The 50 by 30 mile Chuuk Lagoon is among the largest lagoons in the world. Due to it’s geographical placement, its enormous size, and attractive conditions it was deemed a great spot for the Empire of Japan to house its main naval base during World War II. In 1944 the United States visited the area and sunk dozens of warships and other vessels as well as destroying hundreds of aircraft.
The Thorfinn, setting the standards for Liveaboards in Micronesia
The great battles and tragedy that was experienced in the lagoon in 1944 can now be witnessed by scuba divers in what is one of the greatest concentrations of shipwrecks on earth. There are almost 70 wrecks within the lagoon alone.
While the wrecks are usually the main draw there is also no shortage of marine life that can be found in the area. A wide variety of fish as well as schools of sharks and a good variation of corals can be found as well.
The many islands that make up this huge atoll are rich with natural beauty. The outer barrier reef is full of sand spits with coconut palms. The central lagoon features high islands which rise into the blue skies. The pace of life in Chuuk is very slow and allows time to revel in the natural beauty. Many of the islands small islands are very lush and home to beautiful migratory birds. Bird watchers gather and camp in the high hills to see the bird life.
Chuuk, with its huge, shallow, and beautiful lagoon is a major shipwreck site from World War II, Truk Lagoon is, without a doubt, the world’s best shipwreck diving destination. In the lagoon lie more than 80 hulks (inside reef :40 hulks, out side reef :40 hulks) which have been transformed into shipreefs, offering fantastic marine life as well as history. The wide assortment of both hard and soft corals in magnificent colors make both day and night diving a delight. There remain a vast selection of artifacts still found on the wrecks after six decades and are a testament to the unique history of the Micronesian Islands.
The historical aspect of Truk Lagoon is not totally hidden by the jungles. Japanese lighthouses, perched high atop the lagoon’s finest overlooks, can be reached by hiking or driving. Old runways, command centers, gun emplacements, cave networks, hospitals and libraries can be found with the help of a knowledgeable guide.
The very best way to explore Chuuk is on a liveaboard dive vessel. Often overlooked are the outer reefs which offer a great variety of fish, both pelagic and reef dwelling, and also feature cascading coral walls that stretch into the blue abyss of the Pacific Ocean. Windsurfing and sailing in the lagoon are also popular watersports during the tradewind season.
A major WWII battle (Operation Hailstorm) left the lagoon floor littered with WWII Japanese freight and armed military ships. Decades later, they have become natural reefs, adorned in coral with homes for fish but with all of the war artifacts still aboard. They are fascinating sites to visit and many are shallow enough to make them accessible to almost all experience levels of divers. The ships, now thickly overgrown reefs, are now home to over 700 fish species and nearly 400 corals plus numerous invertebrates.
Chuuk Atoll, (also Known as Truk) in the Caroline Islands is infamous for its giant lagoon. The lagoon is the final resting place for more than 100 ships, planes and submarines – the legacy of a fierce World War II battle between the Imperial Japanese Fleet and Allied carrier planes. The lagoon has been declared an underwater museum. Souvenir taking of relics from the area are prohibited by law.
Nowhere else in the world are there so many wrecks in close proximity, situated in shallow clear water. Many of the wrecks are visible while snorkelling and there are many on-shore wartime locations to visit.
The majority of the wrecks lie off DubIon, Eten, Fefan and Uman Islands and represent the largest naval loss in history. Their cargoes of tanks, trucks, airplanes, mines, bombs, machine gun bullets and thousands of other artefacts including beautiful china are there still to be explored.
A Friday morning arrival to Chuuk brings guest options of proceeding direct to our ship diving at mid-lagoon, if space permits, or overnighting ashore, boarding ship’s launches by 10:00 AM Saturday from a hotel pier after disembarking previous guests.
A direct Friday boarding provides a discounted extra day with up to 5 extra dives added to a regular week’s itinerary. Captain, Dive Manager, and staff greet your arrival and lead to C deck’s main guest lounge for refreshments, room assignments, details of Chuuk’s history, the SS Thorfinn, and various diving procedures. After viewing certificates and related papers, lunch is served, diving gear assembled, and off to a first dive site by 2:00 PM.
Your personal dive staff will note preferences of gear assembly, to ensure its continuing order through balance of stay. Camera equipment readied at C deck camera tables will be taken with care to your waiting launch’s camera shelves, if and as desired.
