Sunday, October 26, 2003

Exploring the sunken past

Being a newly initiated normoxic trimix diver I got the chance to participate in a short two days exploration trip to Marinduque island to search for two Japanese WWII ship wrecks, estimated to be lying between 30 and 60m.

Trip organisers were Dave Ross, manager of Tech Asia, and Frank, a sympathetic ozzie owning "Rags", the very basic live-aboard for the weekend. Frank's also the manager of La Laguna Beach Club and Dive Center on Big La Laguna. They didn't need to ask me twice.

Friday around midnight we, four wannabe tekkies, Dave, Frank and three crew members boarded Rags. Rags is basically just a sturdy outrigger with a roof and four bunks, but you don't need more to go on a quest. Four tech divers means a lot of gear, each of us having a set of doubles and three stages (just in case), plus a compressor, and a couple of large oxygen and helium tanks.

The sea being a bit rough that night we only arrived at Marinduque the next morning around 9 am. We started by checking out the coastline, to compare the current shore's outline and background landscape with 60 year old aerial photographs from a battle report.

Dave and Frank kind of knew where to start looking, thanks to some written references in the report. A good thing cause I must say that every bay just looks the same to me. In the end however, it was an elderly local fisherman who helped us out, pinpointing the exact locations of both wrecks.

All excited we quickly geared up, eager to check out those forgotten wrecks. We jumped in as two buddy teams, and started our descend into the unknown and very murky waters. With a visibility of less than 2m, we had to stay close together indeed. The bottom appeared around 34m, a thick layer of very easily disturbed fine silt, full of worm holes. The anchor completely lost in it.

Slowly we started swimming around, not really knowing where exactly we were going. Being rather impatient I was already wondering whether to call the dive after 10', in order to avoid long decompression times, when Tex, my Korean buddy, suddenly signalled to me with his light. He'd found the first wreck.

At least what's left of it. It being a mine layer of some sort, it must have gone down with a nasty big bang. All what's left of it is some hull, strangely covered in what seems to be fist sized rocks. I picked one up, but gently put it back, just in case it was somekind of grenade...

Though there wasn't very much recognizable structure left, it's still quite fascinating to explore such a lost wreck. The other team, of older and more experienced tech divers, missed the wreck on their first dive, and tried very hard not to let their annoyance show. Even though we found it on our first dive, we almost missed it again on our second dive.

The next day we moved to the second wreck's location, hoping for better visibility, as we could see the anchor line going down a fair bit and the sun rays clearly visible in the dark water. Alas, 15m deep the visibility quickly dropped to about 1m.

Again we ventured out slowly in the misty green water, again I was wondering whether to call the dive, as suddenly a dark shape loomed up to my left, barely a meter away. If I'd looked to the other side at that moment, we would have missed it. This time there were some structural elements recognizable in the wreckage, making it a bit more interesting, but no artifacts. Either they've been taken away already or they've sunk in the silt.

This wreck had a bit more life on it too, coral bushes and a couple of fish seeking refuge in the many blast holes. Again the other team missed the wreck on the first dive, now seriously damaging their reputation. But they made up for it later on by drinking loads of beer. Sometimes blurred memories help soften reality I guess.

All in all a great trip, with Frank being an excellent host, cooking up great food for hungry divers. The return trip to Sabang only took six hours thanks to a gentler sea on the way back.

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