Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jaluit Atoll

Sep 19-25

We were pleasantly surprised by Jaluit Atoll. We could not find any information from cruisers before us, nor did we have any tracks to follow. And in some places, the Google Earth coverage is not great (too many clouds). So we were kind of "flying blind".

On our quest to find they mayor to do our paperwork, we had a nice walk around Jabor. It is a pleasant, well-kept village, and the people are friendly. There is a small store just inshore from the Fisheries dock (the small concrete dock south of the big pier). There is NTA cell phone coverage and decent wireless internet from NTA.

We met a couple of the American volunteer teachers, sitting in the shade of a tree after school was out. One was from WorldTeach, and one was from Dartmouth's volunteer program. Both had only been in Jaluit for a week or two.

As has been the case all summer, our primary purpose for visiting Jaluit was to see the WWII remains--old buildings, sunken piers, boats, and airplanes. We DID have a nice list of waypoints for dive spots. Can't tell the original source of this list, but it looked like a dive shop dive spot list. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the waypoints were "spot on"--though they indicated the "anchor spot" for the dive, not the actual thing itself. We also had a copy of Henrik Christiansen's Archeological Survey of WWII sites, which we had obtained from the RMI Historical Preservation Office.

From this list, we dove on the following items of interest:

- A "Japanese Tug" in Jabor harbor in about 45 feet. Dave said this was more likely a workboat--it didn't have a big enough prop to be a tug.

- A "German Wreck" near the old Japanese pier in 90 feet. Dave says this is a "composite wreck"--a sailing ship with an iron frame and wooden planking. This was pretty interesting because the iron frame is still there, but the planks were not, so you could easily swim through the entire length of the ship. (Pictures when we get internet.) We didn't see the masts or any rigging, so they may have been traditional materials and rotted away, or maybe stripped before the ship sank. It is late-1800's vintage. Someone told us the ship may have burned before sinking.

- We snorkeled on the old Japanese pier by the airport. This was a really impressive concrete structure, with the end of the pier pilings, about 6 feet in diameter, holding the pier up in about 25-40 feet of water. These had each been made in 2-3 segments, and the segments had collapsed (we assume when the pier was bombed). Another massive Japanese concrete structure. Lots of fish there too. The inner end of the pier is just rubble.

- We snorkeled the "Japanese Ship" on the way to Imeij. This ship looks like it was run straight up on shore (probably when sinking, maybe as a result of U.S. bombing). Christiansen's report didn't talk about this at all, so we don't know anything about it.

- We did a "jungle stomp" and found the old Japanese radio facility. This is now in an uninhabited part of the atoll, south of Imeij. It is totally invisible from the water--we had been told that it was "300 meters north of the ship". We saw some likely spots on Google Earth, but they turned out to be swampy areas, and were too far north. It took a little wandering around, but we finally stumbled on the wreckage of the radio towers, by walking the jungle along the shoreline back south toward the ship. From there we could see the impressive 3 story building--now completely wrecked (but still a fun scramble). If you know what you're looking for, you can spot it from the anchorage north of the ship--look for the tallest Pandanus tree on the the skyline (it's growing on the roof of the building). There are no paths, you just have to whack your way in.

Next we moved to Imeij, where we had waypoints for the two Japanese Kawanishi "Emily" flying boats. These are huge (100' long with a 150' wingspan) flying boats. They were bombed and sunk at anchor off the concrete ramps at Imeij. One is nearly intact, but upside down, in 90 feet. The other is broken up a bit, in 60 feet. Probably the best airplane wrecks we've seen this summer.

Then we went ashore a Imeij, trying to find the airplane hangars--one of which is supposed to have another Emily inside. After walking up and down the main path in the village, peering into the jungle, we finally asked someone where they were. We finally found someone interested in showing us--all that remains of the hangars are the concrete pad and some rusting beams on the ground. The "Emily" airplane is just scraps and would be pretty unrecognizable if we didn't already know what it was.

On a whim, we took off on our own from there, following a jungle path toward the east side of the island. We were pleasantly surprised to stumble on at least 3 more large concrete buildings. Each made out of concrete 2-3 feet thick, with heavy iron doors and windows. One had almost no windows, and even thicker concrete--probably a munitions storage (but was a building, not a bunker). Unlike a few other locations we've seen, all these buildings were mostly stripped of their contents. A few of the small buildings near the shore had been converted by the locals to housing and/or storage. We only saw one "gun"--on the beach near the church.

The next day, we took off across the atoll toward the west, to try to find the Devastator airplanes. We had the waypoint for one in 50 feet and a verbal description of the more pristine one in 120 feet. We found the shallower one easily and took a lot of pictures. But our attempt to find the deeper one failed. We were going to make a second dive to try to find the deep one, but the weather turned bad and we skedaddled out of the unprotected location. We had hopes of returning a day or so later, but the weather stayed very unsettled for several days. We ended up sitting in Jabor enjoying the fairly decent internet (NTA Wifi) and watching the last America's Cup race recaps on YouTube (where the Americans came from an 8-1 deficit to beat the Kiwis for a 9-8 American win). Exciting stuff. (On our passage to Kwajalein in 5 knots of wind, we kept asking each other "Are we foiling yet?")

We covered a lot of ground in 6 days! Again, we could have easily spent another couple of weeks in Jaluit, getting to know the people and the villages better, and also exploring the remoter parts of the atoll. However, we're on a mission to get to Kwajalien by Oct 1, so we had to hurry off again.

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