Lounge briefings precede each dive selection starting with 8:00 AM departures from ship. Schedules are selected as desired by each dive group, or as posted to an early morning selection by your personal guides. Condensed excerpts and wreck sketches of daily dive selections are laid out for guest reading each morning.
An average 10 minute launch ride precedes securing to nearby dive sites, where launch staff will assist in final dive preps prior to water entries.
Cameras and lights are passed over when ready, followed by descent with guide and others down mooring line to selected shipwreck or reef site. Your dive guide will provide a brief dive plan before commencing each dive.
Much of Truk’s wartime fleet and armaments are surrounded with beautiful corals and brightly colored fish of intriguing variations in consistently warm water viz of 30-100ft (10-35m). Ocean reef dives present gin clear views of virgin wall life beyond most visitor’s dreams.
Your guide will lead to each site’s best interests, or follow divers wishing to find their own discoveries. A dive compass is recommended to maintain directions on many of the larger structures. Penetrations into fragile wrecks is permitted on a buddy basis, preferably with our experienced guides. Internal wreck dive procedures and navigation are seriously regarded for safety considerations.
Single cylinder air divers are advised to begin ascending a mooring line from depth with 1,000 psi or 70 bar remaining, to permit a 3 plateau rise. Stops are requested at 18m for 2 minutes, then at 9m for 3 minutes, and a final 10 minutes between 4 to 5m before rising to boat stairway. Stop times can be extended, but please not shortened. A safety air-filled cylinder is suspended at 6 meters for possible emergency, and is brought down to wreck sites below 45m for contingency use at depth, if needed. Nitrox for shallower depths is provided to suitably certified users.
On surfacing to aft boarding stairs of launch, cameras, lights, and fins are passed up to waiting hands prior to mounting them. Fresh water showers, dry towels and cool drinking water are immediately available prior to return ride to ship. Boat crews are ready to rinse and stow dive equipment and photo gear without need for guest assistance. Warm water deck showers at both sides of ship arrival points serve to freshen up before proceeding to inner or upper quarters.
Snacks and refreshments await at guest lounge or aft deck spa during relaxing surface breaks between a scheduled 4 daily dives, and after evening night dives.
Wide selections of DVD films/movies are available from a central library for viewing at main lounge’s 50” LED TV, or at smaller sets in each guest room. Underwater photos/videos can be viewed at these sets also. A ship’s store/boatique offers many items of interest in books, handicrafts, postcards and T shirts. Reading libraries in various languages and topics are located in main lounge, dining room, and at ship’s office.
Spacious sun decks and lounging chairs provide tanning locations, or shade under awnings to read a book and enjoy refreshments. After dark, often brilliant night skies can be viewed by star gazers sitting out or laying back in the big Jacuzzi deck spa. Deck towels are readied at camera table racks for use as desired.
After supper night dives complete a choice of 5 dives/day, and are offered every evening that conditions permit… only requiring one diver or more to enjoy vivid corals and nocturnal aqua life on many sites.
Within Truk, the SS Thorfinn moves among several central anchorages depending on diver loads/schedules and prevailing weather. With lighter parties, our speedy launches are quickest dispatch to broad choices of surrounding wreck sites, just minutes away. With larger parties we steam silently to several locations for shortest runs in close proximities.
When diving outer islands and reefs, this steam powered ship moves silently at night to fresh locations for a new day’s dive selections. Seldom dived outer reef/island destinations present a beauty of near virgin worlds with incredibly bright aquatic life.
Visitors braving engine room warmths to view the huge steam machinery in operation are often mesmerized by gleaming piston rods driving a massive open crankshaft. SS Thorfinn’s entire propulsive system is driven by steam produced from two USA built Foster Wheeler water tube boilers. Numerous pieces of steam machinery operate whisper quiet in comparison to diesel sounds.
Final Fridays are concluded with an evening aft deck barbecue party, often followed with ‘local motions’ by ship’s staff displaying Pacific Island dancing that often leads into lively party music for guest evening enjoyment! Lasting impressions of happy people after a fulfilling week will linger from this friendly tropic world.
Visits to adjacent islands within Truk for views of a basic tropic lifestyle and various ruins left from a past Japanese era are freely available on request.
Trips ending on Saturday see departing guests packing and departing with farewells by mid-morning back to Weno, Chuuk’s main commercial island for an afternoon departure to other worlds.