Thursday, 15 Nov 2018

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia

Countless would-be divers were inspired to take to the sea after watching Jacques Cousteau specials on TV. It was such programming that first started Cliff Horton thinking about Truk Lagoon. “On the specials, I’d heard about how the World War II wrecks in the lagoon had become fabulous reefs,” Cliff began. “Much later, I heard that in diving circles it was considered one of the world’s top five destinations, but that few people ever got there. It turns out that a friend of mine (who’s now a business partner) had been there, and was duly impressed. A few years later I made it as a guest on a boat my friend was captaining at the time. I was amazed at the tremendous amount of marine life on the wrecks—some of them had richer marine life than adjacent natural reefs. Truk Lagoon is one of the few places where you can experience incredible marine life and incredible history, simultaneously.”

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia - photo 1

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia

Truk Lagoon is situated in the Micronesian state of Chuuk, on the eastern edge of the Caroline Islands, roughly 600 miles southeast of Guam. Most of Chuuk’s population resides on the lagoon, which stretches forty miles across. Historically, Chuuk’s residents have relied on fishing and farming to exist. Great change came to the region in the early years of World War II, when the Japanese made Truk Lagoon the stronghold of their South Pacific forces. At times, more than 1,000 ships (patrol boats, mine sweepers, subs, tugs, landing craft, etc.) and 500 aircraft were stationed at Truk, which, with its deep waters, surrounding reef, and ring of mountainous islands, provided a natural fortress. Allied forces made efforts to blockade Truk, and were successful in intercepting supply ships en route. The final blow to the Japanese Empire’s Truk Lagoon garrison was Operation Hailstone, a surprise sweep led by US naval forces in February of 1944. The attack sent seventy ships and hundreds of aircraft to the bottom of Truk Lagoon. It was not until the mid-1960s that Cousteau and other diving pioneers recognized the potential of Truk Lagoon for recreational diving.

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia - photo 2

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia

“I’ve done wreck diving at other locales,” Cliff continued. “Generally, it’s been at spots where ships were intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs. The ships were cleaned and stripped accordingly. Or, it’s been on natural wrecks that have been exposed to weather and currents that have left the wrecks as piles of metal rather than intact ships. At Truk, the ships have been very well protected by the lagoon. They’re not constantly being beaten upon by waves and other ocean action. Since they were sunk while very much in battle, they are full of artifacts. All of these artifacts bring the boats to life. You can really envision a working ship with people doing day-to-day activities. The diving is also fairly easy; most wrecks are at fifty to a hundred feet of depth, there’s little current, and the visibility is good. People without a lot of wreck experience can dive safely and comfortably. And the Truk Lagoon experience is very consistent. The weather varies slightly in terms of how rainy it might be, but the diving experience is very similar, whatever is happening above water.”

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia - photo 3

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia

Everyone who’s dived at Truk Lagoon has a favorite wreck—or five or six! For Cliff Horton, at least three come to mind, with the Fujikawa Maru at the top of the list. “The Fujikawa Maru was an aircraft ferry, and its role was to deliver aircraft to deployment sites. There’s rich marine life around this craft, but what makes it really special is the artifacts that are preserved in its cargo hold, including intact Japanese fighter planes. The cargo hold is very accessible. There’s also a well-preserved machine shop with all the equipment you’d expect—lathes, compressor, table, and bandsaws. There are even hand tools still laid out on benches. The Shinkoku Maru is another dive I especially like. This ship was an oil tanker, and combines a great amount of sea life with an interesting superstructure. The forward and aft have kingposts and masts that are draped with corals; the deck is covered with soft corals and anemones, and it attracts tons of fish, many small tropical species. There’s a pipeline that runs the length of the ship, and anemones grow along the pipe, some four or five feet in diameter. You get great depth variation; the bow is at a depth of about forty-five feet, and the stern is closer to one hundred feet. Inside, there’s an operating room (the Shinkoku Maru was also used as a medical ship) that includes an autoclave, vials of what once contained medicine, an operating table. There are also several tubs—one for washing, one for soaking, in the Japanese tradition.”

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia - photo 4

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia

Another favorite for Cliff is the Hoki Maru.“The Hoki Maru is actually half a wreck—the forward portion was destroyed in the bombing,” Cliff continued. “It was used to transport equipment and supplies for building airplane runways and roads. There’s a cargo hold that’s largely intact that’s full of heavy machinery, all neatly parked—a bulldozer, water tankers, steamrollers, tractors, other trucks. You can swim around and look at gauges on the trucks. How well they’ve been preserved is amazing. (Clients have tried to convince me that some of the trucks were manufactured by Ford—they weren’t!).

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia - photo 5

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia

“There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs at Truk,” Cliff offered. “We get many visitors who come because they want to see the wrecks. These are generally men who are curious about WWII or naval history in general. Many times it’s a dream trip for a birthday or retirement, and often their wives will come along as good sports, though they have little or no interest in the martial aspects of the trip. After diving Truk Lagoon with her husband, the wife is so impressed with the marine life, she’ll insist that they come back for a second visit. I would never sell anyone on coming to Truk Lagoon solely for the fish species you’ll encounter—you can do a bit better in Indonesia or the Philippines. But Truk’s soft corals grow to exceptional sizes—even more so than in Fiji—and our anemones grow like hanging fern baskets.”

CLIFF HORTON is an officer and business manger of Odyssey Adventures (www.trukodyssey.com), one of Micronesia’s premier live-aboard dive boats, located in Truk Lagoon. He is an active recreational scuba instructor and an avid underwater hunter, frequently diving the waters off the coast of northeast Florida, near his home.

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia - photo 6

Truk Lagoon. Micronesia

IF YOU GO TO TRUK LAGOON

Getting to Truk Lagoon: Travelers from the western U.S. reach Chuuk via Guam; service is offered by Continental and Continental Micronesia (800-231-0856; www.continental.com).

Best Time to Visit Truk Lagoon: Chuuk has two seasons, according to Cliff—rainy and rainier. January through April there’s less rain and greater visibility; in July and August, it’s very calm. Divers can visit year round.

Accommodations in Truk Lagoon: There are several live-aboards serving Truk, including Odyssey Adventures (800-757-5396; www.trukodyssey.com) and Thorfinn (+69 13-30-3040; www.thorfinn.com). On-shore accommodations include Blue Lagoon Dive Resort (+69 13-30-2727; www.bluelagoondiveresort.com).

Dive Shops/Guides in Truk Lagoon: Blue Lagoon Dive Shop (+69 13-30-2796; www.truk-lagoon-dive.com) offers day trips from the Blue Lagoon Dive Resort.

 

” Fifty Places to Dive Before You Die   by Chris Santella

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