Tuesday 31 May 2011

Chuuk May 2011 - The Dave Rankin Story

This is Dave's trip report on Chuuk, unfortunately he lost his photos but I'll get some from Andy and Ross and put them up on the website on their own gallery.

Monday 9th May, the day has finally arrived when Andy and myself are off to Truk Lagoon. Months of talking about it, booking flights and stopover accommodation, packing and weighing bags, unpacking bags and discarding hopefully unnecessary kit and reweighing has come to an end – we are off.

First problem, I get a text from Andy saying that the M25 is at a standstill. Traffic reports say up to 2 hours delay. This is not good, we have a flight to catch. However, with a bit of luck he manages to get off the motorway and get to me via the lanes of Kent and Surrey, still not a lot of time to spare though.

We arrive at the airport, deposit bags and go for a coffee. So far so good. We say goodbye to my wife and go through security.

2nd problem. My torch in my hand luggage causes problems. Because the x-ray machine cannot properly see the batteries, they want me to dismantle it. No problem I say, you get me the tools and I will gladly do so (my tools are now somewhere deep in the bowels of Heathrow along with the rest of my dive kit). First security man refers to his supervisor, who says ‘we need to see inside the torch’ I say ‘get me the tools etc etc’ , 2nd security man says ‘I need to refer to my supervisor’ eventually after  seeing and speaking to the 3rd supervisor they agree to let me take the torch through in hand luggage. Hint, pad well and pack torches in hold luggage.

3rd problem. Whilst all of the above is going on Andy discovers that he has left his sweat top in the coffee shop. I phone my wife, who manages to retrieve his top and give it to yet another security person who passes it through the x-ray machines and into the safe hands of Andy.

At last we board the plane for the non-stop overnight flight to Singapore. We have 3 seats for the 2 of us so we can stretch out a bit, watch some movies and try and get some sleep.

Hint, Singapore Air is just the best. If you are awake they feed you and provide drinks. Result!.

We have a two night stop-over in Singapore, and what a lovely place it is. We managed to cram in a fair bit in our time there, and it’s reasonably cheap to eat out if you avoid the restaurants, and go to the markets and eat with the locals. Curry and drink approx £2.

Thursday we transfer back to the airport for another Singapore Air flight to Manila. We discover the delights of a Singapore Sling. 2 of those go down very well, thank you very much.

At Manila we meet up with Ross who has flown out a day later via Qatar, and after multiple security checks, form filling, passport checking and rechecking we board the Continental flight to Guam. 3 hours of nightmare, seats are cramped, food is rubbish and the attitude of the attendants a complete turnaround compared with the Singapore Air girls. At Guam we transfer yet again to another Continental flight which will take us to Chuuk.

Same uncomfortable seats, same moody attendants, and an inflight meal (bacon roll) which was served with as much finesse as you would experience from a burger van at the side of the road.

At last we arrive at Chuuk airport – it’s hot! humid! and dusty.

We retrieve our bags and load them into a wagon for transport to our hotel for the night. The driver apologises for the state of the road, which is being dug up so they can put drains in. The speed limit on the island is 15mph, if you could do that it would be a miracle. I don’t suppose there was more than 10 metres of tarmac anywhere. Pot holes the size of bomb craters and full of water and nobody seems to care.

The Truk Stop Hotel, is basic, but appears to be clean (didn’t look too hard). So rather than stay around the hotel, the 3 of us go for a walk. The local kids are friendly, calling out to us from the ‘jungle’ that edges the road, always smiling and asking us to take photos of them – which we do – before giggling amongst themselves and running away. 3 local guys chop down coconuts and pass them to us so that we can drink the sweet milk inside, surprisingly refreshing.

Back at the hotel for a meal a couple of beers and an early night, but didn’t get too much sleep, thanks Ross!

Next morning, after breakfast, we transfer to the SS Thorfinn, an ex Norwegian whaling boat, which is lovingly looked after by the owner Captain Lance and his Chukese wife. Because there are only us 3 and a couple from Milton Keynes we get to have a cabin each, another result.

