Departure for a Truk Lagoon holiday, and first day of diving the Kiyosumi & Yamagiri Maru
13-14 July 2019
5:40am Saturday 13th July 2019, 14 Perth Scuba Trukkers gathered at the Air Niugini counters at Sydney International Airport for their first group check in. For many, the two & half year wait was finally over. Truk Odyssey, here we come. Whilst the first 14 checked in and had their group photo, it was a nervous past 15 hours for the 15th PS Trukker. Qantas cancelled his flight, the last plane departing Perth the night before. Thanks to Virgin Airlines and Air Niugini, Damien rejoined successfully following an overnight flight and terminal transfer dash with his luggage.
It was a brief transit via Port Moresby, and following immigration clearance, our next flight was ready for boarding. Thankfully, Bicanic’s titanium implant was cleared by security and had no affiliation to Skynet. Following a safe dry landing at Chuuk International airport approximately 10 hours after Sydney departure, we were welcomed by the MV Odyssey crew and Chukese rain. As we made our way to Blue Lagoon Resort on the Odyssey Venga bus, we caught a glimpse of the island’s infrastructure and local lifestyle. Our transfers were efficient with the crew handling all our luggage.
Upon boarding the transfer vessel and MV Odyssey, we were welcomed by Captain Brandi with smiles allround and fresh coconut refreshments served. Guests were shown to their en-suite cabins prior to assembling in the restaurant area on the top deck for Odyssey’s welcome. Rooms were clean, spacious, comfortable with own air conditioner and in house entertainment system. A full hot buffet dinner was ready with 24/7 open bar for all guests to settle in. Guests were later ushered to their dive seating stations, enabling everyone to set up their dive equipment for the morning after. Following a full days travel and hearty meal, many eased into bed resting early for the dives ahead.
06:30am Sunday 14th July, MV Odyssey’s engines revved up as the daily morning wake up call we all accustom to for the rest of the trip as we moved to our 1st wreck, the Kiyosumi Maru. A stark contrast to a Sunday winter morning in Perth, guests were greeted by the tropical warmth and spectacular sunrise of Micronesia. Starting daily with a buffet continental breakfast as appetisers, Odyssey’s lovely hostess Lorena came around taking orders for hot full breakfasts. This was just the first of 5 meals served daily, and guests were never hungry. All food and 24/7 bar were fully inclusive…happy days!
07:15am first morning dive brief in the restaurant was followed by Odyssey’s full safety brief on the dive deck. The Kiyosumi Maru is a 137m fully intact wreck accessible from 12m – 36m resting on the port side. Once a Japanese passenger cargo ship, she was requisitioned into an armed auxiliary cruiser in 1941. Following 3 torpedo hits by USS submarine Balao on 2nd January 1944 during a trip to Rabaul, she was towed into Truk Lagoon for repairs. During Operation Hailstone and 3 direct hits from bombers engaged by USS Yorktown & USS Enterprise, Kiyosumi Maru finally went down approximately 550m off Fefan Island just after 13:30 on 17th February 1944.
Once the briefs were over, Odyssey’s Dive deck was opened till 12:30pm to double dive the Kiyosumi Maru with 3 dive guides available at all times from an awesome rotating pool of 4 led by Instructor Loic, Divemasters Ken, Peter and Dane. All PS Trukkers completed their “check dive(s)” successfully, ironing out any further configuration adjustments. Beyond the surface currents, the 30C warm waters with 20m+ visibility was bliss over our morning’s double dive. My 3mm wetsuit made its first and final dive for the trip, before being ditched for just rashies!
Being the first Truk wreck of the trip, the dives will always remain memorable, from the sheer size to WWII artefacts and accessible penetration wreck compartments featuring machinery or cargo. The 7 decade old wreck formed into an large artificial reef of its own, teeming with marine life in a myriad of colours. Externally, the entire hull was encrusted with corals and sponges. Descending down the mooring line to Kiyosumi’s bow, first stop was the lantern room which still contained a couple of large lantern units. Lanterns in pristine condition salvaged during the earlier years can be found displayed at Blue Lagoon Resort Museum.
We explored cargo hold #2 through a torpedo blast hole which sealed Kiyosumi’s fate along with another blast hole found at hold #3. Several cargo holds were connected and was easy navigating through. Despite majority of Kiyosumi’s cargo holds being vacant due to being under repairs, couple of bicycles in hold #5 and couple of massive propeller blades in hold #6 along with stashes of gas masks and sake/beer bottles were a feature.
The highlight of the Kiyosumi was exploring the engine room featuring a 7 cylinder Mitsubishi Sulzar diesel engine. Several sections were fully intact with control switches, gauges and pipelines fully visible and intact. As the wreck rested flat on her port side, was a different experience navigating through the different chambers from an adjacent angle. Everyone visiting the engine room was fascinated further by the urge and sense of exploration led by our highly experienced divemaster guides. Buoyancy, trim and finning techniques were key to not silting up the passages within.
