. I winced.
The guys from the shop are safe but they are probably a few nicks shy of PADI 5 star. No VHF on the boat (or at the shop), things like that. You will get little in the way of a dive brief and they will be chewing beetle nut and smoking Dorals during the surface interval.
We all climbed aboard in the driving rain and had a really bumpy, wet and even cold, ride home. Never the less it was a fantastic day of diving, perhaps one of the best ever.