We unpack our dive gear and after a briefing by the skipper on dive rules and dive times we have lunch and then get ready for our first dive. Thorfinn offers up to 5 dives a day, 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 8pm. So fitting in the food, pastries and cakes at 6am, breakfast 7am, lunch 1pm and dinner 7pm and snacks in between times, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for catching the sun.

I am not going to give a description of each of the dives that we did, there are more than enough books and info on the Internet for me not to have to report on each of our dives. It is enough to say that I have seen more portholes, telegraphs, helms, light fittings, shell cases and ammo in one week than I have seen in all my other dives over the years put together.

By following our local dive guides, we penetrated deeper into the wrecks visiting engine rooms, cabins, holds, shafts and passages than we would have done if we were diving alone.

Each dive ended with at least a 2 minute stop at 18mtres, a 3 minute stop at 9 and a 10 minute stop at 6 , this is in addition to what was shown on our computers.

The longest Ross and myself hung on the line was approx 60minutes thanks to our Suunto Geeko computers which penalised us heavily if we ventured below 45 mtrs.

Day 1
Fujikawa Maru
28.9 mtrs
54 mins

Betty Bomber
Day 2
Nippo Maru

Kiyosumi Maru

Sankisan Maru

Emily Flying boat
Night dive
Day 3
Hoki Maru

Heian Maru

Gosei Maru

Night dive
Hoyo Maru
Day 4
Seiko Maru

Yamagiri Maru

Unkei Maru
Day 5
Shotan Maru

Kansho Maru

Yubae Maru

Tug Eisen 761
Night dive
Kiyozumi Maru
Day 6
San Francisco Maru

Rio de Janeiro Maru

Shinkoko Maru

Night dive
Fujikawa Maru
Day 7
Submarine I-169

Shark feeding

These are my max depths and my times, Andy and Ross will have recorded similar but different figures. On day 4 Ross and myself decided to let our computers de-fizz after the 3rd dive, as they were requiring us to perform massive amounts of deco. which meant the others sitting in the boat for ages and us not getting much of a  surface interval.

All of the transport to and from dive sites was by fast aluminium hulled ribs with twin 150hp engines pushing us along nicely so that each dive site was no more than 15minutes from the Thorfinn. We each had a seat locker for our kit, and the entry into the water was either jump, backward roll or walk down between the engines. Recovery back into the boat was by taking fins off and climbing a ladder situated between the engines. A drop tank was always available at 6 metres in case anybody had a shortage of air, it was never used.

Our last afternoon aboard was taken up by drying our kit, and having a walk on one of the islands, Dublon, where we could see the remains of the Japanese occupation and see how the locals are making use of the infrastructure and buildings left behind after the war.

Our return to the UK was a reverse of the outward journey, Continental Air from Chuuk to Guam and Guam to Manila and Singapore Air Manila/Singapore/Heathrow.

Same sort of bad and indifferent service from Continental, same excellent service from Singapore Air.

Andy and myself said goodbye to Ross at Manila as he was flying out by Qatar Air to Doha and had booked himself into a hotel for the night as his flight was the next afternoon.

We on the otherhand had about 11 hours to kill in the airport. Hint – avoid Manila airport at all costs if you have longer than 30 minutes wait. It must be the worst airport I have ever had the misfortune to visit.

The only bar in the airport closed 10 minutes after we got there so we couldn’t even drown our sorrows.

We made up for our experience in Manila on the Singapore to London leg, a couple of beers, and 4 very nice Singapore Slings helped the 13plus hours go a little bit quicker than it would have done otherwise.

Hint, top deck on an Airbus 380 is very comfortable and quiet.

So was it worth it?
Would I go again?
Would I go on Thorfinn again?
Is there anything I would do different next time?
Yes – avoid Manila – find another route into Guam.

The standard cylinders offered on Thorfinn are 220 bar 11ltr tanks. Ross and myself had pre-ordered a 2nd 11ltr tank and twinned them up. Andy had the option to do the same but wisely didn’t. All of my dives were completed on one tank, so if there is a next time,  I would just use a single and maybe take a pony cylinder for one of the deeper wrecks, justincase. I would also beg, borrow, or hire a dive computer that wasn’t a Geeko!.

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