With the feeling that late morning tea was just only moments ago, a hearty lasagne lunch with salad bar was ready shortly after 12:30. The restaurant was abuzz with conversations debriefing the mornings’ dive. A few hit the reference books for further background reading and information having being fascinated by Kiyosumi, before digging into the pages about our next wreck for the day, the Yamagiri Maru.
Meaning “Mountain Fog”, the Yamagiri Maru was launched on 3rd May 1939, similar in length to the Kiyosumi at 133m. The 6,438 tonne, 6 cargo hold freighter and passenger liner was later requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) over September 1941 into a military transport for ‘special cargo’ primarily between the Solomon and Caroline Islands. Following 2 torpedo hits from USS Submarine Drum during a mission to Palau in August 1943, the Yamagiri began repairs in Rabaul before retreating further to Truk. On 17th February 1944, she was left stranded following dive bomber assaults from USS Yorktown. Bombers from USS Bunker Hill scored hits the following day with single 1,000lb and 500lb bombs which sunk her rapidly following secondary explosions approximately 1.5km NNW off Fefan Island.
Following our dive brief after lunch, our keen 4 groups of divers hit the warm waters to explore with the dive deck open from 13:30 – 18:00 for another double dive. Descending down the mooring line towards the bow, visibility had dropped off to 10-15m but still excellent conditions. Anyone missing our old time favourite training site, the Rockingham Wreck Trail? Resting on her port side at 33m, there were more pelagic life with giant trevally and tuna patrolling the mast and king post areas. Both areas were fully encrusted with colourful corals, sponges and sea fans.
Key highlights from the cargo holds, #2 featured fully intact parallel steel beams which stood perpendicular upright as the Yamagiri rested on her side mimicking a giant sea kelp forrest. Looking from the inside of the cargo hold outwards into the blue seas and sun shining through, highlighted the growth and life surrounding each beam. This piece is one of Yamagiri’s trademark and most photographed piece with amazing colour contrast. In the keel by hold #3 was the torpedo blast hole which scuttled her.
The prized cargo was in hold #5 with a load of 16 – 18 inch armor piercing shells weighing 3219lbs each with a firing range of 23 miles from what was at the time, the world’s largest naval gun. These shells were designated for IJN’s finest battleships, the Yamato and Mushashi, whose guns surpassed even the great USS Missouri’s. Another with these guns was the Kamikaze Class Destroyer Oite who was on her way to Japan but returned to Truk on 18th February, only to be obliterated in half the same day and resting in 62m. Further into hold #5 were several construction equipment, air compressors and loading equipment for the shells.
Moving into the engine room, it seemed much bigger than the Fujikawa’s and most fascinating. Couple of our divers having knowledge of the workings of these Diesel engines added immense appreciation and value to the dive. Thanks Nigel for identifying the many interesting photographed components and explaining how they all came together throughout our week there. No wonder you’ll be back there next year again for more!
A long featured photo from the Yamagiri has been an engineer’s skull lodged into a storeroom screen by a blast which has remained in position until being recently removed by the Japanese. Our guide showed us another lodged into a corner, facing away and remains of a full skeletal hand intact pinched from underneath a beam. These were reminders to us all that these wrecks are war graves to be respected at all times.
Once back outside the wreck into pristine blue open waters, a complete contrast rich in colours and filled with life. Photographers were treated by more macro opportunities plus plenty of anenomes habituated by clown fish. A first for the majority for us was also an electric file clam. The colours and effects were magical underwater as the clam emanated a neon electrical current intermittently across its mouth opening. Word spread amongst the rest of the group, with many returning on the night dive in search of this clam.
Afternoon tea, rain and yet another satisfying buffet dinner featuring a chicken casserole came and went…time for our night dive!!! Awesome feeling hitting the warm waters once again, made possible from unlimited Nitrox 30% supplied by Odyssey throughout the trip. Though no wreck penetrations were allowed, plenty to explore along the 133m giant, with the 7cm – 8cm electric clam a prized find.
A completely different atmosphere by night with the thousands of blue fusiliers and glass fish nowhere to be found. As we lit the decks with our dive torches, the groupers went on the hunt for smaller prey. With a UV torch, there were several good sections for fluoro diving with the corals glowing in the dark. As we made our way back towards the bow, the earlier group successfully located the electric file clam. The colours were even more iridescent by night and quite a spectacle to observe. A great note to end our night dive for the day.
Whilst some completed the 5 dives available for the day, a few decided to sit out the night dive and chill instead for the evening over a cool drink or two after rehydrating through the day. What an experience so far and to think this was only just the start, couldn’t wait for the upcoming wrecks in the coming days!