Truk, Hawaii, and lots of time on planes.

3-5 May

It is good to see you all back here ready to read another exciting instalment of my travels. The trip got off to a good start, even the tube drivers called off their strike.

However many days this is in real life was spent either on aeroplanes or in airports. I am sure that there is a place which would take longer to fly to than Truk, but I am not sure just where it would be. If you happen to figure it out, please let me know. Still it is almost on the way to that wedding.

For those of you who are not divers, or just generally do not have an excessively good knowledge of the geography of obscure parts of the Pacific, Truk is here:

Map of micronesia

If you must know, the map was kindly supplied by the CIA, but I hope they don’t mind.

The flights were as flights are. Flew over the Arctic on the way to Vancouver, saw lots of icebergs out the window, but disappointingly no polar bears. Mind you I suppose that that just goes to show how good their camouflage is. I didn’t see any penguins either, but if they had any sense they would be hiding from the polar bears, so that would explain that one.

The stop in Vancouver was just long enough to bring back fond memories from the last trip, and make me think I should have spent a bit longer there this time. Oh well. Canada, as with the European countries, is attempting to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease to its shores by the dual techniques of a slightly damp supposedly disinfected carpet and crossing their fingers really hard. Mind you it has to be better than telling everyone from blighty to bugger off & stay there until they get their shit together. That would have been annoying.

Hawaii was interesting. The airport terminal is US meets Pacific. US complexity & islands lack of signs. But luckily they skipped the US fondness for the rules & decided that the Island attitude is better. Unfortunately I had about 7 hours to kill before my flight left in the morning, so decided to crash out in the airport lounge. I forgot about the little detail that airports in the US have the metal detectors, bomb detectors etc to get there as well, and I had all my luggage. Other than the usual mild curiosity about exactly what is in my carryon bag (only a few essentials I don’t trust the airlines with), I was faced with people who cared what I had in my luggage.

This examination of my bags, and in particular my dive bag prompted a couple of interesting questions. Why is it a concern to security guards if you are carrying a stethoscope? How can a fist sized block of metal with four hoses about a metre long extending from it (also known as a regulator) be mistaken for a stethoscope? (forget the “this might be a little cold”, this is going to be bloody freezing). And would it not have been a little bit more useful to have noticed the knife that was also in the bag. Must have been that plastic sheath shielding it from the x-rays. But the security guy thought to ask if I had a dive knife, so I said yes, it is in there, so he had a fish through looking for it. At one point he was holding the knife in one hand while looking suspiciously at my torch, asking if it was the knife. Maybe he was trying to lull me into a false sense of security.

Anyway, once that they had ascertained that I was carrying a knife, and which one was the knife, they decided that I couldn’t really take it in with me. In a very mellow and low stress way of course. They could teach the guys at Chicago a couple of things. Mind you I think a quick refresher in “identifying offensive weapons 101″ might be a good idea. So I had to wander off in search of the luggage lockers, aided by some vague directions and no signs. But when I achieved this I had a moment of inspiration. On my way back, as I only have about 24 hours, starting at about 2am, I could ditch my gear and explore Hawaii unhindered for 24 hours & save money on a hostel I would hardly sleep in. Genius.

After ditching the more obvious offensive weapons in my possession, I made it back into the terminal & hung around for a while. Here I discovered that the low budget approach to Hawaii might be a necessity. The limited food shops open in the airport at 2am make London look cheap. USD5 for an icecream? I think not!

Time to get on that plane to Truk, via Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae & Ponape. All of these places were nice enough to let us get off and have a little wander for a little while without any of those annoying immigration hassles. Except for Kwajalein, because that is a US military base, and a pile less welcoming than the others.

Diving in Truk.

First I will bore you with a little history lesson, without which, the question “why Truk?” keeps popping up. Truk is a big Atoll, meaning there is a big, nice, calm harbour in the middle of the Pacific. Deep enough to get big boats in, but shallow enough that when they fail to float (more about that later), divers can still dive on them. At the end of the first world war, they were divvying up Germany’s possessions, Japan stuck up its hand and said, “what about all of those little islands out there in the middle of nowhere? Does anyone else want those?”. And so the Japanese got Truk and a number of other islands. They decided that it would make a great safe port for their ships.

During World War 2, the Yanks somehow got the idea that a massed carrier based attack on a major port was likely to be fairly effective. And so operation Hailstone was born. Unfortunately the Japanese moved all of their major battleships & carriers out a few days before the attack, but left behind a huge number of supply ships, as well as a few destroyers and such. But when the Yanks came to Smash Truk (their words), they found plenty there & sunk it.

So, we have a whole pile of WW2 wrecks in one location, in relatively easily diveable conditions, like nowhere else on the planet. That is why Truk.

The next week blurred. The daily routine you have heard before, eat, sleep, dive. The diving was fantastic, going through engine rooms with the tools & spare pistons still in place, holds with all of the supplies needed to run an army. Bicycles, planes, trucks, John Deere bulldozers, torpedoes, periscopes, bottles of sake, mines, as well as shells from about 303 size through to the big battleship size, as well as the odd ex inhabitant, as well as all the usual fish stuff – a few sharks, nice corals etc. Still, it was not a place to go if you have any of those irrational fears about the dark, confined spaces or unexploded munitions. Still, unless you start bringing the stuff to the surface, they tell us it is not too likely to go off. That and I got my 100th dive in on a nice old Emily flying boat. Nice dive that.

We also had some below water entertainment, courtesy of one of the other liveaboard operators. Usually we avoided wrecks that any of the other operators were on, cause there are plenty of them out there, and we could. But the morning we went out to the San Francisco Maru, the Truk Aggressor was anchored to her, and cause the San Fran is a deep one, it was then or not, so we had to deal with the hassle of other divers on the wreck.

Anyway, we dropped down to the San Francisco, had a look at the tanks, the bow holds full of mines, the usual stuff. The observant of you may have remembered that I said that the Agressor was anchored to the wreck. They had sent down a diver to tie their 132ft long ship to the bow of the nearly 60 year old war wreck that is their livelihood. Me, I reckon that it cannot be good for the wreck, and once the wrecks break up, the divers will go. That and the little detail that the bow is filled with munitions which are also nearly 60 years old, unexploded and definitely still live, though a little unstable, would make me find somewhere else to anchor, but maybe I am just being a little silly.

One of the best things about the trip was our boat, the Thorfinn. The Thorfinn is an ex Norwegian whaler with a steam engine, none of this diesel stuff, except for the generator. This meant that after diving through the engine rooms of the wrecks, we were able to go down & see how they looked when they were working. Lance (captain & owner) seems to like his baby & didn’t seem to mind all of our questions about how it worked. All of the boys on board had a great time, and that was even before storytime started.

Alas the week came to an end, and we had to leave.

Hawaii

I had a day to kill in Hawaii. I figured that I shouldn’t blow my budget in the first week, and quickly realised that Hawaii looked to be very capable of doing that. So I wandered to Pearl Harbour, and had a bit of a look at the Arizona Memorial, found out that all the Japanese had really achieved was sinking a few obsolete old clunkers, most of which were salvaged & back in action shortly anyway, and really pissing off the States. Lots of the important targets were missed entirely. Doop.

Other than that, Hawaii seemed interesting. Waikiki is ok, but there is not a lot of point in making a mediocre beach.

After not a whole pile of time I was back on that plane again outta there.