Around The World Voyage : Commentary

January 2, 2002 (local)

Departed Chuuk Lagoon - 0630 local time
Next stop - Yap - for fuel and a crew change
Distance - 824 nm
Course - 286m
RPM's - 1600
Speed - 7.2 knots
Time to destination at this speed - 144 hours ( 4 days - 17 hours)
Fuel on board - 750 gallons
Range at this speed - 1949 nm
Current location - N 07'22 / E 153'46

The Islands and Lagoons of Chuuk (Truk):

Once again we are driven to a place that has caught us by surprise. We had not planned on stopping here in the Chuuk Lagoon, yet here we are. A small oil leak has caused us to err on the side of safety and pull in for parts. I cannot describe the feeling these particular islands have. This is unlike the stops we have made before. This is an atoll with a dozen large islands within. The atoll itself is stunning. A ring of reefs and low lying small islands covered in palms, emerald green water and pure white crushed shell beaches. If there were no islands within this would still be a place to see and feel. But there is more. There are six or seven main islands with many smaller ones in between, each with its own set of reefs and coral heads. All are completely covered in thick jungle and towering palms. Maneuvering a boat through these waters is not to be taken lightly for there are dangers. Hundreds of charted coral reefs and outcropping, and many more that weren't on any chart. You have to keep a watchful eye inside the Chuuk Lagoon…both in the water and on the land.

This place does not have the simple beauty of Kosrae or the warmth of the people of Pohnpei. This place, like the others was born of fire, molten lava and rock. Unlike the other atolls and islands in the chain, Chuuk has both a protective coral ring and large islands within, all the ingredients for a large harbor with the land to support it. The Japanese Navy realized this, and in 1914 moved in. Chuuk was to see fire again. Almost sixty years ago, a great battle was shaping up, to be fought over and in her lagoons. Hundreds of Japanese supply and warships called Chuuk home. On board these great ships were thousands of young sailors preparing for a battle they knew must come. They braced for the arrival of the American planes and pilots off of the carrier Yorktown and her fleet. The battle would last for two days and two nights. Thousands would die in the days to come. In the end some 60 ships were sunk within the waters of Chuuk Lagoon. Over three hundred planes were destroyed, many were to lie on the bottom of the lagoon, alongside the ships they were to protect. This was to be Chuuk's key to the future.

You can see burnt out bunkers on the shore side and on the mountains. I could see gun placements in the side yards of homes as I walked to town and parts of tanks on the beaches near the wharfs. I paddled a kayak up and down the coast of Moen Island and saw bombed out battlements, dozens of half submerged wrecks and at the edge of a mangrove a Mitsubishi bomber half buried in the sand. Under the calm surface of the Lagoon lie in wait a divers paradise. Within minutes of shore there are wrecks from four to two hundred feet deep just as they settled to the bottom on February 17, 1944. These wrecks are what draw people here today.

This battle was the beginning of independence for the people of Chuuk and the ships that were lost have been the dream of divers around the world. Thousands of divers come each year for weeks of diving on these sunken monuments. At a New Year's Eve celebration, we shared toasts and wine with divers from seven or eight different countries who have come to see these wrecks. Many Japanese, American and Chuuk veterans of the battle also come to remember and to share a few words with old friends who did not return from the sea. This is a place see, but not to relax in, a place for diving, but not for laying on beaches or walking in to town.

This is a place to come to remember, and never forget to keep an eye out for yourself. She is still not tamed. I am glad to have seen her but also glad to back in deep water again. Next stop - the islands of Yap.

 

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