Thursday, June 27, 2013

Diving in North Kwajalein - Part 2

In the week or so that we were in the Roi-Namur area of Kwajalein, we managed to do 8 wreck dives. "A week of diving and you only made 8 dives!?" you say. Yes, it's quite a process to make a pair of dives.

First, there's the motor down to the dive area, and get the dive gear set up and loaded into the dinghies (about an hour and a half to two hours).

The real challenge is motoring out in the dinghies to the dive site (marked accurately, we hope, by a GPS waypoint) and getting an anchor set. For safety's sake, we always try to take more than one dinghy. All our dinghies are of a size that 4 people with dive gear would be too cramped, so we ended up 2 by 2 in sometimes 3 dinghies.

Most of the airplane wrecks are in water over 100 feet deep. We could have chosen to "live boat" the dive in pairs (where one pair stays on the surface with the dinghies and the other goes down, and then switch off). But instead, Westward II volunteered to drop their big (for a dinghy) Danforth anchor with 250 feet of heavy polypropylene line on it. So the procedure we used was this. Dave and I would take the GPS and try to sit as still as possible over the waypoint in our dinghy, and Stephen and Selena from Westward II would motor upwind in their dinghy and drop the anchor, with the idea that they'd end up right over the waypoint when they dropped back on the anchor. It mostly worked. Once the anchor was set, we would then tie (with 2 separate lines) to the back of Westward II's dinghy. When Jerry on Challenger was with us, sometimes he would set his (smaller) Danforth anchor, and then tie up as well. None of us wanted to surface and find one or more $5,000 dinghies gone, so redundancy was the name of the game.

Soggy Paws' dive anchor is an inadequate (for this kind of diving) folding claw-type anchor, that we usually hand-set in a good spot. We would drop this straight down to hang just off the bottom (so it wouldn't get snagged on anything) to use as a marker as to where the dinghies actually were.

So figure another hour to get out to the dive site, anchors set, dinghies rafted up, gear on, and in the water ready to descend.

With the water over 100 feet deep, and visibility only about 40-50 feet, we couldn't tell from the surface whether we were in the right spot. At least once we went on a dive and never saw the airplane we were supposed to be diving on. That one was a big one--it's hard to miss a C-46 cargo plane!! Visibility was not that great that day, and we were using a vector from another airplane. We turned around too soon, but Steve and Selena kept going and found it OK, with only minutes to spare on their bottom time.

But most of the time, the waypoint was accurate enough, and our navigational skills good enough, that we found what we were looking for fairly quickly. Several times we even found "extra airplanes". Basically, there are airplanes strewn all over on the bottom in that area, so it's unlikely to go down and NOT find any airplanes at all.

That said, here is what we managed to see in our 8 dives:

1. Japanese Zero - shot down in Feb 1944 during the Battle of Kwajalein
2. 4 SBD dive bombers (we actually saw 6 on this dive).
3. F4U Corsair (there were a couple of SBD's around the F4U as well)
4. B-25 twin engine bomber
5. C-46 twin engine cargo plane (we didn't find it, but Westward II did)
6. 13 SBD's (we stopped counting at about 7 or 8, but there were "planes everywhere")
7. The "Sand Island Wreck", an old wooden German freighter
8. Japanese Ship Eiko Maru #2 - sunk in Jan/Feb 1944

Plus of course, the two airplanes side-by-side in 25-35' feet, half buried in the sand, right next to where we anchored.

For the wrecks in 100+ feet of water, our bottom time is limited to about 10-15 minutes. We all have dive computers that tell us when we must start ascending to stay within the "no decompression" dive tables. Then we have to ascend slowly and stop at around 20 feet for 5 minutes to let the nitrogen slowly release from our tissues before surfacing. This is called a "safety stop". So total dive time is usually around 25 minutes.

Then--almost as hard a time as getting the anchor down, is pulling the anchor by hand in 100 feet of water. Even though we checked it just before we started our ascent, to make sure it would come free easily, at least once the anchor got stuck on something on the bottom, and we had to leave a buoy on it, and come back later to dive down and free it up.

With such deep dives, we needed to spend 2 hours on the surface to "off-gas" the nitrogen before we did another dive. Lunch time!! So by the time we finished our 2nd dive, it would be about 4:30 and time to head for the anchorage again. Some days we only got one dive in--mostly because of weather issues (wind or squalls).

When they scrapped these planes, they just pushed them off a barge into deep water, and many of them landed nose-down. The SBD's were obsolete and already superseded by the Helldiver, by the end of the war, that's why there are so many of them on the bottom here.

It was pretty cool. We took lots of pictures. We hope to share them with you some day soon! In the meantime, the two dive sites I listed in the previous post have some pictures of some of the planes.

No comments:

Post a Comment